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Meandering Personal Anecdote Without a Point

[ 0 ] May 28, 2006 |

This morning I had my first migraine headache in probably two years. The headache starts in my eyes. I see a flashing, kaleidoscopic blur just to the left of center of my field of view. The blur slowly expands over the course of the headache, hollowing out as it goes. By the end, I have sort of a weird corona around my field of vision, but I can see things that are directly in front of me. Usually the headache itself hits towards the end of the visual disturbance (maybe twenty minutes on average). During bad headaches, I experience severe nausea, numbness in the extremities, and verbal impairment. Today wasn’t such a bad headache; some mild nausea was all I had. This didn’t make it any less inconvenient, though. The headache struck when I was about five minutes into my thirty minute bike ride home from work. With the extreme sensitivity to light on a bright Lexington day, I was effectively blind all the way home. Some might suggest that riding a bike blind (and without a helment) is a poor survival strategy, but I was in a hurry and very annoyed at my brain. By the time I got home, the visual impairment was gone, so all I had to deal with was the pain and nausea for the next several hours.

These days, I get a migraine about once every two years. When I was young, I would often get two per week, and they usually tended towards the more severe. Nothing I took helped, although I came to discover that if I took three or four aspirin just as the headache hit, things didn’t go so badly. For a long time I carried ibuprofen around wherever I went, although I don’t so much do that anymore. The migraines started slowing down my last year in high school, and I probably only suffered from one or two a month during most of my college career. By grad school they were a rare occurence, perhaps once a year. For a while I would occasionally (and still do very occasionally) suffer from what I like to think of as a semi-migraine; some mild head pain along with the feeling that I’m about to be visually impaired, but without the actual impairment or any other symptoms. Whenever I felt this way I would pop a couple of Advil, and nothing very bad would happen.

I can’t say why the migraines stopped. It could be that I’ve outgrown them, but my sister still suffers migraines, and she’s thirty. Oddly enough, she didn’t start getting headaches until high school, while I’ve had them since the second or third grade. I think, though, that it would be fair to say that the headaches changed my life. Although the correlation wasn’t perfect, and I of course never ran any numbers, there seemed to be a very strong link between headaches, periods of high stress, and missed meals. If I missed a meal and for some other reason suffered stress, I could virtually count on getting a headache. I also had occasional insomnia, and the headaches I got at night were invariably the worst. In my desire to escape the headaches, I think that I adjusted the way I live in a couple of very important ways. Specifically, I decided that I would avoid stress and avoid hunger.

No one who knows me would be likely to use the terms “tightly wound” or “high strung” to describe me, but I think that both would be fair assessments of my personality until my late teens. At some point, I just decided to stop worrying about things. This didn’t make me a free spirit, or a directionless drifter, but rather meant that I started taking a very laid-back approach to work, school, and life. In retrospect, it’s probably good that I didn’t get into a particularly good college, because I might have done very poorly, especially at the beginning. Even by the time I started doing well at the University of Oregon, my success depended more on the mastery of the necessary basic skills than on hard work. Although I would describe my stress level as low relative to my friends and co-workers (and I understand that this is an inherently difficult to assess question), I don’t think that the strategy I decided to pursue regarding stress has been entirely healthy. I think that it has made it difficult for me to get work done, especially when the presentation of that work has some stressful consequences. To give an example, I find virtually nothing more stressful than the experience of submitting an article for review. It’s hard enough to get myself to do the work, and I find the idea that others will be reading and critiquing what I write very difficult to deal with, especially in the context of the importance of such work to my career. Indeed, sometimes I experience a similar level of stress regarding blog posts. I understand that there are better strategies for managing stress, but I’ve never been able to employ them to great effect.

The other lifestyle change that migraines helped bring about involves food. I try very hard to avoid ever being hungry, at least in part because I associate hunger pangs with migraine attacks. When I’m with people, I’m almost invariably the guy who’s asking when we’ll eat, where we’ll eat, what we’ll eat until we eat, and so forth. Since I’ve never been willing to develop healthy eating strategies (carrying carrots or fruit around, for example), this has had predictable consequences. I exercise too much to be seriously overweight, but my cholesterol is very high, and I undoubtedly spend too much money on dining out.

