FORT BENNING, GA., (July 3, 2013) -- When the Continental Congress nominated George Washington to command the Continental Army in 1775, Washington's military experience was limited to a few battles in the Seven Years War. But Washington prepared himself through the study of war and military history. Washington bought every military science and history book he could find, taking notes in the margins and eventually producing orders from them. We should follow Washington's example. Our military profession requires expert knowledge to fight and win in combat.

Over the past few weeks, we have been fortunate to host scholars and leaders who have shared their experiences and insights into military history. Rick Atkinson, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of the World War II Liberation trilogy, spoke about the importance of studying historical examples of leadership in combat. Last week, Lt. Gen. Peter Devlin, commander of the Canadian Army, had the following advice for us: "As we look to institutionalize ideas and lessons learned into our Army and think about tomorrow, we must always be respectful of our past."

And, Lt. Gen. David Perkins, commander of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., described combat in the attack to Baghdad as a series of "constantly changing conditions," emphasizing the need for leaders to adapt continuously to "gain a position of relative advantage." He also emphasized the importance of learning our doctrine as a starting point for innovation and a basis for visualizing, describing, directing, leading and assessing operations.

Historian Michael Howard observed that military history is most valuable to military leaders when it is studied in three dimensions: width, depth and context. Observe how warfare has developed over a long historical period. Examine specific campaigns or battles in detail. Read letters, memoirs, diaries, and even historical fiction. And read books that place military operations in context of social, cultural, economic, human, moral, political, and psychological factors.

History will not provide us with answers, but it will help us develop the expert knowledge necessary to lead effectively and prepare our Soldiers, our units, and ourselves for combat. Because the stakes are high, Army leaders must make a lifelong commitment to learning. You might begin today by visiting the Maneuver Center's Self Study Program website through Warrior University at The self-study program consists of books, articles, doctrine, films, lectures and practical application exercises to help educate maneuver leaders about the nature and character of war, as well as their responsibilities to prepare their Soldiers for combat, lead them in battle and accomplish the mission. You also might begin with the books listed here.
One Force, One Fight!

-- Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster
Commanding general

Getting started:

The Face of Battle by John Keegan

War in the Modern World by Theodore Ropp

The Outpost by Jake Tapper

Takedown: The 3rd Infantry Division's Twenty-One Day Assault on Baghdad by Jim Lacey

War from the Ground Up by Emile Simpson

Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age by Peter Paret and Gordon Craig

For more suggested reading, see the Maneuver Center of Excellence Reading List, available through