This Ain’t the First Time We Cut the Grass: Military Innovation in the Interwar Period

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*This post originally appeared on February 18, 2016 via Tom Ricks’ Best Defense

By Joe Byerly and Casey Dean

In 1929, William Lassister, a veteran of the First World War, wrote the following:

It is terribly difficult for military men to keep their methods adapted to rapidly changing times. Between wars the military business slumps. Our people lose interest. Congress concerns itself with cutting the Army than with building it up. And the troops… find a large part of their time and energy taken up with caring for buildings, grounds, and other impedimenta. In view of all the inertias to be overcome, and in view of the fact that our lives and honor are not in peril from outside aggression, it is not likely that our Army is going to be kept to an up-to-the-minute state of preparedness.

For many, his description of garrison life in between the wars accurately describes their experiences serving today. It is for this reason that leaders can benefit from studying the leadership, the innovations, and the training methodologies of those officers and NCOs who prepared our Army to fight and win in World War II. The stories of Conner, Marshall, Eisenhower, and Patton provide tremendous insights into the leadership required to prepare our organizations for future conflicts. Additionally, by studying the reforms of the Germany military led by Hans Von Seekt or their method of educating their officer corps in tactical decision-making, leaders might find practices that would prove beneficial today.

Below is a list of books that give leaders a glimpse into the period between the two World Wars. Obviously, this list is not all encompassing, so I encourage you to add additional books in the comments section below.

Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers, by Dave Johnson

The Roots of Blitzkrieg: Hans Von Seekt and German Military Reform, by James Corum

Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, by Murray and Millett

Grey Eminence: Fox Conner and the Art of Mentorship, by Edward Cox

Patton: A Genius for War, by Carlo D’Este 

Command Culture, by Jorg Muth

Battalion Commanders at War, by Steven Barry

The Generals, by Thomas E. Ricks

At Ease: Stories I tell to Friends, by Dwight Eisenhower

George C. Marshall , Vol 1: Education of a General, by Forest Pogue

Cry Havoc: How the Arms Race Drove the World to War, 1931-1941, by Joseph Maiolo

The Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War, by Brian McAllister Linn

“Innovation for the Interwar Years,” Proceedings Magazine — February 1998 Volume 124/2/I, I40, by Captain James Carman, USN; Colonel Mitchell Triplett, USMC; Commander James Nault, USN; Lieutenant Commander Russell Bartlett, USN; Lieutenant David Adams, USN

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5 responses to “This Ain’t the First Time We Cut the Grass: Military Innovation in the Interwar Period

  1. Shek

    Great list!

    I’d offer one more book and a monograph:

    1. Carrying the War to the Enemy (Dr. Mike Matheny). This book looks at the innovation of American operational art through the use of wargame exercises held at the Army and Naval War Colleges during the interwar period. It was through these exercises that students developed joint staffs and joint functions that allowed the United States to project and sustain power indefinitely to solve the strategic problems of the day. These graduates went on to serve in important command and staff positions, and you can see how they extrapolated from their war college experiences and applied these solutions to the MTO, ETO, and PTO.

    Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Carrying-War-Enemy-Operational-Commanders/dp/080614324X.
    YouTube of lecture at Army Heritage and Education Center: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHQup8rTE3Y

    2. U.S. Army World War II Corps Commanders (Dr. Berlin). This book is a composite biography of the corps commanders. It paints is a picture of how important education was to an interwar Army and the development of these officers.

    PDF: http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/berlin2.pdf

  2. Reblogged this on superpfast.

  3. A few more with some great insights and case studies:

    Elting Elmore Morison’s “Men, Machines, and Modern Times”, compiled in 1966

    IB Holley’s “Ideas and Weapons”, 1997 -. Available free here: http://www.afhso.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-100927-073.pdf

    Stephen Peter Rosen’s “Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military”, 1994

    Williamson Murray’s “Military Adaptation in War (With Fear of Change)”, 2011

    • Elting Morison’s book is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, I let someone borrow it a few years ago and it never made its way back to my bookshelf. Thanks for the added recommendations!

  4. You forgot “From Here to Eternity”, which is mostly a great portrayal of military garrison life right before Pearl Harbor.

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