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Thread: What are you reading in 2019?

  1. #1
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Mar 2006

    Default What are you reading in 2019?

    A new thread for 2018.

    The 2017 thread had 60 posts, with 86.9k views (up 30k since closed); in 2018 19 posts and 38.9k views.

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    A Covert Action: Reagan, the CIA, and the Cold War struggle in Poland

    An excellent book.

    It even includes an interesting angle on leveraging COTS technology.

    And right in the wheelhouse of Small Wars Journal when it comes to a discussion around crystal clear ideological war supporting existing indigenous popular movements.

    This book is probably worthy of a much more detailed review and discussion.

    Especially in light of a few SWJ forum members sharing their relevant thoughts in recent years about their concerns around political warfare, UW, and ideology today compared to during the Cold War.

    And how the role the US had against the Communist Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact during the Cold War, now appears somewhat reversed in the GWOT against militant Islam.

    On a somewhat related note for those who are interested....

    The Covert Action book is a strategic/macro big picture complement to a tactical/micro level “fact based novel” I found a while back called Jinnick:

    The book and associated photos from the author share the story of ratlines using RVs/campervans for non kinetic support of Eastern European underground movements in the 1980’s.

    It’s a solid novel with some quite interesting photos that lend considerable credibility to the author’s direct involvement with those ratlines.

    Both books go well together, akin to co-authors Stan McChrystal’s Team of Teams(macro/strategic) and Chris Fussell’s One Mission(micro/tactical).

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    Default The Chinese Invasion Threat

    The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia, by Ian Easton

    When I saw the somewhat kooky cover, I almost rejected the book out of hand, but fortunately I noticed it was endorsed by a number of senior U.S. military officers (including a former U.S. Pacific Command Commander), Senior Taiwanese officers, and respected professors. Bottom line it based on deep research and well written. It will challenge a number of prevailing myths concerning one of the most dangerous flash points in the world.

    The Washington Times review is better than anything I produce off the cuff.

    Mr. Allison offers what amounts to the latest defense of the Cold War-era China policy built by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his successors, which essentially justifies continued concessions (appeasement) to the “rising power” Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dictatorship to uphold “stability” but not peace.

    Part of a new generation of China analysts, Mr. Easton is far more impressed with promise of Taiwan’s democracy and rejects policies that appease China, such as our self-constrained “unofficial” relationship with Taiwan. But Mr. Easton also makes clear that both peace and stability between the U.S. and China could end as soon as early in the next decade. For the first time since the early 1950s China is close to being able to attempt its never-abandoned goal of conquering Taiwan.
    Easton's book provides a detailed review of known Chinese and Taiwanese war plans, and the massive challenges that the Chinese must over come to successfully invade and integrate Taiwan. He provides a short analysis of the U.S. plan to invade Formosa (Taiwan's former name) during WWII, and based on the size and terrain U.S. planners estimated they would need 500,000 troops to successfully wrest control of it from the Japanese. Taiwan is a much tougher target today based on decades of defense planning and engineering. Easton also discusses other strategies that the Chinese may employ, but the focus of the book is on an actual invasion.

    Easton points out in subsequent blog posts and articles that a successful defense of Taiwan ultimately depends upon the will of the Taiwanese to resist/fight, and that means they need to counter Chinese psychological warfare, which attempts to convince the Taiwanese, Japanese, and Americans that resistance if futile. Throughout the book he provides a lot of insight on Chinese thinking, and how the Peoples Liberation Army is an instrument of the communist more so than a true Army. They have a number of shortfalls, and we shouldn't simply evaluate their military based on their budget and the number and type of weapons they have. Their senior officers are generally brain washed, and even those who aren't will not speak out after Xi's recent purges. While this promotes incompetence, it also promotes hubris for those who buy into their propaganda, which ultimately increases the risk of war.

    I found a couple of paragraphs in the last chapter of his book that capture my philosophical thoughts on the topic. However, for those who care about freedom, etc. Throughout the book he illustrates how the loss of Taiwan would present significant and tangible risks to U.S. interests.

    It may be fairly observed that, in some ways, American foreign policy in Asia has evolved in an absurd fashion. Over the past two decades, Taiwan has become a vibrant full-fledged democracy, only to be treated like an international pariah state. Today, American diplomats are forbidden from recognizing Taiwan's ROC flag and calling the Taiwanese people and government by their proper names. At the same time, the People's Republic of China has become more authoritarian, only to be treated as if it were a respectable and even indispensable member of the community of nations. American policymakers have shown a remarkable deference to Beijing's cross-Strait interests.
    As a consequence of this unnecessary, self-imposed policy choice, an entire generation of young Americans has been brought up believing this is the natural order of things and it is somehow right and good that the principle of self-determination be denied to the Taiwanese people, who are being "provocative" every time they attempt to chart their own path. . . An amoral idea has been locked into the collective mind of American policy.

