Monday, October 25, 2021

Review - How to Make War By James F. Dunnigan

Title: How to Make War
Year: 1982, 1993, 2003
Author: James F. Dunnigan
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

This review covers one of those things you know, but don't really know. How to Make War by Jim Dunnigan reads like an RPG. James Dunnigan is an author, a military-political analyst, a consultant, and a wargame designer. He designed games for Avalon Hill and founded Simulations Publications Inc.

Despite being both a gamer and historian myself, up until this review I believed that Jim and James Dunnigan were two different people. It explains a lot. 

How to Make War is not a gamebook but a guide to war. While the title is focused on current military affairs, each section is applicable to many different eras of warfare. The intent of the book is education, not practical military knowledge. A quick read-through will greatly enhance the reader's background knowledge of what it takes to produce a war, productive or otherwise. 

Structurally, the book's 29 chapters are divided into 8 parts. Each part covers one major aspect of warfare. In order, they are: 

  1. Ground Combat, 
  2. Air Operations, 
  3. Naval Operations, 
  4. Human Factors, 
  5. Special Weapons, 
  6. Warfare by the Numbers, 
  7. Moving the Goods, 
  8. and Tools of the Trade.
A lot has changed over the years, and the effect of these changes has yet to percolate down to the battlefield level. Mr. Dunnigan takes a shot at predictions of how new technology will change the battlefield while presenting data from past conflicts. Everything is incremental. 

Since the Big One and The Second Big One, wars have become smaller and more politically complex affairs without losing any of their characteristic violence and horror. What changes are the speed and sophistication of the destruction along with the long-lasting effects of these conflicts on humanity. Sadly, Mr. Dunnigan points out that many humans feel that the aversion to war is a lost opportunity to right some sort of wrong. 

While much of the book deals with the hardware of warfare, the important bits are political drives and logistics of the attempt to meet those drives with real-world resources. To paraphrase Mr. Dunnigan, "amateurs think of tactics while professionals think of logistics." Nothing plays out worse than declaring a goal that cannot be obtained. Don't make threats, make promises. 

Mr. Dunnigam walks through the lives of those who will fight and why in addition to the hardware they will use. Starting with the infantry in Part 1, the readers follow the cans and can'ts of each resource available to the would-be warmonger. Aircraft are quick; quicker than a ship but not as quick as a satellite. They land someplace between the two when it comes to delivering hardware, information, and personnel to the front. 

Human factors address by the book covers the reasons people will fight, their leadership, and the intelligence resources available to both. When humans are involved, Murphy's Law rears its ugly head, and whoever considers that fact first has more control over who will be victorious. Additionally, since virtually all armed forces will find themselves at peace most of the time, what do you do with them? 

One of the biggest challenges on the battlefield is the application or refusal to use so-called "special weapons". The chemical, biological, and nuclear crowdpleasers. Yes, they are the big stick but taking out whole environments for weeks, months, or decades at a time might not be the victory one craves. On a more limited front, other special weapons are used to wage war in space. Special forces engage in brief, limited-purpose engagements. Circling back like the last chapter, militaries are able to engage in activities that are just as hostile as any conflict without using arms. Relief operations are a standout feature quelling or fueling the desires of war in an enemy, as is training foreign troops and waving the flag. 

Part Six covers logistics and attrition. Or the real reasons no one attacks without good reason. Part Seven pairs nicely with Part Six as it covers the costs and ability to transport to the tools of war. The final part in this section covers tried and true weapons and considers the untried technology against what the future may bring. It's interesting to see the reality of logistics weighed against the speculation of what may come. 

I've noticed two knocks against this book from other reviews that I completely disagree with: the lack of sources and the American-centric reality it presents. 

This is not a textbook, it is a reflection of the lifetime of study. It's all right in the title "How to Make War". It is a study of why wars happen and why they often fail to result in positive outcomes for both winners and losers. Sources over reflections would make this a textbook. The tact of this book is how costly war is in every term; a textbook on that topic would cause the reader to utterly miss the point of the book. 

The second point, the American-centric aspect is merely a reflection of the United States Budget placing warfare over all other things. Yes, we win wars due to insane spending which has many obvious costs. No, those wars often don't benefit anyone long-term and often have disastrous consequences. Or more humorously, America winning a conflict simply allows the losing side access to Red Dawn on Netflix, resulting in a lot of non-English speakers leaving to say the word: "Wolverines!". And if you think about it, war is about as cute and cuddly as a wolverine in your pants. A circumstance Mr. Dunnigan covers completely. Don't mistake the numbers for the reality of the situation. 

5 gold stars of 5 stars. This book is available on Amazon.com. Clicking the link supports me and this website with remuneration from Amazon. 

1 comment:

  1. Although I haven't read "How to Make War" the same Author teamed up with Austin Bay to write "A Quick and Dirty Guide to War". Dated at this point the books are worth a read if you can get them cheap as they go over every conflict of the time and lay out factions and why they are fighting along with multiple possible outcomes. All juicy stuff and not difficult to convert to a quasi medieval environment.

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