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Posts Tagged ‘military’

A Review of The Green Berets

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 7, 2015

The Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U. S. Army's Elite Special Forces UnitThe Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U. S. Army’s Elite Special Forces Unit by Robin Moore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. I first read it many years ago in high school and it’s stuck with me ever since, so when I saw it in a used bookstore, I bought it and reread it and I’m glad I did. The Green Berets is journalistic nonfiction being marketed as fiction to protect the identity and locations of the people and places involved. Since this book was published in 1965, the north Vietnamese could have read it and done some damage with it if it named actual people or locations. Since it was published in 1965, you can guess that it’s about American military “advisers,” not actual servicemen as the war hadn’t started yet. But it had, secretly. This book has stories on green berets in Laos with local militias they’ve recruited and trained hitting the Viet Cong and the NVA (Viet Minh, as they’re referred to here). This book shows real life heroes in action, in harm’s way, far from safety, doing a lot of damage to Uncle Ho. Makes one wonder if Special Forces had been allowed to keeping fighting the war their way how differently things might have gone. There’s a sweet, but sad, love story in the book. There are some humorous moments. I think one thing that really has stuck with me over the years is the fact that this book started my disrespect for the South Vietnamese military, which was full of crooked pansies who wouldn’t fight at night, wouldn’t get up early in the morning to march, wouldn’t land their helicopters in “hot”” DZs, demanded to be in charge but when the fighting started, would run away and let the Americans do it. This surprised me, but as I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on the Vietnam war over the years, this fact is told over and over again. Yet I’ve never understood why. The northern Vietnamese army was tough as nails, to be feared, would charge into machine gun fire without thinking. The south Vietnamese army was a bunch of pussies. Why? They were supposed to be fighting to save their country. Didn’t they care? I have read accounts where some of them said let the Americans do it, we won’t. That’s a sick attitude. Frankly, it was a civil war and the US had no business being there. I’m glad the country’s reunified, even if it is communist. It’s just a shame that so many had to die. However, the book is not for the squeamish. There are accounts of Viet Cong atrocities that turn your stomach. But that’s war and it happened, so it had to be reported. I’m sure Moore could have made his book twice as big with all of the stories he collected while he was over there serving in the field himself, and I sometimes wonder why he chose the ones he did, but they’re all good. By the way, before the green berets let him tour with them, they made him become, essentially a green beret. He had to go to jump school, get scuba training, jungle warfare training, all of it. He earned his beret. Great book. Strongly recommended.

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A Review of Warrior: Frank Sturgis

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 3, 2015

Warrior: Frank Sturgis---The CIA's #1 Assassin-Spy, Who Nearly Killed Castro but Was Ambushed by WatergateWarrior: Frank Sturgis—The CIA’s #1 Assassin-Spy, Who Nearly Killed Castro but Was Ambushed by Watergate by Jim Hunt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is about a legend in the subject’s own mind. And perhaps the co-authors’. And perhaps even a few others. But he’s really not all that. This book is poorly researched, is largely hearsay, is mostly guided by the nephew of the subject, who lived with him for awhile and is one of the co-authors, and seems spurious at best.

Sturgis joined the Marines in WWII and fought in the Pacific, winning several decorations. He was later stationed in Europe after the war. This is where he began spying for the Zionist movement for Israel, pre-Mossad, something which would have been illegal and would have resulted in dishonorable discharge at best and perhaps even loss of his citizenship. After leaving the Marines, he joined the Navy and the Army, although in what capacity, I’m not sure. The book states he served in all four armed services, but he did not serve in the Air Force, one of a number of factual mistakes made by the authors.

