Academic journal article Naval War College Review

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 Naval War College Review

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

Muth, Jörg^ Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II^ Denton: Univ^ of North Texas Press, 2013^ 376pp^ $29^95

Dr^ Jörg Muth has written a serious comparative account of the German and American precommissioning courses and general staff colleges from 1901 to 1940^ Any new work comparing German and American military effectiveness in the first half of the twentieth century is guaranteed to be controversial, and Muth certainly achieves controversy^ However, there exists a significant revisionist school of thought that offers an interpretation much different from Muth's^

The May 2010 Society of Military History annual meeting, held at the Virginia Military Institute, featured a very wellattended roundtable that posed the question of American or German operational or tactical superiority^ The panel moderator first asked how many of the historians in the room had spent their teenage years reading books promoting the vaunted Prussian and German militaries^ Nearly every hand went up^ Attracted by the works of Heinz Guderian, F^ W^ von Mellenthin, Liddell Hart, J^ F^ C^ Fuller, and others, many of these teenagers grew up to be believers in the conventional wisdom that the Germans got it pretty well right^ A complementary opinion was that the American military forces got very little right^ In 1986, Heller and Stofft's America's First Battles became the standard history for those who found in the German army the bravery, intelligence, and aggressive leadership they sought for America^

Muth and this reviewer were both in the audience for the 2010 roundtable, and both of our hands went up^ However, the revisionist school, with Michael Doubler's Closing with the Enemy (1994), Keith Bonn's When the Odds Were Even (1994), and Peter Mansoor's GI Offensive in Europe (1999) in the vanguard, is alive and well^ Perhaps the most useful direct discussion of this historiographic misalignment was Brian Linn's piece in the Journal of Military History (April 2002) "The American Way of War Revisited" and the comments in response by Russell Weigley^ Linn's article and Weigley's response effectively frame the distinct difference between interpretations that hold that the German armed forces in both World War I and World War II either were superior to the armed forces of the United States or were not^ Muth has significant challenges using primary and secondary sources^ He seems to relish his biases, and even partly explains those biases in the "Author's Afterword," which Muth states was added upon the sage advice of Edward M^ Coffman and Dennis Showalter^ Muth's characterization of U^S^ Army officers-as people from whom he should hide as a youth hanging out with American soldiers on maneuvers-may be more self-revelatory than Muth realizes^

Muth arguably tries to do too much in a single book^ His interpretation of officer education in both Germany and the United States focuses on two levels: cadets in their precommissioning programs and field-grade officers attending the equivalent of a general staff college^ Unfortunately, Muth does little beyond making assertions unsupported by evidence^ These assertions are frequently that American army officer education was bad, and that the equivalent in Germany was good^ He absolutely fails to place either education system in its historical context, going so far as to say that the word Prussia would be needlessly complicating, and that he therefore only uses Germany. …

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