Top critical review
A good try, but frustratingly incomplete. The full history of the Navy's renaissance is yet to be told.
Reviewed in the United States on June 18, 2018
In the late 1980s, the U.S. Navy was the spearhead of the efforts to break the Soviet Empire. As Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, John Lehman was at the very center of the action...and delivered the best performance in that position since James Forrestal.
Which is why I found this book a bit underwhelming. It's incomplete. Lehman provides a decent overview of the post-Second World War political battles that led the Navy to its nadir in the late 1940s, then an account of developments in the 1950s and 1960s. The background is pretty well laid - including the recognition of the critical decisions in the 1970s to develop a new generation of weapons that would exploit the new computer technology.
But the 1980s? What is presented is largely an account of major naval exercises. Lehman does drop some tidbits that were new to me, notably the extent to which the Navy was using terrain masking to protect ships from detection and attack...including using aircraft carriers in Norwegian fjords.
What's there is good, but it leaves out the battles in Washington that Lehman was personally involved in. Some were a bit amusing, like the attempt to get naval terms used ashore (not as silly as it sounds, it was all about engendering esprit de corps). The decision to retire Admiral Rickover. And the whole procurement world, including the genesis of the A-12 program that would come to a sad, disastrous end (for the record, I do not fault Lehman for that one). Above all, the battles over the Goldwater-Nichols "reforms"...that may well have done more harm than good, shackling the American military to a top-heavy, land-centric force structure ill-suited to the post-Cold War era.
This book desperately needs to be about three times as big, and cover everything. As it stands, it's not the full history of the Navy in the 1980s I had hoped it would be.