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Sharon Weinberger: The Imagineers of War (Excerpt)

Posted: 12:25 am ET

 

We mentioned Sharon Wienberger’s book a couple days ago in 16 USG Employees in “Sonic Attack” and More on The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons.  For readers who may be interested, below is an excerpt courtesy of Kindle Preview:

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Wars are not won by military genius or decisive battles

by Cathal J Nolan
(This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons).

War is the most complex, physically and morally demanding enterprise we undertake. No great art or music, no cathedral or temple or mosque, no intercontinental transport net or particle collider or space programme, no research for a cure for a mass-killing disease receives a fraction of the resources and effort we devote to making war. Or to recovery from war and preparations for future wars invested over years, even decades, of tentative peace. War is thus far more than a strung-together tale of key battles. Yet, traditional military history presented battles as fulcrum moments where empires rose or fell in a day, and most people still think that wars are won that way, in an hour or an afternoon of blood and bone. Or perhaps two or three. We must understand the deeper game, not look only to the scoring. That is hard to do because battles are so seductive.

War evokes our fascination with spectacle, and there is no greater stage or more dramatic players than on a battlefield. We are drawn to battles by a lust of the eye, thrilled by a blast from a brass horn as Roman legionaries advance in glinting armour or when a king’s wave releases mounted knights in a heavy cavalry charge. Grand battles are open theatre with a cast of many tens of thousands: samurai under signal kites, mahouts mounted on elephants, a Zulu impi rushing over lush grass toward a redcoat firing line. Battles open with armies dressed in red, blue or white, flags fluttering, fife and drums beating the advance. Or with the billowing canvas of a line of fighting sail, white pufferies erupting in broadside volleys. Or a wedge of tanks hard-charging over the Russian steppe. What comes next is harder to comprehend.

Regimental Combat Team 6, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment DOD Photo Taken By Cpl James Clark | 01.20.2012 (Diplopundit selected this photo for the article)

The idea of the ‘decisive battle’ as the hinge of war, and wars as the gates of history, speaks to our naive desire to view modern war in heroic terms. Popular histories are written still in a drums-and-trumpets style, with vivid depictions of combat divorced from harder logistics, daily suffering, and a critical look at the societies and cultures that produced mass armies and sent them off to fight in faraway fields for causes about which the average soldier knew nothing.

Visual media especially play on what the public wants to see: raw courage and red days, the thrill of vicarious violence and spectacle. This is the world of war as callow entertainment, of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) or Brad Pitt in Fury (2014). It’s not the world of real Nazis or real war.

Battles also entice generals and statesmen with the idea that a hard red day can be decisive, and allow us to avoid attrition, which we all despise as morally vulgar and without redemptive heroism. We fear to find only indecision and tragedy without uplift or morality in trench mud, or roll calls of dead accumulating over years of effort and endurance. Instead, we raise battles to summits of heroism and generals to levels of genius that history cannot support. Though some historians might try, celebrating even failed campaigns as glorious. Prussia is wrecked, yet Frederick is the greatest of Germans. France is beaten and an age is named for Louis XIV, another for Napoleon. Europe lies in ruin, but German generals displayed genius with Panzers.

Whether or not we agree that some wars were necessary and just, we should look straight at the grim reality that victory was most often achieved in the biggest and most important wars by attrition and mass slaughter – not by soldierly heroics or the genius of command. Winning at war is harder than that. Cannae, Tours, Leuthen, Austerlitz, Tannenberg, Kharkov – all recall sharp images in a word. Yet winning such lopsided battles did not ensure victory in war. Hannibal won at Cannae, Napoleon at Austerlitz, Hitler at Sedan and Kiev. All lost in the end, catastrophically.

There is heroism in battle but there are no geniuses in war. War is too complex for genius to control. To say otherwise is no more than armchair idolatry, divorced from real explanation of victory and defeat, both of which come from long-term preparation for war and waging war with deep national resources, bureaucracy and endurance. Only then can courage and sound generalship meet with chance in battle and prevail, joining weight of materiel to strength of will to endure terrible losses yet win long wars. Claims to genius distance our understanding from war’s immense complexity and contingency, which are its greater truths.

