The Great Military Philosophers on Afghanistan (TGMPA) Video Series
The US – Afghanistan War viewed through the writings of the great military philosophers.
Reflections on Military Art and Science.
Taken from Facebook Live Chats.
War on the White Board
Short white board videos about war.
The Basement War Room
The Basement War Room, LLC is my writing, game design and publishing company. It is located in half my basement and is inspired by my father’s study and the many Army plans vaults I served in over the years. I built the books shelves myself (and you can see my design flaws as they sag under the weight of my books)! But the fun part is the sliding white boards I installed over the bookshelves. I have six – two horizontal and four vertical – and they slide on top of each other for easy access to the books, or pull out for a wrap around planning space. My library is organized into eight sections, check out some of my favorite books under the section drop down menus to the right, or check out the entire library on LibraryThing.
My passion is to capture the counterinsurgency lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq into mediums that engage the American Public. This is important because it looks like America is about to be 0-3 for counterinsurgency campaigns (Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq). While I love books, we could fill dozens of warehouses with all the quality books written about Vietnam, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti, and other interventions, so it seems that books aren’t doing a great job in transferring the lessons of war between American generations. Therefore I am exploring other mediums that may help preserve the hard won lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq for future generations.
My current project is a video series where I examine Afghanistan through the lens of the writings of the Great Military Philosophers – Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, and Mao. Sun Tzu Ponders Afghanistan is complete and you can check it out by clicking on this link.
If you watched the movie, please read the book! The movie only tells the story of 1/7 Cavalry’s victory and adds to the legend that the US Army won every battle in Vietnam. The book faithfully covers the defeat of 2/7 Cavalry. Further, Chapter 26, Reflections and Perceptions, is painful, but important to read in the context of the United States’ ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Which of General Moore’s lessons has our nation and Army learned? Certainly not his concluding lesson: “Finally – even though it took ten years, cost the lives of 58,000 young Americans and inflicted humiliating defeat on a nation that had never before lost a war – some of us learned that Clausewitz had it right 150 years earlier when he wrote these words: ‘No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so-without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.'”
This Atlas provides an outstanding overview of the American Revolutionary War by pairing 41 maps with an 800 word essay. As the United States fights our current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq I have found it frustrating, and ironic, that the United States, a country born in insurgency and revolution, finds it so difficult to understand the character of insurgencies. Part of the reason for this is that the United States has a national narrative (perhaps a national myth?) of our own birth that emphasizes George Washington and the Continental Army while glossing over civil war, insurgents, and the French. The structure of Symonds’ atlas – 41 battles, mainly conventional, reinforces our national narrative. In Symonds defense, his work is explicitly a battlefield atlas, not a comprehensive history of the war. Further, Symonds highlights irregular aspects of the fighting and political consequences throughout his work. Especially in Part Four: The War Moves South, Symonds devotes one map, Number 31, to the loyalist versus revolutionary civil war and another, Number 33, to irregular forces destroying a conventional one at King’s Mountain.
Although this is about Africa, it feels like Afghanistan. If the current Afghanistan War is rooted in terrorism – that is Al Queda used ungoverned space in Afghanistan to plan and prepare for the 9/11 attacks on America – then what about all the other ungoverned spaces around the world? Herbst develops a theory of how states control territory, discusses the problem of controlling low population densities, and proposes some solutions. I especially appreciate his discussion of decertifying old states. If a state can’t control its territory, why should it enjoy the benefits of sovereignty? Non-state actors, terrorists, etc come from somewhere – people live on land. It is worth thinking about how we can effectively shape the global order to address these challenges.
I sure felt like I was in the middle of a “clash of civilizations” during my tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. To quote Huntington “The belief that non-Western peoples should adopt Western values, institutions, and culture is immoral because of what would be necessary to bring it about…If non-Western societies are once again to be shaped by Western culture, it will happen only as a result of the expansion, deployment, and impact of Western power. Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism.”
General Wedemeyer served as a war planner in Washington from 1940 to 1943. After that he served in India and then as the U.S. Commander in the China Theater, doing, to use the Army’s current doctrinal term, “Security Force Assistance” (SFA). His lessons on SFA are absolutely relevant today – many companies and perhaps some battalions integrated well with host nation forces in our modern wars, but I never saw anything that approaches General Wedemeyer’s Joint American-Chinese Staff at the brigade or higher level (p296). General Wedemeyer had to overcome numerous obstacles to achieve his joint staff and those obstacles remain today, but what we could not overcome was the American staff officer’s love of classified computer systems and the regulations that prohibit host nation militaries from being anywhere near them. As for strategy I’ll quote the General “…my most strenuous battles were those of the mind – of trying, as we in Washington’s planning echelons saw it, to establish a correct and meaningful Grand Strategy which would have resulted in a fruitful peace and a decent postwar world.” (p ix).