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    Default AMERICA and the FUTURE of WAR

    AMERICA and the FUTURE of WAR: The Past as Prologue, by Williamson Murray

    I found this book to be a helpful review of strategy and relevant history, both are shortfalls in the American culture today. All leaders and planners should read this book and discuss it its numerous cautionary stories of what happens when we drift to far from the essence of reality when it comes to war and strategy. How cool ideas like information dominance, network theory, and confusing by, with, and through as meaningful strategic frameworks are going to fail, and arguably have failed.

    He points out that without an understanding of their political, strategic, and international context, a discussion of military operations has no basis in reality, since it is these factors that shape military choices. We would be hard pressed to clearly explain those factors for Syria today. Maybe it is simple as Simon Sinek's book start with why, then how and what. The military today all too often starts with what in the form of concepts (tactics), and then confuse them with strategy.

    Based on this trend, I suspect Murray is right about his criticism of our military education.
    Most of the huge system of professional military education ignored history, the study of strategy, and military theory in favor of obtuse and superficial discussions on of area studies, international relations, and other topics favored by academics. As for war and the profession of arms, forget it.
    He repeatedly attacks our intelligence community and military writ large for its lack of foreign language and cultural knowledge and how this all to frequently leads to serious mistakes in judgment and faulty assumptions. He also criticizes the false claims of there will be no more wars. This has been a misguided view since at least the late 18th Century, and even in Pinker's misguided argument that violence around the world has been reduced, which is far from the case.

    Some of following are paraphrased:

    In 1792 a famous British statesman claimed they could reasonably expect 15 years of peace, yet in a matter of months they declared war on Revolutionary France. This particular statesman was far from stupid, he was reading the cards he could see, but even those he misunderstood due to the major social changes taking place in France he didn't understand.
    Another example of misguided, or muddled thinking, was the British assessment of Hitler. They assessed since he was a Corporal in WWI and knew the horrors of war he surely wouldnt lead his country into war again. Chamberlain and his fellow politicians lacked any understanding of the culture, context, and aspirations of Hitler and the German people.
    Jumping to our love of models:
    Thus, in every respect the rational actor model so beloved by American political scientists is utter nonsense. Had such a model existed in Germany in 1943, the Germans would have surrendered at that point, had such a model existed in Britain in June 1940, the British also would have quit before the Battle of Britain. As Clausewitz points out, theory "must also take the human factor into account and find room for courage, boldness, even foolhardiness. The art of war deals with living and moral forces.
    I am becoming more and more convinced our efforts to leverage design thinking and military planning processes to hopefully lead to better decisions will fail if we don't have knowledgeable people (culture, history, and strategy) in these groups. Processes can compensate for the lack of knowledge and unfounded assumptions that lead to stupid.

    One area where Murray's book fell short is there was no real discussion on deterrence, which admittedly is often shaped by the faulty rational man theory. Still, it is a critical component of our strategy.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    “Battleworn”. It is a memoir of UK combat medic Charlotte Taylor’s time in the slog that was Helmand Province.

    It is pretty choppy and ridden with cliches, making it harder for me to read than most combat memoirs, but I have read about her elsewhere and it rounds out other things I have read and watched about British operations in Helmand.

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    Default Washington's Crossing

    Washington's Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer

    Fischers book, Washingtons Crossing is a gift for those who love military history and desire to gain a deeper understanding of the American Revolution. This deeply researched and well-told story dispels a lot of myths. He doesnt sidestep the issue that many of our founding fathers owned slaves, but puts it in context and doesnt allow it to mask the larger story. This is a history based on research, not politically correct dribble that too often masquerades as history.

    My previous and admittedly limited understanding of the 1776-1777 Winter Campaign was that General Washington led a force across the Delaware River to conduct a surprise attack on the British and their Hessian mercenaries. A victory, yet more significant psychologically than militarily. Amazon introduction to the book describes the significance of the campaign:

    Six months after the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution was all but lost. A powerful British force had routed the Americans at New York, occupied three colonies, and advanced within sight of Philadelphia.

    Yet, as David Hackett Fischer recounts in this riveting history, George Washington--and many other Americans--refused to let the Revolution die. On Christmas night, as a howling noreaster struck the Delaware Valley, he led his men across the river and attacked the exhausted Hessian garrison at Trenton, killing or capturing nearly a thousand men. A second battle of Trenton followed within days. The Americans held off a counterattack by Lord Cornwalliss best troops, then were almost trapped by the British force. Under cover of night, Washingtons men stole behind the enemy and struck them again, defeating a brigade at Princeton. The British were badly shaken. In twelve weeks of winter fighting, their army suffered severe damage, their hold on New Jersey was broken, and their strategy was ruined.
    He goes into great detail on different command styles, information, leadership, tactics and operational approached used, and much more. Ill touch on a couple areas as relevant to small wars today as they were in the 18th Century.

