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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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A Review of About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 4, 2013

About Face: The Odyssey of an American WarriorAbout Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior by David H Hackworth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Col. David Hackworth was a true American hero, a real warrior. He enlisted for the Army at age 15, just in time for the close of World War II, where he was stationed in Italy. He learned a lot there before shipping over to Korea to work a couple of stints in that disaster. He earned battlefield commissions and gradually moved up the ranks, but was always an infantryman’s man. He led, he taught, he learned, he thought, he spoke up and pulled no punches (which sometimes got him into trouble) — he was a real work of art.

I first learned of Hackworth when I was reading Soldier of Fortune Magazine back in the 90s and early part of this century. His column would be the last thing in the magazine and it was usually very insightful. Sadly, he died a few years ago and they replaced him with Oliver North, a man I don’t like nearly as much.

Hackworth loved being on the battlefield. He hated the peacetime, with officer’s clubs and parties to attend and papers to shuffle. He wanted to be where the action was.

After Korea, he was sent to Germany for awhile, before shipping off to Vietnam, where he learned a whole lot about the civil war in that country, how the French had lost before we got there, what was behind the Vietnamese people’s thoughts and minds, and how woefully under-prepared our troops were for guerrilla combat. He constantly turned lousy outfits into proud, battle hardened outfits with minimal casualties and pretty good successes. He tried to teach what he learned and knew to others, but others wouldn’t listen. They were trained to fight a “conventional” war in battalion style against countries like Russia on European battlefields. They weren’t prepared for the jungle. One of the first things that Hack learned was

“there was simply no point in taking an objective you had no intention of holding, no point in using men when firepower could do the job. Tuy Hoa’s battlefield may have looked like the hedgerows of Normandy, but if … the taking of such objectives one by one wasn’t ultimately going to lead you anyplace, and if … you were going to abandon each objective after you’d taken it, only to take it again and again and again and again, as the French did before us and as we were doing now — well, it wasn’t worth the life of even a single soldier. I’d learned.”

Another part of his education came in the States:

“Ideally all the training for Vietnam should have taken place in Hawaii or Panama or the Philippines, where the Vietnam-bound soldiers could at the very least clear the difficult acclimatization hurdle. It would have worked well, too, to have each training center geared for a specific region in Vietnam, given that the diversity of battlefields … made the conflict more like four or five different wars. Fort Lewis, for example, for three out of four seasons greatly resembled the Highlands. But to train men there in the winter months was a cruel joke. Yet no Pentagonian would dare try to close the place, even for those few months. Why? Because Fort Lewis was like any other Army camp on Army real estate in the USA: it provided jobs and income for the civilian constituents of senators and congressmen who were invariably running for reelection. Fort Lewis was big business to northwest Washington. Politicians demanded it be used in exchange for their nod on continued military appropriations, and the pussyfooting new breed of statesmen-generals didn’t have the balls, the moral courage, to stand up and say that some things were more urgent, that it as insane to train jungle fighters in the snow. Instead, it was somehow more acceptable to allow badly prepared Willie Lump Lumps to die all over the battlefield, and just go on answering the letters from brokenhearted parents….”

Obviously, Hackworth was becoming disillusioned with Vietnam and the insanity of its being waged by politicians based on statistics based on lies. To ease the public conscience. All a pile of shit. For Hackworth, the

“Cambodian exercise was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me about the war in Vietnam and the direction America was heading. Militarily the operation was correct: a basic rule of counterinsurgency is to deny the insurgent a sanctuary …. But what was wrong with it, besides the fact that it came five years too late … was that the way it was done violated all the principles the United States of America, the country I loved and soldiered for, was built on. Cambodia was a NEUTRAL country. Our incursion, at this time in the war, with no prior notice to the fledgling Lon Nol government or even to our ambassador to Cambodia, was not, to my mind, any different from the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. In my estimation the exercise was an immoral, ill-thought-out venture, and one that would prove to be both an expensive tactical donnybrook and an irreparable strategic defeat.”

Wow! Strong words. I wonder what he thought about Bush’s invasion of sovereign Iraq? I need to look up some old Soldier of Fortune magazines and find out. This is true! This is right on. And this did it for him. America’s most decorated living soldier essentially gave up. He couldn’t take it any longer. He agreed to be interviewed for a tell all television program, and gave interviews to organizations like Newsweek, all with the agreement that nothing would be published until after his retirement in two months. So naturally, the Christian Science Monitor published an interview and everyone followed along behind, putting him on the run around the world. He was followed and monitored and threatened with court martial and the end of the book reads like a spy thriller, but ultimately, he was allowed to retire, dignity intact, and he moved to Australia, where he wrote this book in the late 80s.

In his epilogue, Hackworth takes a number of positions on a number of topics, speculating about America’s future involvement in places like Latin America, about the military’s continued poor training, about the absolute waste of billions of dollars on trash equipment, like the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and tanks and other assorted things. (He raged throughout the book about the inadequacies of the M-16 rifle.) He writes,

“Today’s soldiers … are being placed in great jeopardy by the weapons and equipment now being issued from on high. Given the scandals and the resulting publicity that have rocked the Pentagon in recent times, it is not difficult to see why: the US military’s procurement system is out of control. Still, the bottom line of the whole business is simply this: the United States buys too many weapons it doesn’t need, pays too much for what it gets, what it gets does not do the right job where in counts — on the battlefield — and men’s lives are being risked unnecessarily.”

