30th March 2012: Reading List on War

Conceptual Foundations

Sun Tzu. The Art of Warfare. Trans. Roger Ames. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993. TS-4. This translation of Sun Tzu’s classic incorporates the Yin-ch’ueh-shan texts. Ames’ commentary situates the recently discovered texts in their archaeological and historical context.

Thucydides. The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to The Peoloponnesian War. Trans. Robert B. Strassler. New York: The Free Press, 1996. TS-4. An annotated translation to Thucydides’ classic, featuring an introduction by Victor Davis Hanson. For further background, see Donald Kagan’s Thucydides: The Reinvention of History (New York: Penguin, 2009).

Carl von Clausewitz. On War. Trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989. TS-4. The influential translation of Clausewitz’s 1832 treatise on warfare. Jon Sumida’s Decoding Clausewitz (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2009) offers a contemporary interpretation that is being discussed in politico-military circles.

William C. Martel. Victory In War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy (revised edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Martel is associate professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University. This book considers how military theorists have interpreted victory and then proposes a United States theory of victory. The case studies include the 1990-91 Gulf War, the 1992-99 Balkans conflicts, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Martel has been criticized for not considering grand strategic or politico-military aspects — however, I like this study’s research design and theory-building approach.

Strategic History

Robert D. Kaplan. Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands A Pagan Ethos. New York: Vintage Books, 2002. TS-3. Kaplan contends that classicist sources can inform decision-makers about contemporary events. He revisits Churchill, Livy, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Tiberius and others for insights about the catalysts for war. In early 2012, Kaplan joined the Austin-based geopolitical publisher Stratfor as a writer.

Williamson Murray & Richard Hart Sinnreich. The Past as Prologue: The Importance of History to the Military Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. TS-4. An anthology on how military historians actively use [strategic] history to shape training, reinterpret conflicts and deal with civil-military relations. Useful for understanding the continued interest in Sun Tzu, Thucydides and Clausewitz, and Colin S. Gray’s contribution to strategic studies and strategic history. For a military historian’s memoir of the post-Vietnam transformation in strategic history, see Roger J. Spiller’s essay collection In the School of War (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2010).

The Revolution in Military Affairs

Herman Kahn. On Thermonuclear War (2nd ed). Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961. TS-4. Kahn was an influential Cold War civilian nuclear strategist and one of the first to ‘think about the unthinkable’ along with Bernard Brodie and Alfred Wohlsetter. This was an early, provocative attempt to think through the Clausewitzean logics of nuclear war, through Monte Carlo simulations. Kahn anticipated the mid-late 1990s debate on the Revolution in Military Affairs. For the historical and socio-political context, see Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi’s The Worlds of Herman Kahn: The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). For a comparison of Kahn and other civilian nuclear strategists, see Fred Kaplan’s doctoral dissertation The Wizards of Armageddon (revised edition) (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991).

Manuel De Landa. War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. New York: Swerve Editions, 1991. TS-4. The 1990-91 Gulf War popularized CNN and led to the fascination of the Revolution in Military Affairs and new technological systems. De Landa simultaneously evokes this period and represents its cybernetic, postmodern, theoretical excesses. Carl H. Builder’s The Masks of War: American Military Styles in Strategy and Analysis (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins Press, 1989) captures more effectively the pre-Gulf War climate and the Goldwater-Nichols Act reforms necessary for joint military operations.

Stephen Biddle. Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. TS-4. Biddle is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an influential military strategist. Military Power focuses on force employment as an essential variable in contemporary warfare. Biddle’s mixed methods design combines historiography, case studies, formal methods, statistical analysis, and the JANUS simulation experiment to develop a formal model of force capability.

Max Boot. War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History 1500 to Today. New York: Gotham Books, 2006. TS-3. From the mid-1990s, the Revolution in Military Affairs became an influential framework for military force transformation and renewal. Boot’s study of the intersection of war, technological innovation and history remains one of the more sophisticated contributions to the RMA debate. Worth comparing with Colin S. Gray and John Mueller.