    The command styles used by the British and Americans were very different. This in large part explains why the Americans prevailed. The British commanders were highly skilled professionals that bonded together as old boys but remained sensitive to rank and privilege. General Cornwallis made the major decisions himself and rejected contrary advice from his officers.

    General Washington would have preferred to use a similar command style, but many factors forced him to adjust his leadership style. Arguably Washington led a coalition of many armies from different colonies. They were all motivated to fight for freedom, but each army had its own view of what freedom meant. These men came from a society that was much less stratified than the British and their German societies. Sometimes the men from a particular army or unit in a colony only volunteered for a year and then returned home. Washington learned that top-down command was less effective than building consensus. He held frequent councils of war and encouraged a free exchange of views and he listened more than he talked. He also frequently fought on the front lines, inspiring his men to hold their positions when they were ready to break ranks. He learned to delegate authority, which resulted in his officers and men taking the initiative resulting in an operations tempo that the British could not adjust to. He urged his officers to be drivers of events and never allow events to drive them. Washington practiced mission command while the British practiced a hierarchical form of command similar to what the U.S. military uses today.

    The British and Hessians were confident they could defeat the freezing, near naked, rebels quickly after the winter passed. They did not recognize the inner strength of the Americans. This strength came from their belief in their cause (reinforced by the harsh treatment the British), deep religious faith, and their entrepreneurial spirit. Not to mention their physical toughness and superior rifle skills one would expect backwoods pioneers. The British like the modern U.S. military believed their superior firepower would cause the rebels to give up their cause. The Americans like the Viet Cong and Taliban endured.

    At least one historian said the American Revolution started before they fired the first shots in 1774, because the revolution was a revolution of ideas, the war was the process to free themselves from the British yoke so they could implement those ideas. Like most wars of resistance, ideology is essential, and Thomas Paine provided the ideology with his book titled, Common Sense. The American army was the most literate army in the world at that time, and most of the men carried a copy of the book and the soldiers called by his nickname Common Sense. After the initial American defeats in New York, the Army was in crisis and Paine realizing the power of narrative wrote his second book titled, The American Crisis. It resulted in a great revival, a call to arms in response to the initial defeat. Often overlooked in the modern American view of information, which focuses excessively on the adversary and mostly ineffective, is the necessity to focus information on the home front and ones own army to maintain their resolve. Today we complain our foreign partners dont have the will to fight in many cases, yet we direct 90% of our influence against the adversary. Target audiences for decisive influence may very well be friendly forces.

    Not unlike today, British officers debated different approaches for defeating the rebels. Some argued for more harsh methods, and others sought to convince the rebels to surrender with promises of amnesty. To protect the Tories who supported the British, the British initially dispersed their forces to protect the population, but the American army attacked these weak outposts, forcing the British to consolidate their forces. When the Tories realized the British couldnt defend them they burned their oaths of loyalty to the King and signed oaths of loyalty to the Congress. We learned relearned the importance of protecting the populace in Afghanistan and Iraq late in the game, and never truly had the means to do so.

    Contrary to much popular history, Washington outmaneuvered the British Generals, and even British and Hessian records from the time state this. Using mission command he could combine various operational approaches to keep the British back on their heels. They ranged from rapid night marches to major conventional forces relying on massed firepower, to petite guerre, and the forage wars. A large part of his success was due to extensive human intelligence networks they established, unlike the bureaucratic human intelligence processes we have today. Washington encouraged all his officers to establish their own sources to enable operations. This gave the Americans an information advantage over the British. Washington pushed his officers to be bold but to temper their boldness with prudence. His leadership resulted in initiative and tempo that overcame superior British forces. Over the winter, they reduced the British army from 31,600 men to 14,000 effectives. Much like the Tet Offensive, this campaign had a telling effect on the British domestic audience who initially supported the war.

    Most inspiring was the hardship the Americans endured and yet continued to fight on. In some battles, not a single American fell because of enemy fire, but many died of exposure, hunger, and exhaustion. They pushed themselves to the limits of their endurance to close with the enemy, and after the fight simply perished. Despite this hardship, they embraced the same value for human rights we embrace today, and Washington and his officers insisted treat the British and Hessian prisoners well, which is why many opted to stay after the war, or return home and get their families then return to America.

    It is a superb book.

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