Max Boot's Look at the Changing Face of Warfare

Modern wars can be fought with jets and missiles, guided by satellites. But, as author Max Boot points out, it wasn't always that way. As recently as World War II, he says, you couldn't be certain that a bomb would hit within a mile of its target. Boot talks about his book, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today and answers listener questions.

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The astonishing victory over Iraq in the first Gulf War was a triumph of advanced technology - stealth aircrafts, smart bombs, GPS locators. Military officers and analysts afterwards began to talk of a revolution in military affairs, of warfare transformed by computers and information technology. In the 15 years since, the conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq seemed to support the argument, while the long, bloody insurgency in Iraq since the invasion suggests that it has some serious limitations.

In a new book, military historian Max Boot argues that the best way to understand the current technological revolution is to examine the lessons of previous ones. Going back as far as gunpowder in 1500, Boot finds that Goliath does not always win if he's up against a smarter, better, organized slingshot, that early adapters often do not stay the course, and that an efficient bureaucracy counts just as much as military genius.

His new book, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History from 1500 to Today is a vast history that concludes that we have a lot to learn from failed empires who found themselves on the scrap heap of history when they failed to adapt.

Later in the hour, we want to hear from you. If you had a $100 million to buy copyrighted material and set it free, where would you start? Send us a suggestion on e-mail, talk@npr.org. Again, $100 million to buy copyrighted material and set it free for everybody to use, what would you begin with? In NPR - e-mail to talk@npr.org.

But first, revolutions in military affairs. If you have questions about what they are, what they mean and how they've changed the world from the Spanish Armada to Desert Storm, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

Max Boot is senior fellow at National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He joins us here in studio 3A.

Nice to have you on the program.

Mr. MAX BOOT (Senior Fellow, National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today): Delighted to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And what do you mean by a revolution in military affairs?

Mr. BOOT: A revolution in military affairs is one of these epochal changes that occurs when you have new technology combining with new organizational structures, new doctrines, new strategies to utterly transform not only the face of battle but the nature of global power. We're in fact going through a period like that right now with the information revolution, which has been transforming the world for the last 15, 20 years. But this is not the first time we've gone through such a transformation.

I argue in the book that there have been four such major revolutions in military affairs over the course of the last 500 years, starting with the Gunpowder Revolution around 1500, the first industrial revolution which transformed warfare in the second half of the 19th century leading up to World War I, the second industrial revolution, which transformed warfare in the ‘20s and ‘30s and in World War II, and now the information revolution, which has been driven by advances and microchip technology since the 1960s.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. You begin with an account of the French invasion of Italy - just about 1500 - in which they were able to use gunpowder cannon at this point to knock down the walls of medieval castles.

Mr. BOOT: This was one of the most important developments in military history of the last millennium, and we don't tend to remember it in this country. But this really spelled the end of the medieval period, when you could have these feudal lords sheltering in these castles. All of a sudden, you now had cannons coming on to the scene. And the French, for example, could use them to destroy the Italian city-states.

And the countries that were able to harness that technology became more powerful in the gunpowder age, whereas, others - such as the Italian city-states that were not able to harness the technology - were overrun by their neighbors. So the consequences in these revolutions and military affairs could not be higher.

CONAN: One of the lessons you draw, though, is that military engineers soon found an answer to these cannon that could knock down masonry walls. And they built different kinds of forts that were just as hard to reduce as the old fortresses were.

Mr. BOOT: Absolutely. You constantly have this tension between offense and defense, and it's very seldom that an innovation will go unchallenged. So even if you come up with a better way of war, chances are your enemies will match what you're doing. And this unfortunately a lesson that we've been learning ourselves in the present day. Because after the Gulf War, I think there was a tendency for hubris to set in, with many people thinking that we have these amazing weapons systems and nobody else did, and therefore we could essentially rule the world unchallenged. Well, now unfortunately what we're seeing is there are challengers, and they are finding ways to challenge our power - just as French power was challenged even after their success in Italy in 1494.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And you go back, and there are all kinds of examples in history. You'd not only have to have these devices, you have to understand what they do tactically on the battlefield. For example, the American Civil War, the amount of musketry available there was far more lethal than anything introduced on the battlefield before. Yet commanders for the first 3 years of the conflict used Napoleonic formations that resulted in virtually suicidal charges.

