Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

America's First General Staff: A Short History of the Rise and Fall of the General Board of the Navy, 1900-1950

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

America's First General Staff: A Short History of the Rise and Fall of the General Board of the Navy, 1900-1950

Article excerpt

America's First General Staff: A Short History of the Rise and Fall of the General Board of the Navy, 1900-1950

By John T. Kuehn

U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2017

$34.95 320 pp.

ISBN: 978-1682471913

This trim book explains the full course of the U.S. Navy's General Board, its institutional forum for innovation, during the period from 1900 to 1950. To remedy challenges identified during the Spanish-American War, Navy Secretary John D. Long established the board as an experiment. The Secretary realized he needed military advice, so he chose a mix of up-and-coming Navy officers, the head of the Bureau of Navigation that managed careers, and one Marine officer, all led by the redoubtable Admiral George Dewey, to offer it. From the outset, the General Board strove to coherently align what we today term strategy, campaign plans, force structure, personnel, and ship design.

The author of this institutional history, John Kuehn, is a former naval aviator who earned his doctorate while teaching at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. America's First General Staff is an offshoot of his dissertation-turned-book, Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy (U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2008). The consistency between that book and this more comprehensive one lies in Kuehn's conviction that military problem-solving is best revealed by understanding the decisionmaker's options and constraints.

In the case of naval strategy and fleet designs, the constraints are many. Innovation is not easy, and the Armed Forces must design ships, procure equipment, create doctrine, and plan wars with degrees of uncertainty. Civilian leaders can swiftly change the context, while navies are long-term investments with ships lasting up to 30 years, causing rivalries for ship design authority. In America's First General Staff, readers learn what happened when a 1921 Service secretary openly proposed bold international cuts to a principal weapon system (battleships) to save money, and subsequently agreed by treaty not to improve bases. That second point robbed the U.S. fleet of vital infrastructure needed for a protracted Pacific war. Only an organization that could assess threats, recommend investments, and provide top-level sponsorship for change could respond to such complexity, and Kuehn persuasively demonstrates how the Navy's General Board provided that vision and ultimately shaped innovation across the fleet. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.