Some of the scariest people I've ever met are war photographers. They're the people who are paid to pop up their heads for a good look when everyone else with sense is diving for cover. Some of them have very cold eyes, of the sort that Special Operators are depicted as having in the movies. These sometimes are people who have grown too comfortable with looking violent death in the face, at some cost to their souls.
I mention this because I was alone over the weekend (my wife had to attend to a family issue) and so the moment seemed right to pick up Dan O'Brien's War Reporter, a book of poems about the journalist Paul Watson, who is most famous for his photograph of the body of an Army aviator being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in October 1993.
That moment is the point of departure for the book. O'Brien writes, "When Paul took this picture he heard the dead man speak to him: 'If you do this, I will own you forever.'" And it develops that the dead man was correct.
You get the picture. This is a book you read because you have to, not because you want. Even as I settled down in the living room to read this, I began to find reasons not to -- I disliked the cover, even more the blurbs. (I mean, invoking Wallace Stevens?) By the time I got to the title page, I felt a little antsy and didn't know why. I think I probably was a bit scared, unconsciously, of what I was getting into. I have worked hard to leave all that behind and I now lead a peaceful life. Even my dreams are pretty good nowadays.
Then I began reading the poems. Soon I thought, this might be the best book ever written about war photography.
When I pick up a book, it is usually because I hope it will tell me things I didn't know. This one was different, because it told me things I was hoping to forget, and brought back people and days I would be happier not to think about. As I read, I suddenly remembered, for the first time in years, a female photographer I met in Baghdad. I thought of her as "The Photographer of Death." She just felt like Death to me, with a capital D, when she walked into the room. I remember being told that she would go out and work all day and then come back every night and kill a bottle of inexpensive Scotch. With her sunken eyes I couldn't tell whether she was 25 or 45. I thought of her especially when I read the line of Watson thinking of a female journalist who was trying to seduce him: "I suspected she was already dead."
Attacked and pummeled by a mob in Mosul one day, O'Brien has Watson thinking,
. . . Remember
what the ghost promised me: If you do this
I will own you. I just have the this feeling
he's thinking, You watched my desecration,
now here comes yours.
He has a similar sickening thought about his own troubled mind when a Serb militiaman threatens to kill him, a threat that he almost welcomes: "God's great aim. God's executioner draining my poisoned skull."
Another very strong line:
. . . The fog of war
as crematorium smoke.
I think that is a brilliant combination, and a bit frightening, drawing a direct line from Clausewitz to the Nazi death camps.
One caveat: Not all the poems are good, or even are poetry. These lines to me, about how Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia tortured a youth they captured, felt more like a human rights report than a poem:
. . . . Some soldiers
waterboarded him, then sodomized him
with a broomstick. Extinguished cigarettes
on his penis. Then beat him with meal packs
till he died.
Like I said, you read a book like this because you have to, not because you want to.
Best Defense guest movie critic
There are only four military science fiction (sci-fi) stories which consistently get mentioned as must reads in the ‘military' world. I've ordered them in my assessment of precedence: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, and the less-known but still significant Armor by John Steakley. All of these books are notable because they don't labor long over the actual combat. Instead these books focus on the characters/soldiers who spend much time in preparation and then briefly engage in combat -- and what happens afterwards. It's the humanity, frailties, and ethical questions which propel each of these stories.
Ender's Game was one of Card's first successful efforts as an author. First published as an award-winning short story in 1977, the book won Hugo (1986) and Nebula (1985) awards for best sci-fi novel. The book birthed a successful series following Andrew "Ender" Wiggin and one of his key lieutenants, Bean. The book was added to military reading lists (e.g. the Marine Corps 2011) and a previous edition included in its foreword a letter written by an Army aviator.
Without spoiling the story, Ender's Game is primarily about how a child, "Ender" Wiggin, is selected to attend a futureworld military academy because of his intellectual prowess and no-nonsense morality. Through several years of preparation, Ender is trained to kill and to lead fellow children and an international fleet against an interstellar insectoid race (the Formics or "Buggers"). This war is couched as a struggle for survival, and Ender becomes the prototypical ‘last hope' for mankind.
There's much to enjoy and contemplate in Ender's Game. The obvious first ‘physical' layers include boot camp training, collective training, fingerspitzengefuhl understanding of a three-dimensional tactical battlefield and the use of virtual training/simulation for Ender and the other trainees. Then there's another ‘mental' layer of philosophy, politics, and power struggles -- which primarily occur back on Earth. Finally, for me, the most compelling questions arise from the ‘moral/ethical' aspects of the story. These aspects include: the use of deception, the misunderstandings that drive the story and the war against the Buggers, the leadership and philosophical quandaries (e.g. utilitarian use of children for their innocence, cultivating hatred and violence, employment of genocide as an ‘only' alternative, among others) posed.
As for the movie, this is the screen foray of a book ‘they' (including Card) said couldn't be filmed -- but ‘they' say that a lot. I've had worries since the first trailers were released.
The actual movie does just an okay job of balancing its desire to provide popcorn entertainment while suggesting tough questions without really delving into them. Unfortunately, concessions for time and (likely) the need for a PG-13 rating ultimately undermine the movie. The movie cycles far too quickly through events. It also infers too much in the relationships Ender and those who surround him enjoy. In the book, Colonel Graff is, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than an epic taskmaster and Machiavellian. In the movie, Harrison Ford's Graff enjoys Ender's progress a bit too much. There's far too much smiling. Likewise, Ender's relationship with another older child, Petra, is almost distorted into a budding romance in the movie. This is sure to please the teen audience, but undermines the desperate nature of what transpires in the book. Which leads me to the most critical error in the movie.
By the end of the book, Ender is exhausted and desperate. He just wants the 'training' to be over. Ender's team, which he communicates with but does not see (unlike in the movie where they are all co-located), is similarly exhausted. The long isolation and never-ending battles take its toll on all of the children. When Ender contemplates an unthinkable act, he asks for guidance from his instructors. This is the penultimate moment in the book, and its omission in the movie is really tragic. Ender does get a good line though; he recognizes that "the way we win" is as important as winning in the first place.
Generally, the movie was just a few degrees off, but (as any orienteer would know) that course miscalculation ends up at a much different place than the intended destination. The movie concentrates almost exclusively on the 'physical' at the expense of the 'mental' and the 'moral.' The film hints at the current zeitgeist questions of the morality of drone warfare, the importance of the Internet as a medium, and network centric warfare. But ultimately a great book comes out as something much less on the screen. I highly recommend the book but can only give a marginal rating to the movie. Rent it.
[BTW: Much has been made of Card's politics. I've ignored them as irrelevant to the merits/demerits of the book(s) and now movie.]
"Hunters," a frequent commenter on Best Defense, is a combat arms Army Reserve Component colonel and something of a sci-fi buff. He believes himself to be nowhere as warm and approachable as Harrison Ford's Colonel Graff.
This inquiry comes in over the transom:
I am a journalist researching the effectiveness of the Air Force's MC-12 Liberty surveillance and reconnaissance plane in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you served in a Marine or Army unit in either theater and you have experience working with the MC-12, especially during combat operations, and would like to talk about it, please contact me at mfitzgerald[AT]bnd.com or call me at (618) 239-2533. Thanks.
Yow. That's like the Jesuits denouncing the Pope, isn't it?
That's the thought I had as I read the November issue of the Gazette (yes, pointedly, the birthday ish). First, the editorial in the front, signed by the magazine's editor, retired Col. John Keenan, calls out the commandant by name for giving detailed specifics on how he wants commanders and NCOs to operate. "Gen. Amos delineates numerous policies that are detailed and very prescriptive.... When the Commandant cannot rely on commander's intent and mission orders with general and commanding officers, but instead has to tell them not just the end state but the ‘how' with the detail of a kneeboard checklist, it makes one wonder."
Now, that can be read two ways, either as a slam on the leader or the led, so I wasn't sure quite where Col. Keenan was going. But then, further into the issue, I read an article by Maj. Randall Turner that criticized the commandant's emphasis on diversity in the Corps' officer corps: "The Commandant chances dissension by inadvertently but tacitly promoting a quota system."
On the one hand, it is good to see strong, clear arguments being made. The Gazette seems to be regaining its independent, open-minded footing. On the other hand, it makes me wonder, again: What is going on in the Marine Corps? This doesn't feel to me like the usual post-war "morning after" letdown. More like a crisis of confidence in the institution itself.
A couple of other things that struck me in this issue.
That said, if the mission of the Gazette is to make its readers think, and I suspect it is, then the bottom line on the November issue has to be: Congratulations to Col. Keenan and his team.
So avers the reliable Jim Gourley, and I agree with his harsh assessment of the celebrification of Special Ops: "Everything is out of the closet. People hardly knew anything about the OSS during WWII. These days the script to Zero Dark Thirty is finished before Osama's body is cold."
Time to move the SEALs out of California to someplace like Biloxi?
Four journalists have been killed in recent weeks in Basra, which appears to be the most dangerous city in the world for reporters.
Another ugly fact: Over the last 10 years, sixteen employees of the Al-Sharqiya channel have been killed.
Meanwhile, lots of bombs also killing people in Baghdad. And nasty little Tarmiyah, too. David Petraeus meditates on that in a piece here. Best line: "As important as the surge of forces was, however, the most important surge was what I termed ‘the surge of ideas' -- the changes in our overall strategy and operational plans." Overall, it is the most complete assessment I've seen by Petraeus of the surge. His conclusion on Iraq today: "time is running short." Calling Tom Friedman!
Ramzi al-Shaban/AFP/Getty Images
Listen up, little grasshoppers, and I will pass on an insider's rule of journalism: Always pay attention when a columnist goes after someone aligned with his own ideology. First, it tends to be well-informed. Second, it raises the credibility of the columnist, showing a willingness to police the views of his or her own side.
I mention this because I often disagree with the views of Michael Gerson, but was impressed by his mid-summer column dissecting the views of a confederate of Sen. Rand Paul who was into celebrating the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
The Early Bird, in which the Pentagon compiles most of the day's big military news stories, has not been coming since the shutdown began. Here's a substitute, the Canadian military's daily compilation. You see, their government hasn't been taken hostage by a bunch of right-wing nuts!
Bonus: The compilation is bilingual, which gives you an opportunity to polish your French. Hinky dinky parley voo?
I know, the comic hasn't been relevant, or funny, for many decades. Still, it seems kind of un-American for the U.S. military newspaper to fire the Army's most famous slacker (except on weekends, when it is still planned to appear).
I always thought ‘Beetle Bailey' was stuck in the Army of the 1950s, when the strip was started, and where the uniforms in the strip remain. ‘Doonesbury,' for the last decade, has done a much better job of evoking contemporary military life. (I know, "MajRod" and some others are still hatas. But perhaps they are stuck in the 1950s, too.)
I hear from a friend who is a political scientist that the hottest study in his world is a paper by Harvard's Gary King on social media censorship in China. Or, as King puts it, "the largest selective suppression of human communication in the history of the world."
The bottom line seems to be that, going by what they censor, Chinese authorities most fear collective action -- that is, not individual protests or outcries, but the threat of people getting together.
Here is a link to the paper. Here is the summary of it from Professor King's website:
Chinese government censorship of social media constitutes the largest selective suppression of human communication in the history of the world. Although existing systematic research on the subject has revealed a great deal, it is based on passive, observational methods, with well known inferential limitations. We attempt to generate more robust causal and descriptive inferences through participation and experimentation. For causal inferences, we conduct a large scale randomized experimental study by creating accounts on numerous social media sites spread throughout the country, submitting different randomly assigned types of social media texts, and detecting from a network of computers all over the world which types are censored. Then, for descriptive inferences, we supplement the current approach of confidential interviews by setting up our own social media site in China, contracting with Chinese firms to install the same censoring technologies as existing sites, and reverse engineering how it all works. Our results offer unambiguous support for, and clarification of, the emerging view that criticism of the state, its leaders, and their policies are routinely published whereas posts with collective action potential are much more likely to be censored. We are also able to clarify the internal mechanisms of the Chinese censorship apparatus and show that local social media sites have far more flexibility than was previously understood in how (but not what) they censor.
I ask because the Guardian reports that "The [Royal] navy is to get its first unmanned drone."
I didn't know there was any other kind.
I think it's a good one, except for the Korean War, where he goes off the tracks. (For that section, I'd substitute Clay Blair's The Forgotten War and Roy Appleman's East of Chosin.) But overall, the list is a keeper. It contains many of my favorite books. (And no, I don't know what he has against Fiasco. It may be a 3rd ACR thing.)
To see the original, click on this and then scroll down about halfway in the article to where it says "Sidebar: A reading list for military professionals," and click on the + sign to expand it:
There are several essential reads for professionals involved in military affairs:
Carl von Clausewitz, On War. The author uses a dialectical approach to understanding war without being prescriptive.
Michael Howard, War in European History. This book is excellent, as is anything by this author.
Elting Morison, Men, Machines, and Modern Times. The author discusses the limitations of emerging technologies-specifically, he argues that instead of taming our environment, technology has further complicated it.
Williamson Murray, The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War. This book helps connect military action to strategy.
Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War. The Greek historian shows that the drivers of war-fear, honor, self-interest-haven't changed over time.
Innovation and the world wars
Much has been written about World War I, World War II, and the interwar period-and about how these events changed the nature of war. The following are favorites:
Marc Bloch, Strange Defeat
Robert A. Doughty, The Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940, and Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War
Timothy T. Lupfer, Dynamics of Doctrine: The Changes in German Tactical Doctrine During the First World War
Williamson Murray, Military Innovation in the Interwar Period
Memoirs and biographies
It is important to understand how leaders have adapted and thought about war and warfare across their careers. The Autobiography of General Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs of the Civil War is perhaps the best war memoir ever written. The following are some other significant titles:
Carlo D'Este, Patton: A Genius for War
David Fraser, Knight's Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Matthew B. Ridgway, The Korean War
Selected histories of military campaigns
For selected histories of wars and military campaigns, the following are some of my favorites; I've also included recommendations on contemporary threats:
Donald Kagan, The Peloponnesian War
Seven Years' War
Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766
The American military profession and the American Revolution
David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing
Don Higginbotham, George Washington and the American Military Tradition and The War of American Independence
James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
Michael Howard, The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France 1870-1871
World War II
Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943; The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944; and the forthcoming The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945
Gerhard Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II
T. R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War
David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War
Eric Bergerud, Red Thunder, Tropic Lightning: The World of a Combat Division in Vietnam
Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young: Ia Drang-The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam
Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq and The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama
Peter Tomsen, The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers
Contemporary threats to international security
Peter Bergen, The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda
Victor Cha, The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future
David Crist, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran
Bruce Riedel, Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad
I am struck by how many bad op-ed columns have been written on Edward Snowden and the NSA mess. We are seeing a lot of columnists who wouldn't know Big Data if it hit them over the head struggling to explain what exactly happened. In total, they remind me that we are seeing the last generation of pundits who can remember the world before the Internet. They know something is happening but they don't know exactly what it is, do they?
There are lots of bad analogies flying around. (Is Big Data surveillance like reading addresses on envelopes? Or, pops, is the Internet just like a telegram but faster and more colorful?)
There has been lots of unearned intellectual snobbery. How could a high school dropout have such a job? (I dunno, how could a college dropout be allowed to run Microsoft?)
There have been some mighty casual dismissals of our constitutional rights by people who don't understand just how invasive the new surveillance regime can be.
As Jack Shafer, opinionator for Reuters, noted, there has been a whole lot of cheap psychologizing: "Leakers like Snowden, Manning and Ellsberg don't merely risk being called narcissists, traitors or mental cases for having liberated state secrets for public scrutiny. They absolutely guarantee it. In the last two days, the New York Times's David Brooks, Politico's Roger Simon, the Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen, and others have vilified Snowden for revealing the government's aggressive spying on its own citizens, calling him self-indulgent, a loser and a narcissist."
As a former dead-tree journalist, I am embarrassed to see it. No wonder no one under 30 reads newspapers.
So, I am announcing a contest: Nominate the worst column you've read about all this. If there are enough comments, I will at some point compile the results.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Call of Duty -- the popular video game series featuring many, many different warzone scenarios -- has a new game on the horizon: Call of Duty: Ghosts. In the official recently released trailer, an ethereal score swells against flashes of a post-apocalyptic terrain of vivid land- and seascapes. It is the new, new world of modern warfare. Within the first few seconds a new character is revealed -- a SEAL team service dog.
Where older versions of this game may have featured dogs as bloodthirsty obstacles, this time the canine fighter is on the side of good. The dog has its own role in this game, key to the way players strategize.
There are a number of promotional videos out there providing background on the serious lengths game designers went to amp up the gamer's experience, improving the game's scale and artistry. In the "Tech Comparison" video, creators discuss how they took "high res scans" of an actual SEAL dog, showing footage of a dog outfitted in motion-capture gear as he takes down a decoy and jumps up on high platforms. Their quest for war-dog authenticity was diligent: "Every detail is replicated," the voice-over says, "right down to the scars on the [dog's] nose and that tattoo inside the ear."
And that authenticity is going to deliver in the gamer's experience, creators promise. Yahoo! Games reports that the dog in Call of Duty: Ghosts will have his "own artificial intelligence and will apparently play a notable role in the game as part of the squad, who sniffs out dangers and aids the team."
News of an elite MWD's inclusion in this upcoming version of the game, scheduled for release in November, has created an Internet stir this week. And not that we should be surprised, but this dog already has his own (fake) twitter feed. As of this morning, @CollarDuty has some 19,000 followers. Though, with a bio line that reads, "I hate cats..." and with tweets like "SQUIRREL!" I don't think we'll be seeing any SEAL dog secrets revealed via Twitter.
But the game, well, that actually looks pretty cool.
Hat Tip: The guys over at MWD on FB and DL.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
By Jason Fritz
Best Defense guest respondent
When my copy of the January-March 2013 issue of The CAVALRY & ARMOR Journal (the U.S. Cavalry and Armor Association version of ARMOR Magazine) arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, I was also a bit puzzled by the article titled "How to Eat Steak with a Knife and Fork!" Not only because the title motif "How to Eat X with Y" has become quite tired, but because I expected it to be the beginning of an onslaught of "Armor Rulz!" articles in future issues. Of course, reading the article you can see that it is not a paean to maneuver warfare but rather is only a plug for three schools offered by the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, written by the commander of those schools.
To me the biggest issue was not that ARMOR ran an article about "core competencies," but rather that the publishers used valuable space in a branch journal to advertise schools that officers and NCOs should be going to anyway. I do not share Tom's lament on the tactical focus of ARMOR as it is a journal for armor units, which are by definition brigades and below and therefore tactical formations. But his post brings up a prevalent problem: the demise of the branch journals.
Anyone who subscribes to their branch journal has probably noticed this decline. Articles are becoming repetitive. Issues are becoming thinner. I certainly can't think of a single article in the past two years in ARMOR from which I felt I learned something. In the case of ARMOR, which was first published in 1888, this demise is ill-timed. For the first time in over a generation our armor force has extensive and varied combat experience and we should not lose these lessons. And this is true for every branch. In an introduction to the Association version of the issue that Tom linked to earlier in the week, MG (R) Terry Tucker, former chief of Armor and current president of the U.S. Cavalry & Armor Association, wrote:
I would like to take a moment to thank all who contribute to this Magazine and participate in the important discussion of our Mounted Force. However, as important as it is for our contributors to submit articles based on history, "tactics, techniques and procedures," or personal experience, our mission challenges us to exchange critical thought among our members. I believe we too often fall short in this area in our Cavalry and Armor Journal and in ARMOR Magazine. We want discussion, differing opinions, and even heated debate when appropriate.
Branch journals may not be Foreign Affairs, Parameters, or even PRISM, but they are and have been the primary outlet for professionals at the tactical level to disseminate, discuss, and debate their tradecraft. Theirs being such a focused audience, you won't find academics rushing to get published. That leaves it to those of us who have been there and done it to keep these forums alive; you don't know who needs to know what you know or what doors writing will open for you. I wrote one article for ARMOR in 2008 while I was still in the Army. In addition to earning a free year's subscription to the magazine, this article played a significant role in my securing my first job out of the Army. The article, titled "Measuring Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare," has been the publication prospective employers have invariably asked about first because they recognize ARMOR and because they are interested in the topic. Recognizing this success, I shouldn't have stopped at one article -- something I intend to fix this year.
