Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution

Ira Gruber, an emeritus military historian at Rice, has a book coming out this fall under the title of Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution that I’ll probably have to read in my copious free time.  For ten years or so I’ve been very interested in military thought.  I’ve worked on Russian military thought, Salafi jihadist military thought and recently, with my dissertation American military thought on intelligence, so I’m primed to want to read this.  Besides, it’s got an awesome cover.  I am one of those people who think that you CAN judge a book by its cover.

Anyway, here is the description of the book from the publisher.

Historians have long understood that books were important to the British army in defining the duties of its officers, regulating tactics, developing the art of war, and recording the history of campaigns and commanders. Now, in this groundbreaking analysis, Ira D. Gruber identifies which among over nine hundred books on war were considered most important by British officers and how those books might have affected the army from one era to another. By examining the preferences of some forty-two officers who served between the War of the Spanish Succession and the French Revolution, Gruber shows that by the middle of the eighteenth century British officers were discriminating in their choices of books on war and, further, that their emerging preference for Continental books affected their understanding of warfare and their conduct of operations in the American Revolution. In their increasing enthusiasm for books on war, Gruber concludes, British officers were laying the foundation for the nineteenth-century professionalization of their nation’s officer corps. Gruber’s analysis is enhanced with detailed and comprehensive bibliographies and tables. [Emphasis in original.]

I’m interested by the comment about the importance of British officers starting to read foreign books.  The Americans started to bring themselves out of their post-Civil War military doldrums when they (or at least some of them) started learning from foreigners, as well.  I guess this is the equivalent in military theory of the old adage that “two heads are better than one.”  I occasionally worry about this with regard to today’s US military.  It is an extraordinarily capable organization that adapts as well or better than any military in the world.  That said, I see little evidence that it learns much from other militaries.

In any event, I look forward to reading this tome.  And enjoying the cover.

Published in: on June 29, 2010 at 6:55 AM  Comments (2)  

SHAFR: Findings from Iraqi Records

If any of you are at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) conference going on right now in Madison, I strongly encourage you to stop by the following panel.  Unfortunately, it’s scheduled for Sunday AM, but it should be well worth it.

Panel 58:  New Perspectives on U.S.-Iraq Relations under Saddam (Room 213)

Chair:  Jessica Huckabey, Conflict Records Research Center

“This Stab in the Back”: Saddam Hussein, Irangate and the United States

Hal Brands, Institute for Defense Analyses

Understanding Saddam’s Non-Use of WMD in the Gulf War

David Palkki, University of California at Los Angeles and Institute for Defense Analyses

Saddam’s Perceptions and Misperceptions: The Case of Desert Storm

Kevin Woods, Institute for Defense Analyses

Comment:  Thomas Mahnken, U.S. Naval War College and Johns Hopkins University

All three of these papers draw heavily on captured Iraqi records copies of which are or will be in the Conflict Records Research Center.  (Official site here.)  Hal’s paper will discuss how Saddam reacted to news of the Iran-Contra scandal, in particular the fact that the United States had been shipping weapons to Iran, a country with whom Iraq was at war at the time.  Though the Iran-Contra affair came to light pretty late in the Iran-Iraq War, I think is paper should encourage historians to reconsider the question of the extent to which Saddam really was our man, in our pocket, during the 1980s.

David’s paper should prove equally interesting and deals with the effects or lack thereof of the famous Baker-Aziz meeting of 9 January 1991 at which Baker issued a veiled threat–often thought to refer to the possible use of nuclear weapons–of the consequences if Iraq were to use CBW against American forces.  Dave gave a version of this paper a couple of months ago at a conference at the CSIS.  Here is the abstract from that talk:

Ever since the Gulf War, scholars have debated why Iraq did not use chemical or biological weapons
against Coalition forces or US allies. Many analysts have suggested that Saddam didn’t use WMD
because the ferocity of the Coalition onslaught, adverse weather, difficulties mating toxic materials with
warheads, or other factors rendered Iraq physically unable to deliver them. Others argue that US Secretary
of State James Baker’s ambiguous warning that the United States would retaliate with nuclear weapon
strikes, and/or by replacing Saddam’s regime, deterred Iraqi use. I find that Iraq was physically able to
attack Coalition forces and US allies with chemical and biological weapons, yet refrained from doing so
for fear of US nuclear retaliation. Deterrence, however, was largely existential, as Saddam considered US
nuclear strikes plausible long before US officials issued even the most veiled of threats. My argument is
based on captured recordings of private conversations between Saddam and his inner circle, declassified
US interrogation reports, defector accounts, and recently released memoirs. My findings have important
implications for the ongoing debate over the role of the US nuclear arsenal and the question of a US no first
use declaratory policy.

