December 7, 2012
Gen. George C. Marshall, the United States Army’s steely chief of staff during World War II, was ruthless in relieving subordinates who didn’t measure up to his exacting standards. Between the time he assumed office in September 1939 and America’s entry into the war on Dec. 8, 1941, he cashiered at least 600 officers — and he wasn’t done yet. Numerous others, including generals, would lose their jobs when they didn’t perform well enough in the caldron of combat. As the veteran military correspondent Thomas E. Ricks notes in his new book, “The Generals,” “Sixteen Army division commanders were relieved for cause, out of a total of 155 officers who commanded Army divisions in combat during the war. At least five corps commanders also were relieved for cause.”
IN THE 21ST CENTURY we've become used to ragtag rebels beating military superpowers. Armed with little more than the will to carry out shocking acts of terrorism and the savvy to cultivate worldwide sympathy through the media, the little guy has come out on top more often than you'd expect. The paradigms are the 1962 French defeat in Algeria, America's 1975 withdrawal from Vietnam, and Russia's disaster in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The United States was similarly dealt defeats in Beirut in 1983 and in Somalia in 1993. It almost happened in Iraq—and may yet happen in Afghanistan. What few remember is that the script followed by groups as diverse as the Vietcong and the Taliban was written in Ireland during its 1919–1921 War of Independence, the first successful revolt against the British Empire since the creation of the United States of America. But at the beginning of the uprising, victory for the insurgents seemed highly unlikely. The Irish, after all, had been rebelling regularly and futilely against British rule since 1798. As recently as 1916, during the Easter Rising, the British Army had speedily repressed an attempt by Irish rebels to seize power in Dublin. What made the difference in 1919? For one thing, Britain was war-weary after the conclusion of the War to End All Wars. And while ideas of national self-determination spread like wildfire, the British appetite for imperialism rapidly declined. But it's doubtful the revolt would have succeeded without the genius of one man: the Irish Republican Army's de facto military commander, Michael Collins, described by one of his foes as a man "full of fascination and charm—but also of dangerous fire."
November 16, 2012
Every year brings a fresh batch of memoirs from the new "Greatest Generation"—the veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two of the most notable entries this year were produced by enlisted men. "No Easy Day" (Dutton, 336 pages, $26.95) was written by Matt Bissonnette (under the nom de plume Mark Owen). As you no doubt know by now, Mr. Bissonnette was one of the SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden, and the book both begins and ends with this high-profile mission. But in between there is a good deal of interesting material about the training and mind-set of an "operator" who did 13 consecutive combat deployments as a member of the storied SEAL Team Six.
October 19, 2012
No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden
by Mark Owen, with Kevin Maurer
Dutton Adult, 301 pp., $26.95
FROM THE TOPPLING of the Taliban in the fall of 2001, to the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the freeing of the captain of the Maersk Alabama from Somali pirates, and of course the Osama bin Laden raid, an extraordinarily high percentage of the most celebrated feats of American arms in the past decade were the work of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and in particular of its most secretive component, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which is home to the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team Six, and other “Tier One” units. So, too, some of the most bitter losses in recent wars have been suffered by these same forces—such as the shoot-down of a Chinook transport helicopter in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011, which killed thirty Americans, including seventeen seals. It was the greatest single-day loss of American lives during the entire war.
October 21, 2012
The attack in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, was practically the only foreign policy issue to come up in the second presidential debate, and it's sure to come up again in Monday's final debate, which will be entirely devoted to foreign policy.