Featured Classic Work of Strategy and Diplomacy
Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)
Rudyard Kipling, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, is known today as the poet laureate of British imperialism and of the "White Man's Burden" – titles that are no longer much in fashion, although Kipling’s literary reputation has recovered in recent decades. His body of work includes the great novel, Kim, the story of an orphaned Anglo-Indian boy who is drawn into the Great Game – the geopolitical contest in the 19th century between Britain and Russia for the domination of Asia. For the British at least, this contest ultimately meant the control of India. Kim is a classic of the espionage genre – former CIA Director Allen Dulles had a well-read copy on his bedside table at the time of his death – but it is also a chronicle in miniature of the Great Game and the ethnography of the Indian subcontinent.
Kipling knew of what he wrote, or at least was sufficiently well informed to fill in the blanks for literary purposes. He was born in Bombay, the son of a teacher and artist, in the year (1865) that the great Central Asian city of Tashkent submitted to Russia. At age six, he was sent to England for his education (a common pattern among Anglo-Indians). He returned to India in 1882 to work for the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore, where he covered developments on the North-West Frontier and in Afghanistan, and later for the Allahabad Pioneer. He left India in 1889.
An important point: Kim is a work of fiction. The covert side of the Great Game certainly did exist, but the centralized organization and method of British intelligence depicted in the book is exaggerated – or at least so the historical record indicates. There was, for instance, a gap or rivalry between the small British military staff devoted to intelligence, and the Foreign and Political Department of the Raj. The number of men carrying out clandestine surveys was very small, probably half a dozen or less at any given time. Kipling, of course, was in a position to know what the historical record did not show. At the very least, he anticipated many later developments in the organization and conduct of spy craft.
Featured American Classic
Benjamin F. Tracy, Annual Report of the US Secretary of the Navy (1889)
In March 1889, a hurricane destroyed or disabled three American warships in the Samoan harbor of Apia, where they had been deployed to support the United States in a political dispute with Britain and Germany over the status of the islands. The accident left the United States without any effective naval force in the Pacific and revealed the weaknesses of the existing fleet, as the old warships had been unable to get to sea and ride out the storm. Advocates of a more assertive American foreign policy, to be underwritten by an expanded modern navy, seized upon the incident. A perfect political storm did seem to favor their cause. The new President, Benjamin Harrison, was a big-navy advocate, and for the first time since 1875, the Republican Party enjoyed clear majorities in both Houses of Congress. U.S. Navy Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan was completing his landmark book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660-1783, and his arguments were already circulating among such influential and would-be influential figures as Theodore Roosevelt and Harrison’s Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Franklin Tracy.
Tracy, a decorated Brigadier General during the Civil War, was an able politician and administrator who laid out the blueprint for a new American Navy in his Annual Report of 1889 (excerpted below). Tracy’s official statement placed the Harrison administration squarely behind Mahan and the naval expansionist school. Although defense, not conquest, was the object of American national security and naval policy, Tracy argued that defense required a fighting force capable of engaging the fleets of potentially hostile powers. He evaluated the U.S. Navy as being inferior not only to such major powers as Great Britain, France, Russia, and Germany, but also to the fleets of Holland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, China, Sweden-Norway, and Austria-Hungary.
Featured Notable Book
Rick Atkinson, The Liberation Trilogy (2002-2013)
Rick Atkinson, journalist and military historian, authored the Liberation Trilogy, an acclaimed narrative history of the U.S. military’s role in the liberation of Europe in World War II. The first volume, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, published in 2002, received the Pulitzer Prize. The subsequent volumes were titled The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944; and The Guns at Last Light: The War in Europe, 1944-1945. Atkinson covers the war comprehensively, from grand strategy and the generals in command, to the details of daily life and small-unit combat. Atkinson’s perspective on war writ large, colored strongly by the experience of ordinary soldiers, is decidedly unsentimental and un-heroic, although he gives full due to the actions of heroic men (and women). He does not offer any startling new revelations or offer grand new theses about the war. The high-level argument throughout the Liberation Trilogy is that this was an absolutely necessary war, a war over the future of civilization (or, better put, between civilization and barbarism of the worst sort). The liberation from tyranny was real. At the same time, this war – any war – is a terrible thing.