CSA PRL Book Review: The Utility of Force by Rupert Smith

The new 2014 US Army Chief of Staff Professional Reading List (PRL) was released in the Summer of 2014 and I was relieved in the extreme to see that there was only one novel on the list, Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer.  The list is different than earlier lists because it is organized topically instead of by position as earlier lists were.  I have read many of the books on the list already and decided to read the ones I have not and post my thoughts on the books on the list.  This review is the third in that series.

The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World is an intriguing book, to say the least.  I will admit that after finding out a little more about the author, a retired British General, I was somewhat biased going into reading it as I then expected it to be a book advocating more soft power approaches to hard power problems.  As I got into the text itself that turns out to not be the case.

The book itself is 415 pages of text with an index.  It is separated into an introduction, three, topical three chapter parts, and a conclusion.  The topics of the parts are Industrial Warfare, Cold War Confrontation, and War Among the People.

The essential argument of the book is that the paradigm of war has changed in the past century and the dividing line is 1945 and the employment of nuclear weapons.  The premise goes that nuclear weapons changed the dynamic of war by making it realistically impossible for two nuclear armed states to fight each other out of fear of societal annihilation.  That is all well and good as far as it goes and actually makes sense within the context of historical occurrence since 21945 and the prevailing Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine of the east-west standoff we call the Cold War. He further goes on to explain the paradigm change in terms of war moving from a conflict between recognized forces belonging to sovereign states to one between sovereign forces and non-state forces that live among the people on whose behalf they are ostensibly fighting for.  It is this movement of war from being between defined forces to between undefined forces that makes for the paradigm shift by changing the way wars are to be fought.  That is the essence of the argument as I read it.

He makes several very good points within the narrative.  The first is he continually asserts the primacy of politics in the decision to use force.  In this he is absolutely correct.  In addition he makes clear that policy makers should not make the decision to use force without discussing the use of said force with their military commanders to find out if force is an appropriate tool. That is, can the use of force achieve the desired objective?  This is a point that is often lost or ignored by political leadership in many countries.

The Clausewitzean notion that rue generalship is the ability to impose your will on your enemy is discussed at length.  More importantly, he discusses how that concept has been applied in the era of non-state, non-centralized warfare in which we now find ourselves.  He correctly points out that decapitating the supposed leadership of what we think of as insurgent groups does not have a very stellar record as there seems to be an endless supply of leaders waiting in the wings when one leader gets killed or captured.  The resilience of non-state, non-centralized groups is one of their defining characteristics.

His discussion of the Darwinian nature of modern combat is revealing.  I remember having the same discussion among the NCOs and Officers of my Cavalry Troop in 2004-2005.  As we killed or captured insurgents the ones who remained got ever more competent and able to pull off their operations better.  The end result of such Darwinian, endless war is the creation of groups such as IS/ISIS/ISIL composed of men who have been trained by surviving the best we could throw at them.  They are a hard core of survivors and that much more capable and dangerous because of it.  I am reminded of the phenomenon that occurred in the World Wars where veteran units could accomplish missions that fresh units half their size could not because the men in those veteran units were the hard core of soldiers who just did not quit and had learned how to survive in the crucible of combat.

Lastly, Smith has a very useful discussion in his conclusion about how force should be used.  This is probably the only part of the book that is prescriptive in nature.  I agree with most of this and disagree with parts. Mainly I disagree with how thinks we should deal with the media.  Personally, I think the media should be treated as potential enemies and barred from the area of active operations.  I realize that is not really feasible though and some method of managing the media must be devised.  I suppose Smith’s prescription is as good as anybody else’s since it involves making certain the media understands what the military is doing and providing the context of military operations. More important is his discussion and prescription for deciding when, where, and how force should be used and why it is vitally important that all decision makers be on the same page.  Perhaps most vitally, he is correct in pointing out that an inflexible strategic end-state must be decided upon before force is used because an incoherent strategy leads to incoherent operations.  More importantly, flexible strategic goals almost ensure ultimate mission failure by precluding the proper planning and execution of military operations because it leaves commanders in the dark as to what their purpose really is.

This is an outstanding treatise on the use of military force in the modern world.  I may not agree completely that paradigm of warfare has shifted but Smith has undoubtedly correctly diagnosed why military interventions since World War II have been at best costly successes and more often even costlier failures.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in contemporary military theory.  Smith’s book is hopefully the opening of a conversation among generals and policymakers about the utility of using force in the modern world.


Veteran’s History Project by the Library of Congress

If you are a history geek like me, and I assume you are because you are reading the blog, then here is a project that should be interesting.  In the late 90’s and early 00’s there was a much bandied statistic floating around that 1,000 World War II vets died every day.  If that number were true then it is probably not true anymore because there probably are not enough World War II vets left to keep dying in those numbers for very long.

