Academic journal article Parameters

On War and Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf. (Book Reviews)

Academic journal article Parameters

On War and Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf. (Book Reviews)

Article excerpt

On War and Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf. Edited by Owen Connelly. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002. 347 pages. $29.95.

Anthologies invite prickly quibbles in a way that fiction and narrative history do not. This is true even when an editor's selections are fun to read, as are those in On War and Leadership. Combat veteran of the Korean War, McKissick Dial Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, and author of several books on Napoleonic warfare, Owen Connelly knows war and scholarship. But he piques critical faculty by saying in his introduction that he will use the "words" of 20 combat commanders over a period of 250 years, calling them "muddy boots" leaders and emphasizing that they led from the front. His target audience includes "people in all walks of life who make executive decisions, civil or military," but this reader fails to see mud in the board room or Willie and Joe on the executive jet. Connelly intends to "help balance the scale of military thought, which, since the fall of Napoleon, has been tipped heavily toward theory by a surfeit of books, beginning with Carl von Clausewitz's Vom Kriege (183 1) and Antoine de Jomini's Precis de l'art de la guerre (1838)."

Quibbles begin here. One doubts that "theory" books on war and leadership outnumber diaries, novels, memoirs, biographies, after-action reports, hero worship, and self-justifications on the subject. (There are always more "how to" and celebrity books than theory books. Check current best-seller lists.)

And why 250 years? Why not include Gustavus Adolphus, or for that matter, Julius Caesar, if one begins with a blank sheet? Alternatively, why not narrow the selection to a single theater of operations, one rich with commanders, like World War II in North Africa or the US Civil War in Virginia, thus providing a more defined context in the infinitely varied world of combat? And if2O combat commanders, why not 21? Why all Westerners except Giap and (perhaps) Dyan? Why not Mao or Attila? And if Mosby and Stonewall Jackson, why not Chamberlain and Sheridan? The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant refutes Connelly's assertion that "neither [Grant nor Lee] addressed leadership issues in a forthright way." And why not Chesty Puller or the oft-decorated and seriously wounded Barry McCaffrey? You get the idea. Connelly's choices are idiosyncratic.

The assertion that the Vietnam War was "terminated by negotiations and without victory" denies the ignominious defeat of the United States, desertion of our allies, evaporation of the Republic of Vietnam, and the fact that our former enemies govern from Hanoi. Be it known from this day forward: Hanoi won.

Reference to "the monster M-79 grenade launcher" puzzles old sweats. The 60mm mortar was removed from the rifle company after the war in Korea and replaced by the 81mm mortar. If 60mm was deemed too small, how did the 40mm M-79 become a "monster"?

The author's admiration for those who lead from the front will not be shared by the veteran platoon leader or company commander of firefights in Vietnam, nor by any who have reservations about the three helicopters that were too often stacked above their part of the jungle, filled, respectively, with a battalion commander (on his second tour in Vietnam), a brigade commander (with experience from the Korean War), and a division commander (with his memories of World War II), all armed with radios, all prepared to "help" the leader on the ground, who was too busy to chat. …

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