Weekend Reading: June 5-7 Edition

June 5, 2015

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about historical wars — while the big battles, heroes, and devastations have been captured and preserved by journalists, historians, and academics, how many small stories have we lost over time? How many decisions, events, or coincidences that shaped the war, or didn’t, were never written down and are now gone?

This week marks the anniversary of two big milestones of World War II — the Battle of Midway and the Invasion of Normandy. They leave me wondering which war stories from Iraq and Afghanistan will be remembered 70 years from now and which will die out with their keepers.

With that in mind, I’m kicking off the weekend reading list with a few pieces that remind us the value of a good history lesson.

Remembering the Battle of Midway. “Yes, the Battle of Midway was about strategy and politics. It helped determine the destinies of nations. And yes, we can debate whether it was decisive, a turning point, or something else. But let’s never lose sight of the human dimension of war—raw passions such as fear and spite, despair and exaltation. As Thucydides taught—and as Midway confirms—these passions are what make war such a human endeavor.” — Real Clear Defense columnist James Holmes offers three valuable takeaways from the Battle of Midway and what it meant for the outcome of the war in the Pacific.

Did you know? The 13th Parachute Battalion of the British Army, in preparing for D-Day, used dogs to “perform tasks such as locating mines, keeping watch and warning about enemies. As a side job, they also served as something of a mascot for the two-legged troops.” In honor of the 71st anniversary of D-Day, check out this 2013 der Spiegel article about the parachuting dogs of World War II.

Because everyone should listen to podcasts all the time. WNYC’s Radiolab has a podcast detailing Camp Aliceville, a POW camp in Alabama during World War II that held thousands of German prisoners from 1943 to 1945. The podcast explores the generous treatment of the prisoners even after discovering the inhumane treatment of American POWs overseas and how U.S. policy toward prisoners has become murkier in the 21st century.

Bring back Boyd. “Despite the loyalty of his acolytes, the best advocates for Boyd’s ideas are Russia, China, and the Islamic State. Each of these actors, probably without knowing it, are demonstrating Boydian strategic methods. Each of them is using an adroit mix of ambiguity, deception, distribution, and propaganda, all while demonstrating a keen awareness of the moral plane of war and warfare in a way that is serving their ends.” — At the Strategy Bridge, B. A. Friedman calls for return to the ideas of John Boyd, and argues that they are already being applied by Russia, China, and the Islamic State.

Beyond the ridiculous conspiracy, Jade Helm 15 is a necessary training exercise. “But Jade Helm 15, as well as training in Fort Hill and numerous other locations, reflects the shifting reality of warfare in a rapidly urbanizing world where America’s military must be prepared for all eventualities. It is the fact that testing operations in urban areas will regularly have to take place in the future which we should be worried about and not the fantasy that President Obama is coming to take people’s guns and declare himself emperor.” — Pete Storey for Cicero Magazine on why the Jade Helm operation is necessary in preparing troops for future wars that is shifting more toward urban environments.

Hey Ash, you’re doing it wrong. “DoD is resistant to the widespread use of commercial best practices in logistics and sustainment because it means giving up some control over resources, people and even equipment. What Pentagon officials, particularly program managers, have to realize is that the key to successful cost reduction is giving up control over much of the process, relying instead on the incentives of a free market-oriented approach with properly written contracts to drive the desired behavior by the private sector.” — Daniel Gouré shuts down the newest version of DoD’s acquisition reform initiative, Better Buying Power 3.0, at the Lexington Institute.

What to expect in Turkey after upcoming elections? More of the same. “Despite this fervent wish, not only are the parliamentary elections unlikely to bring much stability, but there is a significant likelihood that the immediate and medium-term aftermath will be even stormier than the past couple of years. There are too many variables in play that hinge on the election’s results, and many of them will create chaos irrespective of the outcome.” — At Ottomans and Zionists, Michael Koplow lays out the issues driving of Turkish political volatility that will continue to create problems following Sunday’s election.

Why elections are really bad for foreign policy. “It is disturbing that policymakers seem so willing to embrace policies driven by ideology or abstract projection at the expense of paying attention to the facts on the ground, or even in outright defiance of known empirical realities. But worse still is that even as it becomes glaringly obvious that these ill-conceived measures are failing or even backfiring, the typical response by policymakers is to explain problems away with empty counterfactuals about how the strategy is essentially sound and could have worked better under alternative circumstances — with the proposed “solution” typically being to double-down on the current policies, rather than to rethink their aims and methods.” — In the Wilson Quarterly, Musa al-Gharbi explains the problem with policymakers who push grand strategies that feed Americans’ overall ignorance of foreign affairs during election seasons.

In case you missed it: My War on the Rocks recommendations from the past week.

  • Doug Ollivant says that the most important U.S. objectives in Iraq are keeping it unified and as Western oriented as possible.
  • Lesley Warner examines whether Nigeria’s newly inaugurated president, Muhammadu Buhari, can at the very least contain Boko Haram better than his predecessor.
  • Landon Shroder encourages the Republican party to follow Sen. Rand Paul’s lead on foreign policy.


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.