Liddell Hart’s classic certainly has elements I disagree with, for example, his definition of strategy “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy.” (p321). My hangup is limiting strategy to “military” means. In Afghanistan and Iraq we had platoons trying to integrate diplomatic, informational and economic effects along with military ones. But I love the indirect approach and Hart is full of wisdom – for example, his first principle on the essence of strategy: “Adjust your end to your means. In determining your object, clear sight and cool calculation should prevail. It is folly ‘to bite off more than you can chew’, and the beginning of military wisdom is a sense of what is possible.” (p335).
There is a lot of talk about how the United States did not learn the lessons of Vietnam and apply them to Afghanistan and Iraq. And while true, that is a bit shallow. A fuller truth is the United States did not learn the lessons of World War 2, Korea, The Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo (to name some highlights). The Quest for Viable Peace takes the lessons of Kosovo and organizes them into a useful framework for future stability operations. “Security is the essential precondition for viable peace.” (p9).
Demarest focuses on winning, and after losing Vietnam, and arguably Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States Army needs to focus on the winning part of its mission “to fight and win the nation’s wars.” The book is organized into 144 stand alone chapters, so you can jump around to topics of interest.
Games present fantastic opportunities for learning. Books are great, and we can learn vicariously through books, but we don’t have agency. Having agency, the ability to act, presents a fantastic opportunity to learn, because you can make mistakes. And mistakes are great teachers. Antal’s book is a tactical decision game, specifically, a “choose your own adventure” story of infantry combat. Unlike the fantasy themed “choose your own adventure” books, Antal provides a decision chart in the back, so that you can record your path, compare, and learn. I recommend making a note on the decision chart if you advanced due to a dice roll or a decision.
WWI is famous for the trenches of the western front, but Rommel spent considerable time fighting in the mountains, and was able to maneuver at the small unit level. His book contains timeless lessons about leadership, initiative, physical fitness, and tactics.
In the 18 years since this book was first published, the Army has changed a few terms – and introduced some new digital systems. However, the models Nate Allen and Tony Burgess are timeless, and invaluable for any officer to study before taking command. As a battalion executive officer I gave a copy to each of my company executive officers. Later, I improved my mentorship by reading a chapter a week with my pre-command captains. Leadership, Disciplined, Physically Fit, and Motivated is a powerful framework the authors use to organize all the areas a company commander must establish working systems in.
Amazingly (to me at least), the Army no longer includes the 11 Principles of Leadership in doctrine. (They are not in ADP, ADRP or FM 6-22 – please email me or post if you find them somewhere else!) FM 22-100, Military Leadership, July 1990, states “The 11 principles of Army leadership are excellent guidelines and provide the cornerstone for action. They are universal and represent fundamental truths that have stood the test of time. Developed in a 1948 leadership study, the principles were first included in leadership doctrine in 1951.” Malone includes them on page 32 of his book, which alone makes it worth the price of admission. His skill, will, teamwork model is outstanding and useful. The leadership skills section is fantastic and actionable. I do prefer the Army’s current values “LDRSHIP” pronounced “leadership” (Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage) to the old “4Cs” (Candor, Commitment, Courage and Competence) that Malone emphasizes on p82. But despite that one quibble, Malone’s book is absolutely relevant today. He states “And in war, for our Army, winning is the only standard.” (p23). Something our Army needs to seriously reflect on as we prepare to add another two wars to the loss column.
J. A. Leo Lemay
Dad’s final book. This is number three of his planned seven volume biography of Benjamin Franklin, published shortly before he passed. Dad was a Professor of Early American Literature and his historical research focuses heavily on Franklin’s writings. Franklin often wrote anonymously or under a pen name and dad used his literary expertise to identify previously unattributed articles written by Franklin.
This is the second most sentimental of dad’s books for me, because back in 1985 he dedicated it to me. It is about America’s first folk song – dad wrote 163 pages about one song, “New England’s Annoyances.”
My favorite book. I start most days by reading the bible for about 30 minutes. I use the Olive Tree Bible Study App on my computer, because, well, I can make the text large which helps with early morning reading. I also do a bit of verse memorization and journaling using using a variation of the “ABC” method (Ask questions, Best Verse, Communicate with God) from Everyman A Warrior. You can check it out here. I used to read for about five minutes on my phone before physical training formation – this focused, quality quiet time has been the best thing about retirement.