Modern wars are won by grinding, not by genius. Strategic depth and resolve is always more important than any commander. We saw such depth and resilience in Tsarist Russia in 1812, in France and Britain in the First World War, in the Soviet Union and the United States during the Second World War, but not in Carthage or overstretched Nazi Germany or overreaching Imperial Japan. The ability to absorb initial defeats and fight on surpassed any decision made or battle fought by Hannibal or Scipio, Lee or Grant, Manstein or Montgomery. Yes, even Napoleon was elevated as the model of battle genius by Clausewitz and in military theory ever since, despite his losing by attrition in Spain, and in the calamity of the Grand Armée’s 1812 campaign in Russia. Waterloo was not the moment of his decisive defeat, which came a year earlier. It was his anticlimax.

Losers of most major wars in modern history lost because they overestimated operational dexterity and failed to overcome the enemy’s strategic depth and capacity for endurance. Winners absorbed defeat after defeat yet kept fighting, overcoming initial surprise, terrible setbacks and the dash and daring of command ‘genius’. Celebration of genius generals encourages the delusion that modern wars will be short and won quickly, when they are most often long wars of attrition. Most people believe attrition is immoral. Yet it’s how most major wars are won, aggressors defeated, the world remade time and again. We might better accept attrition at the start, explain that to those we send to fight, and only choose to fight the wars worth that awful price. Instead, we grow restless with attrition and complain that it’s tragic and wasteful, even though it was how the Union Army defeated slavery in America, and Allied and Soviet armies defeated Nazism.

With humility and full moral awareness of its terrible costs, if we decide that a war is worth fighting, we should praise attrition more and battle less. There is as much room for courage and character in a war of attrition as in a battle. There was character aplenty and courage on all sides at Verdun and Iwo Jima, in the Hürtgen Forest, in Korea. Character counts in combat. Sacrifice by soldiers at Shiloh or the Marne or Kharkov or Juno Beach or the Ia Drang or Korengal Valley were not mean, small or morally useless acts. Victory or defeat by attrition, by high explosive and machine gun over time, does not annihilate all moral and human meaning.

The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost by Cathal Nolan is out now through Oxford University Press.Aeon counter – do not remove

Cathal J Nolan  teaches military history at Boston University. He is the author of The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost(2017).

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

 

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Ken Weisbrode’s The Atlanticists: An American Diplomacy Story as Cracks Appear in U.S.-Europe Alliance

Posted: 12:07 pm PT

 

Kenneth Weisbrode is a historian at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy. He was formerly a defense analyst at the Atlantic Council of the U.S. and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

His book, The Atlanticists is “the history of the American commitment to Europe in the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of the personalities who made it. Such commitment did not emerge serendipitously. It was carefully constructed and cemented by a network of diplomats and politicians that imagined, built, and sustained a new international system centered on the Atlantic. In their vision, America and Europe were essential parts of a single, cooperative community, not rivals or one another’s periodic savior. Mr. Weisbrode reveals–for the first time, warts and all–the insider’s story of the people who built this community.”

Given the current strain in the U.S.-European relationships, and the danger of the alliance coming apart, this is the book we’re currently reading. He writes:

Roosevelt was not the first president to serve as his own foreign minister but he took the practice to new lengths in sowing so much confusion, redundancy, rivalry and antipathy in the bureaucratic  ranks that the young foreign service was very nearly nipped in the bud. The New Dealers he promoted in Washington were willing coconspirators in the emasculation of what many of them considered to be a heavily Republican State Department. What they did not erode from negligence they wounded by frontal attack.

Oh. So what’s going on right now … ‘All this has happened before, and will happen again’, like the Cylons’ mantra. Time to re-watch Galactica!

But hey, did you know about that young diplomat who was recalled from an overseas post because the then secretary of state was reportedly infatuated with the diplomat’s wife?  That young diplomat was later given the task of remaking the State Department — not by the infatuated secretary of state — but by a successor named “sleepy Phil.” Pause here and imagine the nicknames they’re going to call you in the history books.

And get this, the first head of the EUR bureau was the son of a senator who apparently demanded it as a condition for supporting the legislation for the 1909 departmental reorganization.

