Weekend Reading: May 29-31 Edition

May 29, 2015

We’re wrapping up the month of May with some Chinese strategy, the untold story behind the fall of Ramadi, and some bold advice for Japan.

A better way to approach Chinese strategic theory. “Texts like Sun-tzu’s Art of War (hereafter, the Sunzi) are dissected with little reference to the way its thought was consciously implemented by those who studied it most carefully. This is a mistake. Most of the pressing questions in this field can only be answered by looking at how Chinese soldiers and statesmen actually behaved, and most of the errors common to Western punditry [sic] can be sourced to this tendency to ignore actual events in favor of theory. In the case of ancient histories — whose account of events were highly stylized and moralizing — this distinction blurs.”   – On the blog The Scholar’s Stage, T. Greer published an excellent two-part examination of Chinese strategic tradition, how it has been historically viewed in the West, and the steps needed to further the study as an academic sub field.

Want more? Patrick Cronin offers 10 steps the United States can take to push back against China. And the podcast, This American Life, has a great episode on Americans in China, and what they understand about the country that we’re missing in the United States.

Japan needs to let its alter ego cut loose. “Many visitors to Japan often focus on the more informal or fun aspects of the country, from comic books (manga) to extravagant fashion, usually grouped under the label ‘kawaii,’ loosely translated as ‘cute.’ However, beneath beneath this Kawaii façade, or rather coexisting with this, there is another Japan, one with little appetite for appeasement. It is doubtful that any Japanese government would survive a failure to react to a Chinese invasion of the Senkaku Islands, and it is no coincidence to see Prime Minister Shinzo Abe incorporate the Falklands in his narrative. Therefore, in order to promote peace and reduce the risks of war, Japan should pursue the opposite policy to the one it is currently following.”  – Alex Calvo, writing for the Strife Blog, offers his take for why Japan should put boots on the ground on the Senkaku Islands.

A different kind of book review. “It’s the kind of book that would happen if we put Taylor Swift in a reboot of G.I. Jane, and the opening scene is Swift crushing a rope climb in a CrossFit box right after her cheerleading squad took first place at Nationals. It’s so damn patriotic I swear I could hear ‘God Bless the USA’ playing softly throughout. And since Reese Witherspoon is going to play Lt. White in a movie version, we’ll get to find out what happens when you cross Sweet Home Alabama with Lone Survivor.”  – Everyone’s favorite snarky blogger, Gary Owen, provides a very honest review of the highly publicized book “Ashley’s War,” which looks at the servicewomen who volunteered to support special operations as part of cultural support teams in Afghanistan.

Rodney Dangerfield does nukes. Over at RealClearDefense, Matthew Costlow explains why the United States gets so much grief from critics on nuclear issues. “The United States has led the way in nonproliferation and disarmament for decades,” he writes, and “well-intentioned unilateral U.S. concessions” will not get countries like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea onto a more productive path.

Hey Turkey, little help? “… beyond the convergence in rhetoric, the United States and Turkey are cooperating with different political actors. Washington is working closely with Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to overcome sectarian differences, while Ankara is working with a rival political faction to lessen the Prime Minister’s control over the Iraqi security forces. As in neighboring Syria, Ankara and Washington share the same goal, but pursue largely opposing tactics to achieve it.”  – For the Atlantic Council’s MENASource, Aaron Stein explains how Turkey’s support for the Nujaifis undermines U.S.-backed efforts to empower Sunni units against ISIS.


More from War on the Rocks:

  • Don’t miss Derek O’Malley and Andrew Hill’s two-part series on the A-10, the F-35, and the challenges of providing close air support in the face of difficult budgetary pressures: Part I and Part II.
  • Brian Fishman writes that we can use lessons on Osama bin Laden’s leadership style to develop a framework for thinking about how Ayman al-Zawahiri may be operating.
  • C. Christine Fair argues that if the United States wants to truly honor its fallen service members, then it needs to make a much harder stance on Pakistan immediately.


Lauren Katzenberg is an editor at War on the Rocks. She is also the managing editor of Task & Purpose, a news and culture publication covering veterans and military affairs. Follow her on Twitter @lkatzenberg.

If you have an article you think should be included in the weekend reading list, shoot it over to lauren.katzenberg@warontherocks.com.


Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery