I bought this book after seeing the author on The Rachel Maddow Show a while back talking about the recent scandal regarding the USAF's missile commanI bought this book after seeing the author on The Rachel Maddow Show a while back talking about the recent scandal regarding the USAF's missile command. Unfortunately, I was hugely disappointed. I would have been less so if the book stuck to the Damascus Accident and gave me way less of the only peripherally relevant background. Lengthy discursions into salty anecdotes about nutty old Curtis LeMay, cranky Truman and grandfatherly Eisenhower seem non-illustrative and not particularly well treated here.
Every mainstream writer on a technical topic like this has to ask: To wonk or not to wonk? The author of this volume chose not to wonk, about what is perhaps the wonkiest topic on the planet... a topic IMPOSSIBLE to comprehend or even conceive of without wonking the living hell out of it.
The result is like a NBC suit washed in warm water.
The problem is that the Titan II accident in Damascus was fundamentally different than other nuclear weapons accidents, and is, in fact, enormously atypical. The author goes into so much detail about the propellant handling specific to the Titan II program that it becomes super-confusing just what his point is with regard to the broader schema of "command and control." Most of the broken arrow incidents cited outside Damascus stem from misrouting or mishandling of warheads or mishaps aboard airplanes (particularly B-52s, by dint of numerological likelihood), not ICBMs. The author's own assertion (that "this happened a lot") establishes that Damascus is not an illustrative example of the dangers of handling nuclear weapons.
That fundamental cognitive dissonance required the author to stray too far from the events of the Damascus Accident, and make numerous points which really had little to do with Damascus. The author didn't do a stellar job of connecting the dots, in my opinion. There ARE those connections, but it would have taken a fairly huge revision of the book to fit them in.
I believe the author needed to answer one question: Is this book PRIMARILY about 1) the command and control of nuclear warheads, or 2) the hazards of their delivery vehicles? If it's about both (which it is, or tries to be), then the fundamental connections between those two need to be stated more clearly, with a more succinct expression of the nuclear fundamentals and less reliance on the reader's "awe" of technology to produce an emotional response.
Here's what I mean: because the author does not appear to be a nuclear engineer (or even a physics nerd), it never felt clearly established to me what the core differences between nuclear and conventional weapons are from a command and control perspective. It may seem obvious, but it's actually only obvious from a non-wonk perspective. I know this probably makes me sound like a zany Buck Turgidson whack-job, but hey, it's not the first time. Wonks make policy. Wonks decide how to handle nuclear weapons. Wonks run the scenarios on what will happen if nuclear weapons are ever used. Wonks may be geeky to a fault, but they're who ACTUALLY give a damn about extreme scenarios like nuclear war or nuclear accidents. In writing what SHOULD have been a colossally wonky book, the author showed his tendency to think of both the military and nuclear worlds from a "mainstream" (non-wonk) perspective.
One example is that the hazards of nuclear detonations are portrayed in an overblown, hand-wringing fashion. BECAUSE I REALLY NEEDED THIS GUY TO TELL ME THAT NUKING THE WORLD IS A BAD IDEA. There's a subtle form of hysterical pretension throughout that I found both problematic (from a policy perspective) and dull (from a reading-pleasure perspective). Honestly, the difference is kind of slight between realistic evaluation of worst-case scenarios and pseudo-journalistic hysteria, but something about this book's tone seemed well outside realism and into facts stated as shock value.
The underlying issue from a writer's perspective is that nuclear accidents and nuclear detonations (actual or potential) are particularly susceptible to "correct" facts being blurted out with the intent to shock. Nuclear reactions (weapons-related or power-related) are unfamiliar and counter-intuitive to most if not all humans (even nuclear engineers, physicists and chemists, etc.).
But the chemical reactions involved in large-scale rocketry, like that used in ICBMs and in the Titan II program specifically, are just as unfamiliar...therefore, just as prone to correct facts being delivered with the intent to shock.
I felt like the author indulged in a lot of that "shock treatment," resulting in a somewhat uneven tone. I thought he never really stopped "gee-whizzing" about how wacky the technology is long enough to get around to a cogent policy analysis or even a sense of what policies were being changed (or not).
