Go ahead, admit it – the habit dies hard. Before every summer you swear that you are finally going to read “—” and by golly, this is the summer to do it. Well, Labor Day is a mere 20-days away and I’ll bet you’ve barely put a dent in the reading list. Fear not however, YHS has been busily working his way through several books thoughtfully provided by their publishers and I’m about to expand your list going into the fall months. We have works of fiction and non-fiction, most of which (surprise!) have a naval/maritime theme. Some have just hit the streets – others are coming to bookshelves, real and virtual in the very near future. All come with a firm “thumbs-up” and “read” recommendation. In no particular order:
The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy and King – The Five Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea, by Walter R. Borneman (Little, Brown & Co.). The book follows the paths of four Naval officers who rose to hold the highest rank in the US Navy at the end of the Second World War – the five-star rank of Fleet Admiral. Borneman uses an interesting approach for this comparative biography, but in a manner different than what Larrabee took in his work (Commander in Chief: FDR His Lieutenants and Their War). While Larrabee’s work bound several biographies together, Borneman instead follows all four of his subjects through the epochs that preceded the Navy’s involvement in WW2, an approach that works very well for gaining an understanding of the changes that brought the Navy from the Olympia at Manila Bay, to the massive Fleet extant in 1945, barely 47 years later. With wide ranging backgrounds (Nimitz was born to German immigrants in Texas while Halsey hailed form a family of sailors) each had a particular style and means to accomplish their goals – and personalities to match. Borneman carefully weaves the personal stories through the larger narrative of societal and technological changes in the world as seen through the Navy’s lens. The faults and shortcomings of each are found alongside their triumphs as we follow the progression of their respective careers. I am especially pleased at the inclusion of Leahy – an oversight I thought on Larrabee’s part. Nimitz, Halsey and King have all been pretty well highlighted for their efforts during the war – especially the first two. To a degree, that is expected given that those three were acting directly in the Service – from Halsey at the lead, Nimitz overseeing a vast theater and actions as disparate as fast carrier task group operations to amphibious landings, an active submarine war against the Japanese merchant fleet and the logistics to make it all work; and King in the dualist role of man/train/equip that is the CNO’s portfolio and balancing with the operational oversight of a Navy engaged in a global fight. Leahy, retired and serving as Ambassador to France was recalled as FDR’s Chief of Staff and had the task, if not the formal title, of being the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, compelling the Navy, Army and Army Air Force to work the joint fight (not always successfully). Another contribution of Leahy, highlighted in the book, was his insistence on including State in planning, especially for the post-war years. An important aspect of historical works is their ability to provide insight and application in the here and now – otherwise it is merely an academic exercise. One of the first observations of today’s reader would be that each of these individuals had one or more events or personality traits that would lead to early termination in today’s Service (to wit, the almost weekly detailing of CO firings found in Navy Times). It is worth noting, however, the values and ethics these four shared remain relevant today – perseverance in the face of adversity, dedication to personal technical and warfighting competency, devotion to Service and those under your command, and personal accountability along with a certain openess to new ideas, new technology and different ways of doing business. At the risk of using a word that is justifiably pilloried today, they nonetheless developed and implemented transformational plans, policies and operations without transformation becoming an end unto itself. Criticisms are few – I would, for example, have liked a bit more about King’s work in fighting the Battle of the Atlantic and there were a few editorial discontinuities to be expected in a pre-publication edition. Overall – a very good work and one worth including on a list of professional reading. On a scale of 1-5 stars I would rate it a 4.5 and definite buy.