One thing that modern technology allows is to capture the memories of individual and put them into a form accessible to both the public and historians.  One project like that is the Veteran’s History Project by the Library of Congress.  What this project does is it “collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.”  The project makes all of this material available through its own website and includes not just narratives but also pictures and videos made by the veterans.

What is neat about this project is that it depends on non-historians to collect the material for it.  The veterans themselves can submit their own stories or people who just want to preserve history can go out and interview vets for inclusion in the database.  They have a VHP Field Kit that people can download to help guide them in their interviews of vets.  I plan on filling one of the kits out with my own experiences and also interviewing my brother and father who are also both vets.  My dad was in Vietnam and my brother was in Operation Desert Fox in 1990 while I was in both Bosnia in 1995 and Iraq 2004-2005.

This is a great project for history teachers to get involved in.  Not only does it make the kids aware of the men and women who walk among them every day who put their lives on the line in service to the country, it also preserves the memories of the men and women for future generations.  I can imagine finding and interviewing a vet being a pretty enlightening project for high school sophomores or juniors.

Book Review: Old Soldiers by David Weber

Old Soldiers is an older book but one I just got around to reading.  It is another foray by David Weber into the Concordiat universe created by Keith Laumer and populated by the sentient AI tanks known as BOLOs.

I you have read Weber’s earlier book Bolo! then you will understand the back story of the two main characters.  Menaka Trevor and the BOLO Lazarus.  Both were featured in a novella in that anthology.  This book picks up after the events in BOLO! with what the Concordiat does with Trevor and Lazarus after they are the only survivors f their battalion following the defense of the planet Chartres against a Melconian attack.

Spoilers below! Continue reading Book Review: Old Soldiers by David Weber

The Simple Survival Smart Book -Christmas Sale

From now until Christmas Eve I have reduced the price of The Simple Survival Smart Book by 25%.  Instead of the regular price of $14.99 it is now $11.20.  As always, if you buy the Print version the Kindle e-book is free.  Follow the below link to purchase or you can find it on Amazon by searching for Simple Survival Smart Book.

The Simple Survival Smart Book is an invaluable tool in the survivalist/prepper’s toolbox.  It is a compact book packed with the essential knowledge you need after the collapse or even if you are just camping for the weekend.  It is available as a Paperback, Kindle ebook, and audiobook through Audible.com.

When the SHTF you are going to want to have this book in your rucksack. What is inside is the basic knowledge you will need to ensure that you are not a victim when the State of Nature returns. Combining the knowledge of a lifetime of woodsmanship and 23 years of Combat Arms experience in the US Army I have broken all the most critical tasks and requirements down into a simple reference Guide to help the average person get a grasp on what they need to be able to do and have to survive if society were to collapse tomorrow.

Available as Paperback, Kindle ebook, and audiobook through Audible.com.

What Reviewers are saying:

“…this book belongs in everyone’s preparedness library.” – Ben at advancedsurvivalguide.com

“…fills a need for detailed info on bug-out, camping, and wilderness survival, beyond what most preppers and prepping books/articles know.” – Thoreau at Prep-Blog

“His section on map reading and navigation is one of the best I’ve seen in any survival book that is currently available.” – Riverwalker at Stealth Survival


Doom & Bloom, Prep-BlogAdvanced Survival Guide, reThinkSurvival.com, Survival Weekly, & Stealth Survival

Bonus:  If you buy the hardcopy through the Amazon link below you will receive the Kindle ebook for free.

Paperback  Kindle  Audiobook

Buy a copy signed by the author!

While supplies last.

Signed copies ship USPS Priority Mail within 3 business days.

Reading and Military Service

There is an interesting piece on Medium.com recently about basic training and encouraging new soldiers to read.  I read, and read a lot, and have always tried to encourage others to read, not only my fellow soldiers when I was in the Army, but people in general.

I find that the idea of having a reading list and free copies of said books available to basic trainees to read in their less-than-copious free time is an awesome idea and I am chagrined that I did not do it when I was a Drill Sergeant at Fort Knox many years ago.

I don’t necessarily agree with all the titles on the list, I would remove some and add a few others, mot notably Storm of Steel, The Face of Battle, and Helmet for My Pillow.  That being said, the idea is an excellent one and I would hope the Army would pick up on it and actually sponsor it so that Drill Sergeants do not have to finance such a worthy idea themselves.

The original article is linked below.  KNUCKLE-DRAGGERS NEED TO READ TOO:

Military History and Book Reviews