Following his military career, Sturgis, who’s real name was Fiorini and who changed his name to suit his circumstances some 33 alleged times opened up several bars, but grew restless, so he became a mercenary and started becoming involved in several South and Central American country’s military efforts, both in terms of training and arms supplying. At some point, he became interested in Cuba and was put off by the dictator there and intrigued by the new rebel, Castro, who promised reform and democracy. So Sturgis went off to offer his help to Castro. He trained his rebels, supplied arms and ammunition, an airplane and boats, and helped Castro and Che take over Cuba. A famous picture of Sturgis holding a rifle and identified as a captain in Castro’s army standing on a mass grave appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper, which later got him into trouble. When he returns to America, he was stripped of his citizenship, and held for trial. His Florida senator got him off. He returned to Cuba, retained his status in the army, was given control of the air force, and was then made the gambling czar. In this capacity, he met all the mob bosses, many of whom he pissed off, most of whom he forced back to the US. Still, he seemed to be on good terms with them. During this time, he was approached, apparently, by a CIA agent who asked him to spy on Castro and supply them with any information about communism or anything else that could be indicting. Since Sturgis was extremely anti-communist, he agreed. And he was becoming nervous. It seemed Castro was backtracking on his promise for democracy and was filling his cabinet with communists. Che played a big role in this. Sturgis thought it might be time for him to head back to Miami. But first he contemplated assassinating Castro. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d done such a thing, apparently. He was, after all according to the book, the CIA’s “#1 Assassin-Spy,” and someone Castro later called the CIA’s “most dangerous agent.” He apparently had at least four opportunities. On page 80 in the book, it states “Throughout his anti-Castro career, Frank participated in more than 150 air operations and 60 boat incursions. As Frank put it, these missions were done both ‘with the green light and without the green light’.” So one of my biggest questions about the book is, at some point, Sturgis is asked why he didn’t pull the trigger and he replied that he never got the green light. So if he hated Castro that much, why suddenly wait for the green light when everything else he does is done without any authority? That makes utterly no sense at all. It sounds like a bad cop out and I don’t buy it.

In 1959, Frank leaves Cuba for Miami, where he sets up an anti-Castro operation, where he sends in teams of people, including himself, to disrupt, antagonize, breed anti-Castro resentment, etc. It barely ever works. He does this for the rest of his life.

Much later, he is hired to commit the Watergate burglary, where he is caught and goes to prison. He allegedly does this as a CIA operative, along with other CIA operatives, most of whom are Cubans who the CIA are just dying to hire to join the CIA fresh off the boat (sarcasm intended) when Sturgis remains an independent contractor his whole career and is never an actual employee of the Agency.

One thing that’s interesting about the book is the Kennedy assassination conspiracy. Apparently there are those who believe Frank was involved and indeed was the “only one who could pull off killing Kennedy.” Um, right. Yep. Apparently, because of his Cuban connections, his mob connections, and his right wing CIA connections, all of whom wanted Kennedy dead, he was the one to pull it all together and pictures show him as one of the tramps on the grassy knoll. The two co-authors offer their own interpretations, one of which places him in Dallas on hand and ready to pull the trigger, and the other of which states that he had to have been in Miami through an eyewitness account, but that he could have overseen everything and indeed, probably did. If this is true, it’s likely the only successful thing he ever did, as he failed at unseating Castro and he failed at Watergate. Now, he did help assassinate a couple of small time banana republic dictators, apparently, so I guess that’s something, but for a man who considered himself a true patriot, he sure did a lot of unpatriotic things, including hating Kennedy for life after the Bay of Pigs incident, which he apparently trained the men for, and including virtually everything else he did.

Enough. It’s hard enough to believe that much of this is true. If it is, Sturgis was an interesting failure. He’s dead, so we’ll never truly know. His nephew thinks he knows, but he doesn’t — it’s conjecture. The tale is fascinating, but largely unbelievable and thus not recommended.

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A Review of The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 19, 2014

The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973 by Shelby L. Stanton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This could have been an interesting book if the author hadn’t gotten so bogged down in minute details. It’s about the American military in Vietnam, circa 65-73, and it’s pretty comprehensive, at least through 1969. One of its faults, though, is that it spends an inordinate amount of time going over each year of the 1960s and then lumps all of the 1970s into one final chapter. It’s like the author gave up, just like the military did. Another fault I found was that the author made the US military out to be virtually unbeatable and told countless stories of us giving the VC and NVA beatdowns in the jungle, which didn’t actually happen all that often. He’s really gung ho about the US military and it’s just not authentic. He does go into detail on Tet ’68 and the US did win the battles of Tet, but we lost the war then and there — the war of public opinion — and from that moment on, we tried everything possible to extract ourselves from Vietnam and turn the war over to the South Vietnamese, who were worthless as fighters. Granted, I didn’t necessarily want to read an entire book of battlefield failures, but it should have been more balanced and it wasn’t. Another — major — bone I have to pick with the author is that he went on and on about the specific US, VC, and NVA units engaged in battle, to the point where it was simply mind numbing. Witness:

“Kontum was also struck early on January 30 and the 24th NVA Regiment, the 304th VC Battalion and the 406th Sapper Battalion crashed into the MACV compound, post office, airfield, and 24th ARVN Special Tactical Zone headquarters…. The initial assault was met by two Montagnard scout companies, which were rapidly brushed aside, and the 2d Battalion of the 42d ARVN Regiment, which fell back…. At noon the Americans rustled up the ground crews of the aerial 7th Squadron, 17th Calvary, fused them with the 1st Battalion of the 22d Infantry, and gave them tanks from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor….”