The headache this morning seems to have been a random event, as I had just eaten a pancake breakfast and my stress level was mild even by my standards. Still, it’s interesting to think back on these events that were once central to my existence. I lost a league championship chess match in high school because of a migraine attack, and had to bow out halfway through an ACT test because of another. When I was looking for a job after I dropped out of college, I probably suffered a headache a day for a week. The way that I live now seems very distant from how I lived then. It’s possible (perhaps even probable) that the headaches stopped for some other reason, but I think that the impact has endured.

Fighting the Swiftboating

[ 0 ] May 28, 2006 |

Interesting NYT article on how John Kerry has pressed the fight against the Swiftboaters for Truth. Unsurprisingly, Kerry’s assault has been devastating; the only defense the Swiftboaters can seem to muster is that they didn’t like his anti-war speech in 1971.

Why didn’t Kerry fight back harder in 2004?

Of course, plenty of disappointed and angry Democrats would like to know why Mr. Kerry did not defend himself so strenuously before the election. He had posted some military documents on his campaign’s Web site and had allowed reporters to view his medical records but resisted open access to them as unnecessarily intrusive.

Mr. Kerry and his defenders say that they did not have the extensive archival material, and that it was too complicated to gather in the rapid pace of a campaign. He was caught off guard, he says; he had been prepared to defend his antiwar activism, but he did not believe that anyone would challenge the facts behind his military awards. “We should have put more money behind it,” Mr. Kerry says now. “I take responsibility for it; it was my mistake. They spent something like $30 million, and we didn’t. That’s just a terrible imbalance when somebody’s lying about you.”

I’m not convinced that fighting back hard would have done much good. Guys like Glenn Reynolds and Mickey Kaus constantly harped on the point that Kerry hadn’t released all of his records, but does anyone really think that such a release would have satisfied any of his opponents? Indeed, Kaus took the opportunity of the release to mock a bad picture of Kerry, to make fun of his grades, and to suggest that the records demonstrated that Kerry wasn’t really all that smart. In short, the release of the records didn’t answer any questions at all, because the point of the question was not to receive an answer, but rather to raise doubt about Kerry’s credentials.

Similarly, I doubt that a serious effort on the part of Kerry to fight the Swift Boaters would have made a difference in the campaign. There was plenty of evidence in the public sphere in the summer of 2004 that the Swift Boat campaign was garbage, but that was hardly the point. The purpose was to take advantage of a media dedicated to he said/she said coverage of major campaign issues; the accusation of cowardice was enough, even if no compelling evidence could be manufactured. I suspect that if Kerry had fought back against the Swift Boaters, the media would have portrayed him as obsessive about the issue, and Glenn Reynolds would have had the opportunity to link to a Mickey Kaus post suggesting that Kerry’s efforts to fight the charges clearly indicated that he had something to hide.

The only way that these sorts of things really go away is when the opposition party has enough basic dignity to reject the charges. When George H. W. Bush’s war record was brought into question in 1988 by someone who had served with him in the Navy, Michael Dukakis immediately and publicly rejected the opportunity to attack Bush on the issue. Given the same opportunity, the Republican Party manufactured fake Purple Hearts in a display that mocked anyone who had ever been wounded in US military service. When the proponents of the argument are driven by sufficient hate (the belief that Kerry stood for all of the things that helped us lose the Vietnam War), and have a large enough bankroll, I don’t know that there’s a good way to fight these kinds of charges.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Iron Duke

[ 0 ] May 28, 2006 |

Part IV of a five part series on the Battle of Jutland.

Part I: SMS Lutzow
Part II: HMS Lion
Part III: SMS Friedrich Der Grosse

HMS Iron Duke was the second battleship named after the Duke of Wellington. The first, scrapped in 1906, had been distinguished only by its experience, in 1875, of ramming and sinking its fellow battleship HMS Vanguard. The second Iron Duke was the name ship of the last class of dreadnoughts to enter Royal Navy service prior to the beginning of World War I. Iron Duke carried 10 13.5″ guns in five twin turrets, displaced 25000 tons, and could make 21 knots (although this had slowed by the end of the war). Iron Duke was a well-designed ship, capable of outgunning her German (if not her American) counterparts, and served as the basis for the Chilean battleship Almirante Latorre.