If you are a commander in the force, find a way to incentivize your officers and NCOs to write for their journal -- prospective writers need to know that writing is valued in their organization. Whether you are a commander or not, submit articles to your branch's journal (make sure you abide by their submission criteria). Get your good ideas and your name out there and put it in print. Branch journals provide an opportunity for you to influence your community, work on your writing skills, and maybe help someone who needs the information or idea you're holding on to.
It occurred to me that the characteristic phrase of our time may be "body parts." Journalists just love to use it, most often I think in reporting on car bomb explosions. That strikes me as lazy -- why not say "arms, legs, heads, jawbones, and so on"? (Unless, of course, you can't tell what they are.)
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Always Faithful, a documentary film that traces the path of five Marine dog handlers from their training through to their deployments, will premiere this Sunday in the greater DC area as part of the 2013 GI Film Festival.
With this feature-length documentary, director Harris Done and producer James Moll, focus on each handler's story with a straight-to-the-camera interview style that includes photos and footage from combat theater. One of the most interesting aspects about this documentary that I haven't seen delved into in great detail elsewhere is the application process for becoming a handler. It has varied based on the "urgent need" for handlers in recent years, but becoming a Marine Corps dog handler is a distinctly competitive pursuit. At the end of the test taking and the essay writing, the Marines applying for this job have to face a review board -- a daunting and nerve-wracking experience which Done has captured on film.
Done has long been a war-dog enthusiast. In 2009 he made War Dogs of the Pacific, a documentary about WWII military dog handlers. (In this trailer you get a taste of the great archival footage.) The timing of this film was crucial as all but one or two of the WWII veterans he interviewed have since passed away. Done's ties to these men clearly ran deep; when Bruce Wellington, a Brooklyn native who served as a messenger dog handler, died, Done gave a eulogy at the funeral. It was that connection which propelled him to pursue the storyline of the "war-dog handler" into modern day.
It's a rare experience to have interviewed K9 handlers across generations as Done has -- men who went to war in the 1940s as well as men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade. But when it comes to the core of this job, Done found that "some things never change."
After a while Done began to notice that all the handlers he interviewed "would use the exact same phrases" when they talked about what it took to bring a dog into war. "I just realized that with any kind of working dog, they have that intense bond."
DC moviegoers can purchase tickets here. (There are multiple listings for Sunday show times, so don't give up if you have to scroll down some.) For everyone else, Always Faithful will soon be available for purchase on iTunes.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
I was on riding the Washington, DC Metro finishing the May issue of the Marine Corps Gazette when I realized I had not read more than a paragraph or two into any of the articles. Part of the problem was that the topics of the issue were mainly aviation and cyberwar, which I know are important, but are not special interests of mine. But I also got the feeling that they simply took every boring article they had lying around and stuffed them all into one issue.
Even so, the Gazette is better off than the Army's Parameters, which doesn't seem to have put out an issue since "Autumn 2012." Maybe it's going to publish only on an annual basis. Nice work if you can get it.
Not from what I am hearing ‘round the barnyard. Here's an example, from retired Special Forces Col. David Maxwell, on the record and everything, about Fox's ‘scoop' saying SF could have responded to Benghazi in time:
Whistle blower my a**. If this guy is a real special operator (and I have my doubts) I wonder if he realizes what an embarrassment he is to the community. What he offers is pure speculation and not based on any real facts as I have heard and appears to be coming from his fourth point of contact. He comes across as just another conspiracy theorist who is taking Fox News for a ride.
Here are the results of our survey of good books of military history that aren't about the U.S. military.
There were so many British books mentioned that I moved them into a second category. The first part here is genuinely foreign books -- not necessarily written by foreigners (though most are) but about wars in which the British and Americans were not major players, or at least not written from the Anglo-American perspective.
Most of these mentions were in the comments, but about 10 percent came in by e-mail.
I offer them in no particular order. Not even cleaned up -- just pasted in. For details on the books, go back to the comments section -- lots of explanations there about why a particularly book was nominated.
David Glantz, When Titans Clashed
Rommel's Infantry Attacks (2 nominations)
Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War 1961-74
Martin Van Creveld, everything but especially Command in War
Michael Oren, Six Days of War (2 votes)
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon
Alistair Horne's The Price of Glory
Noel Mostert's The Line Upon a Wind
Patrick Rambaud's The Battle
Roland Perry, Sir John Monash: The Outsider Who Won a War
Larteguy's The Centurions and The Praetorians (3 nominations)
Harold Parker's Three Napoleonic Battles (short treatments of Friedland, Aspern-Essling, and Waterloo, with observations uniting all three)
John Elting's Swords Around a Throne (the Billy Yank/Johnny Reb treatment of what it was like for soldiers, leaders, and specialists in Napoleon's Grande Armee)
David Galula's Pacification in Algeria
Legionnaire, by Simon Murray
B.H. Liddell Hart's Caesar: Man, Soldier, and Tyrant
Colonel Saburo Hayashi, Kogun: The Japanese Army in the Pacific War
Hoito Edoin, The Night Tokyo Burned
No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, by Hiroo Onoda
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, by Mark Thompson
The Franco Regime, by Stanley G. Payn
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa, by Peter Godwin
Sean Maloney's three-volume history of the Canadian experience in Afghanistan (Enduring the Freedom, Confronting the Chaos, and Fighting for Afghanistan). He also did a narrative of the first eight or so years entitled War in Afghanistan: Eight Battles in the South.
