This We’ll Defend: The Weapons And Equipment Of The U.S. Army, by Russell Phillips
If someone is a military buff looking for good information about equipment, whether one is interested modern militaria, or one is involved in portraying the contemporary American military experience, this is a good book. To be sure, it is technical, and not likely to appeal to someone who is not a military buff, but for its audience it hits the right notes. It talks about the origin and history of the equipment currently used in the army, even commenting on where a given technology was developed with the assistance of another army, like the British or the Germans. The author appears to be British, both from the mostly European origin of many of his quotes, as well as from his writing about other wars, like the Falkland War, that I look forward to reading in the future. This book is short but it hits the mark, collected from what look to be publicly available specifications released by the U.S. Army, and full of details that demonstrate the army’s use of a wide variety of equipment by its various wings. As the author says: “All of the facts, figures, and images in this e-book are available on the U.S. Army website. They have been collated, edited, and combined with notes from the author to form this book, which aims to serve as a short but comprehensive reference.” Consider that mission achieved.
In terms of its organization and structure, the book is very orderly. It is divided into a number of sections: tracked vehicles, individual and crew-served weapons, helicopters, surface-to-air missiles (including the famous Patriot missile), anti-armour weapons (here spelled in the British way), indirect fire systems (artillery), nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) defense equipment, and logistics vehicles. Each of the weapons and defense systems is then detailed in a similar fashion. First, a picture of the class of equipment is given, then its mission is discussed in language like this (taken from the example of the M224 Mortar): “Mission: Provide long-range indirect fire support to airborne, air assault, light infantry, mountain, and special operations forces.” Then, the year this weapon or equipment entered army service is given, along with its description, compatibility with other weapons systems, weapon history, and fairly detailed specifications (sometimes in both metric and standard units, but mostly in metric), along with its manufacturer information, which is precise and even includes the city the manufacturer is based out of. Additionally, each larger chapter has quotations from a military thinker or leader, often at least somewhat related to the particular type of equipment that is provided.
This book is very excellent within its very limited ambitions and aims. Nevertheless, it does offer some curiosities that are worthy of further reflection. The title of the book is “This We’ll Defend,” but even if the U.S. Army has been involved in many tactically defensive battles over the course of its history, it has largely operated on the strategic and/or operational offensive. Even on those occasions, such as successfully in Korea and unsuccessfully in Vietnam, where the United States army fought against aggressive Communist forces, it did so far away from our own borders and territory. In fact, one would be hard pressed to think of a time where Americans had to repel an aggressive army from its territories on any kind of prolonged basis since about 1814 or so, during the latter stages of the War of 1812. For the most part, the United States has fought on the offensive, and so the book’s consistent language of defense and deterrence and repelling seems at odds with the actual conduct of the U.S. Army. It would appear that the United States Army, if this language indeed comes from their own weapon and equipment specifications, has a similar doctrine to that of the Roman legions, speaking of its warfare in the language of defense while engaged often in aggressive and offensive combat, yet perhaps without fully recognizing it. Of additional note, this book gives full credit to the importance of logistical equipment, which is often ignored or given little attention. The demanding ammunition and supply needs of the contemporary American military justify the attention paid to logistics, and clearly the wide variety and demanding specifications of that logistics equipment demonstrate the awareness of the importance of logistics at the highest level of the military establishment. This is an example of a book whose information appears to be merely collection and collation, with slight notes, but also one that prompts thought and reflection about the history of military equipment in the U.S. Army and other militaries, and also about the disconnect that sometimes exists between how an army actually behaves, and how it views its own mission and practice.