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‘The Generals’ gets two thumbs down | The Best Defense.

I would agree with Gentile’s assessment. Ricks’ book does not add to the body of knowledge concerning the officer profession and leadership in the U.S. Army. Ricks’ argument that Marshall’s style of management is precisely what the Army now needs makes many assumptions. Furthermore, forcing such a paradigm into today’s circumstances does not provide skeptical or critical readers the clear conclusions that Ricks seeks, i.e. holding generals accountable through relief would have impacted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan differently. Whether or not reliefs in today’s wars would have made a difference is not knowable. Gentile was correct in asserting that this study could have been beneficial if its focus remained during the World War II era. History is undoubtedly useful to present day military leaders, but it does not necessarily provide the answers for every time and place as Ricks’ work assumes.

Focusing so much on a particular general’s performance fails to account for all of the other variables that impact military operations. There is no doubt that generals carry a majority of the burden for executing military operations, but to focus solely on that aspect is shortsighted. Additionally, it becomes very easy to conclude that failure resulted from poor leadership when that may not be the case.

As far as the writing is concerned, the book is plodding and fairly repetitive. References to Marshall’s ghost, while entertaining, do more to drain the credibility out of this work than add to it. Rather than difficult to put down, frequently I had a hard time picking this book back up.

One glaring example of an inconsistency in the book concerns the importance of relationships between civilian leadership and the generals conducting operations. Not long after establishing this importance, Ricks then lauds the performance of one general that admittedly took a large gamble operationally without informing or gaining prior approval from the president, which certainly conflicts with his previous statements on the importance of civil-military relations. Ricks highlights the success of this gamble, but does not comment on the disparity with his previous assertion.

Ricks’ work falls short of providing a critical analysis of the performance of U.S. Army generals and further fails to provide any useful recommendations. I agree with Gentile, this book gets two thumbs down. It is interesting, but it is not critical and does not hold up against scrutiny.


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