In years past, I’ve concluded yearly postings with recommendations of books I’ve read from non-governmental and governmental sources which have been beneficial. Last night, I finished reading the first volume of Niall Ferguson’s magisterial biography of Henry Kissinger. This work covers Kissinger’s life from his 1922 birth up to his late 1968 appointment at President Nixon’s National Security Advisor. Ferguson stresses how Kantian idealism influenced this portion of Kissinger’s life and how he was able to gain proximity to power in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Administrations. It also stresses Kissinger’s ties to Nelson Rockefeller, his bungled efforts to work with a French Marxist in the 1960’s to achieve a negotiated peace with North Vietnam which, Ferguson effectively notes, the North Vietnamese were not interested in achieving, and even how Kissinger was recognizing the increasing importance of information technology and how it could impact foreign affairs in the 1960s.
Kissinger is an incredibly significant and complex figure who has been the subject of praise and vilification from multiple sectors of the political spectrum. It will be interesting to see what approaches Ferguson takes to examine Kissinger’s career in the Nixon and Ford Administrations and his activities in subsequent decades.
Another work I’ve enjoyed reading recently is the 2nd volume of the authorized history of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) The Protest Years by John Blaxland. This Allen & Unwin published work covers Australia’s internal security agency from 1963-1975 and deals with topics as varied as anti-Vietnam war dissent, student radicalization, the ongoing presence of Croatian radical movements in Australia who sought to target Yugoslav targets, the emergence of Palestinean terrorism, ASIO’s relationships with the media and Australian Prime Ministers, various forms of trade craft used by ASIO to execute its missions, and its often tumultuous relationship with the incompetent leftist Labour Government of Gough Whitlam (1972-1975) and Attorney General Lionel Murphy which actually sent police to raid ASIO’s Melbourne headquarters on March 15, 1973 on the fallacious belief ASIO withheld terrorism information from the government. The third volume of Thomas Keneally’s history of Australia- Australians: Flappers to Vietnam: A Time of Wars, Change, and Social Revolution (Allen & Unwin) provided additional insight on this country’s 20th century developments. Colin Dueck’s The Obama Doctrine: American Grand Strategy Today (Oxford University Press) is an incisive dissection of the ineptitude of the Obama Administration’s foreign and national security policies.
A summer trip to the Carolinas produced useful reading on the history of these regions including John G. Barrett’s The Civil War In North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press) and Walter J. Fraser Jr’s Charleston! Charleston!: The History of a Southern City (University of South Carolina Press). My continuing interest in the World War I centennial was augmented by Elizabeth Greenhalgh’s The French Army and the First World War which is part of Cambridge University Press’ Armies of the Great War series. This work does a good job dissecting the military, economic, and domestic political problems confronting France’s Army during World War I. It is solid traditional history devoid the the gender and racial identity can’t which sadly characterizes much historical scholarship today.
Another military history work I recommend is Holocaust Versus Wehrmacht: How Hitler’s “Final Solution: Undermined the German War Effort. This University Press of Kansas work by Yaron Pasher effectively demonstrates how the Nazi’s monomaniacal obsession with the “Jewish Question” kept them from effectively supplying the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front with supplies and weapons which could have been crucial to its war effort against Stalin’s Red Army. The maritime sector remains a critically important economic and strategic factor in today’s world. Consequently, I recommend Chris Parry’s Super Highway: Sea Power in the 21st Century (Elliott & Thompson) in which this former Royal Navy Office who also lead the British Ministry of Defence’s Directorate of Development, Concepts, and Doctrine ably explains the historical evolution, contemporary trends, and possible future developments in the maritime sector may impact our world.
The Heritage Foundation’s Annual Index of U.S. Military Strength features analytical essays, quantitative data, and visual analytics documenting the state of U.S. military strength. It provides detailed insights by individual U.S. armed service branches with a particularly troubling indicator being the increasing age of the U.S. jet fighter fleet.
Numerous government published works have also been helpful. I always find the Pentagon’s congressionally mandated annual report on Chinese military power to be essential reading. I’ve just finished reading the 2015 National Security Strategy and Defence and Security Review from the British Government. This 2015 report from the Conservative Cameron Government has more meat and substance than the 2010 report on this subject issued by the Conservative-Liberal Democratic Coalition Government of Cameron and then deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Nixon’s Trident: Naval Power in Southeast Asia, 1968-1972 by John Darrell Sherwood and produced by the Naval Heritage and Education Command provides excellent background on U.S. naval operations during the Vietnam War and background material on how the South China Sea is likely to become a center of international maritime conflict due to China’s increasing geopolitical aggressiveness in that region.
The U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute is a cornucopia of freely available strategic analysis and James Lacey’s Gold, Blood, and Power: Finance and War Through the Ages was a particularly insightful treatise produced this past year covering the vital role finance and financial ineptitude can play in wars such as the classical conflict between Persia and Grecian states, the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage, the Roman Empire’s disintegration, Viking assaults on England, the 100 Years war conflict between England and France, the ruinous fiscal impact of Spanish Wars again England and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries, how the Napoleonic Wars affected British and French finances, the multilateral and enduring financial impact of World War I on participating combatant countries, and how the U.S. has sought to finance its wars and problems we currently face with national debt makes financing future military operations extremely problematic.
Finally, Donald Trump claims he receives military advice from watching the Sunday morning talk shows. Of course, the egocentric Trump should go to church on Sunday morning. Nevertheless, the individual truly interested in military affairs and analysis, whether they are a presidential candidate or engaged individual, has access to a wide variety of information resources to inform themselves about current military debates and developments even if they don’t have military leaders and think-tank experts at their instantaneous beck and call. I enjoy reading freely available military journals from the U.S. and other countries on a regular basis including the U.S. Army War College’s Parameters, the Army Command and General Staff College’s Military Review, Air University’s Air and Space Power Journal and Strategic Studies Quarterly, and the Naval War College Review. Australian military journals containing insightful analyses include the Australian Army Journal and Australian Defence Force Journal. The Korean Defense Studies Journal is also an valuable source on international security and international affairs from South Korea.
Happy New Year to everyone and may you experience productive, thought-provoking, and engaging reading in 2016.