There are some valuable lessons in here, for which I am grateful, but with its uneven tone and unclear goals, this book was a slog to get through....more
I simply can't praise this book enough. It is the most important book I have read on World War II, Stalin, Hitler and the Holocaust in the last 10 orI simply can't praise this book enough. It is the most important book I have read on World War II, Stalin, Hitler and the Holocaust in the last 10 or 15 years. Snyder indulges in meticulous, almost obsessive numerological scholarship, and yet it never gets bogged down by its details. Bloodlands is brutal to read, but then, that's the price for history....more
This thing is huge. Seriously. I feel like I really accomplished something finishing it. That said, I enjoyed it and found it a fascinating and extensThis thing is huge. Seriously. I feel like I really accomplished something finishing it. That said, I enjoyed it and found it a fascinating and extensive history of the events preceding the six-day war. It is notably pro-Israel but does not seem jingoistically or blatantly so. But the story is clearly told almost exclusively from Israeli sources, which unquestionably gives it a certain bias. Many of the sources are letters home (to the U.S. or to Israel) from Israelis, either civilians in Israel or soldiers in the field. As a result, there is a significantly sentimental feel to the text, which is good or bad depending on what you're looking for. This book can get emotionally overwrought at times when it's discussing the experience of individual Israelis. But its other strength is a pretty comprehensive coverage of the Israeli and Israeli-US political scene. If you read the political sequences with an ear for humor (intentional or unintentional) then you'll get more out of it. For non-Israelis, this book would benefit hugely from already knowing a fair amount about Israeli politics, since the names and personalities involved can get pretty thick in the lead-up to war.
Overall, I found it hugely enjoyable as well as, given the current situation in Israel/Palestine, deeply heartbreaking....more
This is a reasonably well-written book about submariners in World War II. It suffered from the same malady as many popular World War II histories -- lThis is a reasonably well-written book about submariners in World War II. It suffered from the same malady as many popular World War II histories -- lack of historical analysis. It's not so much that I begrudge the author for not providing a historian's eye, but it makes for less of a vivid story. There were far too many discursions into letters home for my tastes. As a straightforward rendition of World War II history, though, it does what I like the most and focuses on individual sailors' experiences. For what it's worth, I read it mostly for the science/technology elements key to this particular raid. That coverage isn't exactly magnificent, but it's information that as far as I can tell would have been relatively hard to find elsewhere outside of industry or military publications. It's worth a read for anyone interested in submariner experiences in World War II, or in the pre-nuke technology of subs. I wouldn't say it's a standout, but it's a solid entry in the genre....more
This book is a reasonable read for those very interested in considering some of the issues covered in great detail, but it's curiously short on detailThis book is a reasonable read for those very interested in considering some of the issues covered in great detail, but it's curiously short on detail itself. Worse, it's dry as hell. I didn't think it was all that insightful, or contained all that much detail of interdiction efforts from a professional perspective. Though there is some worthwhile material in here, it is a book that felt very much to me like it was putting on airs. Levi seems to think he's writing the Gospels, and it shows. His recommendations are abstract, undetailed, and pretentiously simplistic. This problem could have been solved, and the book rendered readable, with a lot more case studies. As it is, I would not recommend this to anyone except those very interested in nuclear materials interdiction policy, and I wouldn't put it anywhere near the top of the list for them....more
Disappointing in that it is long on salty details but short on insight. Though I enjoyed many of the stories, they didn't feel connected. Mr. TillmanDisappointing in that it is long on salty details but short on insight. Though I enjoyed many of the stories, they didn't feel connected. Mr. Tillman has done an admirable job of logging events and does return to a certain number of themes important in understanding the air war. But I don't feel like his tactical or strategic analysis ever rises above a pretty superficial level. I appreciated the individual experiences of airmen a lot, however, and for that reason the book is important reading for anyone interested in World War II oral history....more
I was prepared to dislike this somewhat enormous 2004 book on the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, mostly because many other writers of books in thisI was prepared to dislike this somewhat enormous 2004 book on the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, mostly because many other writers of books in this general topic area CAN'T SHUT UP ABOUT HOW FRIGGIN' GREAT IT IS. It is so often referenced in other books about the developments related to 9/11, Al Qaeda and military involvment in Iraq and Afghanistan that it's practically ubiquitous, and every time someone mentions it they have to mention it's oh-so-great. I was prepared to despise it, because I'm that way. Oh well. I was hugely disappointed by the fact that I have to stand somewhat in awe of it; it really is an impressive document. It's not one of those "compulsively readable" histories like Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men, Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah, or Matthew Brzezinski's Red Moon Rising -- or even the same author's The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in an American Century, but it's completely packed with lots of information about obscure Afghan and American turns of fate that must have been kind of a bitch to get. It's meticulously referenced, and the afterword details all the ways the author feels he screwed up -- categorizing the corrections to the second edition, basically. Those are fascinating because they illuminate the way in which motivation in political history is difficult to gauge and may change from generation to generation or even year to year -- in particular, in this case, with the release of the 9/11 Commission's final report. In at least one case, for instance, discussion of using drone strikes was misplaced in the original text by a YEAR, because of a misrepresentation or mis-remembrance on Clinton's part, which was later corrected by the Commission. To his credit, Coll corrected it and called it out in the afterword. The overall events are (in broad strokes) nothing I didn't already know, but the specific machinations were fascinating and in far greater detail than I have seen represented elsewhere.