Ivan's War, by Catherine Merridale (2 nominations)
The Reluctant Admiral, by Hiroyuki Agawa (Yamamto)
Vasily Grossman, A Writer at War
Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar, by his wife Dorothy with an introduction by David Halberstam
Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse Tung
Either The Code of the Samurai or The Hagakure or The 47 Ronin
Heart of Darkness for anyone about to do an AFRICOM rotation. (And one de-nomination.)
Lester Grau, The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan
Alistair Horne's Savage War of Peace
Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom
Avigdor Kahalani, Heights of Courage
Rabinovich's Yom Kippur War
On the Banks of the Suez: An Israeli General's Personal Account of the Yom Kippur War, by Avraham Adan
Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer (2 nominations)
All Quiet on the Western Front, and the lesser known but just as powerful sequel to the book, The Road Back, both by Erich Maria Remarque
Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel
Coalitions, Politicians and Generals -- Some Aspects of Command in Two World Wars, by Dominick Graham and Shelford Bidwell
Strange Victory, by Ernest May
Julian Jackson's The Fall of France
Witness to Surrender, by Brig. Siddiq Salik
The Way It Was, by Brig. Z.A. Khan
In the Line of Duty, by Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh
Guerrilla Warfare, by Ernesto "Che" Guevara
Afgantsy, by Rodric Braithwaite
The Jungle is Neutral, by F.Spencer Chapman
The War in Paraguay: With a Historical Sketch of the Country and Its People and Notes Upon the Military Engineering of the War, by George Thompson
On British military -- listed separately because more familiar
Keith Douglas, Alamein to Zem Zem
George MacDonald Fraser's Quartered Safe Out Here (3 nominations)
John Masters, first two volumes of his memoirs
Emile Simpson, War from the Ground Up
Keegan's Face of Battle
William Slim, Defeat into Victory (4 nominations)
The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command, by Andrew Gordon (4 nominations)
Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of The Great War, by Robert K. Massie (4 nominations)
The Last European War: September 1939-December 1941, by John Lukacs
How the War Was Won: Factors that Led to Victory in World War One and The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front & the Emergence of Modern War 1900-1918, two volumes by Tim Travers
The Story of the Malakand Field Force, by Winston Churchill
Churchill and Seapower, by Christopher Bell
J.F.C. Fuller's Strategy
Donald Morris, The Washing of the Spears (Zulu Wars)
Gordon Corrigan's Mud, Blood, and Poppycock (attempts to bust many of the popular myths about WWI on the Western Front)
Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War (doorstopper-sized analysis of WWI)
Andrew Roberts' Masters and Commanders
The Tizard Mission: The Top-Secret Operation That Changed the Course of WWII, by Stephen Phelps
Not Mentioned in Dispatches
18 Platoon, by Sidney Jary
The Defence of Duffer's Drift, by Maj. Gen. Ernest Dunlop Swinton.
Brazen Chariots, by Robert Crisp
My War Gone By, I Miss It So, Anthony Loyd, ex-British soldier in Bosnia.
Forgotten Armies: Britain's Asian Empire and the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper
The Great Crusade: A New Complete History of the Second World War, by H. P. Willmott
Battle for the Falklands, by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins
Sassoon's The War Poems
The Dark Hills, by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Bingen on the Rhine, by Caroline E. Norton
Richard Haass is a pretty smart guy, but he let someone talk him into this headline: ‘The Irony of American Strategy.'
Like, gag me with a spoon. Cute? Maybe. But I think that headline could only be written by someone who had not lost someone in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 12 years.
Actually the article isn't bad, although it leans heavily on the weak thought that 10 years ago the United States got deeply involved in the Middle East when it didn't need to, but now when it wants to get out, it can't. That strikes me more as an op-ed (or blog post) than a full-blown Foreign Affairs thumbsucker.
A major in the 101st Airborne suggests that we do a reading list of modern military books that are not about the American military experience (and not the usual classics). Three of his suggestions are The Dambusters, Defeat into Victory , and Churchill's Generals.
To that start, I'd add Keegan's Face of Battle and Alistair Horne's Savage War of Peace. What else? I'll allow histories, memoirs, novels, and poetry.
ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images
In our cynical age it is easy to forget that sometimes the newspapers get it right. I was struck while reading George Orwell's diaries by the reports he cites in August 1939, just weeks before World War II began in Europe.
The Manchester Guardian comes off particularly well. It reports that month that "German mobilization will be at full strength halfway through August & that some attempt to terrorise Poland will be made."
A few days later, Orwell notes, the same paper's diplomatic correspondent predicted that "Spain will almost certainly remain neutral in case of war."
There. Got it off my chest. Just had to say it. Slow to load, balky to use.