HMS Iron Duke became flagship of the Grand Fleet upon its creation in August, 1914. Iron Duke carried the flag of Admiral John Jellicoe, who had been promoted by Winston Churchill to command at the beginning of the war. Jellicoe’s job was not to lose the war, and the way to do that was to avoid being destroyed by the German High Seas Fleet. given that the German fleet was smaller than the Grand Fleet and was limited geographically, this was an achievable task. Jellicoe understood that numerical superiority was key to victory in modern naval engagements, and steadfastly refused to allow the Royal Navy to meet the High Seas Fleet in detail.

On May 30, 1916, the British received intelligence that the High Seas Fleet was about to sortie. The German plan was to lure the Grand Fleet into a series of submarine ambushes, but the U-boats failed to find any targets. Iron Duke and the rest of the Grand Fleet left Scapa Flow some two hours before the High Seas Fleet put to sea. This put the Grand Fleet in an ideal position to intercept the Germans, who expected the British to arrive much later, and much weaker. The initial contact was made by the battlecruisers of both fleets, and resulted in the destruction of two British capital ships. Admiral David Beatty, however, drew the Germans north into the British trap, and on the afternoon of the May 31, the 24 dreadnoughts of the Grand Fleet became visible to the German van.

The German response was to execute a 180 degree turn away from the British fleet. This left the Germans on the wrong side of the Grand Fleet, however, and Admiral Scheer soon ordered another 180 degree turn. This took the Germans directly into the center of the British line. Understanding that this path led to annihilation, Scheer ordered yet another turn, and ordered his remaining battlecruisers to cover the retreat of the battleships (the wisdom of this move is questionable; the battlecruisers were already seriously damaged, and were by nature less able to withstand the British onslaught). Scheer also gave a critical order to his destroyers to execute a torpedo attack against the British line. This move saved the German fleet from destruction.

Faced with the German destroyers, Jellicoe had to decide whether or not to turn into the torpedos or turn away from them. By turning in, the British line might have suffered some losses, but would have been able to keep in contact with the Germans. By turning away, the British risked losing the Germans. Jellicoe, in accordance with normal practice of the day, turned away. After the war, this move was examined in great detail. In Jellicoe’s favor, it was noted that he had a reasonable expectation that it would be possible to maintain contact with the German fleet and to prevent it from returning to its bases. The German torpedo attack might have cost several dreadnoughts, it was argued, and given the widespread belief that the Germans had ship-to-ship superiority, this could have nullified the British advantage. Finally, it was argued that Jellicoe’s job was not to destroy the German fleet, but to prevent the destruction of the Royal Navy.

I agree with the first argument, but it should be noted that breaking off contact had obvious risks. General signalling ineptitude on the part of the Royal Navy would allow the entire German fleet to escape during the night. Jellicoe knew that this was possible, and could have worked more vigorously to solve Royal Navy communications problems before the battle. The second argument I find uncompelling. The British had 27 dreadnoughts and six battlecruisers at the time of the turn. The Germans had 16 battleships and four battlecruisers. Moreover, the German fleet had suffered a much more severe battering than the British. Also, I seriously disagree with the idea that the British battleships were inferior to their German counterparts. While the German ships may have had better survivability characteristics, the British were much more heavily armed. Even accepting the loss of several ships, the Grand Fleet had a commanding superiority over the High Seas Fleet.

The last argument is most interesting from a strategic point of view. Had the High Seas Fleet somehow destroyed the Grand Fleet, or at least severely reduced it in size, then the British war effort might have been devastated. Theoretically, the German Navy could have raided the British coast, could have attacked British trade on the surface, and could have threatened the supply lines to France. The same was not true, however, of the German war effort. Had the High Seas Fleet suffered complete annihilation, I doubt that the British would have been able to turn it to serious advantage. It would have been very difficult for the Royal Navy to enter the Baltic in any force, and Germany was not dependent on foreign trade. Trafalgar, it should be noted, did not lead to the defeat of Napoleon. On this point, Jellicoe was quite correct to avoid a risky situation.