Strategic Culture

Patrick Porter. Military Orientalism: Eastern War Through Western Eyes. London: Hurst & Company, 2010. TS-4. Porter is a reader in strategic studies at University of Reading. He examines the revival of strategic culture in United States counter-insurgency, and the attempts to understand adversaries such as the Japanese in World War II, the Mongol warrior myth, Hezbollah and the Taliban. Porter believes this is a reaction in part to implications in Sun Tzu’s war-fighting philosophy. For a similar critical study see Ron Schleifer’s Psychological Warfare in the Intifada: Israeli and Palestinian Media Politics and Military Strategies (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2006).

John W. Dower. Cultures of War: Pearl Harbour, Hiroshima, 9/11, Iraq. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. TS-3. Dower is a Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning historian based at MIT. This strategic history focuses on the pathologies of civil-military decision-making and the collective delusions that lead to war. In contrast to Murray & Sinnreich, Gray, and Boot’s Clausewitzean approach, this is a Thucydidean analysis that reinterprets the rationale for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Robert Dallek. Nixon and Kissinger: Partners In Power. New York: Penguin Books, 2007. TS-3. Based on extensive, declassified documents, Dallek captures the dysfunctional leadership in the White House and the effects of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal on Nixon and Kissinger. A case study in the abuse of executive power.

Bruce Kuklick. Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. TS-4. Kuklick is a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Blind Oracles shows how policymakers misuse and reshape the ideas of war intellectuals for their own Machiavellian agendas. Kuklick reassesses George Kennan’s grand strategy; the RAND think-tank; Henry Kissinger; Robert McNamara; Daniel Ellsberg; and the Harvard School of Government.

Contemporary Conflicts

Colin S. Gray. Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005. TS-3. Gray is a professor at University of Reading and an influential thinker in strategic studies and strategic history. Another Bloody Century re-evaluates the Revolution in Military Affairs and Clausewitz, and examines ‘medial’ trends in cyber-warfare, special operations, and irregular warfare. Worth comparing with Max Boot and John Mueller.

John Mueller. The Remnants of War. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004. TS-4. Mueller is a political science professor at Ohio State University who has had a ‘contrarian’ career on nuclear strategy, terrorism, and war. Remnants contends that developed nations have abandoned large-scale war but that problems still remain with peace-keeping operations. Worth comparing with Colin S. Gray and Max Boot.

David H. Ucko. The New Counterinsurgency Era: Transforming the U.S. Military for Modern Wars. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2009. TS-4. Ucko’s doctoral thesis explores how the US Army rediscovered counterinsurgency theory and its organizational adaptation to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A case study in Peter M. Senge’s ‘learning organisation’ theory.

Carolyn Nordstrom. Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994. TS-4. Nordstrom is an anthropology associate professor at the University of Notre Dame. Her conflict anthropology documents the extra-legal networks that form during wars and that connect the front lines to contemporary, civilian lives. A glimpse of war as a total system and the academic controversies regarding the use of cultural anthropology in war-fighting.

Dexter Filkins. The Forever War. New York: Vintage Books, 2008. TS-3. Filkins’ reportage on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the September 11 terrorist attacks, captures the Thucydidean reality of war from multiple perspectives: combatants on both sides, civilians, foreign aid workers, and others. Comparable to Nordstrom’s conflict anthropology in its insight about war-zones.

Michael C. Horowitz. The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. TS-4. Horowitz is assistant professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. His doctoral study is one of the best post-RMA books on the diffusion of innovations. Horowitz’s case studies include aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons, battle-fleets, and suicide terrorism.

Stephen G. Brooks. Producing Security: Multinational Corporations, Globalization, and the Changing Calculus of Conflict. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005. TS-4. Brooks is assistant professor at Dartmouth College. Producing Security examines the pivotal role that multi-national corporations play in conflicts and how production economics can shape international security.