The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today

The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today

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by Thomas E. Ricks
     
 

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From the #1 bestselling author of Fiasco and The Gamble, an epic history of the decline of American military leadership from World War II to Iraq

History has been kind to the American generals of World War II—Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley—and less kind to the generals of the wars that followed. In The GeneralsSee more details below

Overview

From the #1 bestselling author of Fiasco and The Gamble, an epic history of the decline of American military leadership from World War II to Iraq

History has been kind to the American generals of World War II—Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley—and less kind to the generals of the wars that followed. In The Generals, Thomas E. Ricks sets out to explain why that is. In part it is the story of a widening gulf between performance and accountability. During the Second World War, scores of American generals were relieved of command simply for not being good enough. Today, as one American colonel said bitterly during the Iraq War, “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

In The Generals we meet great leaders and suspect ones, generals who rose to the occasion and those who failed themselves and their soldiers. Marshall and Eisenhower cast long shadows over this story, as does the less familiar Marine General O. P. Smith, whose fighting retreat from the Chinese onslaught into Korea in the winter of 1950 snatched a kind of victory from the jaws of annihilation.

But Korea also showed the first signs of an army leadership culture that neither punished mediocrity nor particularly rewarded daring. In the Vietnam War, the problem grew worse until, finally, American military leadership bottomed out. The My Lai massacre, Ricks shows us, is the emblematic event of this dark chapter of our history. In the wake of Vietnam a battle for the soul of the U.S. Army was waged with impressive success. It became a transformed institution, reinvigorated from the bottom up. But if the body was highly toned, its head still suffered from familiar problems, resulting in tactically savvy but strategically obtuse leadership that would win battles but end wars badly from the first Iraq War of 1990 through to the present.

Ricks has made a close study of America’s military leaders for three decades, and in his hands this story resounds with larger meaning: about the transmission of values, about strategic thinking, and about the difference between an organization that learns and one that fails.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Readers of [Ricks's] 2006 best seller on the Iraq war, Fiasco, and of his blog, The Best Defense, know that he has strong opinions he does not try to hide. He also has a deep wellspring of knowledge about both military policy and military history. That combination of conviction and erudition allows him to deliver an entertaining and enlightening jeremiad that should—but, alas, most likely won't—cause a rethinking of existing personnel policies.
—Max Boot
The Washington Post
Much of what Ricks mentions can be found elsewhere, but his skill at pulling it all together and his fresh insights give the narrative power.
—Neil Sheehan
Publishers Weekly
Generations of inept, thoughtless, and unaccountable generals have authored disaster, according to this savvy study of leadership in the U. S. Army. Veteran defense journalist and bestselling author Ricks (Fiasco) contrasts the army of WWII, in which unsuccessful generals were often relieved of command, with later eras, in which officers were untouchable despite epic failures (few generals were relieved during the Iraq War, he notes). Nowadays, Ricks contends, citing an officer in Iraq, a private who loses his rifle, is punished more than a general who lost his part of a war." Combining lucid historical analysis, acid-etched portraits of generals from "troublesome blowhard" Douglas MacArthur to "two-time loser" Tommy Franks, and shrewd postmortems of military failures and pointless slaughters such as My Lai, the author demonstrates how everything from strategic doctrine to personnel policies create a mediocre, rigid, morally derelict army leadership. Ricks's preoccupation is America's difficulty coping with guerilla wars from Vietnam to Iraq, and the flip side of his critique of bad leadership is a belief that good officers with innovative, politically adroit counter-insurgency tactics might have won those conflicts. His faith in the ability of great generalship to redeem any misadventure can sometimes seem naïve. Still, Ricks presents an incisive, hard-hitting corrective to unthinking veneration of American military prowess. Agent: Andrew Wylie. (Oct. 30)
From the Publisher
A Washington Post 2012 Notable Work of Nonfiction

"Ricks shines, blending an impressive level of research with expert storytelling."
The Weekly Standard

"[A] savvy study of leadership. Combining lucid historical analysis, acid-etched portraits of generals from 'troublesome blowhard' Douglas MacArthur to 'two-time loser' Tommy Franks, and shrewd postmortems of military failures and pointless slaughters such as My Lai, the author demonstrates how everything from strategic doctrine to personnel policies create a mediocre, rigid, morally derelict army leadership... Ricks presents an incisive, hard-hitting corrective to unthinking veneration of American military prowess."
Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)

