Book Review: Yellow Smoke

Yellow Smoke:  The Future Of Land Warfare For America’s Military, by Major General Robert H. Scales Jr.

Seeking to provide vision to the U.S. Army in a way that allows for the most effectiveness in future military conflicts, Scales provides a compelling read that, even if a reader does not agree with all of his conclusions, will at least provide thought-provoking examination of key elements of the future of limited warfare for the U.S. Army.  If you are a fond reader of contemporary or historical military strategy [1], this book will be somewhat familiar with its discussion of interconnected elements of grand strategy, operational doctrine, technology, and tactics, all combined together to make a grand vision, the sort of vision that is designed to win votes and supports but is not likely to survive the first contact with the enemy.  To the author’s credit, though, this enjoyable and somewhat brief (roughly 170 page) vision for the future of the U.S. Army is combined with a great deal of humility and historical insight, both of which make this short book one that is well worth reading to those who have any interest in weighing in or considering the author’s thoughts about future conflicts and how American can be well prepared for them in light of our post-World War II history.  The author himself, as a retired Major General in the army and an executive in Walden University and Sylvan Learning, is well equipped to deal with the connection between education and military doctrine.

The content of this book is made up of ten essays that, combined, give the author’s vision for the future of the army.  First, the author discusses the emergence of an American way of war through the limited wars after World War II, with a clear preference for firepower and a refusal to risk the lives of soldiers on the part of the American public.  The author then discusses the question of technology and the way that unrivaled American technological advantages cannot be expected to last, or at least to remain as decisive as they often are at present, especially in a world where improvised technologies can do such damage at such minimal cost.  Turning his attention to the issue of grand strategy, the author examines the dilemma of time and risk that have to be addressed by civil and military authorities when faced with crises.  The author looks at how the army has gotten better in its post-Vietnam efforts from Panama to Afghanistan, then looks at the tactical element of land war in looking at the human dimension of the close fight, where the vast majority of casualties take place.  The last four chapters of the book are dedicated to a discussion of the author’s ideals for the new American way of war, an extended wargame for Kosovo 2020 that ends in America’s favor as a result of superior tactics and technology and Serbian ineptitude, ten principles for strengthening America’s land forces (most notable among them being the upgrading of air transport and dealing with the trade-offs of the weight of armor and its portability into war zones), and a cautionary conclusion about the need to reduce costs and preserve American strength in a dangerous world.

It must be emphasized that this book is not written in a vacuum.  Rather, it is written with a particular audience in mind of policymakers for the United States military, both in the interservice competition for funding and in the debates between various camps of the military establishment over the planning of the military.  The author’s views on these matters are pretty straightforward–focus on unit cohesion and training, make the U.S. Army a more elite force with higher education and a slimmer organizational structure by focusing on 5,000 man units capable of having all of the combined elements of warfare commanded by officers capable of independent thought and tactical choice down to the platoon level.  Conceding the high expense of much of American technology, the author wishes to focus on making our military better able to win from the start and less subject to the problems that have resulted from being unprepared at the start of conflict as has been traditional in American military history.  These ideas are likely to be pretty controversial in an age of belt-tightening and general incoherence in American policymaking.  This book may be about yellow smoke, but it is coming from a pretty intense fire.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s