Making War, Thinking History: Munich, Vietnam, and Presidential Uses of Force from Korea to Kosovo. (Book Reviews)
Dr. Millett, Allan R., Parameters
Making War, Thinking History: Munich, Vietnam, and Presidential Uses of Force from Korea to Kosovo. By Jeffrey Record. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2002. 216 pages. $28.95. Reviewed by Dr. Allan R. Millett, Major General Raymond E. Mason, Jr., Professor of Military History, Ohio State University, coauthor of A War To Be Won. Fighting World War II, and author of Their War for Korea.
Like most students of presidential decisionmaking that leads to war--or something less--Jeffrey Record ponders the breathtaking historical explanations offered up for the commitment of the American armed forces to battle. We should share his curiosity, but not assume that he and other defense analysts and pundits have the questions right, let alone the answers. Making War, Thinking History muses on the use of historical analogy to justify taking the nation to war. Record concludes that "the evidence suggests, for better or for worse, some thinking about history attends all significant presidential uses of force, especially those that invite war."
Record's long career near the corridors of power in Washington gives his ruminations credibility. After civilian field service in Vietnam, a formative experience, Record picked up his doctoral union card at Johns Hopkins and put in his "Hill time" on three different staffs. He advanced to guru status with consecutive appointments to the Brookings Institution, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, the BDM Corporation, and now the faculty of the Air War College. Record's writing on defense issues, force and mission mismatches, budgetary problems, defense technology, the conduct of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, and military reform are all serious. He is not a historian, however, and there is a difference for gurus as well as Presidents.
Record's concern is that Presidents unleash historical analogies like electoral promises to justify armed intervention. More specifically, he charges that Presidents from Harry Truman to George W. Bush have used the analogy of "Munich," meaning the British appeasement of Adolf Hitler in 1938, and the analogy of "Vietnam," meaning an expensive and losing commitment to save the Republic of Vietnam, to justify or reject limited war from Korea (1950-53) through Kosovo (1999). "Munich" is the codeword for encouraging further aggression by demonstrating a lack of will and doubt about one's military capability; "Vietnam" is a mantra for a host of perceived mistakes, including intervention in a post-colonial civil war, accepting excessive casualties, defending people who don't defend themselves with sufficient ardor, accepting rules of engagement designed by mediawary politicians, creating strategic and operational absurdities, and not anticipating the fickleness of public support; The "ideal" war should be defined b y the six criteria of the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine of 1984, which enshrines "the American way of war" as an enraged punitive expedition that ends in the complete destruction of the enemy political system and armed forces, followed by an American make-over. Presidents, Record asserts, almost invariably get the analogies wrong. Clio, the Muse of History, is a victim of date-rape, but the Presidents treat her like a virgin bride.
As Record admits, rationalization-by-analogy has its complexities, and assessing what Presidents really believe is no mean challenge. First of all, the presidential use of analogy almost always appears in contemporary public statements justifying a military commitment or in memoirs, often spruced up for intellectual content. These are also Record's dominant sources, so the reader cannot be certain he is getting real testimony or smoke. One might add that presidential critics are often the primary interpreters of presidential statements, including the allegedly false analogies. Should we allow, for example, Senator Wayne Morse to be the ultimate authority of what Lyndon Johnson really meant in 1964-65?
There is another, more elusive intellectual problem. What does one do with a President who uses and abuses historical evidence because his caste of mind is essentially a-historical? To learn history, one needs to read history and to do so with some guidance from educated, professional historians serving as classroom teachers or reliable authors. By world standards American Presidents are not well-educated in the humanities and social sciences. Just think about the quality of the curriculum and faculty at the colleges attended by Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. The Bushes and Gerald Ford attended first-rate universities, but majored in athletics and social clubs. Bill Clinton attended Georgetown and made good use of it--in many ways. Harry Truman, who may have the record for the presidential study of history, did not attend a college, but at least he studied the American Civil War, which certainly had something to say about revolutionary people's war, one p ost-World War II phenomenon with which Truman had to deal.
