We have seemed to forget the Clauswitzian truth that war is politics by other means. The purpose of war is to be able to dictate the terms of peace. IWe have seemed to forget the Clauswitzian truth that war is politics by other means. The purpose of war is to be able to dictate the terms of peace. If you are not fighting to win - and thus dictate the peace - then you are not fighting for anything more than assorted terms of a mutually agreeable contract, and that is meaningless. When politics fails in its conventional applications, and vital interests are threatened by others, then the extension of politics by war is necessary and worthwhile to reset the conditions so those vital interests can flourish. That requires several things - first an acceptance of the primacy of our vital interests, second a strategy designed to win the war so that we can define and control the conditions affecting vital interests. It is not nation building, or graduated responses to modify others behavior, or winning hearts and minds. It is bringing to bear the resources necessary to win - efficiently and as quickly as reasonably possible. There is no other reason that justifies the costs in blood and treasure required by war. We don't do that these days - have not done that since World War II.
Bing West understands this perfectly. Marine Corps Battalion 3/5 suffered the highest number of casualties of any unit in Afghanistan. Third Platoon, Kilo Company, was deployed to Sangin and fought non-stop, day after day, for seven months. This is West's account of the combat experiences and the individual Marines over that seven months, juxtaposed against the failures of leadership, strategic thought and national objectives that made it all meaningless in the larger sense of Clauswitzian principles. It is a riveting narrative, compelling as the reader comes to know the Marines intimately as West relates their seven months of unrelenting combat. There is a haunting aspect to the narrative as you know - and as happens - some of them do not survive, many of them do not escape uninjured. Nevertheless - these young Marines fought to win. They sought out the enemy and killed them at every opportunity. They practiced war as it must be practiced - with the single goal of defeating the enemy and dictating the terms of what follows.
West points out throughout the book that the command structure above these combat Marines was not focused on winning. It was focused on minds and hearts - on community relations - on nuanced uses of force and nation building - on proportion and societal modifications. The high command, civilian and military, was implementing a theory of benevolent war. Combat troops labored under a standing order to ensure Positive Identification (PID - positive ID of a clear, hostile target) before returning fire... but most firefights were across fields, from tree-line to tree-line, from inside compounds...from somewhere by someone in the bush dressed like a civilian at a distance. How do you convince these young warriors to not shoot back until they see someone specifically shooting at them? General McChrystal issued a specific order - the Tactical Directive - that read "The ground commander will not employ indirect weapons against a compound that may be occupied by civilians, unless the commander is in a life-threatening position and cannot withdraw."
And in every battalion operations center, there was a lawyer on duty to monitor all calls for artillery or air support and weigh whether the conditions satisfied the PID requirements and the Tactical Directive. A commander, platoon leader or squad leader who was wrong - in the lawyer's view - would be court martialed or relieved of command. He later wrote that he wanted to take away any incentives that might drive commanders and their men to see killing insurgents as the primary goal. The mind reels.
When the USMC took over combat operations in Helmand Province, they did so with the assurance they would operate relatively independently. Marine air and Marine artillery were on call, and the limitations of PID and the Tactical Directive were loosely applied by the Marines than was their intent. Third Platoon used it all - they fought relentlessly, with the ferocity and determination of young warriors intent upon defeating the enemy. West explains in digressions throughout his narrative how and why these fierce and courageous young American warriors were poorly served by the confusion and strategic timidity of the authorities running the war. Clauswitz was right - and any war that is not fought to dictate the terms of the peace to follow is a wasted war. These Marines fought it as it should have been fought - but they were alone in that.