Kevin will talk about work that he and I did on the lessons Saddam learned from DESERT STORM, how he was able to calculate that he won that war and how these lessons may have served him poorly in the run-up to 2003.  For more on that, see my previous posting here.

“Jihad Is Not the Medicine for Every Disease”

The third and last of the series of essays entitled “Reflections on the Aceh Jihad 2010” has appeared.  Like the first two parts it is a work of strategic thought.  Furthermore, it is well within the mainstream of both jihadist and global revolutionary thought, drawing on sources ranging from the Quran to Mao.  The fact that Indonesian jihadists draw on far-flung influences isn’t a new discovery.  (More authoritatively and at more length, see here.)  In fact, in some sense, it is a reflection of Indonesia and Indonesian culture writ large.  Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see an example in the context of jihadist “strategic studies.”  The author of this series of essays (does anybody know who he is??) clearly has a good head on his shoulders.  In my view, he’s precisely the sort of intellectual who is actually dangerous.  Guys like him scare me.  I hope that the Indonesian authorities find him soon and either kill him or re-educate him.  That said, he is not ten feet tall, strategically speaking.  In particular, like most other salafi jihadists, he is gratifyingly unwilling to form big-tent coalitions against the West and the “apostate” regimes.

The author’s main thesis in the latest essay is that physical jihad is “not the medicine for every disease.”  In particular, he argues that jihadists should consider political conditions when deciding how to act.  For instance, “The region of Indonesia, with its Muslim majority, is best to be made as the object of da’wah, not the object of jihad yet. Not just any da’wah, but the da’wah that supports the journey of jihad.”  That said, however, not everybody needs to rush off to fight, except in cases of direct invasion by the infidels, as in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In fact, the author writes that “jihad is a war that is universal in characteristic, covering every element of man’s life. Covering military, politic and economy.”

Given this, the jihadists should have a “map of contributions” to indicate how each person can contribute to the cause, whatever his profession.  Hence, for instance, they should not encourage the administrators of pro-jihad websites to rush off to fight, as they are doing good work where they are.  The author lists an amusing selection of other occupations in which people should stay in preference to running to the sound of the guns.  This includes doctors, educators, specialists “in dealing with the deviated sects,” specialists “in fighting Liberalism and Pluralism,” specialistists in fighting the Shia and the Christians, “and all other elements of the ummah which have the roles of guarding the big house from the gnawing of the rats of munkar and falsehood.”  (It is amusing to see the author of this essay pointing to taqiyya as one of the things that make the Shia so particularly dangerous to the Sunnis.)

The author then turns to security.  Unlike da’wah which is quite open, he argues, jihad is a matter which must be handled more clandestinely.

The jihad that is interpreted as fighting in the battlefields, should choose the best cadres who have a high level of security. Because, it had already been repeated times that armed jihad was proclaimed in Indonesia, but it always ended up in pitiful arrests. We must always be careful and selective in choosing the cadres who are prepared to conduct jihad with weapons, because, the character of jihad is different from the character of da’wah.

Not all people whose speeches are sweet in supporting jihad are right to be invited to jihad in the battlefield. The intelligence are swarming about, many of whom looking very “salafi” and very “jihadi”. It is too difficult to tell those who are really truthful and safe to be invited for jihad from those we are harming jihad instead.”

The essay also argues that Jihadists should have strategic patience and a long-term perspective, because “Jihad can take a very long time, like the Crusader War that took place for about 200 years.”  The author points to the history of Afghanistan since 1979 as an example.  Given this, he says:

Jihad must be interpreted as a ‘universal war’, not a ‘momentary clash’. Being mistaken in the perception of jihad will produce confusion in realizing jihad.

In the English language there is the term ‘war’ and the term ‘battle’. ‘War’ is a long warfare between two parties, while ‘battle’ is a short-term clash between two armed groups. Or in other words, war is a series of battles performed by two parties that are mutually hostile to each other.

