Small Wars Journal

Books You Should be Reading (Updated)

Why Vietnam Matters: An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learned - Rufus Phillips

Phillips details how the legendary Edward G. Lansdale helped the South Vietnamese gain and consolidate their independence between 1954 and 1956, and how this later changed to a reliance on American conventional warfare with its highly destructive firepower. He reasons that our failure to understand the Communists, our South Vietnamese allies, or even ourselves took us down the wrong road. In summing up US errors in Vietnam, Phillips draws parallels with the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and suggests changes in the US approach. Known for his intellectual integrity and firsthand, long-term knowledge of what went on in Vietnam, the author offers lessons for today in this trenchant account.

Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander's War in Iraq - Peter Mansoor

This is a unique contribution to the burgeoning literature on the Iraq war, analyzing the day-to-day performance of a US brigade in Baghdad during 2004-2005. Mansoor uses a broad spectrum of sources to address the military, political and cultural aspects of an operation undertaken with almost no relevant preparation, which tested officers and men to their limits and generated mistakes and misjudgments on a daily basis. The critique is balanced, perceptive and merciless - and Mansoor was the brigade commander. Military history is replete with command memoirs. Most are more or less self-exculpatory. Even the honest ones rarely achieve this level of analysis. The effect is like watching a surgeon perform an operation on himself. Mansoor has been simultaneously a soldier and a scholar, able to synergize directly his military and academic experiences.

The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq - Bing West

From a universally respected combat journalist, a gripping history based on five years of front-line reporting about how the war was turned around - and the choice now facing America. We interpret reality through the clouded prism of our own experience, so it is unsurprising that Bing West sees Iraq through the lens of Vietnam. He served as a Marine officer there, and he thinks politicians and the media caused the American public to turn against a war that could have been won. Now a correspondent for the Atlantic, West has made 15 reporting trips to Iraq over the last six years and is almost as personally invested in the current conflict as he was in Vietnam; this book, his third on Iraq, is his attempt to ensure that the "endgame" in Iraq turns out better than in his last war.

Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq - Linda Robinson

After a series of disastrous missteps in its conduct of the war, the White House in 2006 appointed General David Petraeus as the Commanding General of the coalition forces. Tell Me How This Ends is an inside account of his attempt to turn around a failing war. Linda Robinson conducted extensive interviews with Petraeus and his subordinate commanders and spent weeks with key U.S. and Iraqi divisions. The result is the only book that ties together military operations in Iraq and the internecine political drama that is at the heart of the civil war. Replete with dramatic battles, behind-doors confrontations, and astute analysis, the book tells the full story of the Iraq War's endgame, and lays out the options that will be facing the next president.

The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 - Bob Woodward

Woodward interviewed key players, obtained dozens of never-before-published documents, and had nearly three hours of exclusive interviews with President Bush. The result is a stunning, firsthand history of the years from mid-2006, when the White House realizes the Iraq strategy is not working, through the decision to surge another 30,000 US troops in 2007, and into mid-2008, when the war becomes a fault line in the presidential election. As violence in Iraq reaches unnerving levels in 2006, a second front in the war rages at the highest levels of the Bush administration. In his fourth book on President George W. Bush, Bob Woodward takes readers deep inside the tensions, secret debates, unofficial backchannels, distrust and determination within the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence agencies and the US military headquarters in Iraq. With unparalleled intimacy and detail, this gripping account of a president at war describes a period of distress and uncertainty within the US government from 2006 through mid-2008. The White House launches a secret strategy review that excludes the military. General George Casey, the commander in Iraq, believes that President Bush does not understand the war and eventually concludes he has lost the president's confidence. The Joint Chiefs of Staff also conduct a secret strategy review that goes nowhere. On the verge of revolt, they worry that the military will be blamed for a failure in Iraq.

We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam - Harold Moore and Joe Galloway

In their stunning follow-up to the classic bestseller We Were Soldiers Once... and Young, Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Joe Galloway return to Vietnam and reflect on how the war changed them, their men, their enemies, and both countries - often with surprising results. It would be a monumental task for Moore and Galloway to top their classic 1992 memoir. But they come close in this sterling sequel, which tells the backstory of two of the Vietnam War's bloodiest battles (in which Moore participated as a lieutenant colonel), their first book and a 1993 ABC-TV documentary that brought them back to the battlefield. Moore's strong first-person voice reviews the basics of the November 1965 battles, part of the 34-day Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. Among other things, Moore and Galloway (who covered the battle for UPI) offer portraits of two former enemy commanders, generals Nguyen Huu An and Chu Huy Man, whom the authors met - and bonded with - nearly three decades after the battle. This book proves again that Moore is an exceptionally thoughtful, compassionate and courageous leader (he was one of a handful of army officers who studied the history of the Vietnam wars before he arrived) and a strong voice for reconciliation and for honoring the men with whom he served.

In a Time of War: The Proud and Perilous Journey of West Point' Class of 2002 - Bill Murphy

The West Point cadets Murphy follows through their baptism by fire are an admirable sample of young American men and women: intelligent, ambitious and intensely patriotic. Most come from career military families and hold conservative opinions. Murphy describes their four years at West Point with respect even when discussing their love lives and marriages. All yearn for battle, and most get their wish. The book's best passages describe the confusion of moving to Iraq or Afghanistan and fighting insurgents, for which they lack both training and equipment. All feel something is not right but concentrate on the job at hand; some inevitably die or are grievously wounded.

Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy - Steven Metz

Today the US military is more nimble, mobile, and focused on rapid responses against smaller powers than ever before. One could argue that the Gulf War and the postwar standoff with Saddam Hussein hastened needed military transformation and strategic reassessments in the post--Cold War era. But the preoccupation with Iraq also mired the United States in the Middle East and led to a bloody occupation. What will American strategy look like after US troops leave Iraq? Metz concludes that the United States has a long-standing, continuing problem "developing sound assumptions when the opponent operates within a different psychological and cultural framework." He sees a pattern of misjudgments about Saddam and Iraq based on Western cultural and historical bias and a pervasive faith in the superiority of America's worldview and institutions. This myopia contributed to America being caught off guard by Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, then underestimating his longevity, and finally miscalculating the likelihood of a stable and democratic Iraq after he was toppled. With lessons for all readers concerned about America's role in the world, Dr. Metz's important new work will especially appeal to scholars and students of strategy and international security studies, as well as to military professionals and DOD civilians. With a foreword by Colin S. Gray.