Academic journal article Parameters

Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II

Academic journal article Parameters

Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II

Article excerpt

Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II

by Jorg Muth

Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2011

367 pages

$29.95

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Command Culture is a provocative book. It will probably elicit shrieks of outrage from some readers and grudging praise from others intimately familiar with both the US Army and the German Armed Forces. In brief--kurz um, as Muth would say in his native German--compares the German and American systems of selecting, educating, and promoting military officers from 1901 to World War II and finds the German system superior. He is particularly critical of American cadet training at West Point and officer education at the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He much prefers the German emphasis on acculturation resulting in bonding called Kameradschaft.

This reviewer's initial impression was that Muth is a brash young German academic freely and happily tossing intellectual hand grenades into the American Officers' Mess. As one carefully studies his thesis and sources, however, it becomes apparent that Muth has done his homework. His impressive research ranged widely and plunged deeply into German and American archives and secondary sources. His 217-page narrative is supported at every turn by 95 pages with 977 endnotes.

His research included interviews with American scholars Edward M. Coffman and Dennis Showalter, who suggested that he address the possible charge of bias for the German system. He took that advice and explains in an Afterword his lifelong fascination with the US Army begun as American soldiers allowed "the enthusiastic German kid" to climb on military equipment in the training area near the small town where he grew up. A later highpoint was his participation in the 2005 West Point Summer Seminar in Military History. He praises the teaching and dedication he experienced, calling West Point "a magical place." Gratitude, however, did not soften objectivity as he reminds us: "History is by its very nature a harsh profession."

Indeed! He writes, "The US Army did not have good officers because of West Point but in spite of it. During these first decades of the twentieth century, the Academy presents the spectacle of a monstrous waste of youthful enthusiasm." And despite the lack of evidence supporting the utility of such monstrous waste, the institution consistently resisted change. He is particularly critical of the hazing of plebes (first-year cadets) by other cadets, pointing to the immaturity of those doing the hazing, the cruel and mindless practices, and the memorization of nonsense plebe "knowledge" (instead of useful military information). He has a similarly sceptical view of the relationship between the tactical officers and the cadets in their charge, regarding it as martinet to tin soldiers.

His point is that neither the harassment by other cadets nor the nagging by tactical officers (some soldiers would properly identify both as chickenshit), promotes what the Germans prize most in the acculturation of German cadets and junior officers: Kameradschaft. …

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