The British public and the British government, however, did not want a calm and judicious decision. They wanted Nelson and Trafalgar. Jellicoe was eventually “promoted” out of the command of the Grand Fleet, and replaced by David Beatty. The crew of Iron Duke didn’t care for the new admiral, so Beatty moved his flag to Queen Elizabeth. The rest of Iron Duke’s World War I career was uneventful.

The battleships fleets of the world were constrained by the Washington Naval Treaty, but Iron Duke survived the first cut of 1922. The London Naval Treaty of 1930 further reduced the battleships allowable to the three great naval powers, and Iron Duke was reclassified as an auxiliary. She was used as an accomodations ship in World War II, and was hit by several German bombs in 1939. In 1948 Iron Duke was sent to the breakers. John Jellicoe was made Governor-General of New Zealand after the war, and died in 1935.

Clean War

[ 0 ] May 27, 2006 |

Greenwald on Haditha:

It is certainly true, as many pro-war advocates today have noted, that incidents of this type are inevitable in every war. And it is also true that the mere existence of incidents of this sort does not prove that the war is unjustified, since even the most justified wars have included soldiers engaging in gratuitously cruel, violent and outright criminal behavior. The killings are morally reprehensible but do not constitute direct evidence as to whether the war itself was, from the beginning, a justified war. That’s all true enough.

But what incidents of this type do underscore is that wars are not something that are to be routine or casual tools in foreign policy. The outright eagerness and excitement for more and more wars that we see so frequently from some circles is not only unseemly and ugly unto itself — although it is that — but it is also so reckless and unfathomably foolish. Every war spawns countless enemies, entails incidents which severely undermine a nation’s credibility and moral standing, ensures that the ugliest and most violent actions will be undertaken in the country’s name, and, even in the best of cases, wreaks unimaginable human suffering and destruction.

Right. When young men are sent into dangerous areas with heavy weaponry, these sorts of incidents will happen. The problem in not unique to the United States; recall the Somalia Affair, in which two Canadian soldiers massacred a Somali teenager. Surely, training can reduce or increase the frequency of such incidents, and it’s fair to note that German soldiers in World War II performed atrocities as a matter of policy. The perpetrators of Haditha surely should be prosecuted, but it’s critical to remember that this is not simply a case of a few bad apples; this behavior is the inevitable and predictable consequence of using war as a tool of policy.

Ralph Hitchens asked a while ago in comments why I seem so obsessive about critiquing “effects-based operations”, in particular strategic bombing. I detest concepts like EBO and “shock and awe” because they promise clean war, something that they clearly cannot deliver. The concept of clean war has surely changed over the years; in 1940 it meant that the enemy could be destroyed without the cost of serious friendly casualties, and now it has as much to do with the minimization of collateral damage as it does with force protection. What EBO always promises, however, is that war will be cheap and clean. Too many policymakers and too many war advocates fall for this line, and assume that the morally problematic parts of fighting a war are in the past, or can be safely pushed aside.

Sadly, the grimmer consequences of war can be controlled, but not eliminated. The death of innocent civilians in target countries is inevitable, whether it happens as a consequence of occupation or as a result of poor weapons targetting. It follows then, as Greenwald points out, that the decision to use the military as a tool of foreign policy is always a morally problematic choice. While only the few marines who directly carried out the massacre will be prosecuted, the blood is really on everyone’s hands. This doesn’t mean that military force should never be used in the pursuance of foreign policy goals, but it does mean that every such decision involves a weighty calculus.

[ 0 ] May 26, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

Technical Difficulties

[ 0 ] May 25, 2006 |

I understand that we are currently suffering from some technical difficulties. Without getting into too much detail, I blame the University of Washington. If it doesn’t clear up in an hour or so, I’ll take more vigorous action.

UPDATE: Problem solved.

