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Military Misfortunes: Pitfalls in Understanding

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Book review

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Military Misfortunes The Anatomy of Failure in War, by Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch is an intriguing analysis of military misfortunes that have occurred during 20th-century wars. The authors offer some provocative theories about military misfortune while also providing brief analyses of five cases of well-known military failures the British expedition to Gallipoli in 1915, the fall of France in 1940, the American anti-submarine campaign of 1942, the defeat of the U.S. Eighth Army in Korea by the Chinese in 1950, and the Israeli defense of the Suez and Golan fronts in 1973. To analyze military misfortune, the authors offer a method involving five steps 1 identify the failure, 2 identify the critical tasks that went incomplete or unfulfilled and thus are at the root of the overall failure, 3 analyze the contributions of different layers of organization to the failure, 4 construct an analytical matrix that graphically presents the key failures leading to military misfortune, and 5 mark a pathway of misfortune through the analytical matrix. The most important step within this method is the first step, the identification of the precise failure which led to the misfortune. Having identified their methodology, the authors state that there are three basic kinds of failure failure to learn, failure to anticipate, and failure to adapt. They add that when two types of failure occur together, an aggregate failure will result, and when three types of failure occur together, a catastrophic failure will result. Despite the best efforts of the authors, the model they use for analyzing military misfortunes leads to an oversimplification of some very complex developments, and the analyses of the five cases offer little that is new. More cogent explanations for several of the misfortunes studied by Cohen and Gooch are to be found in specific studies on those subjects.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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