The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush

By Mahoney-Norris, Kathleen A. | Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush


Mahoney-Norris, Kathleen A., Air & Space Power Journal


The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush by Dale R. Herspring. University Press of Kansas (http:// www.kansaspress.ku.edu), 2502 Westbrooke Circle, Lawrence, Kansas 66045-4444, 2005, 512 pages, $45.00 (hardcover).

In this timely book, Dale Herspring-professor of political science at Kansas State University and a 32-year veteran of the US Navy-attempts to redress what he considers an imbalance in past scholarship on civil-military relations in the United States. As Herspring notes, he intends to examine those relations from the vantage point of individuals who are putatively "controlled"-senior military officers-versus the more common scholarly focus on the "controllers"-civilian policy makers. He offers a relatively simple thesis: "The greater the degree to which presidential leadership style coincides with and respects prevailing service/military culture, the less will be the degree of conflict. Similarly, the greater the degree to which presidential leadership style does not provide leadership and clashes with the prevailing military culture, the greater will be the probability and intensity of conflict" (p. 2). Herspring further proposes that the military prefers a certain type of presidential leadership style, which consists of "strong political leadership" but . in consultation with military leaders. He contends that the military will evaluate a president's leadership based on its concurrence with military culture on four key issues: use of force; roles, missions, and resources; personnel policies; and responsibility and honor (pp. 15-17).

In chapters 2-13, Herspring surveys every presidential administration from that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the current incumbent, George W. Bush. He devotes a chapter to summarizing and assessing each president's leadership style (spending considerable time on key officials like the secretary of defense) and then details relevant cases in that administration focusing on conflict, or the lack of it, between the civilian and military leadership. He concludes each of the 12 chapters by noting what "violations" of service/military culture transpired and what changes in service/military culture may have occurred. The last is an important point for the author as he contends that the military has evolved from an apolitical actor prior to World War II to a "bureaucratic interest group" (p. 1), with increasingly important links to Congress and other groups. Nevertheless, Herspring still concludes that the military is a profession with important cultural viewpoints that presidents ignore or insult at their peril. That is a central theme, to which he returns in his concluding chapter where he ranks each administration's relations comparatively, from "high" to "moderate" to "minimal" levels of conflict (p. 409).

How well does Herspring succeed in establishing his thesis? On the whole, he does an admirable JoJD of encapsulating each administration's relationship with senior military officers through use of a wide variety of sources, all of which are extensively footnoted. (However, one might question why Herspring relies essentially on secondary sources when personal interviews would seem entirely appropriate and valuable for a book of this scope. …

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