Oh my freakin’ God!!! And on and on he drones. It’s a real snoozer. If the author had just said some soldiers and Marines were fighting the enemy, he could have shortened the book and made it a lot more readable. Only mega-history geeks will like this because it’s mind numbingly boring.

The author also kind of goes elitist on us. He attributes our loss to the draft, specifically to drafting poor men from racially diverse backgrounds, many of whom were allegedly on drugs. “By 1969 the US soldier in Vietnam usually represented the poorer and less educated segments of American society. He was often being led by middle-class officers and inexperienced sergeants, creating a wide gap between attitudes, abilities, and motivation.” Poor, inexperienced men on one year rotations just wanted to get home alive and stopped fighting, per the author. I really think Stanton thinks we could have beaten the NVA if we had kept fighting an offensive war without one year rotations. I don’t believe that, but I think he does.

I did enjoy reading about the various battles, but Stanton had this annoying habit of slimming them down to five sentence paragraphs, which obviously left a lot out, and then incredibly just jumping right into another conflict with no real transition visible. It’s bizarre!

I am giving this book three stars because I’m interested in the subject matter, but it’s a poorly written book that will bore the hell out of most people. As such, it really deserves a two star rating and I certainly can’t recommend it at all.

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A Review of Hazardous Duty

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 6, 2014

Hazardous DutyHazardous Duty by David H. Hackworth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent book written by a military hero who sees a lot wrong with the military industrial complex, politics, and the military itself, calls it like he sees it, and offers solutions to the problems he points out. It should be required reading for just about anyone.

I’ve been reading Hackworth since the 1990s when he was writing for Soldier of Fortune magazine. He’s dead now, which is a shame, but he served in post-World War II Europe, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In this book, he comes back as a war correspondent accompanying our military to the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Somalia, Korea and Haiti. What he discovers along the way is horrifying.

I could write a LOT about this book and quote a lot from the book, but I don’t have the time or energy for that. Suffice it to say that this book was published in 1996 while Clinton was in office, so much of the time Hackworth, a conservative, reams Clinton. I’m a Clinton lover, so I didn’t enjoy that, but at least Hackworth was bipartisan, because he rips Reagan and Bush 1 too. He interviews the grunts, as well as numerous officers, to get at the truth that today’s generals and admirals are political pansies, looking out for their own advancement, not giving a damn about the troops. He takes issue with our spending billions on super duper weapons we’ll never use or are terrible to begin with while not issuing armor to our fighting vehicles, body armor to our troops, meals, logistical nightmares, etc. It’s very demoralizing and he consistently demonstrates how NOT ready our military is for action. Here’s one quote:

“Our modern generals put first priority on their headquarters. In days of old, General Ulysses Grant would hit the field with six or seven aides and they traveled light and slept on the ground. The rest of his men were fighters. Today, inflation of military brass and headquarters staff is so bad is should embarrass us. At the end of Word War II we had a military force of 13 million. Today we have a total of 1.5 million active soldiers and sailors. But we have more generals now than we had during World War II. We also have more bureaucrats so that all those generals won’t be lonely. In 1945, with 13 million under arms engaged in a multitheater, multinational alliance, the War Department had about eight undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and special assistants. Now with about those 1.5 million in uniform, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty undersecretaries, deputy secretaries, assistant secretaries, and special assistants. All draw six-figure paychecks and have aides, offices, and all the other trappings of Pentagon royalty.”

Wow. That’s just a tiny portion of what this book holds in it. In addition to going to the theaters of military action already mentioned, he also goes to South Korea to assess our combat readiness and finds it sadly lacking too. He thinks we should just get out. After all, what are our 6,000 fighting men and women out of 34,000 troops stationed in South Korea going to do when a million North Koreans come pouring over the border? Additionally, South Korea has an army of five million with better weapons that we do. It’s nuts. We have to have parts FedExed to us because the military can’t handle the logistics. Amazing.

Later, he writes, “The essence of leadership is integrity, loyalty, caring for your people, doing the honorable thing. Over and over since Vietnam, I have seen political expediency killing these values. When slickness and cheap compromise run the show, people who refuse to cave in and play the game get zapped. And when that happens, the ultimate loser is our country.”

Hackworth also has things to say about our government’s priorities, writing that we spend over 300 billion a year on defense, but only 10 billion on education. Point taken.