He ends this 900 page beast of a book by writing, the “United States must shape up. It is a great country with a great heritage; it has set a good example in the past and it can do so in the future, if only it begins to choose its battles carefully and makes sure its causes are right. It is time to reduce the military machine that has broken the back of the nation’s economy, and begin to rebuild the industrial plant that made us great.” This book was very inspirational to read. It bogs down at places with repetitive stories, mostly about the Korean conflict, but is full of insight and passion. I strongly recommend it to history buffs and military fans, as well as the general reader. You stand to learn a lot.

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A Review of American Sniper

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 15, 2013

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military HistoryAmerican Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have really mixed feelings about this book and its author. I had been wanting to read it for awhile, but my interest spiked after reading that Kyle was murdered at a gun range recently. I mean, he was a Navy sniper, the best ever in the US military, so the irony of his murder is beyond description.

The book is really interesting to read, I must admit. There are many tales of his battles in Fallujah and Ramadi, as well as other places. (He was deployed to Iraq four times.) The description of his SEAL training was pretty intense. And the book starts out with his first sniper kill, a woman with a grenade. All told, he killed some 160 insurgents while over there, which admittedly is quite a few.

That being said, he seems to revel in the murder of other human beings, most of whom he refers to as “savages.” He was great at this job, but he loved to kill, and that made him rather unlikeable to me. He wanted to kill as many of the enemy as he could and was disappointed he couldn’t kill more. Not a very nice human being. He also struck me as woefully naive (and Republican) in defending the war, of invading a sovereign country to “liberate” its inhabitants (after asserting there were indeed chemical weapons there, which I don’t believe) and ending up shooting a ton of them who resented his presence in their country. Instead, he asserts this was to defend America and its freedoms. That’s BS, in my opinion. Iraq posed no threat to the US and played no role in terrorism — until we invaded. That’s a proven fact. So, his defense of the war rings hollow, and as I said, naive. (I wonder what he thought of Obama as commander in chief. I can pretty much guess….)

Another thing I didn’t like about the author is the number of fights he gets into and glorifies. He loves bar fights and brags about getting out of being arrested countless times. He brags about the SEALs beating up bar patrons in fights left and right. It’s really rather sickening. He also enjoys hazing new SEALs. The thing that truly sickens me is his countless assertions that God comes number one in his life, that he’s a born again Christian. Yet he uses the “F” word more than any Christian I’ve encountered and engages in many non-Christian acts. He seems like a total hypocrite to me. On page 431, he declares, “I am a strong Christian…. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation.” Yet on the same page, he said that while growing up, he wondered, “how would I feel about killing someone?” He answers he own question next by writing, “Now I know. It’s no big deal.” Seriously? Think God feels that way Chris? He ends the book by writing, “…when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.” Really? Seriously? And you’re a strong Christian??? Cause that’s not how I view Jesus as seeing things. I don’t think they all deserved to die. They’re children of God, just like everyone else. You invaded their country and came to kill them. If they shoot at you, that’s what you get. What a complete hypocrite.

So even though this book was moderately enjoyable, I can only give it three stars because the author is totally unlikeable and the book reeks of smugness. Also, his wife interjects repeatedly throughout the book, which might be interesting to some people, but which irritated me. She didn’t seem too likeable either, frankly. She’s a bitter woman. I wonder how she feels now that he’s dead at the hands of a deranged US gunman…? I cautiously recommend this book, but be prepared to read some ugliness.

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Christian Fundamentalist Freak Out Over Yoga in the Military | Alternet

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 9, 2013

Christian Fundamentalist Freak Out Over Yoga in the Military | Alternet.

Fundamentalist craziness!

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A Review of Secrets

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 21, 2012

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon PapersSecrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a lengthy but fascinating book to read. I’d had it for awhile, but had never opened it. Now I’m glad I did. Daniel Ellsberg was an analyst with the State Department, Department of Defense, was a Marine in Vietnam, and worked for the infamous Rand Corporation. He knew details about the Vietnam War that most did not, and in the late ’60s, he worked to uncover even more. Why? During his time in Vietnam, he had come to the conclusion that it was an immoral, unwinnable war, and he found in his research that it had largely been one war with first France and later America acting as the aggressors. Five — count ’em, five — US presidents lied to Congress and the American people about our involvement in the war and about the administration’s attempts to escalate, with Johnson being very bad and Nixon perhaps even worse. This war was fought in spite of good advice being available to these presidents. It’s personally perplexing to understand what was going through the minds of these bipartisan presidential efforts. What’s made clear is the South Vietnamese didn’t care about who won the war — they just wanted it over. They weren’t anti-communist, and the antipathy displayed by so many South Vietnamese turned it into an American war, one we never should have been involved in.

So the historical stuff is interesting, but the book picks up the pace to become a political thriller when Ellsberg starts copying what will become the Pentagon Papers he ultimately releases to the newspapers and the subsequent Watergate fiasco which resulted, in part. It was fascinating to read what he did when he went “underground” to avoid arrest by the FBI.

This book should be required reading for everyone today. It’s got important lessons to reveal, about US presidents, the government, the military, freedom of the press, the right of the people to know, American imperial aggression and much more. With the state of things today, it’d be great if Ellsberg would give lectures around the country to people very willing to listen and learn. This was a good book, and it might not merit five stars on its writing alone, but the subject matter takes it over the top and earns its five stars. Read it.

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