This, this note though about the secretary of state: “treated as a clerk who receives orders which he has to obey at once and without question” is almost too funny to read now.

Or the then secretary of state after his resignation who wrote to his nephew John Foster Dulles, “The question asked is, ‘where is he to find a rubber stamp?'”  Those diplomats, they never unintentionally throw an insult; and they know enough to put it in writing for historians to find.

Ken Weisbrode’s other books include:

Below is an excerpt courtesy of Kindle Preview:

 

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Former FSO Peter Van Buren Returns With Hooper’s War

Posted: 11:24 pm PT

 

Former Foreign Service officer Peter Van Buren wrote We Meant Well and Ghosts of Tom Joad. He is back with a third novel Hooper’s War.  The author writes that while the story in Hooper’s War is set in WWII Japan, the point of the bigger story here is aimed dead-center at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The men and women in Hooper confront the complex ethical decisions of war, torture, drone-like killings, and the aftermath of moral injury and PTSD. This is an antiwar novel for people who enjoy a good war story — think Catch-22. Sometimes funny, sometimes deadly serious.”

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel and former U.S. diplomat has this to day say about the book:

“Hooper’s War is a classic war story of blood and guts spilled in Japan during WWII but with contemporary meanings. Told by both a young American lieutenant and a young Japanese soldier, Van Buren writes of the inevitable questioning of what wars do to those who fight. ‘This shit doesn’t end when the war does, it only ends when we do.’ ‘Garner is likely to just be insane for the rest of his life, mind torn apart and all that. His body’s in terrific shape, not a scratch. But the question isn’t so much why Private Garner is screaming. It’s why we aren’t, Lieutenant.’

‘Besides, Garner went insane because of what he saw in Kyoto. Curing him means I’d have to convince him seeing the burned children he’s shouting about was not a reason to be insane.’ These are commentaries echoed seventy-five years later by our young soldiers with PTSD from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.”

Below is an excerpt courtesy of Amazon Preview:

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Hopeless But Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in #Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 2:24 am ET

 

Douglas Wissing previously wrote a book entitled, Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.  He’s back with a new book, Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan. Kirkus Review calls it “a scathing dispatch” with “pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.”

As he gets into Kabul to embed with the military, the author notes “a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) billboard proclaiming women’s rights in English and Dari that few Afghan females can read, because almost 90 percent of them are still illiterate after more than a decade and $100 billion spent on grotesquely mismanaged US aid programs.”

That Ring Road?  Wissing writes, “During his frantic reelection push after the botched Iraq invasion, President George W. Bush decided that refurbishing the Ring Road on a yeehaw schedule in 2003 would show Afghans how things were done the American way. Well, it did. The highway is infamous for its poor construction and extravagant price.”

It’s that kind of book. It reminds us of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well book on Iraq.

A couple of notes, Chapter 35 titled Embassy includes a nugget about Embassy Kabul refusing to allow the author to meet with SIGAR John Sopko who was also at post, without a minder. Sopko, according to Wissing was furious, demanding a private meeting without embassy handlers but “the diplomats won’t budge.”

Chapter 36 talks about Loss.  A cynical USAID financial officer earlier told the author that “given the amount of money the United States was pushing on the Afghan insiders who were “bankers,” he didn’t blame them for stealing it.” This is in relation to the Bank of Kabul scandal that involved an almost $900 million Ponzi scheme of fraudulent loans. The chapter also talks about Anne Smedinghoff and four other Americans, including three soldiers and an interpreter lost during a suicide attack in Qalat. The author previously meet Smedinghoff during a visit to the embassy compound in Kabul where the latter acted as his minder, assigned to escort him for an interview with a Justice Department official who was working the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC).

The author told us that he find audiences in the U.S. are often surprised to learn that Afghanistan remains our largest foreign military engagement–$44 billion requested for FY 2017 (vs $5 billion for Syria) “to add to the trillion dollars already wasted.” He also notes that around 10,000 US troops are still there, along with up to 26,000 defense contractors.

