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Kurt Kuhlmann


HST 351


Review:                  Against All Enemies, edited by Kenneth Hagan and William Roberts


Kenneth Hagan and William Roberts, both military historians at the U.S. Naval Academy, have put together a collection of eighteen essays by eighteen authors covering the history of the American military from colonial times to the present.  Originally conceived as a companion to a similar book on the navy, Against All Enemies focuses almost exclusively on the army.  The book is organized chronologically, with each chapter taking up where the last left off in time, and the authors include many of the leading American military historians, such as Russell Weigley, Stephen Ambrose, and Allan R. Millett.

The editors list three themes which appear more or less consistently throughout the book:  the increasing importance of the American military to the United States and the world, the changing geographic locale of military operations, and the continuing tension within the army between strategies of "maneuver" and "decisive battle" or "unrelenting actions."  These themes, together with the decided pro-military slant to the book -- edited by faculty at the Naval Academy, with a foreword by  former Secretary of the Army Martin Hoffman and  former chief of staff General Fred Weyand -- suggest that the book is intended to help the army "place the Vietnam War in broad historical perspective and shed its collective institutional embarrassment over the American defeat in Southeast Asia" (p. 367) in the words of Colonel Harry G. Summers, author of the book's final chapter.  The book seems aimed at persuading army officers that the study of military history is directly relevant to current military problems, by showing that the debates about strategy, world role, and what war to plan for have been with the American military since it was first established back in the 18th century.

The book's weaknesses are inherent in its form and intent.  First, continuity is necessarily limited by having each chapter written by a different author.  Since each author places different emphasis on the themes, occasionally one or another of the themes almost disappears from view before returning in the next chapter.  The authors are also overly congratulatory of each other's work, the "Further Reading" section following each chapter at times becoming an exercise in mutual admiration.  This reaches its peak in the last chapter when Col. Summers extolls his own book, On Strategy, as "a pivotal piece in the administrative, philosophical, and historical reevaluation of the American army" and notes modestly that it "has been credited with making a major contribution to a better understanding of the Vietnam War and to a deeper appreciation of strategy and the art of war." (p. 365, 366)  Further, the direct association of the editors with a faction of the army establishment casts some doubt on the impartiality of some of the later chapters, i.e. how far were the authors free to criticise the actions or policies of military leaders who still hold positions of authority?  Finally, the rather narrow military scope of the book neglects social analysis of the army almost entirely, focusing on strategy and internal changes without addressing the effects on and from the contemporary American society.

Despite its unevenness and ambiguous purpose, Against All Enemies contains some extremely fine essays, and within the limited scope of its three main themes achieves a comprehensive overview of the history of the American army.  Two outstanding chapters were John Shy's "Armed Force in Colonial North America," a comparison of the military experiences of New Spain, New France, and the English colonies, and Stephen Ambrose's "The Armed Services and American Strategy, 1945-1953," a sharp look at the changing role of the American military in the post-war era.  The consistently high caliber of the essays more than overcomes the book's weaknesses.  Against All Enemies is a valuable "interpretation" of American military history.

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