The Best Defense

An Army general produces the most ambivalent review of my new book

I've seen many positive reviews of my book, and a few negative ones. But I have not seen one so entirely ambivalent as the one by retired Army Brig. Gen. John Brown in ARMY magazine. On the one hand, the general thinks my new book is "engaging, well-written, sensibly documented, and interestingly organized." He adds: "People are going to read and enjoy this book."

On the other hand, there is actually quite a lot General Brown dislikes about my book. Most of all, he really, really hates my emphasis in the book that the Army should fire ineffective generals, and even announce such actions. "Much the same was said about public flogging in its day," he comments. I guess that makes George Marshall a public flogger.

At this point in the review, the GPA (the Generals' Protective Assocation) kicks in. "We need not apologize for being protective of our colleagues and their reputations," he admonishes. Hmm. I would say, Oh yes you do, if by doing so you have protected failures and incompetents at the expense of the troops and the nation. That would be at least unprofessional, and perhaps a dereliction of duty. 

General Brown also takes sharp exception to my description of the 1991 Gulf War, in which he fought. "I had been under the illusion that accomplishing all assigned missions with a minimum of casualties while liberating a friendly country and driving out a powerful adversary was a success -- but what do I know?" I would respond, It is not what you knew then, it is what you have learned in the last 22 years. What we do know now is that Saddam Hussein believed he had won that war, because he emerged from it as the sole Arab leader to take on the United States and its allies militarily and survive. (See page 386 of my book for quotes from his cabinet meetings about this.) Plus, the 1991 war never really ended -- we fought in Iraq for another two decades. Bottom line: If your foe thinks he won, and the fighting doesn't end, then I don't think you've won your war. Rather, I think you may have won your first battle and then ended the conflict prematurely.

General Brown also thinks the way I write about Generals Franks, Sanchez and Casey is "presumptuous." I thought I was just using plain English. Trying to say clearly what one really thinks is harder than it looks.

Oddly, Brown disregards the account at the beginning of my book about how I came to write it. He suspects I had "a portfolio of favorite stories" I wanted to tell. Rather, as I explained in a section beginning on page 7 of the book, I was puzzled by how the same U.S. Army that was so quick to relieve during World War II was so slow to relieve in Iraq, and it made me wonder if lack of relief is liked to lack of accountability -- and most importantly, if lack of accountability leads to lack of adaptivness

He also seems to have skipped my long section on the post-Vietnam rebuilding of the Army, saying that in my account, "American generalship involved in successes off the battlefield since World War II don't seem to matter."

Yet. Yet for all that, he emerges surprisingly enthusastic about the book. It ends, he says, "with some pretty respectable recommendations." His surprising conclusion: "The Generals will raise your blood pressure and expand your mind. I recommend it."

In related news, the Army War College library put The Generals on its new suggested reading list.

The Best Defense

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Sgt. Rex, one of the first dogs to serve in Iraq, dies

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

Just three days before Christmas, a note bearing sad tidings came up on a Facebook feed:

Military working dog Rex (E168) passed away this morning. He was 11 years old (April 2001-December 2012). Rest in peace Rex and thank you for your service and sacrifice. Once a Marine, Always a Marine...Semper Fi

Former Marine dog handler Mike Dowling posted the notice. Rex had been Dowling's dog in 2004 and, when they deployed to Iraq that year, they were one of the first U.S. dog teams to go into a combat zone since Vietnam.

Rex's story is one we've followed closely here -- from his stint with Dowling in Iraq (a harrowing story well told in Dowling's 2011 book), to his heroic tour in Iraq during which he was gravely injured, and finally the dog's highly publicized and star-studded transition from working dog to housedog. When Rex became eligible to retire from service last year, he was adopted by Marine handler Megan Leavey, who served with the dog in Iraq.

In his book, Sgt. Rex, Dowling writes how it was his bond to Rex that sustained him during their starkly dangerous tour; one in which their role was mostly undefined and ever evolving. A particularly moving passage in light of the dog's recent death:

I keep thinking that a time will come when Rex is gonna flee from the next explosion with his tail between his legs. Or I'm gonna come to my senses and realize that I just can't do another lonely, death-defying walk ... But here's the thing: Having Rex beside me helps give me the strength so I can face it. ... Never once has he faltered when I've asked him to do the walk with me, not even when we're under the enemy's gun. And because of this, he's put steel in my soul."

Complications with Rex's health arose suddenly during the night of Dec. 21st and Leavey, who rushed him to the emergency vet, also posted a note on Facebook letting friends and fans know that Rex did not suffer long and when it became clear he could not be treated comfortably, she was confident euthanasia was the right decision. He went peacefully the following morning.

Leavey writes she was grateful she got to spend the last eight months with her "partner and best friend." During the time Rex lived with her, "he got to roam the yard & bark at deer, play with as many toys as he wanted all day everyday, sleep in a cozy bed next to me every night, chase and eventually make friends with my 2 cats, enjoy & play in his first snowfall."

RIP: MWD Spike, a dog reportedly stationed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Sand Diego and also 11 years old, passed away on Jan. 1.

Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in September 2013.