War Without End

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As I mentioned in a post this summer, a decade ago, New York Times reporter Dexter Filkens wrote, “The Forever War.” The book was a best-seller.

Filkens explained why we were mired in the Mideast. A few years later, President Obama announced America’s “Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.”

Why we are still fighting is a question that continues to bedevil all of us. That’s why I was drawn to a book review of C.J. Chivers, “The Fighters.” Here’s how Robert Kaplan began his review:

  1. J. Chivers, a senior writer for The New York Times and a former Marine infantry officer, begins his new book with a description of an American weapon, equipped with GPS sensors and a guidance system, hitting “precisely the wrong place” and killing and mutilating a family of women and children on the Afghan steppe as a consequence. But Chivers’s narrative has only begun to slam you in the gut; later on, the author captures the psychological effect the errant bomb has on the Marines at the scene. Indeed, because of the way the stories and characters spool into one another with mathematical intensity, and the second-by-second in-your-face descriptions of prolonged battles from a sergeant’s eye view, “The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq” could be the most powerful indictment yet of America’s recent Middle East wars.

Chivers is interested in the chemistry between platoons and companies, not that between battalions and brigades: In other words, this is a book about the lower ranks who experience the thing itself, the gut-wrenching violence and confusion of war — history from the ground up, not from the top down, precisely what Washington elites miss. “The Fighters” constitutes an illusion-free zone, where the concrete triumphs over the abstract, where the best and most indelible of those profiled, from that vast working-class heart of the country, begin their military service in a blaze of patriotism following 9/11, and end up confused, cynical, betrayed and often disfigured or dead.

Want more? You can read the full review here

Making Waves

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Much ink has been spilled about how America and the West won the Cold War. But little has been said about how that war was won on the oceans – until now.

Arthur Herman’s review of former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman’s new book, “Oceans Ventured: Winning the Cold War at Sea. Here is how he begins:

Two major shifts in military strategy allowed the United States to win the Cold War with the Soviet Union. One was the Strategic Defense Initiative launched by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. It convinced Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that the U.S.S.R. couldn’t compete in a high-tech weapons race without major economic and political changes—changes that ultimately backfired and led to the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The other shift, less heralded, was Sea Plan 2000, a bold new idea for reviving American sea power in the face of a Soviet bid for naval supremacy. Reagan would be the president to put the plan in motion, and his secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, would be the man to implement it.

As Mr. Lehman tells us in “Oceans Ventured,” the strategy was first conceived in Newport, R.I., roughly three years before Reagan’s election—at a June 1977 dinner with Mr. Lehman, Graham Claytor (the Navy secretary), James Woolsey (counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee) and the military-affairs author Bing West. Mr. West served as amanuensis, recording the gist of the plan on a napkin. Over time, it grew into a full-blown proposal and led, not long after, to the rebirth of the U.S. Navy’s global dominance, often summed up as “the 600-ship Navy.”

In fact, as Navy secretary Mr. Lehman never quite made it to 600 ships—594 was as far as he got. The ships that the Navy did build, however, included a new generation of warships like Aegis cruisers and destroyers with advanced antimissile systems, and Ohio-class nuclear submarines of the sort that the novelist Tom Clancy would make famous in “The Hunt for Red October” (1984). There was as well an increase in the number of Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

Even more important than the ships was a change in how the Navy planned to use them. Mr. Lehman’s “Command of the Seas” (1988) detailed the arduous process of expanding the Navy despite congressional opposition and a cumbersome Pentagon acquisition system. “Oceans Ventured” describes the men and events that enabled the Navy to snatch the strategic initiative from a Soviet navy determined to challenge the U.S. around the globe.

Want more? You can read it here

War Stories

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One of the most well-credentialed military writers of our generation is Thomas Ricks. Why? He is a former war correspondent and author of six military-themed books.

That’s why I gravitate to his quarterly column in the New York Times Book Review, “War Stories.”

Ricks serves up military books that are rich resources for all of us – from casual reader, the military buff, to serious historian. Here’s how he begins his latest offering:

One of the most interesting books on military affairs that I have read in some time is ARMY OF NONE: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War (Norton, $27.95). Its author, Paul Scharre, a former Army Ranger and Pentagon official who is now an analyst at the Center for a New American Security (a think tank with which I was affiliated several years ago), provides a thoughtful overview of the mind-boggling issues associated with autonomous weapons — or, as some people call them, “killer robots.”