Towards the end of the book, Hackworth offers a series of suggestions to serve as solutions for curing what’s wrong with the military. After showing how inter-service animosity has hurt the country and cost our country countless millions, he begins by suggesting that the Army and the Marines be merged, while the Air Force be entirely eliminated. He would put the Navy in charge of all strategic missiles, and get the missiles moved from land to subs asap. He would form a new agency to take control over all of the cargo demands of the forces, and reconfigure the Pentagon, eliminating the separate service chiefs and civilian secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force in favor of a combined Defense Force headquarters run by one civilian Secretary of Defense. He would eliminate the current evaluation reports that encourage unwarranted promotions, merge the National Guard and the Reserves into one organization to cut waste and more. He would also merge the duplicate, non-war-fighting functions of the services — intelligence, medical, legal, R & D, logistics, training, etc. — so that we have one and not four separate entities. He would do a whole lot more to get the military back to where it once was, and these suggestions should be read and considered by all military officers and thinkers.

In addition to stats, criticisms, and suggestions, this book also has a lot of exciting stories of harrowing experiences that Hackworth endures to get the real picture. This is a great book to read and I think many people would like it if they give it a chance. Highly recommended.

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A Review of Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam’s Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 17, 2013

Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam's Gen. Vo Nguyen GiapVictory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam’s Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap by Cecil B. Currey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cecil B. Currey’s book on Vo Nguyen Giap is an utterly excellent book! It’s gripping, engaging, provides historical context, contains essential quotes, and shows Giap to be the logistical, tactical, and strategic genius he was as a general leading North Vietnam to defeat the Japanese, the French, the US, the South Vietnamese, the Cambodians, and the Chinese. No one else has done so much with so little. I’m going to reprint my review for Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam by James A. Warren (a book I read a few months ago…) in its entirety here, because I think many of the same things can be said about this book. Read on.

Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam by James A. Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

General Vo Nguyen Giap was the North Vietnamese mastermind who defeated the French and American superpowers over 30 years in what was previously an unthinkable possibility — that countries with so so much more military and economic power could lose to an underdeveloped third world country. And yet it happened. (Also, Giap had to battle the Japanese toward the end of World War Two.)

Giap came from humble beginnings — a history professor turned professional solider from the Quang Binh Province of Vietnam. He was self taught. Aside from Hi Chi Minh, Giap was probably North Vietnam’s most important figure. He learned communism from Ho and never strayed. He learned how to battle from the Chinese and adapted what he learned to the Vietnamese battlefield. When the Vietminh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu to end the French colonial war with what was then Indochina, he showed that he had mastered guerrilla tactics as well as conventional war strategies, and these carried over to the American war. He was also a master at logistics. It took months for the Vietminh to carry broken down parts of artillery pieces up into the mountains surrounding Dien Bien Phu, where they were then assembled and used with devastating success. Another strength Giap possessed was learning that the political counted as much as the military. He indoctrinated his soldiers, the Vietnamese peasants, and won a war of attrition against both France and America — both countries, he knew, that wouldn’t have the stomach for a protracted war. He was right. Now he took horrifying losses throughout both wars. When all was said and done, the NVA and Vietminh lost over a million soldiers (to America’s 56,000), but he knew that a country united in revolution against colonialism was destined for victory. He never lacked in confidence. The Tet offensive was, of course, the turning point in the Vietnam war with America. Looked at it militarily, the US won, giving the NVA and Viet Cong horrifying casualties, but strategically, North Vietnam won because America now wanted out and started the process of withdrawing troops and halting the bombing of North Vietnam in an effort to get to the negotiating table — a place where America had no leverage.

The author makes some good points in his final chapter in this excellent book.

“The power of the US military machine posted immense challenges to Giap as a commander. He knew that the conflict would result in horrific losses, but he also realized that those causalities were the inevitable cost of victory, and neither the reality of those casualties, as regrettable as they were, nor the destructive capacity of American forces, would prove to be decisive factors in the war’s outcome…. Giap was first and foremost a revolutionary war strategist, which is to say he conceived of war primarily as a social struggle by people committed to breaking down the status quo and replacing it with a new set of power relationships and institutions, not as a strictly military activity carried out by full-time soldiers and guerrillas…. the work of building a powerful political infrastructure that could challenge French and American efforts was far more important than achieving victory in a series of conventional military battles and campaigns…. He also believed that he could instill a sense of futility and exhaustion in the French and American armies by avoiding large-scale combat engagements in favor of harassing tactics, including ambushes, booby traps, and luring the enemy into patrolling forbidding mountainous terrain and steamy jungles where his own troops were more at home.”

