“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.
Revised and with a new foreword from leading reform advocate COL (ret) Douglas MacGregor, PhD, Don Vandergriff revisits his 2002 manifesto for the evolution of the U.S. Army.
From the foreword: “Few books in the history of the U.S. Army have made a more convincing argument for change than Don Vandergriff’s Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs. It is therefore a great privilege to offer some thoughts on the re-release of this important work.
When Don’s book appeared for the first time in 2002 it was not simply detailed account of the Army’s personnel management system, its promotion policies and unit manning practices. It was also a critical examination of the Army as an institution and its extraordinary resistance to change in the way it identifies, develops and employs human talent.
Don Vandergriff’s experiences, research and interaction with fellow military professionals suggest that a cultural revolution within the U.S. military is essential if the nation is to successfully adapt and prevail in the emerging 4th Generation Warfare (4GW) or asymmetric warfare threat environment. An Army cultural revolution has three parts:
1. Strategic leaders must change a counterproductive array of long-established beliefs including many laws, regulations and policies, which are based on out-of-date assumptions.
2. Military leaders must drive and sustain a military cultural evolution through effective education and training of the next generation(s) of leaders in a system that is flexible enough to evolve alongside emerging changes in, and lessons from, war, society and technology.
An Industrial Age model continues to shape the way the Army approaches its recruiting, personnel management, training, and education. This outdated personnel management paradigm―designed for an earlier era―has been so intimately tied to the maintenance of Army culture that a self-perpetuating cycle has formed, diminishing the Army’s attempts to develop adaptive leaders and institutions.
This cycle can be broken only if the Army accepts rapid evolutionary change as the norm of the new era. Recruiting the right people, then having them step into an antiquated organization, means that many of them will not stay as they find their ability to contribute and develop limited by a centralized, hierarchical organization. Recruiting and retention data bear this out.
We have, with the election of Donald Trump,a once-in-a-century opportunity to rethink, reinvent, and reinvest in our national military concepts, doctrine, human capital, organizations, technologies, and command structures, while eradicating much of the waste that is characteristic of a “government specifications cost plus” approach to contracting. Donald Trump won against all odds, against both parties, without the support of the military-industrial complex. Donald Trump is “unshackled” (his word) – his instincts on costly foreign entanglements and the utility of organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are on display.
Wars are won or lost in the decade or two before those wars begin. Whether countries have a Grand Strategy or not; evaluate all high-level threats or not; devise a coherent force structure in which all services and civilian agencies are complementary, inter-operable, and sustainable or not; invest in the human factor for leadership and solider agility or not – these will determine the outcome of future wars a decade or two before the first shot is fired.
Speaking Truth to Power — Senator McCain Agrees, the Flag Officers Do Not
Margin of Victory is a hugely important book that should be required reading in all of the war colleges, as well as all national security programs in political science and international relations courses across the country.
In sailboat racing the race is often won or lost before the boat ever hits the water. If the hull is not perfectly formed; perfectly painted; and perfectly clean before it gears up, then the boat starts with an automatic embedded penalty factor – it goes slower. What the author has done with this book is demonstrate that wars are won or lost 10-20 years before they are fought, based on whether the nation-state devises an effective grand strategy and properly develops a balanced approach to organization, technology and human capital, with human capital being most important.
The People’s Army – the Continental Army rooted in home-spun militias – was formed and fought and won a war before the U.S. Constitution was written and signed in 1787. The Constitution – and the Republic – exist because the People’s Army, the Continental Army led by George Washington – leveraged the twin advantages of a righteous cause and home court to eject what was then the greatest imperial power on the planet. Of the 55 men attending the Constitutional Convention, at least 29 served in the Continental Army, most of them in positions of command. Understanding the relationship between the people from whom the early militias were drawn, the Army, and the Constitution, is essential to evaluating where we fall short today.
4.0 out of 5 starsSUPERB Conclusion–Has Flaws But Still a Strong Contribution, February 25, 2015
Wow. I have met the author and I gave an earlier book of his, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power a strong review, but I was not expecting the deep common sense and pragmatic observations that conclude this book. There are many aspects of our insecurity that the author is not willing to address — notably the deep corruption of our political system and undue influence by foreign “allies” that are in fact enemies but that pales in light of his deep evaluation of how badly we are doing as a government. There are many flaws in the author’s arguments better covered by Reviewer Frank J. Wassermann, I put this down to the author trying too hard to not completely alienate all the mandarins he still meets for lunch and at evening events. I embrace most of Reviewer Wasserman’s comments but still give the book four stars instead of his two.