Unlike many authors examining the advent of autonomous weapons, Scharre doesn’t get bogged down in the question of whether they will be built. They already are here, he argues, citing the example of the Stuxnet computer bug as just such an armament. It was software inserted, almost certainly by American and Israeli intelligence agencies, into Iranian computers running that country’s nuclear enrichment program. Because the Iranian computers were “air-gapped” — that is, not connected to the global internet — once the bug was inside the Iranian system, delivered through porn-laden thumb drives, it was on its own. And it worked impressively, physically destroying a key part of the nuclear program.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Summer Reads

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Full disclosure, I like to line up my summer reading early. That’s why I latched on to the latest summer reading recommendations from the New York Times. Here’s how it begins:

Here come the page-turners of summer 2018. They’re about … maritime disaster? America’s opioid crisis? Toxic social media? The legacy of the Confederacy? How about a man who falls in love with a bear and is completely serious about it? No one said this was going to be pretty, but there are some very fine reads out there this year. There’s also some of the season’s usual fun, like the glitter of Broadway and fiction that wallows in the richly dramatic lives of the rich.

Want more? You can read the full article here

A Writer’s Writer

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Tributes are still pouring in for one of the greatest writers of our – and maybe any – generation. Tom Wolfe did it all and he did it with wit and verve.

William F. Buckley perhaps said it best, He is probably the most skillful writer in America – I mean by that he can do more things with words than anyone else.

There are far too many eloquent tributes to capture in one blog post, so I’ll focus on just one, that by Ben Yagoda. Perhaps I picked this one because I spent most of my adult life as an aviator”:

One of the best passages in Tom Wolfe’s best book, “The Right Stuff” (1979), starts out:

“Anyone who travels very much on airlines in the United States soon gets to know the voice of the airline pilot . . . coming over the intercom . . . with a particular drawl, a particular folksiness, a particular down-home calmness that is so exaggerated it begins to parody itself (nevertheless!—it’s reassuring) . . . the voice that tells you, as the airliner is caught in thunderheads and goes bolting up and down a thousand feet at a single gulp, to check your seat belts because ‘it might get a little choppy’ . . . the voice that tells you [ . . . ]: ‘Now, folks, uh . . . this is the captain . . . ummmm . . . We’ve got a little ol’ red light up here on the control panel that’s tryin’ to tell us that the landin’ gears’re not . . . uh . . . lockin’ into position when we lower ’em . . . Now . . . I don’t believe that little ol’ red light knows what it’s talkin’ about—I believe it’s that little ol’ red light that iddn’ workin’ right’ . . . faint chuckle, long pause, as if to say, I’m not even sure all this is really worth going into—still, it may amuse you . . .”

The rendition of the “drawlin’ and chucklin’ and driftin’ and lollygaggin’ ”—the style of speech even pilots from Massachusetts or Oregon universally affect, Wolfe says—goes on for another few hundred words, too long to quote here; I commend it to your attention. The voice, Wolfe ultimately tells us, originated from someone who picked it up in the mountains of West Virginia. Starting in the late 1940s, it drifted “into all phases of American aviation.” “It was the drawl,” he writes, “of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff: Chuck Yeager.”

You can read his full piece here:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-appreciation-tom-wolfe-1526678237?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1

Want more? You can read a comprehensive New York Times piece here.

We Have An App

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Few writers have as much of a knack for taking difficult subjects – especially technology – and making them understandable for the lay person. Tom Friedman is one of those people.

I read his book, “Thank You for Being Late” some time ago, and found it interesting and enlightening. However, I never really felt I was able to capture succinctly just what the book was about. Then I came across an old review of the book in the Wall Street Journal. Here’s how it began:

Change is nothing new. Nobel laureate Bob Dylan sang that the times they were a-changin’ back in 1964. What has changed is the pace of change: “The three largest forces on the planet—technology, globalization, and climate change—are all accelerating at once,” notes New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman in “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.” Gradual change allows for adaptation; one generation figures out trains, another airplanes. Now, in a world where taxi-cab regulators will figure out Uber just in time for self-driving cars to render such services obsolete, “so many aspects of our societies, workplaces, and geopolitics are being reshaped and need to be reimagined.” All of it creates a sense of discomfort and provokes backlash—witness Brexit and the American presidential election. Yet there is cause for optimism, Mr. Friedman believes. Humans are crafty creatures.

