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  • Military Transformation Past and Present: Historic Lessons for the 21st Century
  • Harold R. Winton
Military Transformation Past and Present: Historic Lessons for the 21st Century. By Mark D. Mandeles. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2007. ISBN 978-0-275-99190-6. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xi, 157. $64.95.

This is a book with a great deal of promise that, except for one interesting and perhaps even important insight, fails to deliver. The promise stems from the author’s obvious familiarity with issues of national defense formed during his close association with the iconic guru of Pentagon strategic vision, Andrew Marshall, and from the overall design of the work, which sets out to apply insights from history to the vexing problem of merging evolving technologies with diffuse contemporary defense requirements. The falling short comes from a laser-like focus on organizational behavior theory as the dominant and virtually sole explanatory arbiter of success and failure and a consequent neglect of the rich literature of the histories of technology and military innovation.

Mandeles is intimately familiar with the field of defense studies. He has written two previous works in the area, co-authored two others, and heads up a defense studies corporation that examines a broad array of security issues for both private industry and the government. The work begins with a conceptual chapter developing the central argument that “the real key to unlocking the process of innovation is [End Page 1385] attention to the multiple sets of relationships among individuals, organizations, and multiorganizational systems” (p. 2). The next four chapters provide historical and contemporary evidence to test this argument. The examples include the U.S. Army in the post-Civil War era, a comparative analysis of the U.S Navy and U.S. Army air arms between World War I and World War II, another comparative analysis of American and British Marine doctrine in the inter-war era, and the U.S. Navy’s development of an integrated air-defense system from 1990–2005. Not surprisingly, each analysis confirms the argument. The post-Civil War Army lacked the organizational structures to induce the kind of self-correction the author postulates as being necessary for reform; the inter-war Navy had them, while the Army Air Corps did not; the U.S Marines had them, but the British Marines did not; and the U.S Navy at the turn of the 20th-21st centuries seems to have had them. Thus, what Mandeles calls “multiorganizational analysis” (p. 85) emerges as the dominant factor in explaining the success or failure of military innovation.

In one respect, Mandeles has a useful point. His description of the interactions among the Navy’s General Board, the fleet, the Naval War College, and the Bureau of Aeronautics from 1919–1939 adds an interesting, and arguably important, dimension to Stephen Peter Rosen’s emphases on the personality of William A. Moffett and the promotion pathway he designed for naval aviators as explanations for naval aviation’s taking fairly firm institutional root in the years leading up to World War II. But the tight focus on a single variable produces numerous interpretive problems. It is simply ahistorical to apply a mid-late twentieth-century standard of organizational development to the nineteenth-century U.S. Army. There is also abundant evidence (even in Mandeles’s presentation) that the key distinctions between the naval and army aviators were cultural rather than organizational. The same can be said for the American and British Marines. Finally, while the strong emphasis on the correction of error is noteworthy, there is no glimmering of one of the fundamental truths of military innovation: such correction must always compete with the concomitant requirement for good order and discipline.

Thus, while some who follow the fads of transformation may find the work enticing, those educated broadly in the field of military reform will probably find it disappointing.

Harold R. Winton
Montgomery, Alabama