What if American leaders were more historically literate, particularly about the realm of conflict? Perhaps American foreign policy would not be as mired as it is today in far-flung conflicts, with domestic leaders unable to clearly frame the problem for the American citizenry and provide efficient and effective solutions. Instead of watering down history at every echelon in the civilian education and officer development system in an attempt to avoid the often repulsive and bloody reality of the world today, Americans would learn from history. In Endless War, LTC (Retired) Ralph Peters, who is also a New York Post columnist and Fox News strategic analyst, forwards the notion that Americans have consistently failed to learn from history and therefore risk making the same mistakes again and again. From the start, his intent is to force the reader to take a critical look at events in history and learn everything from them--the good. bad. and ugly--and not selectively pick the lessons according to personal preferences. More than merely providing history lessons, Peters challenges the reader to question previously accepted conventions and seek and develop a higher understanding of the context of today's conflicts.
Endless War is a collection of 35 of Peters' columns written about a myriad of topics ranging from medieval conflict, early (and continuing) Christian and Muslim violence, terrorism. Prime Minister Putin in Russia, illegal immigration, to professional officer education. Peters originally published these articles in various professional forums including Armchair General. USA Today, National Review, New York Post, Joint Forces Quarterly, and Armed Forces Journal. In each column, Peters begins by setting the context of the upcoming discussion. He then poses a question or two to stimulate thought as he begins his analysis of the situation. The reader is at first lulled into the feeling that this will be simply a benign history lesson. At that point, Peters throws his first bomb, shattering (or at least sharply challenging) the approved solution of understanding for the situation in question. This is the instructive nature of the book at its best. Peters proceeds to provide a framing of the problem and his solution. Sometimes, both his analysis and solution are initially inflammatory and controversial. However, Peters consistently provides a fluid and logical analysis replete with historical examples that is both convincing and learned. Herein lies the secret weapon of his lessons: Peters doesn't insist that the reader accept his explanation and solution as the only valid option. Instead, he offers his views--often scathing and frustrating--as a potential starting point for the reader to disagree and develop his own views and solution. This is his objective - for the reader to take a more critical look at events and truly learn their lessons. Peters leads the reader to the edge, and at that point when he jumps off, the reader is left with the choice to follow him, choose a different direction, or remain on the edge with the other tired cliches and catchphrases.
Peters presents underlying themes and uses the articles to highlight deficiencies in thinking displayed by today's leaders and policymakers. Among his more salient themes are that:
* Americans display a lack of appreciation for cultural context and knowledge of history. Peters opens With a chapter of stories that, at first glance, appear to be instructive in tactical command. Emperor Romanus IV's failed punitive expedition against the Seljuk Turks in 1071 as well as King Guy of Jerusalem's doomed battle against Saladin in 1187 both hint at failure spawned from poor tactics. However, taking a step back reveals that both leaders failed to appreciate both the environment in which they were fighting as well as the historical actions of their opponents. The chapter concludes with more historical anecdotes of leaders failing to appreciate the historical context of their fights and always arriving at the same conclusion--death.
* Westerners--American in particular--often fail to understand their enemy. Peters' inclusion of historical Christian/Muslim combat anecdotes and Crusader references is more than historical food for thought; he illustrates America's penchant today for continually being duped by and drawn into battle on unfavorable terms by historical Middle Eastern tactics and techniques such as use of atrocities, baited ambush, surprise, deceit, and fanaticism from centuries before. Part I of Endless War ends with Peter's highlighting of modern terrorist and insurgent strengths that hearken back to historical Muslim army strengths such as unity of command, non-reliance on, but great appreciation for logistics, and surprise. Peters closes the first part of the book with a warning; unless the West adapts itself to the Muslim way of war, it will suffer the same permanent decline that the Ottoman Empire suffered by refusing to adapt to new battlefield conventions.
The one seeming inconsistency in Endless War is between Peters' assertion on one hand that too few Americans know enough about history and apply critical reasoning and his highly critical article about military professionals pursuing Ph.D.s and extensive advanced education. According to Peters, "You should never let any full-time university professor near any form of practical responsibility, and you should never let a rising officer near a professor." Peters describes Americans as being historically illiterate, yet he assails higher education. One would have to sit up and take issue with this. Some of the foremost leaders in the military establishment today--GEN David Petraeus, ADM James Stravidas, BG H.R. McMaster, and COL Peter Mansoor--all hold numerous advanced degrees including Ph.D.s. In this current age of warfare that straddles the line between major combat operations and cultural and political engagement, wouldn't the nation be better served by leaders armed with the necessary tools to be both warrior-diplomats and warfighters? The other focus of this article is the obsolescence of the education given to today's leaders and deluge of pointless theory forced upon officers. Perhaps though, this inconsistency is really in line with Peters' true intent: reminding us that we need to continue to educate ourselves, but not at the expense of our core warrior attributes.
Endless War is an insightful and evocative book for every military leader, politician, and policy-maker who wants to be more informed about the security environment in which they live. Even civilians, tired of the pundits and desiring a deeper understanding of global security issues, would benefit from the thought-provoking discussions Peters initiates. Peters' intent in Endless War isn't simply to complain about the current state of affairs. It is to challenge Americans now to discard the worn out and ineffective solutions they've overused to date and to innovate new approaches to solve problems. Else, the end of America as a superpower may become just another chapter in a future historian's chronicle of failures.
Reviewed by MAJ Paul Grant
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2011|
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