“The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.” Thucydides (c. 460 – c. 400 BC)
It is wise to learn from your own mistakes. It is even wiser to learn from the mistakes of others.
Continuous learning has always been important but in a military context, where things are changing fast, continuous learning is not just important it is vital. Vital for all, not just the Generals. One of the best ways to continuously learn is to read books [score, Mattis]. It has already been pointed out that the Swedish Armed Forces (SAF) lack a canon of literature [canon]. There are some good books in Swedish but unfortunately, there are far more books, that everyone in the military should read, in English. They can easy be over looked or dismissed as it is not easy reading in another language but that would then be missing an important source of information. Which will become even more important if SAF works even closer with the US and other NATO armed forces.
So, the purpose of this article is to high light a selection of books that should be standard reading for all who wish to improve themselves and should form part of a canon of literature for SAF.
Books to Read
We can start with some history books.
Infantry Attacks was written by Rommel and based on his First World War experience. The later part of the book gives some interesting examples of creative thinking and problem solving in warfare. Patton kept a copy of this book by his bedside during the Second World War.
The Defence of Duffer’s Drift is not really a history book [Duffer]. It is a “lessons learnt” book based on the Boar War. This is a text book used in the British Army, US Marines, and the Russian Army. It should be of interest to any junior officer and for those in the Home Guard as it deals with a platoon level action where an object has to be guarded. Even if all the solutions presented in the book are not relevant today there is still much to learn from the mistakes the British made.
That was just a tiny sample of history books, there are many more worth reading [history] but next we can move on to manoeuvrer warfare and Lind’s Canon [Lind]. Lind wrote Maneuver Warfare Handbook, which is the starting point for learning the ideas of manoeuvrer warfare. This is important as SAF are to use manoeuvrer warfare ideas. The canon itself is a collection of books that will give the historical background to why SAF needs to implement manoeuvrer warfare and, as manoeuvrer warfare relies on individual initiative all the way down to section commanders and individual soldiers, it is vitally important that everyone understands manoeuvrer warfare. The books will take the reader from the first generation to the fourth generation of modern warfare.
The canon includes:
- The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militarische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805 by Charles Edward White
- The Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, 1919-39 by Robert A. Doughty
- Stormtroop Tactics – Innovation in the German Army, 1914-1918 by Bruce I. Gudmundsson
- Command or Control – Command, Training and Tactics in the British and German Armies, 1888-1918 by Martin Samuels
- The Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940 by Robert A. Doughty
- Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 by Martin van Creveld
- The Transformation of War by Martin van Creveld
One of the most influential theorists on modern warfare is the military strategist Colonel John Boyd, who served with the US Air Force. Unfortunately he did not write any books but he did give presentations. One of which has been transcribed in the book New Concept of War by Ian T. Brown [new]. The book and the transcript are well worth reading.
Boyd’s theories on manoeuvrer warfare went into the US Marine’s field manuals on the subject. And these books are worth a read as well, especially MCDP 1 Warfighting [MCDP 1] but also MCDP 1-3 Tactics [MCDP 1-3] and MCDP 6 Command and Control [MCDP 6].
While still on the subject of manoeuvrer warfare, an interesting book to look at is Turning the Ship Around by Captain L. David Marquet. The book is about leadership and command.
When it comes down to ground and the dirty deeds that must be done then it can be of value to look at the works of H. J. Poole. Especially The Last Hundred Yards: The NCOs Contribution to Warfare but also Phantom Soldier and The Tiger’s Way.
Then when all is done, the works of Lt. Col Dave Grossman could be interesting to read. On Killing and On Combat look at the psychology of warfare and its impact on the individual. Looking a bit more a psychology, there is Mind Boss by Mike Gillette. His book deals with positive psychology and building up mental endurance for when things get tough.
Mike’s book is rooted in his own personal experience, both is violent upbringing and his military career where he eventually went on to becoming a successful consultant. Other books that build on personal experience that are well worth the read include We Were Warriors: A Powerful and Moving Story of Courage Under Fire by Captain Johnny Mercer, Eye of the Storm: Twenty-Five Years in Action with the SAS by Peter Ratcliffe, The Hard Way: Adapt, Survive and Win by Mark “Billy” Billingham, another SAS serviceman, and House to House: An Epic Memoir of War by Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, but there are many more worth reading.
There is a wealth of books to read in English. These books are commonly read by the US military and others around the world. And they should be among a canon of book read by everyone in the Swedish military.