"Informed readers, especially military buffs, will appreciate this provocative, blistering critique of a system where accountability appears to have gone missing - like the author's 2006 bestseller, Fiasco, this book is bound to cause heartburn in the Pentagon."
Kirkus

"Entertaining, provocative and important."
The Wilson Quarterly

This is a brilliant bookdeeply researched, very well-written and outspoken. Ricks pulls no punches in naming names as he cites serious failures of leadership, even as we were winning World War II, and failures that led to serious problems in later wars.- And he calls for rethinking the concept of generalship in the Army of the future.”
William J. Perry, 19th U.S. Secretary of Defense

“Thomas E. Ricks has written a definitive and comprehensive story of American generalship from the battlefields of World War II to the recent war in Iraq. The Generals candidly reveals their triumphs and failures, and offers a prognosis of what can be done to ensure success by our future leaders in the volatile world of the twenty-first century.”
Carlo D'Este, author of Patton: A Genius for War

“Tom Ricks has written another provocative and superbly researched book that addresses a critical issue, generalship. After each period of conflict in our history, the quality and performance of our senior military leaders comes under serious scrutiny. The Generals will be a definitive and controversial work that will spark the debate, once again, regarding how we make and choose our top military leaders.”
Anthony C. Zinni, General USMC (Ret.)

The Generals is insightful, well written and thought-provoking. Using General George C. Marshall as the gold standard, it is replete with examples of good and bad generalship in the postwar years. Too often a bureaucratic culture in those years failed to connect performance with consequences. This gave rise to many mediocre and poor senior leaders. Seldom have any of them ever been held accountable for their failures. This book justifiably calls for a return to the strict, demanding and successful Marshall prescription for generalship. It is a reminder that the lives of soldiers are more important than the careers of officers-and that winning wars is more important than either.”
Bernard E. Trainor, Lt. Gen. USMC (Ret.); author of The Generals' War

The Generals rips up the definition of professionalism in which the US Army has clothed itself. Tom Ricks shows that it has lost the habit of sacking those who cannot meet the challenge of war, leaving it to Presidents to do so. His devastating analysis explains much that is wrong in US civil-military relations. America's allies, who have looked to emulate too slavishly the world's pre-eminent military power, should also take heed.”
Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford

Library Journal
This is a collective biography of American generals from World War II to the present, as well as an organizational history of the U.S. Army, and public policy prescription. The biographies are brief, separate portraits; the prescription is essentially that generals should be allowed to fail without it meaning the end of their careers. Ricks (Fiasco) attributes the institutional culture of the 1940s army to Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall, who ruthlessly sacked underperformers but often left open the possibility of a second chance. Overall, Ricks contends, Marshall created a cadre of solid but colorless commanders; the emphasis on teamwork and level-headedness created a culture of careerism and risk-aversion. Ricks also examines the effects, for good or ill, of such generals as Douglas MacArthur, William Westmoreland, and Tommy Franks on army culture. VERDICT Ricks's editorializing may be jarring to a reader looking for straight history, but the book is superbly researched and written. This is for all readers engaged in studying military history, particularly relating to political-military relations.—RF
Kirkus Reviews
Foreign Policy contributing editor Ricks (The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006–2008, 2009, etc.) assesses the state of generalship in the U.S. Army and finds it wanting. During World War II, Gen. George Marshall designed a template for identifying leaders and selecting generals, rapidly promoting those who met the standard and readily relieving underperformers. For Marshall, firing a general was part of the natural order, a necessary tool of personnel management in the notoriously difficult business of battlefield success. How is it, asks the author, that we've fallen away from this strict standard over the past 75 years? After acknowledging the occasional flaw in the Marshall system and identifying the grand exception, Douglas MacArthur, Ricks turns to the Korean War, where only O.P. Smith and Matthew Ridgeway met the Marshall standard and prevented disaster. Post-Korea, senior officers acted "less like stewards of their profession, answerable to the public, and more like keepers of a closed guild, answerable mainly to each other." In Vietnam, the system collapsed entirely, with rotation, ticket-punching and micromanagement the norms. Relieving a general came to be seen as a system failure. From this low point--Ricks recites the manifold sins of Maxwell Taylor, Paul Harkins and William Westmoreland--the Army retooled, improving training, doctrine and weaponry, but leaving its concept of generalship untouched. As the author turns to our recent wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, none of Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Tommy Franks, Ricardo Sanchez, or George Casey will much appreciate what Ricks has to say about continuing deficiencies in military leadership. Only David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno emerge unscathed. Informed readers, especially military buffs, will appreciate this provocative, blistering critique of a system where accountability appears to have gone missing--like the author's 2006 bestseller, Fiasco, this book is bound to cause heartburn in the Pentagon.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101595930
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/30/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
576
Sales rank:
231,970
File size:
18 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Hew Strachan
The Generals rips up the definition of professionalism in which the US Army has clothed itself. Tom Ricks shows that it has lost the habit of sacking those who cannot meet the challenge of war, leaving it to Presidents to do so. His devastating analysis explains much that is wrong in US civil-military relations. America's allies, who have looked to emulate too slavishly the world's pre-eminent military power, should also take heed. (Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford)
William J. Perry
This is a brilliant book—deeply researched, very well-written and outspoken. Ricks pulls no punches in naming names as he cites serious failures of leadership, even as we were winning World War II, and failures that led to serious problems in later wars. And he calls for rethinking the concept of generalship in the Army of the future. (William J. Perry, 19th U.S. Secretary of Defense)
From the Publisher
This is a brilliant book—deeply researched, very well-written and outspoken. Ricks pulls no punches in naming names as he cites serious failures of leadership, even as we were winning World War II, and failures that led to serious problems in later wars.  And he calls for rethinking the concept of generalship in the Army of the future.”
—William J. Perry, 19th U.S. Secretary of Defense