This is a great book, by a liberal from a military family. Throughout, Maddow treats the military with the respect it is due, but calls out numerous pThis is a great book, by a liberal from a military family. Throughout, Maddow treats the military with the respect it is due, but calls out numerous politicians and power-players at the top (including many military commanders) who have misused military power and managed it badly -- with the result that American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines get the short end of the stick, and no appreciable societal benefit of the post-WWII style is provided. A book about a sad and infuriating phenomenon engendered by a bureaucracy of cynical political opportunists who don't give a damn about fighting men and women.
I gave it four stars instead of five because I feel she glossed over the GWB years slightly....probably wanting to avoid opening up that can of worms, since she's pretty much known for being their arch enemy.
My guess is that she felt her point had been made about those years and their misuse of military power. But it troubled me to not hit hard on these years, given the grotesque misappropriation of military resources, with great cost in American lives -- and the fact that, as far as I can tell, the underlying motive that caused all the privatization that so doomed the nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq appears to have been a hatred of the American system on the part of Cheney and Rumsfeld -- that is to say, a Friedman-influenced desire to "drown government in a bathtub." As in, the FEDERAL government. As in, THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT. In any other country, that sentiment would be regarded as treason -- what other definition for "treason" does one need than the actual destruction of the American system? -- but in this country, its true believers were given free reign to form a government that got to send a bunch of Americans off to die for no earthly reason than to further their profit motives, and with no ultimate long-term geopolitical effect, I suspect, other than to essentially hand over influence in the Levant, Iraq, North Africa and possibly the Gulf to such far-more-enlightened motherfuckers as Shiite Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, radical Sunni fundamentalists, and (in business terms) China. "What's a Sunni? What's a Shiite?" Cheney has been said to have asked, probably sarcastically. Whether that's true or not, I think Maddow missed low-hanging fruit by not pointing out how fantastically ineffective the geopolitics of the GWB administration has been in furthering American dominance.
Whether or not Maddow or I are in favor of American dominance, the Bush administration bungled that move so badly that it achieved just the opposite. I believe that makes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the most disastrous American military operations of all time, by a huge margin.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm an internationalist (though not a globalist) and a Democrat, albeit a far more liberal one than most other Democrats. I'm not a huge fan of unbridled American hegemony. I'm also a policy hawk -- I think an extremely strong American military, used properly, is the best bet the world has to see the influence of democracy, small d, increase over the next 100 years.
Unfortunately, under (to some extent) Clinton and (far more obviously) under Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, American hegemony was not furthered, but fumbled -- in a way that will result in far more destructive forces taking far more power. This isn't the wretched of the earth taking their rightful power. These are corrupt and dangerous fascists getting free reign to fuck up the developing world far more than the Western powers have managed to fuck it up already -- which is saying something.
By squandering American prestige, influence, and money, by managing the wars so badly that they were inevitably lost in the long run, by telling the rest of the world to go to hell, and showing widespread incompetence, the Bush administration managed to divvy that growing hegemony up between to Russia, China, India, to some extent Europe, and far less stable countries like Pakistan and Iran.
"Unmooring" indeed. Maddow should have addressed those events in this book more than she did.