Mr. BOOT: Absolutely. That was responsible for a lot of the carnage in the Civil War, because you had advances in technology but not advances in tactics. And you saw the same thing on an even more horrific scale in World War I, where you saw millions of men consigned to death because their commanders didn't know how to take advantage of this technology.

But then finally, you have breakthroughs that occur - the most famous one being the blitzkrieg in World War II, where the Germans all of a sudden figured out how do you put tanks and airplanes together and restore the advantage that the offense enjoys in warfare? Whereas the Allies in the early days of World War II were still very much stuck in that mindset of the Civil War or World War I of trench warfare, and they couldn't adjust fast enough and paid a very heavy price.

CONAN: You point in an argument that the equipment that the Germans wasn't any better than the Allies had - it's their thinking was better.

Mr. BOOT: That's absolutely the key. And that's the key time and time again, because it's very hard to count on coming up with a new technology that your enemies don't have. Or and if you do come up with it, it's very hard to count on holding on to it indefinitely.

The key is, can you take better advantage of the technologies that you all have? And the Blitzkrieg is a classical example, because what was the German advantage in 1940? It wasn't that they had tanks and airplanes, because the Allies had tanks and airplanes. And the Allies had tanks and airplanes that were just as good those in the German arsenal.

One small advantage the Germans had was that they figured out to put two-way radios under their tanks and airplanes so they can maneuver them in the field. But it wasn't because the radio was a German invention. It was invented by Marconi, an Anglo-Italian. The Allies had radios, too. They just didn't realize that radios would be as important as the Germans did.

So it's really does German advantage in out-thinking their adversaries that allow them to outfight their opponents in the early days of World War II.

CONAN: And as you look back at the war, you say, you know, in retrospect, it seems, well, how could Germany possibly have succeeded over the combination of the enemies that managed to acquire for itself? There's the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, many of the other countries in the world.

But you point out this was not inevitable - that, in fact, as you look through history, smaller, less powerful countries - Germany wasn't that much smaller and that much less powerful when once you took into account the lands they conquered - but throughout history, smaller and less powerful lands had managed to figure out these things and succeeded time and again.

Mr. BOOT: That was actually one of the most surprising findings of my historical research. How many of the battles that I look at - and I built this book around a series of battles - but how many of these battles I looked at, the smaller, weaker, seemingly poorer power coming out on top?

Starting with the very - one of the very first ones I look at, which is the battle of the Spanish Armada in 1588, when Spain was mighty and had 10 times the governmental revenues of England, and yet the English had mastered the tactics of sail and shot. They these amazing sailors like Francis Drake and John Hawkins and others who figured out how to fight with artillery at sea in a way that the Spanish could not. And so although the Spanish had all the resources, they did not prevail. And you see the same pattern time and again up through the present day, where even today, we are facing a possible defeat at the hands of these ragtag guerillas in Iraq.

CONAN: Let's get some callers involved in the conversation. Our guest is Max Boot. His new book is War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History from 1500 to Today. And if you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's begin with Drew. Drew's calling us from Wichita, Kansas.

DREW (Caller): Hi, thanks. Great topic.

CONAN: Sure.

DREW: I'd like to ask - it may sound convoluted, but I think it's simple - how much does war and warfare and the way we fight war drive technology? And how much does technology drive war and warfare and the way we fight it? And then how does either of - how do both of those then drive policy?

Mr. BOOT: Well, those are very good and very big questions. There is no question that sometimes warfare will drive technology, but less often than you might think. Because if you actually look at over the course of the last 500 years, the major innovations that transformed warfare were not military innovations. They were not designed in any ministry of defense or in any military R&D lab. Just think about…

DREW: (unintelligible)

Mr. BOOT: For example, starting with gunpowder coming out of China - which nobody knows who invented it - or three-masted sailing ships or steam engines, railroads, telegraphs, radios, automobiles, airplanes, microchips. These things were not invented to win wars. I mean, the Wright brothers weren't thinking there's - we're going to come up with a better way to destroy cities. They were thinking wouldn't it be cool to fly. But because they thought it would be cool to fly, they invented this machine that utterly transformed warfare in the 20th century.

So in many respects, the key inventions were not military inventions. They were just random inventions that were applied to warfare by generals and admirals who had the wit and the enterprise to figure out how to harness them.

