Angola, Clausewitz, and the American Way of War Paperback – 11 April 2017
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- Publisher : Createspace Independent Publishing Platform (11 April 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 118 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1539161056
- ISBN-13 : 978-1539161059
- Dimensions : 12.7 x 0.74 x 20.32 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 879,195 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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About the Author
John S. McCain IV received his bachelor's degree in political science through the US Naval Academy. He went on to earn his master's degree in security studies from the Georgetown Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service. As a helicopter pilot for the US Navy, McCain has been deployed all across the globe, including to the western Pacific, the Persian Gulf, and Guam, where he was stationed for over three years. He has been an instructor at the US Naval Academy, teaching leadership skills, and he currently volunteers as a political networking advisor for Global Eye, an organization that fights the trafficking of humans and wildlife in Africa and Asia.
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So how is the reader to evaluate a book when the author has not even bothered to read most of the important secondary sources let alone do any original research? The best that can be said of this book is that the author writes clearly. But to be honest, this book reads more like an undergraduate’s senior thesis than a serious piece of research. In conclusion, this is not a serious book.
McCain’s book is compelling not because of its level of detail or originality in research but because of its freshness: here is a young US Navy Officer looking past well-trodden “American Way of War” classic case studies such as Gettysburg, Operation Torch, the landings at Normandy, or the Tet Offensive for something so much newer. As a historian focused upon conflicts and wars in Africa—I applaud his originality. He correctly notes that war outside the narrow confines of “The Western Way of War” (i.e. decisive battle) is quite rare—and studies of African conflicts rarer still.
I do have some refinements I think worthy to note. First, I could not find a central, unifying, and overarching argument. His leitmotif is the Clausewitzian dictum “The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgement that the statesmen and commander have to make is to establish by that test [that war is an instrument of policy] the kind of war which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.” And I agree with his observation that “Hybrid” warfare is a meaningless category used by an American defense establishment consumed with warfare typologies instead of seeking to understand war—most importantly the relationship between battle and the political object of war, peace. However, these are not in themselves arguments and while unified by the force of Clausewitz’s treatise “On War,” I would like to see McCain’s argument clearly laid out. Which gets to my second recommendation, which I will admit is probably the result of me being a historian focused on military activities. I believe some primary research would greatly strengthen the examples described, the Koevet and the 32nd Battalion. There are a great many tactical and operational lessons to be learned from these examples and an burgeoning literature (largely coming from Southern Africa) including “The War for Africa: Twelve Months that Transformed a Continent,” “Battle For Angola: The End of the Cold War in Africa 1975-89,” “The South African Defence Forces in the Border War 1966-1989,” “Mobile Warfare for Africa: On the Successful Conduct of Wars in Africa and Beyond - Lessons Learned from the South African Border War,” or even the more theoretical “Composite Warfare: The Conduct of Successful Ground Force Operations in Africa.” Of course, these are all very recent additions to the literature. Consistent with those recent studies about warfare in Southern Africa, McCain alludes to an “African Way of War,” when he notes “a style of fighting but also a distinct mind-set about warfare that was not seen anywhere else and that contains incredible lessons for the astute observer” (pg. 18). The relationship between culture and war, and warfare, is complex and it would be interesting to see that examined more closely. Finally, while I fully agree that politics must coincide and link with (military) strategy as described in the final chapter “Conclusion and implications,” I am unsure how to get at that as an Active Duty military officer. We are really quite apolitical. Of course, so was the Wehrmacht in WWII-much to its discredit and demise. In any case, an incredible introduction to the subject of war in Africa and a clarion call for the American military to look further afield to understand war. Thank you John!
The book provides a brief introduction to the groups involved and the history, then covers three distinct aspects of the conflict that presage 21st century warfare: Police Operations that, shaped by the human and logistical geography, border on the paramilitary; Variance in military vehicle strength and tactical adaptation in an environment extreme by any definition; and lastly, the 32 Battalion, a quasi-covert force conducting a range of operations my limited knowledge would best describe as analogous to a wild card up one’s sleeve (and indeed disbanded afterwards as too impolitic to retain). The author concludes by fairly presenting the limitations of parties involved in the decision-making process.
I enjoyed reading this, and have only two complaints. The first is based on my own limited knowledge as a civilian, but to tailor the book to my ignorance would detract from its focus. The second is equally selfish, as while there isn’t anything missing in the author’s argument, at each stage I found myself fascinated by the topic and eager for more. Indeed, this is entirely the author’s fault, as he has an eye for tantalizing points along the spectrum of politics and warfare that many are blind to (even when he is applying theory). Recommended.