“Giap never doubted that the power of his soldiers’ and citizen’s commitment to the Vietnamese revolutionary vision would compensate for the inferiority of their military forces. It was only necessary to instill the same level of belief and determination he himself possessed for the cause into the Revolution as a whole, and to direct that energy toward victory…. When all is said and done, Giap’s enduring importance lies in recognizing that he was a successful general largely because he could see with extraordinary clarity all the factors and forces that shaped the trajectory of the wars in which he fought, and how each element related to all the others.”

Giap then, who might still be alive at over 100 years old, was the instrumental commander that foresaw victory and instilled that vision in his troops and citizens. He was Ho’s second, and as such, wielded great power. He built his army up from a tiny platoon in 1945 to hundreds of thousands of hardened troops by war’s end. When the NVA rolled into Saigon in 1975, the revolution was complete and Vietnam was reunited. Communist, yes, but under no colonial authority for the first time in over a century. It was a mighty struggle, and even though I’m an American, I’ve studied this war for decades and have seen how American stupidity lost us the war — which we could have won with the right strategies and leadership, I believe. Giap’s commitment never wavered. He should be looked at as one of the greatest military leaders of all time. I can’t think of a single instance in which a tiny, impoverished, technically backwards country defeated two of the world’s superpowers within two to three decades of each other. His legacy will live on for a long time. This was an excellent book to read and I certainly recommend it to any military buff or historian, or to anyone interested in the Vietnam war. Great book!

______________________________________________________

Well, that’s what I wrote about the previous book, and the same holds true for this one. The thing that separates them, I think, is Currey actually got to interview Giap for this book. It made it more compelling. There was more narrative and a lot more on actual thought patterns and secrets behind North Vietnam’s successes. I also didn’t know that Giap whipped China when China invaded in 1979. Truly amazing. After Ho died, though, the Politburo demoted him several times over the years, and that was disgraceful for the founder of that country’s army and leader of victorious military campaigns. Still, he handled himself with grace and dignity and while he wasn’t always the most likeable person in the world, you can’t come away from this book without some sort of admiration for the man. Truly one of the greatest generals in history. Recommended.

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A Review of Brennan’s War

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 6, 2013

Brennan's War: Vietnam 1965-1969: Brennan's War: Vietnam 1965-1969Brennan’s War: Vietnam 1965-1969: Brennan’s War: Vietnam 1965-1969 by Matthew Brennan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This wasn’t a bad book. In fact, it was fairly engrossing. It was fast paced and I read it in a day. The narrative is written so that it’s like a series of very short stories, mostly about the action Brennan encountered in Vietnam, where he served for four years. He signed back up for extended tours of duty twice because he couldn’t readjust to civilian society. Kind of sad.

He was with the 9th Armored Air Cav, in a unit called The Blues, which he paints as some kind of super-macho, better than Special Forces unit, which didn’t sit well with me. He was an artilleryman, an infantryman, and he wasn’t part of Special Forces. Still, he claimed to have taken part in over 419 battles of varying sizes, most recon or rescue missions.

Funny, but he seemed to think we were wiping the NVA/VC off the map until Tet, when he finally seemed to get a minor clue. His unit was near Hue during the fighting, but he didn’t actually engage them too much. Hue seems to be the turning point for him.

When he went back to the States for the second time, he was confronted with hippies and war protestors, which shocked him. Apparently, he wasn’t exposed to what America was going through while he was in the field. When he went back for his third tour, the men had changed to poorly trained, racist, dope smoking losers who he had no respect for, and by the time his tour was up, he’s anxious to get out. Of course, by this time, the NVA had real weapons and was using them to pound the American positions, something that finally got to his nerves.

He details accounts of bravery, but also of atrocities that should have been prosecuted. It’s a good book — it really is. The only reason I’m downgrading it from five stars to four is with the way he described his unit and their fighting prowess, America should have never lost the war. These platoons (platoons!!!) allegedly killed hundreds and thousands of NVA/VC all over the place and the killing never ends until the very end of the book. With soldiers like Brennan and his buddies, how could we have possibly lost this war??? Pretty hard to believe. Perhaps he enjoys taking license with the facts, I don’t know. It was just hard to swallow, knowing what I know. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting read and if you want a perspective from a grunt’s view in Vietnam, this isn’t a bad place to start. Cautiously recommended.

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A Review of Fiasco

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 3, 2013

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in IraqFiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gosh, there’s so much to say about this book, I hardly know where to begin! I turned over so many pages to go back and see citations or quotes that I can’t possibly list a fourth of them here.