When Ronald Reagan Saved Us from the Metric System

[ 0 ] May 24, 2006 |

Dean Dad:

Anyway, the metric system at that time came off as a sort of effete, Euro-Modernist import, shoved down the throats of Real Americans by the same smug coastal elites who got all self-righteous about banning smoking and conserving energy. To my memory, the song “Take This Job and Shove It” pretty much captured the spirit of the age. At that point, to suggest posting highway signs in kilometers was tantamount to announcing that you like to traipse through daisies and dress up like a pretty little girl.

Readers of a certain age – do you remember just what, exactly, was behind the anti-metric movement? I think this represents the dilemmas of American liberalism in microcosm.

Great question. I remember just the very tail end of this, but I recall pretty clearly that the grandparents (good, solid Republicans who viewed Ronald Reagan as a secular deity) viewed the defeat of the metric system as a victory in the battle to turn back the barbarians at the gates. I didn’t really understand, but, good American that I was, I tried until junior high to convert ideologically problematic metric measures back into the good “American” English system…

More on the Hanson

[ 0 ] May 24, 2006 |

One of the most entertaining parts of being a defense oriented blogger is the occasional opportunity to dismantle Victor Davis Hanson, king of the 101st Typing Wingnuts. Hanson is such a bizarre product of our age; a “historian” whose work is plainly incoherent, but who has generated a following through appeal to a set of masculinist tropes about warfare, and who has maintained that appeal with the occasional screed against dirty-pacifist-hippie-leftist-Frenchies. I suppose that Hanson’s rise and the popularity of the History Channel arise from the same impulse, although the comparison manages to do a disservice to the History Channel, difficult as that might be to imagine. Hanson gives his readers the ability to fancy that they are Russell Crowe’s Gladiator, always ready to sacrifice whatever is necessary to defend the idyllic family against either the barbarian hordes on the borders or the more insidious internal threats to the Republic.

Anyway, Dan Nexon gives us a fine contribution to the Hanson-smashing genre. Enjoy.

An American Odyssey

[ 0 ] May 24, 2006 |

Speaking of food that will make you violently ill, I really want to be these guys.

A few weeks ago I embarked on a gluttonous odyssey, with a changing cast of co-conspirators, across this fast-food nation, from New York to California, sea to greasy sea. It was a roving binge as warped road movie: “Transfatamerica.” Or maybe, given our cholesterol-oblivious plunge over a nutritional cliff: “Thelma and Disease.”

But my goal wasn’t to supersize myself. It was to size up and single out the best fast food from familiar national chains, relatively unfamiliar regional chains and tiny local chains I had never encountered. To take the culinary road less traveled, at least by me.

Given my latest cholesterol reading (Doctor Bennet: “Check again. Are you sure you’re still alive?”) I fear that such a quest is forever beyond my grasp. Interestingly, what I’ve heard about Gold Star Chili confirms Bruni’s assessment that it’s the worst fast food in America. I can’t agree with his claim that KFC is better than Popeye’s, but I concur that the Whopper is better than the Big Mac by a fair margin.

Hat tip to Davida.

Can’t Greece and Turkey Just Get Along?

[ 0 ] May 23, 2006 |

Seriously. This is ridiculous.

Greek and Turkish F-16 fighter planes collided in midair today in disputed airspace over the Aegean Sea.


Greece insists its national airspace rights extend 10 miles from its coast. Turkey, however, recognizes only a six-mile zone and says it has a right to train in international airspace.

The dispute, among the thorniest in Greek-Turkish relations, has had warplanes from both sides engaging in a near daily drill of mock combat maneuvers over contested parts of the Aegean.

In April alone, Turkish jets violated Greek airspace no less than 53 times, Hellenic Air Force officials said today.

Then again, I suppose that it helps to demonstrate the continued value of the NATO alliance. Greece and Turkey are far less likely to come to actual blows while under the same security umbrella.

Incidentally, one of the books I mention below, Wayne Hughes’ Fleet Combat, describes a scenario involving US naval intervention in a Greco-Turkish war. Kind of cool.

Update: Via comments, Fistful of Euros has more.

