What Makes a Soldier?

 Photo by  UX Gun  on  Unsplash

Photo by UX Gun on Unsplash

6 mins / 24HEP18

At the end of every newsletter I send out, I sign off with “your faithful commander”, a title I gave to myself, which I admit is rather lame. I remember finishing my first post, wondering how to sign off into the void, unsure if anyone would even read it. I sat for a moment or two, before it just came to me, like the most natural thing in the world. I’ve stuck with it, lame as it may be.

There’s something cool about the idea of leaders like this. Famous military or political commanders. I’ve long admired the titles taken on by Roman emperors in antiquity, ever expanding as the reign of the imperials dragged on. They would change names upon being admitted to the throne, appending titles like “Princeps” meaning “First Citizen” or “Imperator” meaning “Commander”. Even the name of Julius Caesar, who was deified after his death, became a title, transmuting into the title “Tsar” we know today.

You probably know I love learning. As of late, the topic has been on the forefront of my mind. Learning, self-improvement, and continually expanding my horizons are one of — if not my greatest — passions. In a way, I tie a lot of my other interests into learning as well.

To write is to teach, or perhaps to attempt to condense your thoughts and ideas into a was understandable and relatable to someone else. Writing is teaching. And teaching of course is learning. It’s often said that trying to teach someone else something is one of the best means for solidifying your own knowledge, and this has certainly been my experience.

For me, learning and reading go hand in hand, and are often part of the same process. I have fond memories as a kid of walking up to the library a few blocks from my house, searching the catalog for the subject I was interested in that week, going to the section with all the relevant books, and then walking back home with a bag of 10 books I would try and get through before the due date.

I love reading lists. I love hearing the reasoning behind why someone recommends a book, the progression and overlap in what they cover, the idea that each book can build and shape your knowledge in a quantifiable way.

Sort of in-line with my recent fascination with classical strategy games like Chess and Go, I became interested in actual strategic education as well. I’ve been listening to this ‘Age of Napoleon’ podcast on my runs, and it’s fascinating to hear the sort of upbringing and circumstances who made him who he was.

Of course, all of these biographical works and analysis buy into the “great man” theory somewhat. They posit that one person was of outsized significance, and had a big effect on the course of history. This is not a position I necessarily agree with, though I do find there to be value in looking at the works and upbringing of historical figures.

One of my biggest goals in life, one of those “if-I-could-do-anything” aims, would be to make a university. Something like I imagine a military academy to be, part physical education, part academic, attempting to create the most well-rounded citizens. In Napoleon’s case, he crammed to go off to artillery training, then seen as the most intellectual, and rushed to graduate to start making money for his family back home on Corsica.

We hear of these great generals, the Napoleons and the Hadrians and the Grants of the world. What sort of training made these people so successful on the battlefield? How much did their education and upbringing play into it? How much did luck?

I wondered, what sorts of education was offered to the generals and commanders of our era. Was there an academy out there reading Sun Tzu and playing chess? What do they read to prepare themselves for the battlefield, for tactics, for strategy?

Luckily for me, in the US Armed Forces, most of the reading lists are publicly available. I combed through all of them, trying to clean them up and remove duplicates. Listen, I don’t know if any of this will make you into the next Napoleon, or even better at chess. However, this is what they’re reading.

Here's the list. (These are affiliate links, so if that bugs you out, please search on your own)

o

Navy

Masters of War - Michael I Handel

Strategy - B. H. Liddell Hart

Military Strategy - J. C. Wylie

The Landmark Thucydides - Robert B. Strassler

The Influence of Seapower on History - A. T. Mahan

Makers of Modern Strategy - Peter Paret

Principles of Maritime Strategy - Julian Corbett

The Art of War - Sun Tzu

On War - Carl von Claswewitz

 

Air Force

Leaders Eat Last - Simon Sinek

Chief - Scott H Dearduff

Teams of Teams - General Stanley McChrystal

The Effective Executive - Peter F. Drucker

Cyberspace in Peace and War - Martin C. Libicke

The Second Nuclear Age - Paul Bracken

Airpower Reborn - John Andreas Olsen

The Strategist - Bartholomew Sparrow

The Accidental Superpower - Peter Ziehan

The New Tsar - Steven Lee Myers

Nothing to Envy - Barbara Demick

On China - Kissinger

Skunk Works - Ben R. Rich

Thank You For Being Late - Thomas Friedman

Big Data - Victor Mayer-Schonberger & Kenneth Cukier

Execution - Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan

The One Thing - Gary Keller

 

Army

Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare - Colin S. Gray

The Big Stick - Eliot A. Cohen

Concrete Hell - Louis A. DiMarco

Connectography - Parag Khanna

The Direction of War - Hew Strachan

The Future Declassified - Matthew Burrows

The Future of Land Warfare - Michael E. O'Hanlon

The Future of Power - Joseph S. Nye Jr.

