The Best Defense

‘The Generals’ gets two thumbs down

My book The Generals got its first entirely negative review, from Col. Gian Gentile. Why am I not surprised?

Colonel Gentile, a strategic bombing expert who also was a cavalry squadron commander in Iraq in 2006, concludes that I am both simplistic and dangerous: "In one sense Mr. Ricks is right that the American army has not produced strategic thinkers in its higher ranks. But his simplistic solution is also quite dangerous if the policymakers and others who read it come to believe it is true. America at war with Syria, Iran, Yemen, sure -- just relieve a few generals, get the right ones in place, and victory will be assured."

Then, in a really low blow for a historian, he accuses me of having the mindset of a political scientist: "He undertakes a political science approach to the exploration and analysis of history, developing a template and then compelling the past to conform to that template."

He also says the book is a regression from the works of John Keegan. Well, if I have to regress from anyone, I'll take Keegan. I am not as good a baseball player as Derek Jeter, either. 

What I don't get is that he accuses me of failing to show that relief of generals leads to better results. I don't know how he can say that, given that I discuss how Africa went better after Fredendall was ousted, Anzio went better after Lucas was booted and Truscott took over, Korea went better after Ridgway went over there and started cleaning house.

Does he think Vietnam would have gone any worse had any generals been relieved for being ineffective? But then Gentile is a big fan of Westmoreland -- "Westmoreland, I think, was very efficient, very proper, highly intelligent, a good organizer, a good manager, and I think up to a -- and I think a good leader" -- and I am not. 

Also, I'd like to file an objection to the way he uses "narrative" like it was some kind of dirty word. Rather, I think it is what makes us human -- putting together events to try to make sense of the rushing world of reality. We know other animals use tools, but as far as I know, we are the only animal that uses narrative. 

The Best Defense

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Happy holidays from Afghanistan

By Rebecca Frankel

Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent 

This time last year, Sgt. Alyssa Jackson, Capt. Katie Barry, and Sgt. William Vidal, who made up the entire veterinary team at Bagram AFB, were celebrating the holiday season in Afghanistan. (They are the exceptional team-of-three who organized the war-dog run in Bagram earlier this year.) And while the three have since left their post in Afghanistan and are now serving on other Air Force bases around the world, they have fond memories of their last Christmas spent with the MWDs and their handlers stationed at Bagram.

Jackson said the dogs especially were remembered during the holiday season. "Many people would send us care packages for the dogs. The packages would have kongs, treats, and all kinds of toys," he said. "It was great that our Military Working Dogs are not forgotten during the holidays."

Above, MWD Paty sports reindeer antlers in the small veterinary office on base. Barry writes that when this photo was taken Paty was suffering from "pretty severe PTSD so she was on her way home. She's been dispo'd and I think her handler adopted her."

This photo at left comes straight from Zombalay, Afghanistan, taken just a few days ago. Handler SSG Donald Miller posed for this postcard with his Patrol Explosive Detector Dog, Ody. The pair has been in country since September.

The dog pictured below with his handler is Carlos, another Air Force dog stationed at Bagram last December. Sadly, the vet team told me that he died not long after returning to the States. While a sweet dog, Carlos could be a little prickly while getting a check up, which is why he's wearing a muzzle -- a common precautionary measure vets handling MWDs take during even the most routine exams.

Also from the Bagram vet office we have MWD Ajax. Jackson had just opened a box her aunt had sent when the dog and his handler came in for an appointment. "Ajax was pretty nervous around us," Jackson writes. But he "sure did put on a huge puppy smile when we put his Santa hat on."

Speaking of Santa... If you are interested in sending a care package over to dog teams or helping provide any needed items to dog teams deployed in Afghanistan (or elsewhere) this holiday season, check out the U.S. War Dog Association run by the incomparable Ron Aiello, a former Vietnam dog handler, who's been sending care packages out to dog teams around the world for the last ten years.