For what it's worth, however, even if they're not extensive enough for my taste, her arguments that the Bush-era military privatization has been a complete disaster are spot-on. The long-term geopolitical strategic situation in the Gulf and Central and Southern Asia is not really what Maddow was addressing, so, hey, it's cool.
On every other level, I found this a great book. Maddow has a particular political bent; I'm not about to pretend she doesn't. It tends to be pretty close to my own political bent, as well. However, the difference between Maddow and conservative writers is that she backs her claims up with specific facts. I feel that she's done that here, quite effectively. And any objective reading of this book should leave anyone who loves America (or people in general) horrified at just how royally the U.S. military has been left at the mercy of business interest and of politicians who are ill-equipped to dictate political or military affairs....more
An at-times horrifying read, but in the end a truly inspiring biography and a great portrayal of the awful ways war affects children and young adults.An at-times horrifying read, but in the end a truly inspiring biography and a great portrayal of the awful ways war affects children and young adults.
"War Child" is not for someone inclined to freak out at explicit descriptions of violence and misery, or famine-level poverty, hatred (at times racial hatred) and frustration. Jal has lived through a lot and here he does not shy away from describing any of it, from the blood and guts to the racial tension and hatred.
Jal was a child soldier with the SPLA (antigovernment rebels, at the time predominantly Christian/Animist) in Sudan and witnessed the rape and murder of members of his family. After the war despite the kindness of several strangers, he had a ROUGH time getting "rehabilitated," finding his behavior was affected in all sorts of ways by his past; he had a tendency toward violence, an automatic impulse to steal when he could, an inability to concentrate. I imagine that from the perspective of anyone who's ever worked with the children of trauma or immigrant populations, this book would be invaluable. It's also just an amazingly human story. The author's style is stilted and clearly colloquial at times, which means you'll be learning many terms from the languages of Sudan (often terms that are cobbled together from several languages, or have an unclear meaning). That, and the book's snapshot of village life in Sudan even outside of the context of war, add up to a book that is absolutely not to be missed.
Also, the last fifth or so of the book has a lot to do with Jal's music career; indie artists are advised to check it out. Because he could not get play from Nairobi radio stations, against all odds Jal and his friends got a grant and released his album and one of his friends', self-produced, self-promoted, basically no help from any music industry sources until Peter Gabriel gave him a vote of confidence at Africa Calling. At one point Jal describes giving well-attended concerts in London and then sleeping on park benches. Good to know it's not just the U.S. where the corporate music promoters are brain-dead sleazebags who wouldn't know good music if it bit them on the ass.
Jal is a Christian (raised a Christian, became an atheist during the war, then was "saved") and I am most emphatically not (though I was raised Roman Catholic). Jal's faith is critical to his rescue from despair, but he doesn't especially preach. Descriptions of his music necessarily carry some expression of Christian joy, particularly his early work which was more explicitly Christian -- before he started writing about his war experiences. If you can't handle that, you probably won't like the last part of the book. I think one of the strongest messages Jal presents is how he learned to not be prejudiced against Muslims, after a lifetime of hating them with all his heart (the war in Sudan was for all intents and purposes a war against Islamic and Christian/Animist populations, though its roots go deep into OIL). So avoiding his faith would have been thoroughly disingenuous, and I'm glad he's been honest about it here. It also means that if you ARE Christian, there will be a lot for you to like about the last part of the book, which ends on a SERIOUS up note and an inspiring sense of hope despite the fact that there is some HARROWING reading preceding it.
This is a great book. It gets four stars instead of five only because the narrative lags a bit during the time of the author's "rehabilitation." ThisThis is a great book. It gets four stars instead of five only because the narrative lags a bit during the time of the author's "rehabilitation." This process is very interesting but somewhat opaque from the author's perspective. I think that observation is an important part of the puzzle in rehabilitating child soldiers and other victims of trauma, but it also makes for a less interesting book. Nonetheless, a great memoir about a tragic and horrific series of events, told with an engaging voice. I highly recommend reading this alongside Blood Diamond by Greg Campbell.
Also...no, I didn't really read the Vietnamese edition. My Vietnamese is as rusty as my Serbo-Croatian. I don't know why that's the version that Good Reads insists on pulling up....more