Great Powers and Geopolitical Change - Jakub J. Grygiel

Making The Unipolar Moment - Hal Brands

No One's World - Charles A. Kupchan

Out of the Mountains - David Kilcullen

Politics Among Nations - The Struggle for Power and Peace - Hans J. Morgenthau

The Post-American World - Fareed Zakaria

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers - Paul Kennedy

The Rise and Fall of Nations - Ruchir Sharma

Strategic Vision - Zbigniew Brzezinski

Superpower - Ian Bremmer

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics - John J. Mearsheimer

Wired for War - P. W. Singer

The World America Made - Robert Kagan

A World in Disarray - Richard Haass

World Order - Kissinger

Strategy - Aleksandr A. Svechin

The Unquiet Frontier - Jakub Grygiel

Blood Year - David Kilcullen

Bloodlands - Timothy Snyder

Flashpoints - George Friedman

Hirohito's War - Francis Pike

Milestones - Sayyid Qutb

Monsoon - Robert Kaplan

The Next Great War? - Richard Rosecrance

Restless Empire - Odd Arne Westad

The Sleepwalkers - Christopher Clark

War in European History - Michael Howard

History of Rome - Michael Grant

1776 - David McCullough

The American Military Frontiers - Robert Wooster

America's First Battles - Charles E. Heller & William A. Stofft

Liberation Trilogy - Richard Atkinson

Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm - Robert M. Citino

Carnage and Culture - Victor Davis Hanson

Combat Ready - Thomas E. Hanson

The Conquering Tide - Ian W. Toll

Death of the Wehrmacht - Robert M. Citino

Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers - David E. Johnson

The First World War - Hew Strachan

The German Way of War - Robert Citino

The Guns of August - Barbara W. Tuchman

Guns, Germs, and Steel - Jared Diamond

Inferno - Max Hastings

Pacific Crucible - Ian W. Toll

The Path to Blitzkrieg - Robert M. Citino

The Pursuit of Power - William H. McNeill

The Regulars - Edward M. Coffman

A Savage War - Williamson Murray

Thinking in Time - Richard E. Neustadt

This Kind of War - T. R. Fehrenbach

The Wehrmacht Retreats - Robert Citino

American Ulysses - Ronald White

The Anatomy of Courage - Charles Wilson

Fiasco - Thomas E. Ricks

The Generals - Thomas E. Ricks

The Generalship of Ulysses - J. F. C. Fuller

George Marshall - Forrest C. Pogue

Hubris - Alistair Horne

Memoirs and Letters of Grant

The Seventh Sense - Joshua Cooper Ramo

Supreme Command - Eliot Cohen

Thunderbolt - Lewis Sorley

The Unforgiving Minute - Craig Mullaney

William Tecumseh Sherman - James Lee McDonough

--

The American Way of War - Russell F. Weigley

The Art of War - Antoine Henre de Jomini

Brute Force - John Ellis

The Campaigns of Napoleon - David G Chandler

Civil War Command and Strategy - Archer Jones

Frederick the Great on the Art of War - Jay Luvaas, ed.

The Grand Design - Donald J. Stoker

History of the US Army - Russell F. Weigley

How the North Won - Herman Hattaway

Infantry in Battle - George C. Marshall

Just War Reconsidered - James M. Dubik

Man, The State, and War - Kenneth Waltz

Reconsidering the American Way of War - Antulio J. Echevarria II

Restraint - Barry Posen

The Soldier and the State - Samuel P. Huntington

Some Principles of Maritime Strategy - Julian S. Corbett

Strategy - Lawrence Freedman

The Strategy of Conflict - Thomas C. Schelling

War Comes to Long An - Jeffrey Race

War in the Modern World Since 1815 - Jeremy Black

--

The Aeneid

Gates of Fire - Stephen Pressfield

Ghost Fleet - P. W. Singer and August Cole

The Illiad & The Odyssey

Matterhorn - Karl Marlantes

 

Joint Chiefs of Staff

A Message to Garcia - Elbert Hubbard

The Age of the Unthinkable - Joshua Cooper Ramo

The Black Swan - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Command of the Air - Giulio Douhet

George Washington and the American Military Tradition - Don Higginbotham

The Influence of Sea Power On History - Alfred Thayer Mahan

Once An Eagle - Anton Myrer

Soldier and State - Samuel P Huntington

The Starfish and the Spider - Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom

Start with Why - Simon Sinek

George C. Marshall - Mark A. Stoler

7 Deadly Scenarios - Andrew F. Krepinevich

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Phew! It's a huge list, I know. I'm not sure why the Army list is so long comparatively, but it is a good starting point for this sort of study. The books that most interest me are the ones on practical warfighting and tactics, even though a lot of the list tends towards history, biography, and pop-psychology.

If you'd like to see any of the sources, please contact me and I'll send you the raw links.

Until next time.

Your faithful commander,

 - I


M

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