Timely and provocative reading in a era of drum-beating.

SUPREME COMMAND

SOLDIERS, STATESMEN AND LEADERSHIP IN WARTIME

Strategy analyst Cohen challenges the view that wars are best fought by military technicians without civilian interference.

Those who maintain that Vietnam would have been an American victory if only US generals had not had their hands tied by desk jockeys back home will doubtless take issue with Cohen’s thesis, which argues that inflexible military professionalism was one factor in America’s defeat. Reinforcing (but also qualifying) the adage “War is too important to be left to the generals,” Cohen (Strategy/Johns Hopkins Univ. and US Naval War College) examines the history of military campaigns in which democratic governments managed their generals in the field. Among the most successful was Abraham Lincoln’s constant intervention in Union military strategy; rather than concentrate on capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond, as his generals wished, Lincoln insisted that the war be fought on the periphery of the South, steadily weakening the enemy by attrition. Taking issue with the “Lincoln finds a general” school of historiography, Cohen effectively demonstrates that the president “exercised a constant oversight of the war effort from beginning to end.” So did French leader Georges Clemenceau, who secured victory in WWI by balancing the competing demands of two very different generals, Pétain and Foch, and of independent-minded allies. So too did Israeli premier David Ben-Gurion, a gifted student of history who introduced civilian control (and guerrilla tactics) into the new nation’s army, making it something of an “organizational anomaly,” but a remarkably effective one. Although he appreciates professionalism and warns of the dangers of civilians without military experience being given too much managerial authority over affairs in the field, Cohen clearly endorses the idea of civilian control over those whose mission is to kill people and break things.

Timely and provocative reading in a era of drum-beating.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-3049-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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