Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Very Barney Pearl Harbor Day

It is time for Episode 2 of, "The Books You Need to Purchase This Christmas." Episode 1 is here.

Who better to bring forward some suggestions on Pearl Harbor Day than the Dean of theCenter for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College, Professor Robert C. (Barney) Rubel, CAPT, USN (Ret.).

Remember - if the right people read the right things, they may be able to prevent the next "Pearl Harbor."

Barney - over to you!

On the verge of sequestration and massive defense cuts, we recall what a British defense official supposedly said "Gentlemen, the money has run out, now we will have to think." My own experience is that it is difficult to get an organization composed of smart, energetic and dedicated people to not act stupid in the aggregate. For these reasons I have been thinking and reading quite a bit about the sociology of innovation this past year. Here are some of my favorites:

Moneyball (the book, not the movie) by Michael Lewis. This book has been around for a while, and anyone who's a baseball fan has probably read it. If you haven't and are someone interested in the sociology of innovation, this one is for you. It's a bit chaotic and uneven, but Lewis gets in a number of good turns of phrase. More importantly, the book brings out very compellingly some of the reasons that organizations fight innovation even as they pay lip service to it. In this case, the stats the Oakland As used to win on a shoestring budget were available to everyone, but only Billy Beane, their general manager, was able to overcome the corporate culture and milk the value out of them. Some good lessons for the Navy in here.

Innovation in Carrier Aviation, by Thomas C. Hone, Norman Friedman, and Mark D. Mandeles. This is Newport Paper 37, which can either be read on line or purchased through the Government Printing Office. Continuing the theme of the sociology of innovation, the authors take a detailed look at how the Royal Navy came to invent the angled deck, steam catapult and optical landing system, three innovations that were essential to make operating jets from aircraft carriers feasible. Concurrently, they examine why the US Navy did not come up with these things and why and how it was able to adopt these British innovations. Although readable enough for most anyone interested in naval aviation, it is perhaps most useful and interesting for insiders.

The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name, by Toby Lester. I like maps and I spend a lot of time trying to think globally. Moreover, our Museum has opened a new exhibit on the history of maps of the world. Thus I became interested in this book. Ostensibly focusing on the provenance of a particular map that first named the New World "America," it turns out to be a sweeping tale of discovery in which the sociology of innovation is ever-present. The evolution of the world in the European mind is a fascinating story of how we can individually and collectively hold highly distorted concepts to be truth, and the risks people take to challenge them. For you e-book readers, I recommend you do this book in hard cover to fully appreciate the wonderful maps.

Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, by James Hornfischer. This is what I call SWO porn. If ever a surface warfare officer wanted to develop pride in his specialty, this is the book that will do it. It is an absolutely horrific account of the naval battles attending the campaign for Guadalcanal. The prose borders on lurid at times when the effects of major caliber gun hits on US and Japanese ships are described. The Marines sometimes think they were abandoned by the Navy at Guadalcanal, but this account will rectify any misconceptions. To continue a theme, there is plenty of grist for the sociology of innovation mill here too. The long and frustrating process of mastering radar is brought out as is the tactical development process of learning to fight in narrow waters. If you wore Navy blue, you will be prouder you did after reading this book.

Pacific Crucible by Ian Tol. Another WWII potboiler, but with a different focus. Tol takes us on a meticulous march through the first year of the Pacific War, when the US was on the defensive and had to fend off a superior Imperial Japanese Navy with relatively few assets. The title was not chosen randomly; the first year of the war was a crucible that tested the leadership in both the Japanese and American navies. Tol meticulously takes us through the backgrounds of both the leaders and the societies in order to give us a deeper insight on the events that are otherwise so familiar to us. Here again we see the broad vista of organizations being forced to innovate.

Unmanned Combat Air Systems by Norman Friedman. This is kind of a coffee table book in format, and could be viewed as a sales brochure for the Northrup Grumman X-47B unmanned aircraft. However, the book turns out to be a very clever and useful tour of what the future might hold in store for naval aviation. It is important to understand that the X-47 and its future brethren are not simply sleek looking versions of the Predator drone. As autonomous systems they will coordinate among themselves at machine speed. If this all works out, it will fundamentally change the face of naval aviation, and this book gives us advance warning and understanding of what it will look like. Many readers may recoil at the idea of armed, autonomous machines. If so, and you have not read Wired for War by Pete Singer, I recommend you do so.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good read!


Byron said...

"The Fourth Part of the World" sounds interesting. I've always been addicted to maps (and got a serious adrenaline rush combined with many hours of lost time just cruising the World on Google Earth!). Maps are the visual record of history and show man's trail of progress and sorrow through the ages. I got started on maps when I conned my mother and father into buying me a large book about the Vinland maps that puportedly pre-dated Columbus (remember, this was in the late 50s!). Then it was National Geographic!!!. Maps and geography are really cool stuff...and if you're smart, will let you hold your head high when your wife thinks you're lost and she finds out you aren't :)

UltimaRatioRegis said...

"As autonomous systems they will coordinate among themselves at machine speed."


Oh and Byron, along with the good perfesser's suggestion, try The Great Arc, which is the story of laying the long baseline through India IOT measure the height of Everest (the mountain, not the man....)

As an artillery survey nerd, I enjoyed it immensely.