Saturday, December 04, 2010

A Very Barney Christmas: 2010

Yes my friends, it is that time of year - Christmas. As I have been saying for over half a decade, there is no finer gift you can give than that of books. Especially for the military professional, knowledge is essential. Knowledge and perspective can make all the difference in your professional performance. In this line of work - that means your life and the lives of those you lead.

Being retired for barely a year and self-employed, I simply have not had enough time to dedicate to book reading, as you can tell by my reading shelf on the right. As such, I am not going to put out my own list this year, but am going to defer to others.

We are starting this year out with recommendations from a top-shelf source; Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College, Professor Robert C. (Barney) Rubel.

If you liked his list last year, your are going to love this one. Thank you Professor Rubel - and the post is over to you!

Apparently, Phib and others found my first reading list useful because he has asked me to offer another one this year.

It’s been a busy and eventful year that has produced evidence of some profound geopolitical shifts. We have continued to suffer through the effects of the 2008 financial meltdown, a strategy reassessment and command change in Afghanistan and the President getting cuffed around at the G20 summit. So, in the geopolitical vein, my first recommendation is Monsoon, by Robert Kaplan. I suspect many of Phib’s constituents will have read this book already, but for those who haven’t, I think it is a good primer on geopolitics in plain language. Thinking about the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific as a geopolitical unity may be a novel concept for some folks, but I think Kaplan makes the case for it as well as for the future importance of the region.

Another recent book that I like is related to the Middle East. Rule Number Two by Dr. Heidi Kraft. Kraft is a former Navy psychologist who has worked extensively with Iraq and Afghanistan vets to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome. Kraft is an eloquent and compelling writer and speaker who, by relating her experiences in theater and back in the States, paints a vivid and highly affecting picture of the invisible wounds of war and how both individuals and the system try to deal with them. Many, if not most of us have either been there or know someone who has, so this book is likely to have a personal impact if you read it.

China is looming large as the principal geopolitical competitor to the United States. I was over there this spring, conducting a dialogue at Peking University with their key scholars and some retired PLAN officers on maritime strategy. I’m no China expert, but I came away with the impression that the Chinese are seriously trying to think through what they ought to do next in the maritime domain. These are serious people, intelligent and patriotic. We need to understand them better so that we do not make the mistake of cartooning or caricaturing them. There are a lot of books out there on China now, including some good ones produced by the College’s own China Maritime Studies Institute. Thus far, they have published four of them via the Naval Institute Press: China's Future Submarine Force, China's Energy Strategy, China Goes to Sea, and most recently, China, the United States, and 21st-Century Sea Power. They are based on disciplined and objective research, and are good baseline sources of knowledge on China. They help inoculate you against the immoderate language that infects a lot of the literature on China.

On the other hand, it’s good to listen to the Chinese themselves. My next recommendation is not exactly a fun or easy read, but I think it is useful for helping understand their military thinking. The Science of Military Strategy – published by the Chinese in English - is a rather scholarly book edited by two PLA major generals, Peng Guangqian and Yao Youzhi. Many authors contributed to this book and the footnotes indicate they have studied Western military thought. I would advise you that you will get the most from it if you have read Clausewitz’ On War from cover to cover. The authors explicitly discuss Clausewitz’ concept of center of gravity, but they have their own take and go beyond it with ideas like the strategic pivot. This is kind of a soup to nuts kind of book, taking on everything from infantry operations to space and information warfare. To be frank, I find their approach more pragmatic and useful than a lot of the crank military metaphysics that has infected our literature over the past dozen years. Now, the problem is that this book is hard to get. It is published by China’s Military Science Publishing House, which is an arm of the Academy of Military Science of the PLA. For what it’s worth, the ISBN is 7-80137-892-X. Their address is Qinglongqiao, Haidian District, Beijing 100091. The printer is Beijing Yihang Printing Co. Might be a fun hunt for those that like such things.

Ok, I am now going to be blatantly self-promoting. The Naval Institute has published One Hundred Years of U.S. Navy Air Power, edited by Dr. Doug Smith. Doug is a professor in our College of Distance Education at the War College, and author of Carrier Battles: Command Decision in Harm's Way. About a year ago Doug sweet-talked me and some of the other aviators around the College into writing chapters for a centennial history of naval aviation. We did, and I think you will find this book to be a bit different approach to the subject. The chapters aren’t strictly chronological; rather they focus on specific aspects of naval aviation’s history. I took on the transition from props to jets, and discovered things about my profession about which I had no clue. I think you will find this a fun read.

Finally, for those who like to listen to audiobooks on long drives, I recommend any of the Sue Grafton alphabet novels (A is for Alibi, etc.) or Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. They are entertaining and make the miles melt away.
We need to give Barney a nod for the Salamander Military Quote of the Month.
... crank military metaphysics that has infected our literature over the past dozen years.
We are in the presence of a giant.

As always, if you want more recommendations, just click the books tab below. More are on the way this season.


Outlaw Mike said...

Thank you for your book list CDR and I especially retain last year's advice, Such Men as These.

If I can give a tip myself: The Coldest Winter, by David Halberstam. The author seems a bit left-leaning but his style is very eloquent. There's tons of info on the first year of the war, and it has been a revelation for me. He also sheds light on a whirring series of personalities. I must say that I have come to appreciate General Walker, really so. On the other hand: Mac Arthur's reputation with me has take quite a beating. Almond is an interesting personality despite his flaws.

Exemplary characters stand out throughout the book. Marine Gen O.P. Smith, LtCol Don Carlos Faith etc etc. There's the Battle of Chipyong-Ni and the controversial TF Crombez. A very, very, very good book.

As long as America can produce men like Walker, Ridgway, Faith, Smith and so many others, it will be okay.

Anonymous said...

Carrier Battles: Command Decision at Sea looks like a sure winner for this yardbird!

Byron said...

Obviously, we're all going to have to keep an eye out to see if this silly software hasn't dumped our names..."guest" below was moi.

xformed said...

Because you're always welcome... :)

BTW:  Lt B and his wife showed up for breakfast.  The crowd dragged them right into the conversation, especially the now first woman vet, who has abt 8000 flight hrs as COMMAIR pilot, at a table full of mostly pilots.

Mentioned something in JAX brewing for next weekend....

This day is awesome already, and the sun hasn't past the yardarm.

xformed said...

I think we just haven't read learned the names of the men and women who have endured for a decade in combat with an "unmarked" enemy, who have already done such things, and will continue to perform such acts.  They have been in the crucible, and many years from now, they will be mentioned in dispatches, as are those names above.

Byron said...

He would be talking next weekend; my company Christmas party is next Friday night at Crown Plaza on the riverfront, and I'll working next Saturday (hangover and all :( ) I normally drink very little, but on the other hand, I have a room for Friday night and may imbibe to my hearts content.

Xformed, my commiserations for spending all that time with that ugly little SWO; My congratulations for the miserly moments you shared with a lovely young woman :)

C-dore 14 said...

OM, Agree that Halberstam's book is a good one.  Since he draws heavily on Clay Blair's, <span>The Forgotten War</span> as a source I'd recommend that as well.

Anonymous said...

I can vouch for Rule Number Two. An interesting look at a niche that doesn't often get written about.

Sim said...

That was me.

Steeljaw said...

I've got Stalking the Black Swan and The Master Switch queued up in the iPad  for whenever I get out of proposal hell.

Grotopotamus said...

Many thanks for this - trying to catch up on some Salamander, and a certain taller-half will have a few books on China under the tree now (if Amazon moves fast enough). Thanks again!