Gray is the modern day Clauswitz, to whom he pays great homage. This is a short book, consisting of 40 maxims on war, peace and strategy defined and dGray is the modern day Clauswitz, to whom he pays great homage. This is a short book, consisting of 40 maxims on war, peace and strategy defined and described by Gray, each with a short essay explaining the immutable significance and application of the maxim with historical examples and compelling reasoning. As you read it, and contemplate events, policies and results around the world, you will have many "aha!" moments. Gray's perceptive, incisive and historically substantiated arguments and dicta gives the reader insights into what is happening, why and why it is or is not working. This book should be a constant reference among our governing leadership and policy-makers... sadly it clearly is not. Hopefully reading this short collection of maxims will induce you to seek out Gray's more expansive and substantive books - I would strongly recommend "Another Bloody Century" as the starting choice... why the next hundred years is not going to be any different the last hundred, or the centuries before that. Fascinating - an epiphany of erudition, history and strategic scholarship by one of the best....more
This book is more than a narrative, more than a significant addition to the body of lore documenting the war in Afghanistan and the American militaryThis book is more than a narrative, more than a significant addition to the body of lore documenting the war in Afghanistan and the American military experience in the wars of the early 21st Century. Tapper has created an experience – a compelling and spellbinding immersion into the small, intimate and endlessly dangerous little world that was Combat Outpost Keating in a remote, isolated and virtually unreachable mountainous area of Afghanistan. He starts with creation of what became COP Keating – and its neighboring Outposts and Observation Posts – the intended gains to be obtained by establishing the outpost in 2006, and the ensuing mission degradation and creep that inescapably followed as the indefensible post was manned (under-manned, as was the entire effort in Afghanistan) and defended over the following years. In Tapper’s words, “It was madness.”… to establish that outpost in that location. But it was done and the madness kept it open for the next four years, but only by the great sacrifice and loss of the troops deployed there.
Tapper details the experiences of the sequence of Army nits that subsequently manned and defended COP Keating and its environs. More importantly, he personalizes the individual solders of those units – the men and women who lived and fought and strove to make the effort that was COP Keating mean something. Tapper personalizes these soldiers in an honest and nonjudgmental manner that allows the reader to know them – to see them struggle, aspire, interact, live and fight and, some of them, die. It is a moving and often emotionally affecting experience. These soldiers deserve notice – they deserve respect, honor and admiration for what they did in the circumstances and under the conditions in which they had to do it all. Tapper’s narrative is one of respect, and honor. The narrative is one of courage, skill at arms, indomitable bravery under fire, and heartbreaking injury and loss along the way. It is also a remarkable exposition of combat and combat operations at the level of the foot soldier – what it is like, what it requires, how it happens. You can see it, and feel it – and hear it – through Tapper’s superb battle histories as they constantly bubble up and enmesh the troops of COP Keating – and their superb skill and courage in the face of unrelenting hostility and Afghani betrayal.
Tapper singularly recognizes and thus honors these incredible Americans throughout his historical narrative by naming them. At every point in the story that somebody outside the narrative is killed or dies, Tapper tells us who it was. Casualties that are tangentially mentioned in passing as Tapper correlates COP Keating history to events elsewhere in Afghanistan are identified, in footnotes if not in the main text. It is a refutation of the anonymity that these troops live, fight and die in – an anonymity imposed on them by the disgraceful lack of attention and deplorable ignorance rampant in our press and politicians and among our populace as a whole.
The costs of the American military efforts in Afghanistan are disturbingly clear, and frankly more troubling as a result. There is no way to read this book and not come away with an overwhelming admiration and affection for the men and women fighting it, an equally overwhelming sense of loss and waste for the casualties, and a hugely troubling sense that we have overstayed our time in Afghanistan and whatever we think we can gain there is simply not worth the price we are paying. If it were, we would be doing it differently – and better – than we are…
Just a great book! Start to finish – as much an emotional experience as a thought-provoking intellectual one - an education in the reality of war and the people who fight it....more
This is a first-person account, as related by a young Marine using the language of young Marines from the perspective of young Marines… it is not greaThis is a first-person account, as related by a young Marine using the language of young Marines from the perspective of young Marines… it is not great literature or great writing. It is a compelling and engrossing story of a young man’s development into a combat Marine, and its culmination in the day-long battle in Afghanistan resulting in his award of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Meyer’s heroism, courage and determination under fire (he returned into the battle five times, fighting his way in and out to rescue wounded and retrieve dead) are simply astounding. The failures of command and the abysmal rules of engagement that prevented available support from being provided to Meyer and his comrades in the battle are inexplicable, inexcusable and ultimately responsible for the high casualty rate among US and Afghan troops, and the deaths of Meyer’s four fellow Marines. War cannot be fought from desks and with application of politically correct sympathies that simply ignore very real concerns of life and death among ones own troops and allies. It is beyond comprehension - beyond forgiveness. That said, this is Dakota Meyer’s story - and one can only reflect upon and repeat the sentiments embodied in the great Korean War movie “The Bridges at Toko-Ri”: “Where do we find such men?”
