Book Review: Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change

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by Williamson Murray

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. x, 342. Notes, index. $35.00. ISBN: 1107006597

In Military Adaptation, Prof. Murray, who has specialized in the study of how military institutions grow and change, gives us a series of essays on historical examples of how particular armies or air forces coped with changing military conditions. 

Prof. Murray’s case studies are the British, French, and Germans armies in the First World War, the German armed forces from that war through their early victories in the Second World War, the British and Germans from the Fall of France to Operation Barbarossa, the protracted struggle between RAF Bomber Command and the Luftwaffe, and the Israeli armed forces in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.  In each of his cases, Murray looks at how new technological, strategic, operational, and tactical ideas affected the service’s performance and how it attempted to cope with these changes, often in the midst of war.  Some proved successful, some less so, and some disastrously less so.

Murray lavishes praise and criticism – mostly the latter – with an even hand.  He observes that there are a number of reasons some military forces have coped with change better or worse than others at various times.  The most important of these are “military culture,” political leadership, and personalities.  While some have been better than others, no military institution can avoid the negative effects of hierarchy, which often leads to rigidity and even arrogance.  Moreover, none have managed to permanently institutionalize flexibility, innovation, curiosity, and openness.  Murray concludes with some observations about the problems confronting the American armed forces in the current rapidly changing global strategic environment. 

Military Adaptation in War is an important work for those interested in the events it covers, as well as for anyone concerned with how armed forces tick. 

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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