We’re posting an excerpt of the book courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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Tales From a Small Planet: A Cup of Culture and a Pinch of Crisis, The Food Edition

Posted: 5:56 pm ET

 

If you’ve ever searched for Real Post Reports or Real School Reports when planning your relocation overseas, you might be familiar with Tales From a Small Planet.   Tales from a Small Planet (www.talesmag.com) was created a while back by a group of U.S. Foreign Service community members who had previously collaborated on the “Spouses’ Underground Newsletter” (SUN).  Its candid, and anonymous “real post and school reports” span over 325 cities around the world.

A few months ago, a group supporting Tales  put together a book of essays about expats and their food adventures, A Cup of Culture and a Pinch of Crisis: Tales from a Small Planet: The Food.  The book was edited by Patricia Linderman (former AAFSW President and current Literary Editor at Talesmag),  Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel (AAFSW volunteer and Talesmag volunteer), Katie Jagelski (EFM), and Leah Evans(EFM). Contributors include Foreign Service family members, an FSO and other expats not associated with the Foreign Service.

Below is an excerpt courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

 

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Steve Coll on the Tillerson Pick Plus Excerpt From ‘Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power’

Posted: 1:11 am ET

 

Steve Coll writes in The New Yorker that Trump’s reported pick of Tillerson as Secretary of State is “astonishing on many levels.”

As an exercise of public diplomacy, it will certainly confirm the assumption of many people around the world that American power is best understood as a raw, neocolonial exercise in securing resources.
[…]
Compared to the records of some of the other people around Trump, Tillerson’s is at least one of professional integrity; Exxon is a ruthless and unusually aggressive corporation, but it is also rule-bound, has built up a relatively strong safety record, and has avoided problems such as prosecutions under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, even though it operates in many countries that are rife with corruption.
[…]
In his career at ExxonMobil, Tillerson has no doubt honed many of the day-to-day skills that a Secretary of State must exercise: absorbing complex political analysis, evaluating foreign leaders, attending ceremonial events, and negotiating with friends and adversaries. Tillerson is a devotee of Abraham Lincoln, so perhaps he has privately harbored the ambition to transform himself into a true statesman, on behalf of all Americans. Yet it is hard to imagine, after four decades at ExxonMobil and a decade leading the corporation, how Tillerson will suddenly develop respect and affection for the American diplomatic service he will now lead, or embrace a vision of America’s place in the world that promotes ideals for their own sake, emphatically privileging national interests over private ones.

Read in full here.  Steve Coll is the author of the book on ExxonMobil, excerpt below courtesy of Kindle Preview:

 

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FSO Dante Paradiso Writes an Enduring Portrait of a U.S. Embassy Under Fire

Posted: 12:38 am ET

 

We previously posted about Dante Pardiso’s published work in this blog (see FSO Dante Paradiso: The Killing of Unarmed Black Men Is Hurting America’s Image Abroad and First Person: An Embassy Bombing – Dar Es Salaam, August 7, 1998. He is a writer, lawyer, and career Foreign Service Officer who has served extensively in Africa and Asia. He is the author of The Pure Life, a novel, and has contributed opinion pieces to the online editions of Foreign AffairsNational Geographic Voices, and, through the Tribune News Service, the Miami Herald, the Tampa Tribune, the Akron Beacon Journal, and Newsday, among others. Mr. Paradiso previously interned at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam in 1998. He received his J.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles and his B.A. in Political Science from Yale.  He practiced financial services and bankruptcy law with Goodwin Procter LLP in Boston.

Mr. Paradiso joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 2002.  He served in Monrovia, Beijing, Addis Ababa, Jalalabad, DC, Libreville, and is currently posted at the US Consulate General in Hong Kong.   He is a recipient of the State Department’s Heroism Award (group) and Superior Honor Award, and the U.S. Army’s Superior Civilian Service Award. He comes from New York City and when not on assignment makes his home in Portland, Oregon with his wife, son, and dog.

His book, The Embassy, A Story of War and Diplomacy was published this month. Sebastian Junger, the bestselling author of “The Perfect Storm” calls it “a truly harrowing and important account of an American embassy in what [was] arguably the most chaotic and violent country in the world.”