Ricks did a great job of presenting the build-up to the Iraq war and through the first three years. Since this book was published in 2006, it feels very unfinished and I would appreciate a 2013 second edition, but oh well. Ricks seems to lay first blame at some Iraq hating, war hawks in Bush’s administration, notably Paul Wolfowitz, to take advantage of 9/11 to go after Iraq by suggesting its association with terrorists. (There was none.) We first heard about WMDs, which was the ploy used in the decision to preemptively invade Iraq. (There were none.) Cheney backed Bush into a corner during a speech in Nashville in August, 2002 I believe, in which he said there was “no doubt” that Iraq had WMDs and that “We must take the battle to the enemy.”

Let me back up to something interesting first. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush and Cheney said that they thought that “Bill Clinton had used the military too much in his foreign policy.” Of Gore, Bush said “He believes in nation building…. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders.” OK — first, what a damn lying hypocrite!!! Second, what a damn lying scumbag. I guess it should come as no surprise, then, that a pre-presedential politician who goes on to steal an election goes on to lie to the world in order to preemptively invade a sovereign country. Amazing.

Other evil dudes in this book are Rumsfeld, the most arrogant, opinionated, self righteous prick of the 21st century; Paul Bremer, the ambassador who was always at war with the military and who was a bumbling fool, Iraqi exile Chalabi, who may have been working with the insurgents even as we tried to make him president, and military officers Sanchez, Franks, and Meyers. All incompetents who blew things to hell and back.

There are many narratives throughout the book of military men and women fighting hard to win an unacknowledged, unwinnable war — soldiers both brave and cowardly, such as the ones who blew our integrity at Abu Grahib and the others who blew away prisoners who posed no threat whatsoever, and who received 45 day jail terms slaps on the wrists. Mind blowing.

There’s a lot of politics in the book too, as well as musings of the highest military officials around. There was a lot of criticism and disagreement, but since soldiers are taught to follow orders and since orders were being given by stupid Bush-loving civilians with no concept of what was going on over there, disasters naturally occurred. Petraeus, however, is portrayed almost worshipfully, which I don’t think is good. Face it, there were just too many problems between the Department of Defense and the CAP (Coalition Provisional Authority), the ones giving the orders in most cases.

Another problem with this war was we had intentionally forgotten the lessons of Vietnam about fighting insurgencies. We attacked with major divisions and battalions, didn’t mingle with the people and learn about them and their customs, thus trying to win them over, didn’t provide essentials such as water and electricity, set up large isolated base camps from which to operate and so much more — all of which go against counter-insurgency tactics. Special Forces tried to warn them and some conventional units had some success, notably the 101st, but it was basically a war where we turned friendlies into enemies with our blasting into houses at 2 AM, roughing people up, taking the men away to prison, taking other family members “hostage,” turning houses into rubble, and generating ill will to the US. Where Bush and the others thought we would be viewed as liberators, we quickly became occupiers and it really hurt us.

I had so much more I wanted to say about this book, but I won’t. I had a small surgical procedure yesterday and the anesthesia still hasn’t worn off, so I’m kind of tired. The book claims that by 2006, over 200 billion had been used in the war. That figure is way off. Earlier this year, I finished a book called The Three Trillion Dollar War, which admittedly is more recent, but which gives hard evidence to the fact that we have yet again been lied to as to the actual costs involved with this war. By the end of this book, the politicians remain in denial, the military is disenfranchised and demoralized, and the Iraqi insurgency is here to stay. Again, I’d like to see a more recent book detailing what’s happened since. I don’t know why I’m not giving it five stars. It might have been worth it. I think I’m actually downgrading it a bit because it was just TOO packed with information. It was almost too much to digest, hard to remember all the names, places, people, events. Still, it’s recommended. Just be prepared to become even more disillusioned with the Bush administration, if you’re not already.

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A Review of Heinrich Himmler