CONAN: There is a great quote, though, in your book from an American Jew - I forget his name - who advises Maxim, Hiram Maxim…

Mr. BOOT: Right.

CONAN: …the inventor of the Maxim gun: If you really want to make some money, you've got to figure out a way to sell these Europeans something that'll let them slash each other's throats more efficiently.

Mr. BOOT: Right. I mean, there certainly have been inventions that were designed for warfare, and the machinegun is a classic example. But it also illustrates what I'm talking about, because the machinegun was not invented in a ministry of defense. Hiram Maxim was just this freelance inventor who invented better mousetraps and curling irons - and, oh, by the way, he also came up with this machine that could kill hundreds of people every minute. And the question was would various militaries be able to harness it?

And actually, one of the missed opportunities in the Civil War was that Gatling guns - the precursors of the Maxim gun - were available, and they were not utilized, especially by the Union which could have used them en masse and devastated the Confederates. But they didn't realize they had - they could take advantage of this new technology.

CONAN: 1870, the Franco-Prussia War, they also had machineguns that were such secret weapons that they didn't train their troops to use them.

Mr. BOOT: Yep.

Mr. BOOT: It didn't quite work out as hoped.

CONAN: Drew, thanks very much for the call.

DREW: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's continue our conversation with Max Boot after we take a short break. And again, if you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And don't forget, later in the program, we're asking you to consider a question for us. If you had $100 million to free some piece of copyrighted material - it could be anything - what would you spend it on? Give us a e-mail: talk@npr.org. This is a reality. We want your suggestions, because somebody's taking them, and he's got $100 million to spend. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Coming up later in the show, the founder of Wikipedia joins us for an e-mail challenge. What copyrighted material would you like to set free into the public domain? Send us an e-mail now: talk@npr.org.

But right now, Max Boot is still with us. He's a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. His new book is War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's get Mark on the line, Mark calling from Kansas City.

MARK (Caller): Thanks a lot, Neal. What a great topic.

CONAN: Thank you.

MARK: I have a question for Max. With the tremendous amount of advancement in the tools of empire and warfare, don't societies with imperial ambitions ultimately always fall? I mean, including - is that the fate, or including this one?

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. BOOT: There's no question that all great powers fall someday. All great things must come to an end. The question is how quickly do you do it? And we face some real major obstacles right now because - in part because of things that we ourselves have done that are coming back to haunt us. Because we have been so successful in spreading information technology and transportation technology and destructive technology around the world, we are putting ever-greater capabilities into the hands of our enemies.

We're seeing this now with al-Qaida, for example, which is using our own inventions against us. They're using the Internet, satellite phones, cell phones, jumbo jets, and including all sorts of basic things like automatic rifles and landmines and so forth. Basically, things that were invented in the USA, they're utilizing against us. And in some ways, what we're seeing is the dark side of globalization.

You know, a lot of people talk about what a boon globalization is, and in some ways it is for the economy. But it's not only the Microsofts and Dells and eBays that are globalizing, it's also the al-Qaidas. They are figuring out how to take advantage of these things that we ourselves have created. And so it's becoming harder and harder to be a great power, because today the smaller powers - or even non-state powers like al-Qaida - have more destructive capacity at their fingertips than entire armies did a century ago. And that's the global landscape that we unfortunately confront today.

CONAN: Hmm. Thanks for the call, Mark. One of the things that I found interesting, you described these four revolutions in military affairs and say you decided not to adopt one that a lot of people would have thought you would have, and that's a revolution - the Atomic Revolution.

Mr. BOOT: Well, atomic warfare is a revolution that hasn't quite been realized. And unfortunately, as we're seeing with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, unfortunately some day it may be realized. But in the late 1940s, a lot of people thought that atomic warfare would transform the operational level of war - what actually happens on the battlefield.

And so the U.S. Army remade itself to wage atomic warfare. It got these Davy Crockett artillery systems that were meant to fire atomic artillery shells and all sorts of things that in retrospect seem just crazy. And what we've seen in the last 50 or 60 years is, thank goodness, atomic warfare has not become a part of the way war is waged.

But unfortunately, we don't know how long we can keep that genie in the bottle. And, in fact, it's starting to escape now as you're seeing more and more countries acquire nuclear technology. So we have to think about the implications of that, because right now we depend so much on our conventional military superiority. But that can be trumped by a country that gets nuclear weapons, which of course is why countries like North Korean or Iran, they want to go nuclear, because they want to trump our conventional superiority.

