Margin of Victory
“Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern Warfare” by Douglas Macgregor. Naval Institute Press. 2016, Hardcover, 268 pages, $34.95.
“Margin of Victory” is about change, intelligently and soberly recognizing the need for that change regardless of preconceived notions and the consequences of failing to do so. Each of the conflicts analyzed by Macgregor, all seemingly unrelated at first glance, center on his repeated premise that victory will depend on lessons learned that will drive accepting change and implementing the hard decisions that must accompany transformation – notably in technology, people, strategy and organization. While history provides perspective that must be considered, holding on to outmoded concepts or failing to properly leverage what’s been learned will ultimately lead to decisive defeat.
“Margin of Victory” scrutinizes five battles of the 20th Century beginning with the 1914 Battle of Mons in WW I, the 1937 Battle of Shanghai, the destruction of Nazi Germany's Army Group Center in 1944, the 1973 Yom Kippur War counter-attack by the Israelis across the Suez and finally, the Battle of '73 Easting in 1991 during the 1st Gulf War. These historical vignettes were carefully selected by the author and in themselves are absorbing accounts of key battles of the past century. Of particular note is Macgregor’s account of ‘73 Easting, since he was an active participant. However, a retelling of bygone battles isn’t his prime focus. His selection of these clashes was calculated to enable effective analysis of each belligerent’s organization and military ethos and how the victor had properly extrapolated what was needed to be changed before the battle. Its been said that we plan for the next war based on the last one we fought. Macgregor shows that this hasn’t always been the case and that those who recognized that fact would ultimately win. This analysis enables him to then lead the reader to his observations on the American Defense establishment and what Macgregor sees as a dire need to fundamentally alter our armed forces to fight and win in future conflict. This theme of urgent need for real transformation is the constant topic in all of Macgregor’s writing and critiques of the military.
What makes Macgregor’s “Margin of Victory” stand out is his final well-reasoned argument for transformation now. Even those who don’t agree or concur with him can’t argue with the depth of his assessment, his experience and writing ability. The need for joint operations, with true integration of capabilities in all domains and the cessation of minter-service rivalry are not new ones and there are few who would argue against our need to improve in these areas. Macgregor ties all of his analysis together in his last chapter – “America’s Margin of Victory in the 21st-Century.” At its core, he continually stresses the dire need to dump outdated strategy, tactics, wasteful structure, outmoded organisations and doctrine, and adds the necessity for the birthing of a National Defense Staff and Joint Force commands to maximize manoeuver and strike capabilities, as well as the effective employment of our greatest most precious asset – our human capital – and all driven by an acceptance of the evolving nature of war.
This book is most highly recommended to all, even if it just serves to stimulate some basic thought processes. With America’s Army (and sister services) engaged in heavy debate and frenzied activity on what we need to face the unknowable future, reflected in the activation of the new Army Futures Command, Multi-Domain Operations, the inception of Space Command, and the impact of the new realm of cyber warfare to name a few, Doug Macgregor has continued to offer us more than food for thought. Indeed, he may well have his fingers firmly on the pulse of what we must do to succeed, coupled with an insight and level of experience shared by few.
Passim: I’ve been an avid follower of Doug Macgregor’s writing for over twenty years, ever since the publication of his first book, “Breaking the Phalanx”, which I made mandatory reading for my officers when I commanded a Battalion in 1997-2000. Our association later became a more personal one after a face-to-face meeting and his gracious support for the Officer Professional Development program in the Office of the Chief of Army Reserve (OCAR), as well as serving as a panel member on Force 2025 at the Army Reserve 2015 Commander’s Conference. So when I was contacted by the Center of Military History (CMH) to review his latest book, “Margin of Victory”, I looked forward to reading yet another thought-provoking and insightful – and probably contentious effort.
STEVEN A. PATARCITY
Colonel, Armor, USA (Ret)
ROBERT STEELE: Original first paragraph of review moved to end. The review is a very good one, but could have been stronger by emphasizing the core point: future battles are won or lost decades before they are fought, by the decisions that are made with respect to strategy, force structure, acquisition, training, and command mind-sets. The US Department of Defense (DoD) as trained, equipped, and organized today is focused on spending vast amounts of money wastefully, not on winning wars or defending America.