Saturday, June 5, 2010

Book Review: The Echo of Battle

The Echo Of Battle is written by Brian McAllister Linn. Its topic is simply a in depth discussion of the US Army Way of War, or more accurately how it rotates between three focal points. Mr. Linn holds that there are three "traditions" in the army that influence how the army thinks, prepares, fights and reviews its conflicts. These three traditions are the "Heroic" (man is the key), "Guardians" (Fortress America types who focused on looking inward versus overseas), and "Managers" (bring order to the battlefield, science can remove the grey area and men are merely parts of the whole).

This book is a great look into how the US Army has thought strategically for its entire existance and how it has gone through changes, often painfull. The US Army has rarely been ready for the war it actually ends up fighting and it is pretty clear in this book. But the intersting part of this book is how the Army then veiws its lessons from the war and what it takes away. Linn's main thesis seems to be that the army usually gets it wrong, or somewhat wrong and then runs on the fly to fix and overcome (which seems to be a major strength of the US Army).

This book is not a light read. Parts were somewhat dull, and there is practically no "action" to relieve the discussion of army theory and strategic thought. I am not sure that I agree with all that the author says and I think he does a bit a shoehorning to make people and ideas fit into his three major traditions. But he does give a good run down of how the Army thought about doing its job and how the three traditions have morphed over time.

A couple of other items that this book brought up. First, the author makes a great point that I don't think he quite realizes. The Army, despite its mistakes and its muckups, still has always been able to pull it out when push comes to shove (with one exception). When the shooting starts, the learning curve explodes. The biggest thing I have seen out of this is that one can't seem to replicate the conditions for the "explosion" except during war. In some cases you can come close, but not perfect. So you could argue that while being prepared for war is a good thing (it certainly is) it might be better to be an organization that can learn fast once the shooting starts.

Second, he points out that in the 1990s the US Army had poor senior leadership. The major threat had gone away, the world was changing and the Army failed to change with it. In 2000, I did an NTC rotation and our training was a stand up Fulda Gap Force on Force Scenario. Why? Who was going to try and fight us like that ever again? While our senior leadership was focused on Berets, we should have been trying to figure out how to fight in a failed nation state.

His third point is an interesting one. The current wars have been going on for quite some time now. What that has brought about is something very intersting. Just about every officer and soldier has seen combat. Instead of having a service dominated by a "clique" of officers (such as what happened after Desert Storm) who had been in the fight, EVERYONE has been in the fight. You can't just bring in an expert and expect them to not get questioned by people who can say "I was there and this is what I saw, why are saying different?" This is VERY good for the army. Everyone feels that they have the right to pipe up and provide input. A debate where just about everyone is taking part if you will.

And that is good stuff.

Ok, overall an okay book, but a tough read. Unless you are really wanting to dive into a historic focus of how the army has learned over time, this one is not for you.


  1. Interesting. At first it sounds like Yankee Ingenuity wins the day, but I see what you're getting at that the US Army is best when in conflict. Nothing hones the mind like an immediate crisis and the fact that you have volunteer who want to win and come home another day. Not that draftees and conscripts don't want to win and come home, but a volunteer has a whole lot more invested than someone who was forced to fight.

  2. Yes that is the point for part of it. It also helps the upper management focus as well. This book is hard to explain for some parts, but it seems that when we actually do start fighting we become much more flexible in our thinking versus peacetime.