CONAN: I believe it was a Pakistani general who was interviewed after the end of the first Gulf War, and he said what lessons do you derive from the defeat of Iraq? And he said never fight the United States without nuclear weapons.

Mr. BOOT: Either never fight the United States without nuclear weapons or never fight them symmetrically. Figure out ways to hurt them in ways that they're not ready for, as al-Qaida did on 9/11 or as terrorists are doing everyday in Iraq. But certainly, those kinds of guerrilla attacks can become infinitely more potent if the guerrillas are equipped, not just with improvised explosive devises, but with nuclear weapons or biological weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

CONAN: Let's get Jay on the line. Jay's calling us from Detroit.

JAY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

JAY: Mr. Boot, I have a question. Tom Barnett's concept - defining the world in terms of the Core and the Gap, the connected and the disconnected - and his postulate, the type of wars that we're fighting now - basically insurgencies or counterinsurgencies - are the type of wars that we're most likely to fight in the future. And he also suggests that we should change our military in dramatic fashion to develop more of a sys-admin capability - a system administrative capability - rather than the leviathan, crushing, you know, destructive capability. What are your thoughts on how we should change our military? Do you see that warfare remaining that counterinsurgency type of fight in our future?

Mr. BOOT: Well, there is no question that the likelihood of conventional state-to-state war is very low at the moment. It's not zero, but it's lower than it's ever been in the past 500 years. And the dominant form of warfare we have to think about is the kind that we face in Iraq or Afghanistan.

CONAN: It might not become so unthinkable if you weren't so prepared for it, though.

Mr. BOOT: Oh, that's absolutely correct. And you can't be so focused on insurgency warfare that you neglect the high-end of warfare and therefore create an opening for somebody to challenge you in conventional ways. So you have to keep that conventional capability. There's no question about it.

But our biggest weakness at the moment is on the lower end of the spectrum, in fighting guerillas and insurgents. That's where we're really weak, which is why we're facing so many guerillas and insurgents, because they know this is the way to have success against us, that if you put tanks in the desert, we will destroy them. But if you put suicide bombers on street corners, we don't have a good defense against that. And there is not really a good technological defense against it.

What we're finding in Iraq and Afghanistan are some of the limitations of our conventional weaponry. And we're realizing that to control these countries, it's not enough to have nuclear-powered aircraft carriers or F-22s or F-16s, all these other wonderful systems. What you need is a lot of boots on the ground, and not only a lot of boots on the ground, but the right kind of boots.

You need people who understand the local culture, the local language, who understand counterinsurgency, intelligence gathering, policing, all these basic skills that are in such short supply right now in Iraq and Afghanistan. And no doubt, we have to remake our military so that we create more of the right kind of people who have these kinds of skills that will enable us to prevail in these kinds of wars in the future.

CONAN: And you draw an historical analogy to the battles that the British Empire fought: one against what they called the Dervishes in Sudan, at the Battle of Omdurman. And then the difficulty they had just a few years after that overwhelming victory in the Third World putting down the revolution of the Boers in South Africa.

Mr. BOOT: Absolutely. You could do very well against one adversary, and then turn around and find yourself confronted with a much more formidable adversary the next day. And we've done very well in the last 15 years against one type of adversary, which is the Republican Guard - essentially the conventional Iraqi military. But precisely because we have done so well against it, there aren't going to be that many people as stupid as Saddam Hussein who will challenge us in that way.

Our smarter adversaries are people like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri who are figuring out new ways to challenge us in ways that negate a lot of our conventional firepower advantage. So we have to figure out how to counter that, and much more than smart bombs. What it's going to require is smart people who can get inside the minds of our adversaries.

CONAN: And one of the things you also discuss is the difficulties of a hierarchy - and that's certainly the structure of the American military forces and the idea of military forces, going back to Rome or even beyond that -against a network.

Mr. BOOT: That's crucial in the information age, because what we see is organizations that are structured in the way they were 50 or 60 years ago tend not to be very successful. I mean, look at General Motors or Ford or U.S. Steel. These old-line corporations aren't doing very well. The companies that are doing well now tend to be the Wal-Marts, the eBays, Microsofts, Dells -companies that are structured in very different ways to take advantage of information technology.

