Review: The Rules of the Game–Jutland and British Naval Command

5 Star, Military & Pentagon Power

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5.0 out of 5 stars Relevant to Post 9-11 and the Road to War with Iraq,

July 30, 2003
Andrew Gordon
In the aftermath of 9-11 and the concerted efforts by both the policy and intelligence leadership in both America and the United Kingdom to both deny that 9-11 was a failure on their parts, and to “sex up” the dossiers leading to an unjust war in Iraq, I really like and recommend this book to anyone remotely connected to national security decision-making.There are four major points in this book that neither the publicity prose nor the earlier reviewers emphasize, and I focus on these because they are the heart of the book and the core of its value:

1) Peacetime breeds officers, systems, and doctrine that are unlikely to stand the empirical test of war. As the author notes, every incompetent in war has previously been promoted to his or her high rank in peacetime. Systems are adopted without serious battle testing or interoperability (and intelligence) supportability being assured, and doctrine takes a back seat to protocol and keeping up appearances.

2) Technologists are especially pernicious and dangerous to future warfighting capability when they are allowed to promulgate new technology under ideal peacetime conditions, and not forced to stand the test of battle-like degradation and the friction of real-world conditions.

3) Doctrine based on the lessons of history rather than the pomp of peacetime is the ultimate insurance policy.

4) Robust–even intrusive and pervasive–communications (signaling) in peacetime is almost certain to denigrate healthy doctrinal development, has multiple pernicious effects on the initiative and development of individual commanders, and can have catastrophic consequences when it is severely degraded in wartime and the necessary doctrinal foundation and command initiative are lacking.

This is a very long book at 708 pages, and I would hasten to note that the book is worth purchasing even if only to read Chapter 25, pages 562-601, in which the author brilliantly sets forth 28 distinct “propositions”. The balance of the book is extraordinary in its detail and a pleasure to scan over, but its primary role is to absolutely guarantee the credibility and industry of the author.

Each of the 28 propositions, one sentence in length with varying explanatory summaries, is compelling, relevant, and most critical to how we train both flag officers and field grade officers of all the services. Were the author so inclined, I would encourage him to develop the final chapter as a stand-alone primer for military leaders seeking to learn from history and avoid the dangerous juxtaposition of too much technology and too little thought. While the author draws his propositions from an excruciatingly detailed study of the Battle of Jutland and the British naval cultures in conflict before and after Jutland, this book is not, at root, about a specific battle, but rather about the constantly forgotten “first principles” of training, equipping, and organizing forces for combat. Hard to do in peacetime with the best of leaders, a tragedy in waiting with the more common peacetime pogues in charge. “Ratcatchers”, the author’s phrase for those who do well in war, are crushed by the peacetime protocols, and this is perhaps the greatest lesson of all: we must nurture our ratcatchers, even place them on independent duty to travel distant lands, but somehow, someway, keep them in play against the day when we need them.

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