Kirkus Star


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Of all the dimensions of national power, military power is, on first sight, the least abstract. But once you go behind the gross numbers of weaponry, as Atlantic Monthly Washington correspondent Fallows does, things begin to get much more complicated, and not just because of the intricacies of military technology. In assessing the current state of the US military, Fallows develops two main arguments. The first is that there has developed a ""culture of procurement"" in the defense establishment, fed by the consumerism of high technology as well as by the corruption bred of bureaucratic infighting, and supplemented by the cozy relationship between retired officers and the defense industry. What makes Fallows' treatment unique is his demonstration of an inverse relationship between technological complexity and combat effectiveness, for two reasons: along with the complexity come increased breakdowns; and these weapons, designed to the hilt in the abstract, succumb to the vicissitudes of the battlefield. (Hand-held, soldier-guided anti-tank missiles, for example, require a soldier to remain exposed from the waist up for ten seconds, and soldiers aren't dumb enough to do that.) Tracing the evolution of the M-16 rifle and the F-16 fighter, Fallows shows how the rifle degenerated as the army bureaucracy added refinements to an effective weapon (and reduced its combat effectiveness), and how the plane was brushed aside in favor of a less effective but technologically superior offspring. His second main argument is that the imposition of centralized command, together with managerial rationalism, has robbed the military of its moral character, a problem exacerbated by the volunteer army. The ingenuity and leadership of the battlefield has been replaced by body counts and time clocks--and Fallows comes out strongly in favor of a universal draft to restore a sense of public responsibility and a reemphasis on the combat soldier. What is needed, in Fallows' determination of an effective military, is strategy oriented around maneuverability and simplicity, with the weapons and soldiers to match; by that standard, the US military is in bad shape. On a topic which is a chronic victim of preformed positions, Fallows has provided a thorough and provocative study which is also engrossingly readable--and certainly much needed.

Pub Date: June 8th, 1981
Publisher: Random House