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Armchair Warriors: Private Citizens, Popular Press, and the Rise of American Power

Armchair Warriors: Private Citizens, Popular Press, and the Rise of American Power by Joel R. Davidson. Naval Institute Press, 2008, 348 pp.

Strategists are often accused of being unreceptive to new ideas, especially those coming from laymen. Would you release a herd of pigs with water wings and explosives strapped to them to go ashore first to clear the way through the minefields for the troops when planning an amphibious landing? Would you consider dropping conducting material across enemy high tension wires to short out their electrical systems at crucial times? Armchair Warriors is a collection of ideas from the public to the decision makers from the 1870s to Desert Storm, properly placed in the context of their times by an expert historian.

Joel Davidson is a serious scholar who combines exhaustive research with considerable writing skill to produce a curious book. He has both a law degree and a Ph.D. in history from Duke. His Unsinkable Fleet was published in 1996 to good reviews.

In this work, Davidson quotes extensively from letters from the public to governmental officials and less often from the press. The reader is sure to wonder about fellow citizens, for their ideas vary from the zany to prescient. A few yields a chuckle, and some predict things that have actually worked in battle. In the end, one would conclude that the evidence is largely anecdotal, and cannot be the basis for definitive judgments about either strategy or democracy. However, one message does emerge: buried in a sea of odd ideas there are occasional jewels. There are so many of the former, and they are addressed to so many different individuals, that it is hard to imagine a strategist or an organization having the time and ability to sift through it all to find the jewels—especially under the stress of war. Just as the signals for the Pearl Harbor attack were masked by all sorts of other predictions, so too are the jewels trying to bubble up from the public well hidden.

Davidson’s 1996 Unsinkable Fleet was not altogether complimentary to the US Navy. It is to the credit of the Naval Institute that it was published. Armchair Warriors, at first glance, would be easy to write off as insufficiently serious. However, it does have a message and will at least return a few chuckles in an evening of reading for the aspirant strategist. The wide net it casts might just bring to light an idea that will help solve the problems we face.

David R. Mets, PhD

Air Force Research Institute

"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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