And unfortunately, when you look at the national security landscape, in many ways, the U.S. government is the General Motors. It's the old, vertical, industrial-type corporation, whereas the enemies we face are in some ways the eBay of terrorism. They are these network, decentralized organizations that can move faster, that can react faster than we can. And that accounts for a lot of the problems we've had coming to grips with them in places like Iraq.

CONAN: Jay, I think -

JAY: Can I ask a follow up?

CONAN: Yeah, go ahead. I was going to apologize because we'd wandered a little far a field. I didn't think you'd meant to go (unintelligible).

JAY: Not at all. Thank you. No, the question is do we have the capability now to generate those booms with the right capabilities? I mean, if we had 200,000 or 250,000 more U.S. troops that could go into Iraq to really, you know, improve the security environment - you know, back to zero, back to the day when we, you know, really were at mission accomplishment after the invasion. Do we have the skill sets in the United States military now to do the job?

Mr. BOOT: Well, it's a big challenge, because I certainly don't think that we have an extra 200,000 troops that we can send in. We just don't have enough troops. And I think this was one of the big mistakes the Bush administration made was not increasing the size of the military, in part because they thought we could do more with high tech.

They had this very narrow view of how to transform the military so everything would be these kinds of long range precision strike systems. And we're realizing I can't do everything, that we need the boots on the ground. And we don't have enough of them.

I think what we've seen in Iraq is that when you do have troops who are well lead, they can actually do a lot of good. And you've had examples like Colonel H.R. McMasters in the town of Tal Afar, where he sort of implemented a classic counterinsurgency doctrine and did very well. But we've also had other instances where you've had U.S. troops who weren't very well lead who may have caused more harm than good.

So, yes, I think we've always needed more troops in Iraq. We've never had enough, but you need the right kind of troops and troops who are properly led and who know how to wage this kind of counterinsurgency and don't try to apply inappropriate conventional concepts to what is a counterinsurgency battlefield.

CONAN: Jay thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

JAY: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go now to Lee. Lee's calling us from Spartanburg in South Carolina.

LEE (Caller): Yes. Hello, gentlemen. Good program. What happens when your technology makes you overconfident? I see that all the time. I was watching a program in Afghanistan and that's - there are these A-130 gunships, you know, these very high tech, you know, armed to the teeth aircraft, shooting up an Afghan village.

When that was all over, you know, they may have killed, you know, a half dozen civilians but the entire town was destroyed. And I'm sure the population now is probably more in favor of the insurgents than they are in favor of us. So that's my question gentlemen.

I mean, too much technology, too much power, you know. And counterinsurgency warfare, which I think one should always avoid if at all possible, sometimes brings more problems than was intended.

Mr. BOOT: There's no question that you can get a certain amount of overconfidence or hubris if you show yourself to be a master of one kind of warfare. The classic example being the Blitzkrieg in the early years of World War II, where the Germans were very good at conquering countries in Central and Western Europe.

Then they carried their prowess a little bit too far where they tried to apply what had worked in France to Russia, which was a much bigger country and they didn't have the logistics trained to enable themselves to operate in Russia. And so, although they were tremendously successful at one kind of war, they were not very successful at another kind.

And you can sort of draw some parallels to what we've experienced over the course of the past 15 years where we've been tremendously successful in the Gulf War and Bosnia and Kosovo, all these conflicts where we were able to use our technological mastery to win at almost no cost to ourselves.

And we've tried to do the same thing in Iraq and Afghanistan and it hasn't worked. And we realize we became so reliant upon these high tech systems that we were not exactly ready for the kind of war that we were facing. You can -

LEE: I have a follow up question.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Mr. BOOT: Sure.

LEE: My follow up question is, you know, I think our invasion of Iraq is - we find ourselves in the same situation that the Russians find themselves in in Afghanistan. I was always against this because I thought, you know, we would be in the same situation that the Russians were in. You know, big Russians, big world powers invade smaller Islamic countries. That doesn't go over real well in that part of the world. Are we in the same situation the Russians were in in Afghanistan?

Mr. BOOT: Well, sadly I think that there are some parallels right now, because we are mired down in Iraq and we're bleeding and we're not winning. And that's kind of the situation that the Russians faced in Afghanistan. I mean, I would argue it's not because it's inherently impossible to do a reasonable job on these kinds of military operations.

