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The Rise of the Great Modern Armies : TWENTIETH CENTURY WARRIORS The Development of the Armed Forces of the Major Military Nations in the Twentieth Century by Field Marshal Lord Carver (Weidenfeld & Nicolson: $25; 448 pp.)

July 10, 1988|Douglas M. Hart | Hart is a defense analyst with Pacific-Sierra Research Corp. He specializes in Soviet defense and foreign policy. His latest book is "The Encyclopedia of Soviet Spacecraft" (Bison Books).

"It is not a waste of time for those concerned with the military problems of today and tomorrow to improve their understanding of those of yesterday." The concluding sentence of Lord Carver's panoramic military history of the 20th Century is sound advice for national security professionals whose careers will shape the policies of the early decades of the next century. Methodology is critical to successfully pursuing a work of such scope, and Lord Carver's approach is quite sound, if somewhat tedious. The author seeks to paint a canvass composed of seven different, but overlapping, subscenes that equate to the histories of the armed forces of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the United States of America, Japan and China, from 1900 to 1986. The result is a work that requires no little patience on the part of the reader in order to wade through detailed and repetitious passages to glean the useful nuggets from the seven vignettes and, finally, to profit from viewing the effort as a single piece of historical analysis.

This book will make an excellent text for undergraduates in history, political science and reserve officer training courses. Here, again, Lord Carver's methodology comes into play. The concluding chapter is quite unsatisfactory when read apart from the body of the work. In fact, it should be read first and then reread at the end of the seven nation-specific chapters. This aspect of the work's organization, which will ensnare students (and book reviewers) into reading the bulk of the text, leads the reader to the "nuggets" mentioned above, which are usually buried in archives or obscure works that have not been translated into English. Lord Carver, for example, incorporates the equipment, doctrine, and command and control problems that plagued the French air force in September 1940 into his analysis when most overviews of that campaign simply ignore the subject altogether. The author's judgment that neither Hindenburg nor Ludendorff played a major role in the Battle of Tannenberg in 1914, but only exploited public perceptions of their contributions to the victory in their climb to power, is another example of his careful research. Finally, each chapter in itself provides an excellent summary of the relationship between the military and the political leadership in each country during the bulk of the 20th Century.

The problem with the work is the unevenness inherent in such an ambitious undertaking. Lord Carver's excellent analyses of the French postwar experience in Indochina and Algeria have to be contrasted with a rather bland recital of the major events surrounding the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and almost no mention is made of the British experience in Malaysia or the continuing effect of the situation in Northern Ireland on the British Army. Perhaps the weakest analyses in the book are devoted to the development of the U.S. armed forces during the last 15 years.

With respect to the American military, Lord Carver endorses the complaints of the American Left that the professional military has become enmeshed in the "military-industrial complex" and that the officer corps is "obsessed" with "individual advancement". He further observes that the U.S. military's values are primarily a reflection of those held by American society at large. These superficial observations, though not necessarily incorrect, are incomplete. The real problem facing U.S. military planners and decision-makers is how to cope with the emergence of a long-term peacetime military bureaucracy in a politico-military environment wherein the onset of high-intensity conflict and its resolution will probably occur very rapidly. The bureaucracy is a problem because those best suited to lead a peacetime military organization are generally unsuited to lead it in wartime and vice versa. Having seen military bureaucracies conduct the painful transition from peace to war and back to peace, Lord Carver could provide some fascinating insights into this long-term dilemma for U.S. national security. Sadly, he chooses not to.

Lord Carver does draw three thought-provoking conclusions from his multinational canvass. First, that the history of conflict in the 20th Century stems from the legacy of 19th-Century imperialism (although imperialism did not supply the proximate cause for the great cataclysms of this century), and that as the century draws to a close the only remaining imperial power on the planet is the Soviet Union. Second, that arms races do not cause wars. Third, that only the Soviet Union developed a system of command and control during World War II that retained the overall direction of the war in non-military hands, allowed for the formulation of effective grand strategy and maintained the requisite level of operational flexibility.

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