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 15, 2013

Heinrich HimmlerHeinrich Himmler by Peter Longerich

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I give up! I surrender! I got to page 602 of this 1,050 paqe book and I simply could not proceed onward. It’s flat out BORING!!! I expected to learn gripping, intimate details on Himmler, the SS, Himmler and Hitler, and more. Instead, I was deluged with numbers and statistics, with resettlement in towns and provinces too numerous to mention. Oh God, it was so boring. Okay, so Himmler started out as a quiet youth, unable to deal with females, which made him a prude until he was married in his mid-20s, and which later made him legislate morality to his SS troops. He had to approve each SS marriage personally. I learned he got a degree in agriculture and spent some time working in the field before somehow rising to be the head of the SS. I never figured out how that happened. At some point, he’s working closely with Hitler (we’re never given a good, let alone any, picture of Hitler in this book), yet there are absolutely no details at all as to how they met, when they met, where they met, what lead Hitler to promote this loser to such a vital role. There’s nothing there. It boggles the mind. We learn about Himmer’s hundreds of associates, underlings, and enemies. The name dropping is so intense, it’s a wonder one can remember any names from the book at all. Now, the book does detail Himmler’s vaguely anti-Semitic views in college, his vision of a pure German nation, his grand visions of resettling Europe and eventually ridding Europe and Russia of all Jews. However, it’s hard to connect the dots. How does he go to looking down his nose at Jews to wanting to exterminate all of them, and how does he get tens of thousands of men under his command to murder them? I still don’t know. Apparently, the goal was to relocate the Jews, first to Madagascar, and then later to Poland and Russia. How did that turn into mass murders? Also, Himmler was apparently as opposed to the Christian church as he was to the Jews, particularly the Catholics, of which he was raised. But he felt like he couldn’t act on that because Hitler didn’t want to persecute the Christians. That’s never explained either. The book throws tons of numbers at you — how many Jews from this town, from that ghetto, from this province, from that city are carted away monthly, first for forced labor, later for extermination. The numbers are overwhelming and become so commonplace that the horror of the situation is actually lessened by the deadening weight of giving numbers to the reader. Also, I wanted to read about the attack on Russia, but that was never really addressed. One day there’s an attack, another day Himmler is touring the front lines. How did this happen? I could go on and on, but I’m boring myself now and that pretty much sums up my experience with this book. It could have been and should have been so much more — some life could have been written into it — but instead it reads like an electrical engineering textbook, which would put most people to sleep. Sadly, not recommended.

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A Review of Hunting the Jackal

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 19, 2013

Hunting the Jackal: A Special Forces and CIA Soldier's Fifty Years on the Frontlines of the War Against TerrorismHunting the Jackal: A Special Forces and CIA Soldier’s Fifty Years on the Frontlines of the War Against Terrorism by Billy Waugh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to give this somewhat exciting book more stars, but it leaves out too much information to merit it. For instance, the author joins the military in 1947 and apparently fights in Korea, but the first we see of him is in 1965 Vietnam, after he’s joined the Special Forces and is hunting NVA units. There are a couple of exciting, if somewhat unbelievable, tales of his time in Nam, particularly when he thought he might catch Giap (which didn’t happen, obviously). He earned eight Purple Hearts and other assorted medals.

After he leaves the army, as a master sergeant (which is odd, considering the high level talks he allegedly has with colonels and generals), he joins the postal service and is bored stiff. Then, in the mid-70s, he’s recruited to go to Libya to train “elite” commandos for an impending war with Egypt. He’s also recruited by the CIA to take photographs and spy for them. Let me tell you, he doesn’t hold Arabs in high regard.

After skipping ahead to the early 90s, he’s stationed in Khartoum, Sudan where there are apparently tons of terrorists. He comes across “Usama” bin Laden, but he’s such a low level target in 1992, that he doesn’t really think anything of it. Instead, he’s after Carlos the Jackal, the world’s most notorious terrorist. He gets actual pictures of Carlos, the first any have been made of him in 10 years, and then sits in an observation post taking more pictures. We’re supposed to be leading up to an exciting climax here, but we then learn the French have taken Carlos in because they have a warrant, the US doesn’t, and we handed him over to them. It’s REALLY anti-climactic.

Later in the book, he discusses 9/11, but not much. He’s clearly anti-Clinton, and I guess pro-Bush, so there you have it. In 2001/2, at age 72, he joins Special Forces in Afghanistan to hunt the Taliban and bin Laden. He’s amazed by all of the new high tech war weapons, such as drones, and puts forth his belief that bin Laden died from a drone strike. I don’t know when this book was written and I don’t know if the author is still alive, but I’d be interested in hearing his opinion after knowing the facts of bin Laden’s actual demise. This last part of the book leaves you feeling fairly empty though, because nothing happens. Nothing. His Special Forces team occupies a deserted Afghan school. He’s very cold. They smell bad. Ooooh!

There’s almost no background information on Waugh in this book, some of the stories seem exaggerated, he leaves out lots of details because they’re classified (he apparently went to 64 countries as a CIA operative, but talks about three of them), he served, apparently, in Iraq and the Balkans, but we hear nothing about that, just like we hear nothing about Korea. WTF? Why did he pick and choose four or five scenes from his 50 years of combat to share? He could have made this book four times as long and 10 times more interesting if he had chosen to include more information. Oh, he also gets married to a wonderful girl and then we hear nothing more about her. He’s also fairly narcissistic. The soldiers in Afghanistan “worshiped” him. He’s a legend in his own mind. I really wanted to like this book, and parts of it were exciting, yes, but so much is left out that I can’t recommend it at all. I feel like I’m doing the author a favor by giving it three stars…..