Truman's decision to intervene in Korea, for example, shows some of the shortcomings of Record's analysis as well as decisionmaking by analogy. As Record says, Truman made much of the similarities between Nazi and Stalinist aggression and the perils of appeasement. Record implies that the Korean War allowed the Truman Administration to start a rearmament program that would not be funded by Congress without a regional war that might lead to another global war. Truman did, in fact, play the Munich card, but it is questionable whether he really believed the appropriateness of the analogy or whether it swayed a single vote or changed a single public opinion poll. Record--following Truman--makes light of the experience in 1945-50 that might have superceded Munich. The Truman Administration had coped with aggressive and popular communist parties in France and Italy; it had made Yugoslavia a silent partner in NATO: it had sent a military mission and money to Greece; and it had already engaged in commitments to stop communist insurgencies in China, Indochina, and the Philippines before the first T-34 crossed the 38th Parallel. It had cajoled millions of dollars in foreign aid from Congress for the Marshall Plan and the Military Assistance Program.
The Korean War, in fact, offers a good example of how historical analysis might have been used to draw appropriate distinctions between both Munich and Vietnam and the Korean commitment. Truman seldom connected the dots (although the best minds in Defense and State did), and Record does not either, putting a dunce cap on Truman for invoking the misjudgments of 1933-39 as a rationale for American intervention in 1950. First of all, Korea had been at war since 1948 when communist insurgents in Korea's southern provinces attempted to stop the creation of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and then, failing that goal, attempted to overthrow Syngman Rhee's government. The North Koreans and Russians lent a hand. The next consideration is that the communist insurgency lacked a legitimate nationalist leader, at least in the eyes of many Koreans. Kim II Sung was not Ho Chi Minh or Mao Zedong. Moreover, many Koreans, having survived Japanese colonialism, had no desire to accept a new Russian or Chinese socialist version of im perialism. This commitment to resist was especially strong among the Korean leadership elite, often exiled from northern Korea, often Christian, often Western-educated, often committed to Japanese-style modernization, if not hegemony. In China thousands of communist partisans and defecting nationalist soldiers brought down the Kuomintang; the South Koreans eventually crushed their domestic guerrillas, and no battalion or larger unit of the ROK army defected in 1950. Who needed Munich and why?
Record may have identified a real problem in presidential decisionmaking--I personally doubt it--but he offers no correctives. Should Presidents have to wade through an eccentric list of history books like those assigned to military officers by service chiefs who seldom read? Presidents are not the reading type, often struggling with the newspapers and the morning intelligence summaries. What about a court historian, a Jimmy Cricket to correct a Presidential Pinnochio that can't keep his analogies straight? Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., helped invent Camelot, and when Henry Graff could not work a similar magic for Lyndon Johnson, he returned to his classroom. Nixon, also a reader, at least had Henry Kissinger, a historical spinmeister, around to talk precedents and write magisterial memoirs. A better option is that the immediate presidential office or at least the National Security Council staff should have a professional historian who can review policy papers for historical appropriateness. Perhaps the speechwrit ing office should be similarly manned. The SOP for such personnel should be Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May's Thinking in Time: The Use of History for Decision-Makers (1986), not May's earlier Lessons of the Past, much-favored by Record. If another Ronald Reagan, say, thinks the Munich analogy applies to Lebanon in 1982-84, Professor Clio could suggest that the interventions in Lebanon and Jordan in 1958 probably have more telling tales to tell.
On balance, however, Record's effort to grasp the issue of policy-by-historical-analogy is well-intentioned and worth reading. Anything that brings more rationality and clarity to intervention decisions is worth cultivating, even if the harvest is limited. Jeffrey Record at least deserves credit for raising some questions about presidential decision-making, even if he produces no convincing evidence that either the problem or the solution really exists.…
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Publication information: Article title: Making War, Thinking History: Munich, Vietnam, and Presidential Uses of Force from Korea to Kosovo. (Book Reviews). Contributors: Dr. Millett, Allan R. - Author. Journal title: Parameters. Volume: 32. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2002. Page number: 137+. © 2008 U.S. Army War College. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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