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The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush

The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush by Dale R. Herspring. University Press of Kansas, 2005, 490 pp.

Dale Herspring's The Pentagon and the Presidency includes 14 chapters, the first and last providing a comprehensive backdrop and conclusion, respectively. Initially, the author introduces a historical outline through a variety of scholars while offering a segue for considering other alternatives to addressing timeless questions and issues concerning the presidency and the Pentagon. Consequently, the final chapter allows readers to arrive at their own conclusions. Herspring offers the notion that while the presidency is colored with vibrant personalities, it can become an inanimate entity and function of the US government.

Throughout US history, presidents have taken office without having served in the military. Herein lies an important, understood expectation that they nevertheless not only support but also intimately understand military culture. Although the relationship between the commander in chief and military leadership is delicate, Herspring inserts another player--the US Congress. He deftly discusses the sometimes volatile intersection between the military and politics during wartime regarding strategic affairs as well as operational and tactical matters. Furthermore, familiar historical figures appear in this study, illuminated by the daily behind-the-scenes drama.

Each chapter offers a personal, animated view of each president and his interactions with the chiefs of staff. Herspring reviews each of the 12 presidents from FDR to George W. Bush, examining divergences between them and the military. He steers the reader through the perils of civilian management of the military while tempering it with respect to the current atmosphere. The author clearly delineates between former military officers and lifelong private citizens who view the presidency through a wide lens.

All presidencies are plagued by fiscal woes and a constant trend of contention that frames the background of policy development during the waging of budget wars and political campaigns. The text illuminates the effects of endless budget battles involving the armed forces.

The Pentagon and Presidency is timely and well written, offered without any apologies and adding context to today's dynamic relationship between modern-day presidents and their chiefs of staff. It is a must-read for students of American and military history. Although the book can be challenging since Mr. Herspring takes his time with the necessary details of history and happenstance, this well-appointed discussion is certainly rewarding.

Rhondra O. Willis, PhD
Naval Criminal Investigative Service Liaison Officer
Defense Intelligence Agency


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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