Military Affairs Reading List

[ 0 ] May 22, 2006 |

CJ, among others, has requested a military affairs reading list. Ask 100 students of military affairs this question and you’ll get 100 different lists, and I haven’t really made an effort to give a general survey. Rather, this is a selection of my favorite books. I also spoke with John at Op For, and he offered his list. Here goes:

Stephen Biddle, Military Power: This is a critical text for getting a basic understanding of the “modern system” of land warfare that developed on the Western Front during World War I. Biddle includes chapters on Operation Goodwood, Operation Desert Storm, and the Second Battle of the Somme. The answer, Biddle argues, is force employment. Effective execution of tactics matters more than numbers or technology.

David Glantz and Jonathan House, When Titans Clashed: This is an excellent single volume history of the Eastern Front in World War II. The scale of combat on the Eastern Front exceeded in numbers, technology, and skill anything seen in the West. The Red Army and the Wehrmacht attained an extraordinary level of skill by the end of the war. Important because this is the single most devastating war in human history.

Hans Delbruck, Warfare in Antiquity: A little over a hundred years old, Delbruck employs an innovative method for studying military history. If you want to know what happened at Marathon, then the historical text matters somewhat less that what our own eyes tell us is possible. For example, Delbruck compared the description of the Battle of Marathon given by Herodotus with the actual battlefield, and determined that it was simply impossible for the Athenian phalanx to move as Herodotus had recorded. This text, the first of four, is very good for describing the basic difference between the various kinds of phalanx and the progressive iterations of Roman Legion.

Robert Pape, Bombing to Win: This selection might be controversial, but I like how Pape handles the various coercion campaigns in World War II and the Vietnam War. It might be a little heavy on the political science for some tastes. The upshot is that strategic bombing doesn’t come close to meeting the predictions of its enthusiasts. Although I haven’t read Tami Biddle’s Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare, it’s supposed to be quite good.

John Keegan, Face of Battle: This is a very nice little volume that explains, in vivid detail, the differences between the battle experience of a soldier at Agincourt, at Waterloo, and at the Somme. If you really don’t know anything about warfare, this isn’t a bad place to start.

Andrew Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam: An exceptional volume about the experience of the Army in the Vietnam War, and in particular the difficulty it had in adopting and executing counter-insurgency tactics. A must read, especially today.

Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence: I include this volume not so much because I agree with Schelling’s arguments (I don’t, so much), but because Schelling is so important to understanding how states and heads of government have thought about coercion and military violence in the past forty years.

Peter Paret ed., Makers of Modern Strategy: If you’re only going to read one 900 page book on military strategy, try this one. Most, although not all, of the essays are informative and helpful. The contributors discuss everything from the development of Napoleonic warfare to nuclear strategy. There’s even a competent if not inspired essay on Soviet military strategy by Condi Rice.

Carl Builder, The Masks of War
: A bit outdated but still remarkably interesting, Builder discusses how the three services understand themselves and war in strikingly different ways. Helps to explain why convincing the services to work with one another remains difficult, and why Congress and the Pentagon have worked so hard at convincing them to cooperate.

Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones, How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War: This is my favorite military account of the Civil War, although I’ll concede that I’m no specialist and that others may have better suggestions. This is a very serviceable volume, detailed and even-handed.

Sam Huntington, Soldier and the State: A classic on the role of the military professional in a civilian governed state. Huntington didn’t really get much better than this.

Wayne Hughes, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat: A very solid text on the development of missile warfare, and of the application of general principles of naval combat to the modern age. I don’t quite agree with many of his conclusions, but it’s a useful book nonetheless.

Kenneth Pollack, Arabs at War: Interesting both for the subject matter, and as a general history of warfare in the second half of the twentieth century. Pollack details the particular military deficiencies of each Arab state. Israel’s success against the Arab states isn’t simply the result of Israeli expertise, but also includes a fair dose of Arab military ineptitude. The Egyptian chapter is particularly illuminating, and demonstrates the importance of communication, trust, and innovation in modern mechanized warfare.

Alan Millett and Williamson Murray eds., Military Effectiveness, v. 1-3 These books include essays on the military effectiveness of the various belligerents in World War I, the Interwar Period, and World War II. Very informative. Unfortunately, the seem to be out of print. Try to find them in a library. I haven’t yet read Millet and Murray’s history of World War II, A War to be Won, but I suspect that it’s quite good.

