Learning War in New York Times

Learning War_final.inddI mentioned that Learning War has been getting some good press in my last post. Since then, it has appeared in the New York Times Book Review. I was humbled to be honored along with a series of other new military history books on 11 November, the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I.

Tom Ricks wrote the review, and he noted that the “real hero” of my book is “not an individual but a large, complex organization, the American Navy, that quickly grew from second-rate status to become the world’s premier maritime force.” Exactly! Learning War charts the rise of the U.S. Navy over the course of the early twentieth century and attributes much of its success to the fact that it became a learning organization.

Ricks also included Learning War in his “5 New Military History Books Worth Reading” on Task & Purpose. Later in the week, he published an excerpt about mission command in his section, “The Long March.” The excerpt is from my chapter on the Navy’s “Interwar Learning System” and describes a heuristic that emerged between the two world wars. The Navy emphasized decentralized command and control and deliberately encouraged the individual initiative of subordinate officers so that it could make the most of momentary opportunities that might arise in battle. This not only led to better tactics, it also accelerated learning.

Ricks thinks it is useful advice for today’s U.S. Army. I’m inclined to agree. I even recommend it to civilian organizations; pushing decisions to the lowest levels allows them to be made faster and with less friction. The key is creating an environment where superiors can have confidence in their subordinates and trust their decisions. There’s no easy formula for that.

2 responses to “Learning War in New York Times”

  1. Just read your book; great stuff! Shared a bunch of it with a few friends. I also listened to a YouTube interview of yours about the book, but i have a question. It seems that you focused on the surfacw Navy, but I know that there was a lot of similar development and evolution/development of ideas and tactics for the carriers and subs. It seems like only the submarine force was subjected to the utter failure of policy/practice/OODA with their difficulties with their torpedoes and the Bureau of Ordnance. Why do you think that was?

    • Excellent question. I think the Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) is an interesting case. In some areas, they seem to integrate technology very well and translate it into effective new capabilities. This is true with various aspects of surface and aerial fire control systems as well as the integration of radar into them. With the torpedoes, they did not do this. I think the answer lies primarily in the lack of feedback mechanisms to adequately assess the effectiveness of the torpedoes and their performance.

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