I would argue it largely has to do with the kind of organization that you have. And the Red Army when they went into Afghanistan was very much a force configured for conventional warfare in Europe. They were not ready for this counterinsurgency in Afghanistan anymore than the U.S. Army is ready or was ready for the counterinsurgency in Iraq. So it really comes down to what kind of army do you and what kind of tasks do you assign them. And you better be careful that you assign them to do something that they're good at or you better change what they're good at.

CONAN: Lee, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

LEE: Have a nice day. Bye.

CONAN: We're talking today with Max Boot. His new book is War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History from 1500 to Today. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get John on the line. John calling from Toledo.

JOHN (Caller): Hi. Thanks. I have two questions and they're pretty - they're not very connected. But the first is can the author talk about what General Grant did in the Civil War, because that seemed to revolutionize things in a way very opposite of what we're - of what we might need to look at now, of course. I mean, obviously they're not the same issue, but.

My second question, though, is about 25 years ago as a political science student everything was about making the military more streamlined and leaner and meaner. And for 25 years or more that idea's been around and why hasn't it happened? Why haven't we taken that approach?

Mr. BOOT: Well, good question. And certainly Don Rumsfeld came into office as defense secretary talking about what a terrible bureaucracy that he had at the Defense Department. How he was going to streamline it and change it and make it quicker and more nimble.

And, you know, I was at the Pentagon yesterday and it didn't particularly streamlined or nimble to me. It still looked like a very big building where you have 25,000 people working, which is more than the size of the entire Australian army.

I mean, these kinds of organizational changes are very, very difficult to carry off, and it's such a huge project I don't know how you go about doing it. But I do know that it is absolutely necessary for us to be successful.

CONAN: Well, at the end of the Vietnam War the Army was in a - the U.S. military forces rather than just the Army - were in a terrible state. We realized - first of all morale was horrible, terrible problems with drugs, the draft was a disaster, a political and a military disaster as well, tactically we couldn't fight at night, our formations couldn't move in jungles. And the U.S. military forces remade themselves. Does defeat spur changes on the order that you're talking about?

Mr. BOOT: Absolutely. And defeat is often a very powerful impetus for change. In fact, I talk about what the U.S. Armed Forces did after Vietnam in my book, which was a very radical reformation which included buying new weaponry - in fact, most of the weapons we have today were bought in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s - but also creating the all-volunteer force, creating new training centers, creating new doctrine command structures, all these things that came together so well in Desert Storm.

There is no question that defeat is often a much more powerful impetus for change than success. And if there is a silver lining to the problems that we are facing in Iraq or Afghanistan today, it is that it is forcing us to remake our force to make adaptations - things that we might not have done otherwise -and to change the way we do business.

And I see a lot of positive changes happening, such as new counterinsurgency manuals, new counterinsurgency curricula, a lot of junior officers who are learning how to deal with these complex situations. So that can be something good that comes out of what is otherwise a terrible adventure.

JOHN: But even then, are the new counterinsurgency manuals - aren't they just a recognition that those were around, you know, 25-35 years ago and that we're finally recognizing that those have some merit?

CONAN: Well, one of the lessons of Max Boot's book is that there isn't really anything new.

Mr. BOOT: You know, it's learning the lessons of history and unfortunately we've had to learn a lot of the same lessons that we learned in Vietnam. We're having to learn them over and over again in places like Iraq.

CONAN: Fascinating discussion where Maurice of Nassau goes back and relearns the lessons of the Roman Legions to figure out the tactical problems of the gun powder revolution and then figures out a way to defeat the formerly invincible Spanish armies.

Mr. BOOT: Right. I think history does have a lot to tell you about how to fight. And I mentioned Colonel H.R. McMaster, who is one of the most successful brigade commanders in Iraq. And I don't think it's entirely a coincidence that he's also a guy with a history PhD who wrote a best-selling work of history, because you really have to understand the history of war if you're going to try to be successful in war in today.

CONAN: John thanks very much for the call. We're going to say goodbye to Max Boot now. He's the author of War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History from 1500 to Today. He was kind enough to be with us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much.

Mr. BOOT: Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: And when we come back, we'll get some of your e-mails on the air. Again, if you had $100 million to spend to get something out of copyright and make it public domain, what would it be? Talk@npr.org. This is NPR News.

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