N.A.M. Rodger, Safeguard of the Sea, Command of the Ocean: This selection is quite idiosyncratic, and most readers probably won’t find all that much use for these two volumes. They chronicle the history of naval warfare, particularly in the context of the development of navies in the British Isles. What I find most interesting in Rodger’s work is his narrative of the evolution of the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy is one of the world’s oldest military organizations, and its development closely parallels the construction of the English state. Both volumes are quite readable.

That’s my list. Here’s John’s.

My additions:

These are eight books that I consider to be invaluable additions to the science of military thought. I don’t always go after the most brainy reads, instead focusing on the ones that I find most valuable and applicable to the modern day. For example, I’ve included Clausowitz but excluded Sun Tzu, who I think is dry and a master of the obvious. But that’s aside the point. Hope you all find these suggestions as useful as I have, and feel free to send me your own suggestions.

Hitler’s Generals: books on the military genius of German commanders during the Second World War are a dime a dozen. I dig Barnett’s version because -unlike the subject’s other authors- he spends more time detailing the relationship between Hitler and the German High Command than he does kissing the asses of the Kraut field marshalls. I’m not saying guys like Guderian and Rommell aren’t deserving of high praise, I’m just sick of hearing about it. Barnett breaths new life into an otherwise tired theme, check it out.

Stephen Decatur: A Life Most Bold and Daring: My blog partner Charlie describes Stephen Decatur as “the Jack Bauer of the 1800s,” and he’s right. The US Navy’s famed commodore was responsible for the first real projection of US power abroad, fought the Barbary Pirates off the Tripoli coast and commanded a naval squadron during the War of 1812. Dr. Spencer Tucker captured Decatur so effectively that A Life Most Bold and Daring has become one of my favorite reads.

Rogue Warrior: Former Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko is a controversial guy. He was court-martialed by the Navy for some stupid spat over hand grenades, I don’t know the details. But Rogue Warrior, Marcinko’s autobiography, is a must-read. It’s a kind of a “rise and fall of the special forces operator” story, following Marcinko as he joined the SEALs during their infancy in the early 60s, fought in Vietnam, and founded two of the nation’s premier counter-terrorism units: SEAL Team Six and Red Cell. What’s fascinating about the book -if you can get past all the ego- is the way Marcinko’s life and story intersects with history. It’s not a very academic read, lots of swearing and dirty jokes, but hell, whatever. If he can be informative and entertaining at the same time, great.

Imperial Grunts: Robert Kaplan uses Imperial Grunts to make an argument that I hate, the notion of America as an empire, without being snotty about it. Embedding himself with elite American military units in some six different countries, Kaplan doesn’t hide the fact that he greatly admires US troops. But, he says, the fall of the Soviet Union and rise of ambiguous enemies have turned those soldiers into the arms of 21st century imperialism, no less so than Rome during her apex of power. This is one of those “important” books.

On War: Okay I know that mentioning Clausowitz is a “no duh” addition but, cliche or not, the lasting effects of Clausowitz’s military genius make it difficult to exclude.

The Book of Five Rings: And speaking of Clausowitz, this is like a Japanese version of On War. Another book where philosophy and military science meet. Plus I’ve always thought Samurais were cool.

George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the 20th Century:
I’ve long believed that General George C. Marshall was one of the most important figures of the 20th century, a true-to-life Cincinattus. Unlike other generals, Marshall’s legacy transcended warfare, as he was instrumental in the formation of the NATO alliance and the reconstruction of Europe. Mark Stoler’s account of Marshall’s life isn’t so much a biography as it is a lesson in leadership. Oh and Marshall is a fellow VMI man, heh.


[ 0 ] May 21, 2006 |

It appears that Montenegro has voted to secede from the Union of Serbia and Montenegro. A 55% supermajority was needed, and it looks as if they’ve just managed to get there. Let’s hope that this divorce can be conducted more peacefully than the rest of the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Doug Muir has more.

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