David Kohnen, ed. 21st Century Knox: Influence, Sea Power, and History for the Modern Era. 21st Century Foundations Series. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2016. 176 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-61251-980-7.
Reviewed by Ryan Wadle (Air University, eSchool )
Published on H-War (May, 2017)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
Dudley W. Knox is a name long associated with the US Navy even though the number of people well acquainted with his contributions to development of American sea power is likely small. David Kohnen, a navy veteran who earned a PhD under the Laughton Chair of Naval History at King’s College London and who is presently on the faculty of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, makes a compelling case for a reevaluation of Knox’s career and voluminous writings with the latest entry in the 21st Century Foundations series, 21st Century Knox: Influence, Sea Power, and History for the Modern Era.
Kohnen provides an overview of Knox’s career and introduces seven pieces authored by Knox—including one previously unpublished manuscript—that touch on critical issues still of interest to historians and naval professionals, such as strategy, doctrine, and leadership. As there is no published biography of Knox, Kohnen’s volume likewise fills a vital gap in naval historiography. Given that Knox was a prolific and well-read author, the essays chosen are noteworthy for their breadth and depth and the selections span nearly four decades.
As the subtitle suggests, Kohnen’s selections highlight the utility of history in framing contemporary analysis, Knox’s long-running interest in developing American sea power into a global force, and the value of influence via sources of knowledge and guiding the careers of oneself and of others. The theme of history is not surprising, given that Knox headed the Navy Historical Section after World War I and, upon his retirement at the rank of captain in 1922, headed the Office of Naval Records and Library as a civilian for more than two decades. Knox’s essays written prior to American entry in World War I, “Trained Initiative and Unity of Action: The True Basis of Military Efficiency” and “The Role of Doctrine in Naval Warfare,” drew on past lessons of command and the development of doctrine among the Prussian army, respectively, to explore better ways of applying naval combat power in a decisive fashion in battle. His 1926 essay, “Our Vanishing History and Traditions,” became a clarion call that led to the formation of the Naval Historical Foundation and made a compelling case for the symbolic value of historical heritage. In the final essay from 1950, “The Development of Unification,” Knox heavily criticized the decision to create an independent air force and framed his case using history and organizational culture; naval aviators being naval officers gave them incredible knowledge of how best to apply airpower in the maritime realm, a cultural intimacy that the air force seemed likely to lose once separate from the army.
Knox’s interest in the navy’s public relations activities is among the few threads of his career to not receive attention in the book, but this is understandable with such a brief volume. Kohnen’s writing style is clear and easily accessible for all types of readers, and his framing of the volume and of the individual essays adds much to the readers’ understanding of the context of each essay’s production and illustrate Knox’s ability to connect with prominent naval officers and a formative generation of naval history scholars. Nonspecialists unfamiliar with Knox will glean much from this volume, as will historians with strong familiarity with the era of Knox’s service. This book comes highly recommended.
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Ryan Wadle. Review of Kohnen, David, ed., 21st Century Knox: Influence, Sea Power, and History for the Modern Era.
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