Book Review: Demystifying the American Military: Institutions, Evolution, and Challenges Since 1789


by Paula Thornhill

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2019. Pp. xvi, 248. Illus., map, diagr., tables, notes, biblio., index.. $26.00 paper. ISBN: 1682470733

Understanding the American Armed Forces

Retired US Air Force brigadier general and defense analyst Thornhill, gives us a short course in the history, organization, and culture of America’s military institutions.

Thornill’s intention is to help the citizen better understand the services. And she does this quite well. By avoiding jargon or jingoism, making extensive use of well thought out diagrams and tables to help explain often complex matters such as the organizational and operations structure of COCOMs (theater and functional Combined Commands), the relationship between the service departments and the department of defense, and even matters of uniform. The book is divided into two parts.

The first, of just two chapters, offers an overview of the current force structure and a profile of the personnel. The second gives us an outline in a dozen chapters of the evolution and operations of the armed forces from their origins to the present. This is quite well done.

Thornhill touches on some matters often overlooked, such as the role of women and minorities, the odd bureaucratic niche of the Marine Corps in the early Republic, and ways in which the different services perceived their roles in particular wars, which at times led to some friction among them.

Well written and quite readable, Demystifying the American Military is an excellent handbook for those – sadly the majority of Americans -- little familiar with the history and culture of the armed forces, and even those well-versed in these matters are likely to find some useful tidbits.

Note: Demystifying the American Military is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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