“Thomas E. Ricks has written a definitive and comprehensive story of American generalship from the battlefields of World War II to the recent war in Iraq. The Generals candidly reveals their triumphs and failures, and offers a prognosis of what can be done to ensure success by our future leaders in the volatile world of the twenty-first century.”
—Carlo D’Este, author of Patton: A Genius for War

“Tom Ricks has written another provocative and superbly researched book that addresses a critical issue, generalship. After each period of conflict in our history, the quality and performance of our senior military leaders comes under serious scrutiny. The Generals will be a definitive and controversial work that will spark the debate, once again, regarding how we make and choose our top military leaders.”
—Anthony C. Zinni, General USMC (Ret.)

The Generals is insightful, well written and thought-provoking. Using General George C. Marshall as the gold standard, it is replete with examples of good and bad generalship in the postwar years. Too often a bureaucratic culture in those years failed to connect performance with consequences. This gave rise to many mediocre and poor senior leaders. Seldom have any of them ever been held accountable for their failures. This book justifiably calls for a return to the strict, demanding and successful Marshall prescription for generalship. It is a reminder that the lives of soldiers are more important than the careers of officers—and that winning wars is more important than either.”
—Bernard E. Trainor, Lt. Gen. USMC (Ret.); author of The Generals’ War

The Generals rips up the definition of professionalism in which the US Army has clothed itself. Tom Ricks shows that it has lost the habit of sacking those who cannot meet the challenge of war, leaving it to Presidents to do so. His devastating analysis explains much that is wrong in US civil-military relations. America’s allies, who have looked to emulate too slavishly the world’s pre-eminent military power, should also take heed.”
—Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford
 

Anthony C. Zinni
Tom Ricks has written another provocative and superbly researched book that addresses a critical issue, generalship. After each period of conflict in our history, the quality and performance of our senior military leaders comes under serious scrutiny. The Generals will be a definitive and controversial work that will spark the debate, once again, regarding how we make and choose our top military leaders. (Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, USMC (Ret.))
Bernard E. Trainor
The Generals is insightful, well written and thought-provoking. Using General George C. Marshall as the gold standard, it is replete with examples of good and bad generalship in the postwar years. Too often a bureaucratic culture in those years failed to connect performance with consequences. This gave rise to many mediocre and poor senior leaders. Seldom have any of them ever been held accountable for their failures. This book justifiably calls for a return to the strict, demanding and successful Marshall prescription for generalship. It is a reminder that the lives of soldiers are more important than the careers of officers—and that winning wars is more important than either. (Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, USMC (Ret.); author of The Generals' War)
Carlo D'Este
Thomas E. Ricks has written a definitive and comprehensive story of American generalship from the battlefields of World War II to the recent war in Iraq. The Generals candidly reveals their triumphs and failures, and offers a prognosis of what can be done to ensure success by our future leaders in the volatile world of the twenty-first century. (Carlo D'Este, author of Patton: A Genius for War)

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