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A Review of Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 16, 2013

Giap: The General Who Defeated America in VietnamGiap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam by James A. Warren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

General Vo Nguyen Giap was the North Vietnamese mastermind who defeated the French and American superpowers over 30 years in what was previously an unthinkable possibility — that countries with so so much more military and economic power could lose to an underdeveloped third world country. And yet it happened. (Also, Giap had to battle the Japanese toward the end of World War Two.)

Giap came from humble beginnings — a history professor turned professional solider from the Quang Binh Province of Vietnam. He was self taught. Aside from Hi Chi Minh, Giap was probably North Vietnam’s most important figure. He learned communism from Ho and never strayed. He learned how to battle from the Chinese and adapted what he learned to the Vietnamese battlefield. When the Vietminh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu to end the French colonial war with what was then Indochina, he showed that he had mastered guerrilla tactics as well as conventional war strategies, and these carried over to the American war. He was also a master at logistics. It took months for the Vietminh to carry broken down parts of artillery pieces up into the mountains surrounding Dien Bien Phu, where they were then assembled and used with devastating success. Another strength Giap possessed was learning that the political counted as much as the military. He indoctrinated his soldiers, the Vietnamese peasants, and won a war of attrition against both France and America — both countries, he knew, that wouldn’t have the stomach for a protracted war. He was right. Now he took horrifying losses throughout both wars. When all was said and done, the NVA and Vietminh lost over a million soldiers (to America’s 56,000), but he knew that a country united in revolution against colonialism was destined for victory. He never lacked in confidence. The Tet offensive was, of course, the turning point in the Vietnam war with America. Looked at it militarily, the US won, giving the NVA and Viet Cong horrifying casualties, but strategically, North Vietnam won because America now wanted out and started the process of withdrawing troops and halting the bombing of North Vietnam in an effort to get to the negotiating table — a place where America had no leverage.

The author makes some good points in his final chapter in this excellent book.

“The power of the US military machine posted immense challenges to Giap as a commander. He knew that the conflict would result in horrific losses, but he also realized that those causalities were the inevitable cost of victory, and neither the reality of those casualties, as regrettable as they were, nor the destructive capacity of American forces, would prove to be decisive factors in the war’s outcome…. Giap was first and foremost a revolutionary war strategist, which is to say he conceived of war primarily as a social struggle by people committed to breaking down the status quo and replacing it with a new set of power relationships and institutions, not as a strictly military activity carried out by full-time soldiers and guerrillas…. the work of building a powerful political infrastructure that could challenge French and American efforts was far more important than achieving victory in a series of conventional military battles and campaigns…. He also believed that he could instill a sense of futility and exhaustion in the French and American armies by avoiding large-scale combat engagements in favor of harassing tactics, including ambushes, booby traps, and luring the enemy into patrolling forbidding mountainous terrain and steamy jungles where his own troops were more at home.”

“Giap never doubted that the power of his soldiers’ and citizen’s commitment to the Vietnamese revolutionary vision would compensate for the inferiority of their military forces. It was only necessary to instill the same level of belief and determination he himself possessed for the cause into the Revolution as a whole, and to direct that energy toward victory…. When all is said and done, Giap’s enduring importance lies in recognizing that he was a successful general largely because he could see with extraordinary clarity all the factors and forces that shaped the trajectory of the wars in which he fought, and how each element related to all the others.”

Giap than, who might still be alive at over 100 years old, was the instrumental commander that foresaw victory and instilled that vision in his troops and citizens. He was Ho’s second, and as such, wielded great power. He built his army up from a tiny platoon in 1945 to hundreds of thousands of hardened troops by war’s end. When the NVA rolled into Saigon in 1975, the revolution was complete and Vietnam was reunited. Communist, yes, but under no colonial authority for the first time in over a century. It was a mighty struggle, and even though I’m an American, I’ve studied this war for decades and have seen how American stupidity lost us the war — which we could have won with the right strategies and leadership, I believe. Giap’s commitment never wavered. He should be looked at as one of the greatest military leaders of all time. I can’t think of a single instance in which a tiny, impoverished, technically backwards country defeated two of the world’s superpowers within two to three decades of each other. His legacy will live on for a long time. This was an excellent book to read and I certainly recommend it to any military buff or historian, or to anyone interested in the Vietnam war. Great book!

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