Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Review: How Wars End

Book: How Wars End: Why We Always Fight The Last Battle

Who: Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs magazine

What: How Wars End is a summary of all the major wars the United States has fought since World War I up until our current engagement in Afghanistan. Using examples from each war, Rose makes two key points:
1. Since World War 1, Americans have gone to war without taking the political aftermath of war into account – ie: thinking through what they actually want to accomplish after all the bloodshed. Thus, the United States usually has problems ending its own wars. 
2. American presidents and policymakers always learn the wrong lessons from the previous wars.
Rose’s arguments are both concise and convincing. The book is thorough in demonstrating the points its trying to make, without straying from the narrative revolving around American military decisionmaker’s perspectives, or leaving out key details of the events. The book fittingly starts with a quote from famed military strategist Carl von Clausewitz and by the end of the book shows how numerous presidents and American decision-makers have ignored his advice.

I would have liked to see Gideon Rose’s take on the Spanish-American war, and the theater in the Philippines, as well as the war in Grenada. The latter may be negligible, but the former may have offered parallels to wars Rose covers.

Things you’ll learn:
1.  How much ego plays into military decision-making    
2. How decision-makers try to neatly wrap up all the complicated variables and end up overlooking important one
3. How much decision-makers get choked up in rhetoric and fears of “looking weak”
Who should read:
  •  History buffs looking for a lean, concise read
  • Anyone in the military, or knows someone in the military – especially if they are a commanding officer
  • You, even if you’re just mildly curious
Read it? Yes

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