And my blood pressure spikes every time I read that cheerful, dumb introduction, "Welcome to Foreign Policy's new commenting system! The good news is that it's now easier than ever to comment and share your insights with friends."
Like I say, the bad news is the new commenting sucks! That's the insight I wish to share.
Fifty Shiite gunmen invaded the offices of four newspapers in Baghdad. They smashed equipment, stabbed some people, and threw one reporter off the roof.
Let freedom reign?
SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
By Jim Gourley
Best Defense commenter of the year
Last week Tom requested suggestions for new blogs to add to his daily reading list. I thought there were some interesting recommendations from readers, but after investigating each one I went back and clicked through the different windows in succession to gain a little more perspective.
Looking at them in aggregate provoked questions. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so what world view would the range of sites produce? How does the news feed presented by these sites differ from what Tom is probably already reading? Grouping the sites by their emphasis implies that view would be primarily technology-based, lightly seasoned by some current events in specific regions with dubious commentary. There is very little context. By and large, it lacks breadth and depth. The spectrum of information is narrow and the range of subjects too one-dimensional to provide necessary background.
I read lots of blogs, none of them regularly and not all of them related to defense matters per se, but I tend to see value in unique cultural overlaps. I seek context, perspective, answers. Lately, I find the blogosphere giving me more questions than answers.
Spend enough time
reading the tech blogs and you'll see that there are scores of unmanned weapons
systems in development in the United States and throughout the world. Within
fifteen years we may have a UAV that brings J.J. Abrams' new television series to life, warships with lasers, and bipedal battlefield
terminators assistants. All of these blog posts follow the same thematic
approach. They simply show us the technology. That's valuable information, but
I only need to see it once.
Nowhere can I find answers to the immediate questions I ask upon reading these blogs. Why are we developing these technologies? What existing weapons programs that we're currently shoveling money into will be rendered obsolete by these new weapons? Where does the care and equipping of human service members fit into this? Exactly what threats and enemies are such weapons meant to counter, and what retaliatory developments do we anticipate said enemies to attempt? Do we have a plan or are we just building stuff?
Intelligence and strategy blogs have made the pivot to China well in advance of the defense department, it seems. The American political discourse about the Chinese threat was electrified during the presidential campaign and think tanks are moving apace with speculations of what a conflict with China would look like. But in all the debate over who would do best at "getting tough with China," I didn't hear a compelling argument for getting tough in the first place. Is China really our enemy? Do they have to be our enemy? Is the conventional wisdom more conventional (or perhaps convenient) than it is wise? I have no end of questions about what the American security establishment thinks of China because there is no clear explanation of how it thinks about China. Is there a blog for that?
The defense, intelligence and national law enforcement architectures continue to meld in ways both mysterious and disturbing. The DEA has operated in Afghanistan for a number of years. Predator drones have been used to track cattle rustlers in North Dakota. Part of President Obama's legacy will be a government that can wire-tap my phone without a warrant and assassinate me without due process. I see these developments and I have more questions. Are there still such things as American defense, intelligence and law enforcement establishments, or is it gelling into a monolithic "security establishment?" How long a shadow does it cast and do civil liberties and posse comitatus fall underneath it? Is everyone contributing to this emergent construct actually okay with the potential consequences, or are we just following orders?
Blogs are a relatively new species in the journalism environment, but already the conceptualization of them has become traditional. They were conceived as web-based forums for microbursts of data to help news organizations keep up with the increasing pace of information flow. It was believed that the in-depth analysis would be left to the more substantive print media side of the house. The value of print has already been challenged and found lacking, but so too should the idea that synthesis and analysis can maintain the old pace as developments continue to accelerate. Blogs can't just be places to collate data points any longer. They need to start connecting the dots that are rapidly accumulating. I think 'Best Defense' has succeeded in that endeavor, but Tom depends on good sources of information like any human being. There are more questions than ever. More blogs ought to attempt answering them. Those answers matter now more than ever, because the new pace to which blogs have contributed is not going to wait.
Jim Gourley has been elected to the Best Defense all-star commenter team three years running.
Best Defense TV reviewer
I'm embarrassed to admit, I recently watched a long portion of the second episode of the new "reality" TV show Stars Earn Stripes. The premise of the show is that eight D-list "celebrities" -- predominately reality TV returnees, washed up actors, and athletes -- train with former U.S. military servicemembers and first responders and take part in "missions" to demonstrate their prowess and nominally learn/appreciate something about military life. There's also a Survivor element to the "contest" where a non-performing team is dismissed each episode. The "stripes" the remaining teams earn equate to $10,000 donations to service-oriented charities like the Wounded Warrior Project and their ilk. NBC claims the show will "pay homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. armed forces."
I found the program
lame and somewhat sad. Anyone with military experience would laugh at the
canned explosions -- M203 rounds do not blow up like that, especially when the
blue training round lands under rather than in the target. ( I'm looking at you,
Picabo Street.) The "tasks" that the "celebs" were charged to execute
were laughable. Indeed, the marksmanship demonstrated (even by the military
professionals) wasn't that impressive given the high powered rifle sights,
supported firing positions, and short distances to the target.
