Six turning points in military history and American democracy.
Don’t Know Much About… series author Davis (America's Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation, 2008, etc.) begins with the 1781 battle that decided the American Revolution. In Yorktown and its aftermath, we learn that George Washington favored a large standing army, despite the insistence of many that a diffuse corps of "citizen soldiers" would be a better safeguard of democracy. From Yorktown, the author moves to the 1864 Battle of Petersburg, Virginia. Davis defines specific moments when the U.S. military's role and self-image changed significantly. His stories are always analytically rigorous, and thus he describes at length the so-called "water cure" as it was employed as a method of torture by Americans during the Spanish-American War. Throughout the book, the author is careful to emphasize the critical role of African-Americans, both in the acknowledged triumphs of groups like the U.S. Colored Troops and in the disgraces visited upon black servicemen. Davis also makes sure to give voice to the fact that the actions of the Greatest Generation were not always so valiant. Russians were not the only soldiers who left a swath of brutalized women in their wake. While the Americans were not given the same license as Soviet troops avenging more than 25 million casualties, they still committed crimes. Davis’ chapter on Vietnam offers a damning view of a military beset by those more interested in "management" than "leadership"—e.g., Gen. William Westmoreland. In the final chapter, on Fallujah, the author discusses the sickening scene of charred American mercenaries hanging from a bridge, failures of military policy, and a sense that the best military in the world is only as good as its civilian leadership.
An informative, readable compendium of the many fallacies of modern warfare—including the fact that the inventor of the Gatling gun thought his instrument would decrease casualties.