The Best Defense

Soldier poets of the Great War (I): Eating breakfast under the flying German shells

I spent a lot of time recently reading poems from World War I, much of it new to me. Rather than discuss them all at once, I am going to feature one poem or even one line a day. 

Here is W.W. Gibson's "Breakfast":

We ate our breakfast lying on our backs,

Because the shells were screeching overhead.

I bet a rasher to a loaf of bread

That Hull United would beat Halifax

When Jimmy Stainthorp played full-back instead

Of Billy Bradford. Ginger raised his head

And cursed, and took the bet; and dropt back dead.

We ate our breakfast lying on our backs,

Because the shells were screeching overhead.

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The Best Defense

Confessions of a journalist: How I was drawn into the cult of Tommy R. Franks

For years, reporters -- myself among them -- have criticized Gen. Tommy R. Franks. You've heard it all: He was short-sighted, we wrote. He knew how to start a war but not how to win one. He spiked the ball on the 20-yard-line and went home. "Two-time loser," one of us bayed.

But consider that he figured it out before all of us. General Franks got to Baghdad in the spring of 2003 and said, Screw it, I'm going home. He was just anticipating American policy by eight years. That is strategic genius! David Petraeus is a tactical piker by comparison.

While I am at it, how about Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez? We've all dumped on him -- the guy was a jerk, his subordinates hated him, he didn't realize that an insurgency was blowing up around him, and he should have been fired after Abu Ghraib. But remember that after all that, he went home pissed off that he didn't get a promotion to four stars. Lesson here: When you screw up, stand on your sense of entitlement. It might just work. Donald Trump gets by on less. 

While I am at it, have we really given Blue Oyster Cult and Journey their due? C'mon, aren't they really better than the Clash and Ray Charles? And what about the band Kansas. You know, it is true: All we are IS dust in the wind. Also, at the end of the journalistic day, isn't canned ravioli better than most of the pasta the high-priced trattorias are peddling these days? And the Ford Pinto? -- underrated!

Okay. As my favorite comedian, Triumph, would say, I kid, I kid. All this is a reaction to Spencer Ackerman's mea bigga culpa the other day. (Warning: If you post a nasty comment about this, I may just send you a shirtless photo of myself.) I admire his willingness to flagellate his own self, but I think he took it too far. 

And for what it is worth, Spencer, I still think that Petraeus' determination really was the most important element of the American approach in Iraq in 2007. (Man, I already can see the smoke coming out of Col. Gentile's ears. I suspect that Gentile doesn't realize that he speaks for the conventional point of view in the Army -- that he is not the dissident, but the spokesman,)

Fwiw, I also wrote in my new book (Gian: p. 446) that, contrary to what Paula wrote and Spencer worries he might have, that I do not think General Petraeus had a lasting influence on the Army officer corps.

But I do think it would be better if he had.

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