General Lesley J. McNair
Unsung Architect of the US Army
Mark T. Calhoun
George C. Marshall once called him "the brains of the army." And yet General Lesley J. McNair (1883-1944), a man so instrumental to America's military preparedness and Army modernization, remains little known today, his papers purportedly lost, destroyed by his wife in her grief at his death in Normandy. This book, the product of an abiding interest and painstaking research, restores the general Army Magazine calls one of "Marshall's forgotten men" to his rightful place in American military history. Because McNair contributed so substantially to America's war preparedness, this first complete account of his extensive and varied career also leads to a reevaluation of US Army effectiveness during WWII.
Born halfway between the Civil War and the dawn of the twentiethth century, Lesley McNair—"Whitey" by his classmates for his blond hair—graduated 11th of 124 in West Point's class of 1904 and rose slowly through the ranks like all officers in the early twentieth century. He was 31 when World War I erupted, 34 and a junior officer when American troops prepared to join the fight. It was during this time, and in the interwar period that followed the end of World War I, that McNair's considerable influence on Army doctrine and training, equipment development, unit organization, and combined arms fighting methods developed. By looking at the whole of McNair's career—not just his service in WWII as chief of staff, General Headquarters, 1940-1942, and then as commander, Army Ground Forces, 1942-1944—Calhoun reassesses the evolution and extent of that influence during the war, as well as McNair's, and the Army's, wartime performance. This in-depth study tracks the significantly positive impact of McNair's efforts in several critical areas: advanced officer education; modernization, military innovation, and technological development; the field-testing of doctrine; streamlining and pooling of assets for necessary efficiency; arduous and realistic combat training; combined arms tactics; and an increasingly mechanized and mobile force.
“Provides a wealth of new information about a largely marginalized, when not maligned, figure in the historical accounts of World War II. The book is an excellent reference on American preparations for World War II and U.S. Army professional military education. Calhoun’s well-written book provides the best look to date at McNair and illustrates the value of organizational leadership in an institution that often places a premium on direct leadership at the expense of those who lead the systems and processes that create institutional-level success.”
“Among military historians, McNair is known and his role is fairly well understood, but Calhoun provides a depth and breadth that was previously unavailable.”
—U.S. Military History ReviewSee all reviews...
“An important read for anyone interested in the U.S. Army in the twentieth century.”
“A fascinating and genuinely meticulously researched study of one of the Second World War’s most senior Allied commanders.”
—Second World War Military Operations Research Group
“A thoroughly researched, critically analytical account of the impact General Lesley J. MacNair had on the Army, particularly from World War I to his death in July 1944.”
—Journal of Military History
“An important addition not only to the existing literature on the US Army but also that of World War II.”
—Washington Book Review
“Calhoun provides a detailed study of McNair—justifying his inclusion as one of the key leaders of World War II—and points out that many historians may have been unfairly critical of him. . . . Through diligent research, the author managed to uncover a large collection of papers that provide compelling evidence of McNair’s achievements and enhance the historical understanding of both the man and his contributions.”
“An insightful portrait of a large, enigmatic, and controversial figure in American military history. In Mark T. Calhoun, General Lesley J. McNair finally has the biographer he deserves.”
—Rick Atkinson, author of The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944–1945
“Mark Calhoun has done American military history a great service with this long overdue biography of an important but little understood figure. His book is a case study in what we now call talent management. Senior army leaders leveraged McNair’s intellect, drive, and his formative WWI and interwar experiences through a series of assignments and educational opportunities that made him the right man in the right place at the right time for our army as it entered WWII. Mark also puts McNair’s influence in its proper context, dispelling many myths about him and the army that grew from a cadre to the force that defeated the Axis.”
—LTG Sean MacFarland, III Corps Commanding General
“Tremendously well-researched, Dr. Calhoun’s detailed biography on Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair debunks some long-standing myths on his effectiveness and serves to restore him to the position of honor as one of our top military thinkers of all time. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how we set the conditions for success in WWII.”
—Brigadier General Tom Graves, USA
“A noteworthy and well-researched analysis of one of America’s most brilliant and proficient officers. Calhoun not only discloses Lesley J. McNair’s intellect and character in peacetime and war, but compellingly debunks the belief that US army generals were ill-prepared technically, educationally, and doctrinally for the rigors of WWII.”
—Walter E. Kretchik, author of U.S. Army Doctrine: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror
“An exceptionally well-researched and argued reappraisal of the career of Lesley J. McNair and his role in fashioning American ground forces before and during WWII. Calhoun argues convincingly that far from the ineffectual general of common lore, McNair was a crucial architect of Allied victory. A must-read for students of modern US and WWII military history.”
—Peter Mansoor, author of The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941–1945
“Some very influential people go unsung in historiography because they did not leave behind a neat pile of personal papers. Lesley J. McNair was one of those people, until now. Mark Calhoun has found numerous holdings of primary source material on the senior officer most responsible for the US armys effectiveness during WWII. Well-written, clear, concise, and balanced, this work will remain the standard reference work on the life, career, and influence of McNair, a general officer arguably second in importance only to George C. Marshall.”
—Peter Schifferle, author of America’s School for War: Fort Leavenworth, Officer Education, and Victory in World War II
“A superb biography of a man who George C. Marshall called ‘the brains of the army.’ Although McNair played a seminal role in the organizing, mobilizing, and training of US Army Ground Forces that fought WWII, he died an untimely death and there has never been a definitive examination of his life and career. Meticulously documented, this book seeks to redress that situation and does an admirable job in doing so. It is an important addition to the historiography of WWII and deserves a wide readership.”
—James H. Willbanks, author of A Raid Too Far: Operation Lam Son 719 and Vietnamization in Laos
“General Lesley J. McNair has long needed a biography. Now thanks to Mark Calhoun, we not only have one but we have what will assuredly be the standard for years to come. Calhoun demonstrates the important role McNair played in building the US army for the challenges it would face in WWII. This is an important contribution for those seeking to understand the development of the interwar US army.”
—Kevin Holzimmer, author of General Walter Krueger: Unsung Hero of the Pacific WarSee fewer reviews...
Because McNair served primarily in staff roles throughout his career and did not command combat formations during WWII, his contribution has never received the attention given to more public—and publicized—military exploits. In its detail and scope, this first full military biography reveals the unique and valuable perspective McNair's generalship offers for the serious student of military history and leadership.