The author then takes a new whack at a theme he’d developed in an earlier essay when he criticized those jihadists who simply wanted to die gloriously, but who didn’t accomplish anything useful in the process.  “The fight between the Islamic ummah against the kafir with all of their stooges is a long fight and battle which is of a cross-generation in nature. Due to that, it’s more accurate to be called ‘war’.”  He goes on, “Jihad fie sabilillah…is more accurate[ly] to be placed in the interpretation of ‘war’, not ‘battle’.  Jihad is not how to hit and beat the enemies in a short time but unable to sustain that victory.”  Interestingly, the author quotes Hazim al-Madani, “one of the Afghan jihad figures who had a close link with Al-Qaeda,” in support of this argument.  (Al-Madani, wrote an interesting book in 2002 called This Is How We View the Jihad and How We Want It which dissected the repeated failures of the jihadists in the Levant.  He said these failures were largely due to sloppy implementation of jihad, inadequate da’wah and media efforts, poor political efforts, and the opposition of the ulema.)

The author closes with a plea for unity between the mujahideen and the people.  “The Mujahideen are like the fish and the ummah is its water. If the Mujahideen leave the ummah, the ummah would also leave the Mujahideen.”  He again quotes al-Madani:

Today, the international world is fighting a war against us. If there are those who do not take part in the coalition to fight us, it is not because they are sympathizing with us. But, more to because of their wish to obtain a larger share from this ghanimah (we are all ghanimah for them). Though the reality was as such, they who do not join in the international coalition have the potential to weave partnerships with us. But the problem is, we must prioritize loyal partners who are prepared to sacrifice for us, not the partners who would one day betray us. And in brief, the loyal partner is the Islamic ummah itself.

On the basis of al-Madani’s advice, the author notes that the governments of Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Palestine, and Yemen have all let the people down.  However, the individual Muslims from these places have all been steadfast, contributing their blood and treasure to the cause.

The author closes this essay with a promise to start a new series.  I can’t wait.

Published in: on June 14, 2010 at 3:37 AM  Comments (2)  
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Medieval Militia Revived the UK

That’s a forward-leaning title, I admit, but that’s by and large what has happened in one town in Wiltshire, England.  Recall that the Church of England, to which this vicar presumably belongs, is the official religion of England.  This explains the vicar’s power to compel the citizens to do something.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  I’ve got a rather more substantive post on jihadism coming up later today.  I swear.

Published in: on June 13, 2010 at 6:42 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Royal Armouries Museum

While I was in Leeds, England a couple weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit the Royal Armouries.  This museum is, in essence, an overflow museum of arms and armor, excuse me, armour, from the Tower of London.  I found it an interesting experience, though not necessarily for the all reasons that the curators had in mind.

Royal Armouries, Leeds, England

As might be expected from a country that once had an empire on which the sun never set, the museum has an extensive collection of weapons from all over the world, with the exception of South America, I suppose.  The jewel in the collection in the world’s only surviving set of Asian elephant armor, a Mughal item, dating from approximately 1600.  Actually, the set is missing the armor that would have protected the elephant’s right side, but that doesn’t in any way make it less impressive.


The cases at each side of the elephant contain reproductions of the various types of armor the elephant is wearing so you can touch it and really appreciate how it’s put together, which I found a nice touch.

A closeup of the actual elephant armor.

A real winner of a display, and it gives me new appreciation for the cover of Delbruck’s volume 1.  My understanding is that in the early months of World War II, infantry soldiers sometimes suffered what was called “tank panic” or “tank fright,” when faced with these armored behemoths.  Must not a similar phenomenon have occurred at least occasionally when meeting a war elephant?

Warfare in Antiquity: History of the Art of War, Volume 1

But I digress.

In the terms that the curators meant the museum, this was by far the highlight because, frankly, a few swords in a case go a long way for me, and I say that as a former fencer.  It is true that, as Stalin said, quantity has a quality all its own, but still…

No, the other really interesting part of the museum for me was the section devoted to personal protection.  Here was a varied collection of shotguns, hand guns, sword canes, switch blades, brass knuckles, etc.  Some of this was of purely historical interest, but a good bit of it was quite modern.  These modern artifacts were set in one of two distinct contexts: noble law enforcement and base criminality.  Large statistic-laden graphics on the wall invited visitors to consider whether the availability of weapons caused crime.  Meanwhile,  little placards adjacent to many of the actual weapons indicated either the licensing requirements for legal ownership or outlined the criminal penalties to which one was liable for illegal possession.  This was most definitely a government museum propagandizing the public.  (While I was in the UK there was a tragic mass shooting in Cumbria.  In the wake of this, the museum is probably pushing on an open door, politically speaking.)  As an interesting parallel to the suggested link between weapons and crime, one of the last parts of the museum asked visitors to consider the potential causes of war.  You guessed it, building armies was one of the five or six choices.

In any event, should you find yourselves in northern England, I would definitely recommend a visit.

Published in: on June 13, 2010 at 8:30 AM  Comments (2)  
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