So long as we continue to find them among us, the Republic is and will be safe....more
This is an excellent and enjoyably readable account of the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in 1982. It is predominantly a British perspectThis is an excellent and enjoyably readable account of the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in 1982. It is predominantly a British perspective, but the authors provide an admirable - albeit relatively limited - account of events from the Argentine perspective along the way. Although sympathetic to the British side of the conflict, they do not shirk from criticizing British mistakes and errors of decision making any more than they do regarding Argentine errors and misjudgments. This was a thoroughly unnecessary and avoidable conflict that was made necessary and unavoidable by the series of political, diplomatic and strategic actions and blunders over the 17-plus years preceding actual conflict. To cite but one example on each side, the British assumed that Argentina would move through three identifiable stages of increasing confrontation as a precursor to any actual invasion - then believed that assumption was real when it was not. When the Argentines actually invaded without having engaged in ANY of the assumed prerequisite stages, the British were unprepared - militarily, diplomatically and politically. On the other hand, the Argentines convinced themselves that Britain would not react with force at all, and Britain supported that misapprehension with its own political and diplomatic missteps. There were
The authors lay it out bluntly even as they narrate with admiration the daunting military challenges that the British faced and overcame - more or less successfully. And those challenges were severe - so severe that with more reflection Britain might not have even tried to retake the Falklands. She had no aircraft carriers - no air search radar - ineffective and unreliable communications - ineffective fleet air defense - insufficient air lift. It is a remarkable story of overcoming adversity and prevailing over materiel and capability limitations, horrendous weather conditions, and unforeseen weapon system deficiencies - although the inexplicable Argentine reluctance to take advantage of its own strengths and resources contributed mightily. It could have been a far more 'iffy' proposition for the British than it was had the Argentine Army and Navy shown half as much courage, determination and fighting spirit as did the Argentine air force.
This is yet another lesson in the inefficiencies, ignorance and incompetence of political and diplomatic functions that over time accumulate effects that ultimately ordain violent events that need not have happened. That is a lesson that never seems to take permanent hold. In an event, this is a superb starting point for anybody interested in the Falklands War and how it precipitated....more
This is a comprehensive, and comprehensively detailed, chronicle of events in Iraq from the latter years of the Bush administration into the Obama admThis is a comprehensive, and comprehensively detailed, chronicle of events in Iraq from the latter years of the Bush administration into the Obama administration. It is comprehensive and detailed to the point of tedium. My interest tended to wander. I think this is an important collection of data, but you have got to really be invested in that period to absorb and follow it all. I am not - my interest fluctuates with time and events. That makes this a long and occasionally arduous reading experience. There is less evaluation, analysis and correlation of events, decisions, cultures, revelations, etc. It is less a history in the sense I look for and more a detailed (am I repeating myself) chronology of memos, orders, personnel moves, meetings, interspersed with events and related developments. The authors had access to a vast amount of material - classified and much of it otherwise unreleased. But it is an overwhelming, and tedious (repeating myself yet again) reading experience.
Insider baseball, I suppose -- not for everybody. ...more
This reads more like a stream of consciousness journal of experiences, interactions, observations during the author's several years in Iraq and, to aThis reads more like a stream of consciousness journal of experiences, interactions, observations during the author's several years in Iraq and, to a lesser degree, Aghanistan. He lives among the inhabitants and writes nicely of them and their lives. His account moves, chapter by chapter, from disturbing images and acts of depraved brutality to moments of routine humanity colored by the culture and ethos of Iraq to acts of heroism and sacrifice to mundane moments of unremarkable routine. Not much connects them except the ever present war, the inescapable propensity for violence due to the omnipresent fundamentalist Islamists and the author's presence. His courage is remarkable. His determination to see and hear and write what he sees and hears is seemingly inexhaustible. His account of his life and times in Iraq is more of a journalistic diary. There is little continuity - little perspective beyond his own perceptions and experiences - yet much to be learned about the Iraqi culture and the ruthless, merciless and rampant violence of the jihadis and the Iraqi insurgents, and the inescapable clash of cultures, if not civilizations - American presence versus Iraqi nationalism. He clearly looks upon the Iraqis in general with fondness - understandably so from his experiences. Yet when writing of the Americans and their actions/interactions in Iraq, he often evidences an air of disapproval that diminishes the otherwise objective narrative he provides. Given his apparent sympathies (and that is not a criticism) it is perhaps unavoidable in his writing....more