In this book, Mr. Friedman tries to press pause. The title comes from the author’s exclamation to a tardy breakfast companion: The unexpected downtime had given him an opportunity to reflect. If we all take such time to think, he claims, we can figure out how to “dance in a hurricane.” It’s a comforting idea, though one wonders why, if Mr. Friedman was so happy for this pre-breakfast downtime, he was busily scheduling daily breakfast meetings in the first place. Likewise, this ambitious book, while compelling in places, skips about a lot. His attempt to cover much of the history of modern technology, for instance, quickly descends into gee-whiz moments and ubiquitous exclamation points. Big-belly garbage cans have sensors that wirelessly announce when they need to be emptied, and so Mr. Friedman marvels that “yes, even the garbageman is a tech worker now. . . . That garbage can could take an SAT exam!”

Want to read more

Women Writers

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If there is one field where I believe the playing field between women and men is level, it’s the profession of writing. Both sexes have hit it out of the park with their stories and books.

I wondered about this, that is, until I read a review of Michelle Dean’s new book: “Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion.” Here’s how the review begins:

One must have a mind of winter,” Wallace Stevens writes in his poem “The Snow Man.” It’s the cold eye that beholds, without sentimentality or fear, “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” In “Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion,” the journalist Michelle Dean has rounded up 10 minds of winter, all of them female, all of them prominent writers whose criticism, long-form reporting, fiction and satire have shaped thinking on world events and cultural dramas: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm. Dean gathered these women together, she says in her preface, “under the sign of a compliment that every one of them received in their lives: They were called sharp.”

It is, of course, a compliment with an edge. Call a man “sharp” and he’s stylish, incisive, smart. Apply it to a woman, Dean writes, and there’s a “sense of terror underlying it. Sharpness, after all, cuts.” A virtue of her book is that it shows how each woman, by wielding a pen as if it were a scalpel or a scimitar, confounded the gender norm of niceness and placed her analytical prowess front and center. Among 20th-century intellectuals, “men might have outnumbered women, demographically,” Dean writes, but “in the arguably more crucial matter of producing work worth remembering, the work that defined the terms of their scene, the women were right up to par — and often beyond it.” I agree with her.

Want more? You can read the full review here

A Review of The Coronado Conspiracy from Rotor Magazine

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Learn more about The Coronado Conspiracy

We Are Vulnerable!

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Full disclosure, Dick Couch has been a friend and mentor for decades. Additionally, we have co-authored three New York Times best-sellers: Act of Valor, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes, and Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire. Dick is enormously talented – even gifted – but now we should add “prescient” to his list of attributes. Here’s why.

Shortly after the attacks on America of September 11, 2001, Dick, in cooperation with agent John Boswell, began work on a book: “The U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Survival Manual.” No one knew if there would be more attacks on the United States, but if there were, Dick wanted Americans to be ready.

Thankfully, there were no more major attacks on the United States in the years following 911, but Dick knew there could be in the future. Now, in today’s political climate, “The U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Survival Manual” is flying off shelves and onto e-book readers. Why? Because Americans are fearful – and they have a right to be.

This book is a great way to protect yourself and your family. Here is a link

Turning Assignments into Stories

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Recently, a U.S. Navy SEAL turned his active duty experiences into a work of fiction entitled “Bring Out the Dog: Stories.” Author Will Mackin’s book will likely delight. Here is how John William’s New York Times review begins:

“I felt proud that I’d fought, or something like proud, but also glad it was over.” That’s the narrator of one story in Will Mackin’s debut collection, “Bring Out the Dog.” During his time in the United States Navy, Mr. Mackin was deployed with SEAL teams on assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. When he came home, he relied on notes he kept during his time in combat to write these stories, three of which have appeared in The New Yorker. Mr. Mackin talks about the experiences that inspired the book, why he chose to write fiction, a Pink Floyd lyric that has influenced his life and more.

You can read the full review here