Distractions, Diversions, Books, Wines, Whiskeys and Other Stuff To Think About When You Should Be Doing Something Else.

The Bookshelf: In Pursuit of Military Excellence by Shimon Naveh

The recent buzz in this corner of the blogosphere about the theories of General Shimon Naveh caused me to search for his book, In Pursuit of Military Excellence with great excitement and I was initially very hopeful but soon very disappointed.

I won’t say I didn’t like the book. I found it very hard to read, mostly because I disagreed with Dr. Naveh so often, but also because I couldn’t understand how a thinker of his caliber could be this skewed in his view of military history and theory. He would likely call me a fool (or worse) and tell me I don’t ‘get it, but truly I don’t.

Just to hit some of the highlights that contributed to my dissatisfaction, first Dr. Naveh takes on the same historical limitation of Lind’s Generations of Modern Warfare with the claim that operational thinking arose with the levee en masse.  He treats Carl von Clausewitz very badly with a incredibly reductionist interpretation that amounts to the idea that the purpose of war is to kill the enemy (cue chanting: Attrition! Attrition! Attrition!) that carried all the way through the First World War. When he comes to the Second World War Dr. Naveh advances the theory that the essence of blitzkrieg was a technical/tactical devotion to the idea of the double-envelopment (from Cannae of course) and therefore the entire invasion of France should be excluded any discussion of blitzkrieg (he also has some very unflattering things to say about Guderian that seem to ignore Guderian’s study of the Mongols). Dr, Naveh also advances the consideration that the Soviets were the first true masters of operational thinking (somehow they were paying attention to the Mongols, in spite of the assumption that operational thinking started in Napoleon’s era) though somehow, to my reading, their operational theory seems very reliant on the conviction that as long as the well escheloned (to maximize depth) plan is followed through with a dedication to udar (or operational shock, a term I really did like) that all the pieces would work together, achieve synergy, and triumph.

The last section that delved into the development of AirLand battle to replace the doctrine of Active Defense in the US military. It didn’t seem to have the same slant as the rest of the book and I didn’t object to it as much, though I am not sure why.

Speaking from my own personal experience, if you are interested in operational maneuver theory I do not recommend this book as being very informative. Instead I would recommend two books by Robert R. Leonhard, The Art of Mauever, and The Principles of War for the Information Age.

What I was missing was the 5GWish thinking that sparked my interest in the first place.

“This space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. Now, you can stretch the boundaries of your interpretation, but not in an unlimited fashion, after all, it must be bound by physics, as it contains buildings and alleys. The question is, how do you interpret the alley? Do you interpret the alley as a place, like every architect and every town planner does, to walk through, or do you interpret the alley as a place forbidden to walk through? This depends only on interpretation.”

Perhaps there is another book forthcoming, and perhaps what I really want to know is behind the paywall at the Center for Excellence and I’ll never see it. I do know it isn’t in this book.


5 responses

  1. Thanks for the review…you saved me from a purchase!

    03/19/2009 at 10:26 PM

  2. Well, sometimes it is good to read the work of somebody you will potentially disagree with, if only for the benefit of being open to testing your own thought processes against the reasoning of another in order to avoid falling into dogmatic tunnel vision. If you are still inclined to read it (and it truly isn’t a ‘bad’ book, I just disagree on many basic ideas in it), I would recommend checking your local library. My copy actually came for free via interlibrary loan from a public library in Ft. Wayne Indiana.

    03/21/2009 at 4:11 PM

  3. Unfortunate. I’d imagined a waayy out of the box collective that challenges conventional theory. This sounds like an egotistical, finger wagging session. I’ll still buy it and give it a read.

    03/23/2009 at 11:04 PM

  4. Well, it certainly isn’t in line with conventional theory as I understand it, but I didn’t think it had a special insight that shed new light on the subject, rather it tended to confuse the issue.

    The critique of SOD article that Adam Elkus referred to in his comment to the Naveh post at D5GW can be found here.

    Click to access 14.pdf

    I waited until after reading the book to read the article but the motivations of Naveh would have been more clear to me if I had read the article first.

    03/24/2009 at 4:10 AM

  5. I have so much in my anti-library, I need to start reducing it.

    03/24/2009 at 3:55 PM

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