Chester A. Crocker who previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and currently the James R. Schlesinger Professor of Strategic Studies at Georgetown University says that Dante Paradiso has performed a singular public service in bringing this tale of modern American diplomacy to life.   He calls the book an “unvarnished portrait of a traumatized society and the extraordinary efforts of a handful of American public servants in Monrovia and Washington to bring desperately needed change.”

In an op-ed he wrote following the Benghazi attack, Mr. Paradiso points at an often overlooked truth about diplomacy:

At its core, it is risky. From the craft’s origins in antiquity, diplomats left the protections of our own borders and relied for our safety on persuasion, judgment and our indispensable role, without which state-to-state relations would go dark. Our presence on foreign soil best positions us to assess others’ receptivity to our messages and to persuade them to work with us. But we are exposed.[…] In many places, it is difficult to distinguish friend from enemy. Our role is to clarify and to win partners. We cannot leave the world in the hands of economic or strategic competitors, or in the grip of dictators, criminals or extremists. We must, in the can-do spirit of our country, take necessary risks to represent the American case. 

Read an excerpt below via Kindle/Preview or view it on Amazon here.

 

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J. Kael Weston’s The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 1:45 am ET

“When we look into that mirror, let’s not turn away.”
-J. Kael Weston

Richard Holbrooke in The Longest War called John Kael Weston “a remarkable young Foreign Service officer after he established a direct dialogue with tribal leaders, university students, mullahs, madrassa students and even Taliban defectors in 2008.

Dexter Filkins, the author of The Forever War wrote that “As a front-line political officer for the State Department, Weston has perhaps seen more of Iraq and Afghanistan than any single American. But what makes this book special–what makes Weston special–is his ability to transcend his own experience and bring it all home, and force us, as Americans, to ask ourselves the larger questions that these wars demand. This is a necessary book, and one that will last.” 

Phil Klay, the author of Redeployment and winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction  and the John Leonard First Book Prize wrote that the books is “a riveting, on-the-ground look at American policy and its aftermath” and “is essential reading for anyone seeking to come to terms with our endless wars.”

John Kael Weston joined the State Department in 2001. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan as the State Department representative in Anbar Province, Iraq, and Helmand and Khost Provinces in Afghanistan (http://www.jkweston.com). He has a twin brother Kyle Weston who works for a Utah-based outsourcing company and wrote about experiencing war through a twin.  Prior to serving in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, he served at USUN in 2003.  He is the recipient of the Secretary of State’’s Medal for Heroism.  He left government service in 2010.  Read an excerpt below courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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click on image to read the excerpt

 

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Ron Capps: Seriously Not All Right, Five Wars in Ten Years (Excerpt)

Posted: 5:23 pm PT

 

Ron Capps is a U.S. Army veteran and a former Foreign Service officer. He served in the military from 1986 until the early 1990’s. In 1994, he moved to the Army Reserved and joined the Foreign Service. His FS assignments took him to Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Kosovo, and Rwanda. Between 1996-2002, he also deployed as an intelligence officer in Uganda and Zaire for the U.S. Army.  According to his online bio, after the September 11 attacks, he served with XVIII Airborne Corps and the Defense intelligence Agency in Afghanistan as a soldier. Later, he was also deployed to Darfur and Chad as a soldier, and Iraq and Darfur (again) as a Foreign Service officer. “Throughout his career of service, Capps was often working in close proximity to murder, rape, and genocide. He suffered from regular and intense nightmares; he was diagnosed by an Army psychiatrist with PTSD and depression, and prescribed Prozac. In 2006, he nearly committed suicide. He was medically evacuated from service by the Regional Medical Officer of the State Department.”

He retired from government work and pursued a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University in 2009. In 2012, he founded the Veterans Writing Project, a non-profit organization that hosts free writing workshops and seminars for veterans and service members, as well as their adult family members.  VWP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. You can support the group with a tax-deductible donation or through the Amazon Smile program.

Ron Capps is the author of the book, Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years, which details his own experiences with PTSD.  To mark June as PTSD Awareness Month, we’re sharing an excerpt from Mr. Capps’ book with you (courtesy of Amazon Kindle).

Via Amazon/Kindle

Click on image to read an excerpt or buy the book  Book cover via Amazon Kindle

 

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