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Other People's Wars: The U.S. Military and the Challenge of Learning from Foreign Conflicts, Brent L. Sterling

Reviewed by Michael J. Butler

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This examination of the impediments to social learning confronting U.S. military strategists as they lurch from one military engagement to another comes at a most opportune moment. Amid the calamitous ending to “America's longest war,” the book's concern with uncovering why the U.S. military has been unable to integrate strategic lessons from wars involving other states makes it timeless as well as timely. The book's historical sweep (from the Crimean War to the Yom Kippur War) is impressive. So, too, is the range of sources that Brent L. Sterling has assembled and uses skillfully to assess the track record of the U.S. military/defense establishment, an assessment that is oriented around compelling evaluative criteria.

Other People's Wars rests on four case studies, with the two noted previously bookending investigations of the Russo-Japanese War and the Spanish Civil War. Sterling uses the bureaucratic politics and organizational process models to plumb the depths of the U.S. military establishment's intellectual engagement with these wars, with the larger aim of revealing what factors (spoiler alert: embedded instrumentalism and confirmation bias) prevented the inculcation of important tactical and strategic lessons. He does this quite well, and in exacting detail. However, readers who are looking for elaboration of th

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