The Aden Effect – A Connor Stark Novel, by Claude Berube (Naval Institute Press – Oct 2012 publication). “Murder, politics, seapower, Middle East instability, and intrigue in the White House…” While that may describe the front page of the Washington Post these days, it is also the lead-in descriptor for the author’s first foray into fiction, set in the troubled waters off the Horn of Africa. A Navy Reserve Officer who has deployed to the region, Berube draws deeply on his expertise in intelligence, history and surface warfare to set the stage and populate his work with a wide variety of characters – and I do emphasize characters. The narrative flows well for a first fictional work and there are enough plot twists and sudden turns to keep you engaged and pressing deeper into the book. I won’t delve into details the plot as the book is slated for release in October, but an overview is available at the pre-order site on the Naval Institute Press’ website. I will point out that in order for the plot to work, the reader need not suspend all reality and disbelief as is the downfall of many works of fiction based on the real world. Likewise, you won’t need a copy of Jane’s or the DICNAVAB at your side to follow the action. The “stuff” of naval warfare – ships, aircraft, tactics and procedures, are nicely woven into the story, avoiding becoming the story themselves and allowing you to focus on the characters. With reference to the characters – it would have been nice to see a little more development of the ancillary actors but that is understandable in the first take at fiction.
Is it a buy? Certainly – coming out in October it is the perfect companion as you head up to the cabin for the weekend or off to the family reunion at Thanksgiving. Overall I’d rate it at 4 on a scale of 1-5 stars and am looking forward to the next installment in the series.
PIRATE ALLEY: Commanding Task Force 151 Off Somalia, by RADM Terry McKnight, USN (Ret) and Michael Hirsh with a Foreward by Jim Miklaszewski (Naval Institute Press – October 2012 publication). The reality of the ongoing scourge of piracy off the Horn of Africa is brought home in vivid detail in this volume co-written by a 31-year veteran of the sea service and a Vietnam War Army combat correspondent. Piracy is an industry that tallies almost $13B a year in worldwide economic impacts and in 2011, took some 1,000 seafarers into captivity. It is not supported by a government – for in effect is no government in what has become a lawless territory and all that implies where International Law and the efforts to stop piracy are concerned. The first baby steps at confronting this scourge followed the MV Golden Nori incident (a Japanese-owned tanker carrying 40,000 tons of high;y explosive industrial benzene) in October 2007, when in December 2008 the UN finally passed UNSCR 1846 which permitted actions in the territorial waters of Somalia for the express purpose of repressing acts of piracy through all means necessary – on the high seas and under international law. The following month, January 2009, saw the stand-up of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151) in the Gulf of Aden with the express purpose of fighting piracy and RADM McKnight’s assignment as the first commander. The narrative builds from there as we see the cumulative after-effects of previous actions and nonactions, distilled in the pirate’s business model, as illustrated by NAVCENT, VADM Gortney “They will not shoot at me. I will get their money. And no one will arrest me. It’s a good job.” And it had to be (a good job) in order to continue to attract recruits from the traditionally non-seafaring parts of the Somali back country and place them in tiny skiffs, armed with AK-47′s and RPGs intent on capturing and holding hostage giant (to them) ships, their cargo and crew. For millions.
The challenges of leading a CTF in that part of the world – the delicate politics of the situation, domestic and international; of dealing with a strategic messaging plan whose audience couldn’t possibly have been the pirates (“suspected pirates” – never “pirates” or terrorists” even when caught red-handed hundreds of miles offshore with weapons in their possession), of rules that said which nations could capture pirates and which could only “deter” piracy; are all detailed here. It is an interesting reading exercise in command judgement and innovation, well detailed by McKnight and Hirsh in examples that include several chapters on the capture/re-capture of the Maersk Alabama and freeing of her hostage captain. It is also a work that serves to peel back the underlying layers of elements that support and contribute to piracy in the region in an attempt to better understand why it happens which in turn. In a section titled Piracy 101, there is a conversation with an expert on the local area in general (Bosaso) and the pirates in particular in which he relates his surprise that whereas he thought he’d be interviewing pirates themselves, the first month or so of his investigation was spent talking to the businessmen who sprung up around the piracy and as he relates, gave him greater insight into piracy – there’s lots to like here and wealth of information in an easy and quick reading format. I’ll be frank – I’ve always been interested in other aspects of naval matters and tended to read articles on piracy only out of a sense of obligation – not so here. If there is just one book you read this fall on piracy, this should be it. Overall – 4.5 stars on a scale of 1-5 and a must include on your professional reading list.
Thank you to the Naval Institute Press and Little, Brown & Co. for providing early/advanced copies of these books for review. – SJS