But the real kickers were the unconvincing hostess Samantha Harris -- who previously co-hosted Dancing with the Stars, wearing sexy combat chic clothing that would make the Scud Stud blush, and General (Retired) Wesley Clark -- the opportunist flag officer and onetime presidential candidate everyone loves to hate. The two co-hosts, respectively, bat their eyes and look grim and try to sell the concept as a credit to the troops, but the show devolves "combat" down to a series of Darby Queen obstacles with embedded squibs and targets that don't shoot back.
How sad to see General Clark leering over a fake TV screen (badly overlaid on a circular table) in a fake command post, giving orders and commentary with fake gravitas. But Clark is well known for narcissism and never finding a camera he didn't love. The late David Hackworth once called Wes Clark a Perfumed Prince -- and later retracted his comment -- but this made-for-TV endeavor seems to validate the moniker.
What's most worrisome about this show is that it is a show, sold as entertainment. A squad of Nobel laureates has already criticized the program calling Stars Earn Stripes a "sanitation of war ... likening it to an athletic competition." They called for the show's cancellation stating: "It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Real war is down in the dirt deadly. People -- military and civilians --die in ways that are anything but entertaining."
I have to agree with their sentiment, especially given the ham-handed nature of the exercises. There's no real danger, and no real consequences. I'm sure the celebs retire to their Hollywood mansions after each camera shoot, whereas, somewhere in Afghanistan, PFC "Snuffy" finishes his real "shoot" and retires to his tent built for 6-8 of his closest squadmates. Surprising no one, I hope, there's no reality in this reality TV. Even if this show was a well-meaning effort to bridge an increasing civil-military divide (as Clark claims), it is so poorly executed that it marginalizes the efforts of U.S. troops in the field. That's what makes Clark's involvement all the more worrisome. The public doesn't know that Clark is not overly respected within the ranks, and likely accepts his involvement as a military stamp of approval.
The Army Profession campaign has spent almost two years trying to discern the impact of a decade of war on the profession. One of the ideas the campaign members have been considering is the concept of a "non-acting professional." In this case, they have been trying to analyze the role of the military retiree (p. 24) within the profession. This need arose as many general officers (e.g. Clark and Honore) took to the papers and the airwaves commenting on military operations and politics (e.g. Newbold, Batiste) from the safety of their retirement. The ongoing concern remains allowing for the proper balance of dissent, First Amendment rights and the role of former government servants -- who, it should be remembered, remain subject to recall to active service. This is a continuing discussion that will not be resolved anytime soon.
Clark's latest TV endeavor is more embarrassing than harmful, and likely grazes but does not fall within the area of concern which the Army Campaign is exploring. But I do think Stars Earns Stripes undermines the hard work of our servicemembers around the globe, by turning combat-lite into a game show. The fact that the show is giving money to veterans groups doesn't redeem it in the least.
The best way to get rid of such a show is not to watch it. Unfortunately, an estimated 5.4 million Americans watched the Stars Earns Stripes first episode. We're rapidly headed towards the world hypothesized in Mike Judge's Idiocracy, where the top TV show was Oww, my balls. [Note: Another reality TV show, this season's America's Got Talent, actually featured a segment that easily could have been titled Oww, my balls].The quality of what passes for entertainment is worrisome and getting worse.
I've often argued for a Sunday primetime reality TV show (probably on the fourth place network), filming soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines with all their glory (and warts) in theater. Each week would spotlight a different unit, in a different place -- not unlike news reels from World War II. If it was honestly handled, I think that would be a hit show that really better communicates what combat and service means while drawing some much needed attention to the troopers in the field. That would also be a worthwhile bridging effort for that civil-military divide we are always so concerned about. I'll keep waiting; meanwhile, I'll hope that Clark gets his face off of TV and Stars Earns Stripes goes AWOL.
"Hunter" is an Army officer. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the federal government, the College of Cardinals, the bullpen of the Washington Nationals, or "The Itchy and Scratchy Show." Then again, they might. Especially the bullpen guys.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on September 15, 2010.
I am finding Army magazine over the last couple of years much better than in the past, consistently running relevant, thoughtful articles like the two I have highlighted in the last couple of days. I think Army has surpassed the Marine Corps Gazette and is giving Proceedings a run for the money as the most interesting and relevant of the services' glossy professional magazines.
Meanwhile, speaking of the U.S. Army and publications, whatever happened to Parameters? And has Military Review just gone stupid? It apparently is being edited by people who haven't read the last several years of its own articles -- witness this straw man article written by someone who seems to think that the COIN campaign in Iraq in 2007-08 didn't have an extremely lethal element.
I frequently am interested by stuff in Joint Force Quarterly and Prism, but they are too new to have established records, and JFQ especially seems to have its ups and downs -- witness a goofy, uninformed article on military dissent in the new issue. (And a misspelled name, too.) And it has been years since I've read anything really new in the Naval War College Review or in anything published by the Air Force, with the exception of a volume of war poems and stories collected by some faculty members at the Air Force Academy.
The great photo above came from Army magazine, taken by the hard-working Dennis Steele. I used to run into him at United Air's international departure gates at Dulles Airport.
"Hey, Dennis, coming or going?"
"Iraq or Afghanistan?"
And off he would trudge under his bags of cameras.
Dennis Steele, ARMY magazine
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.