Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

21.2.10

Review: SENATOR'S SON


Nearly 25 years ago, as a freshman college student balancing a science major with the obligatory credits in the Humanities, my English 101 professor introduced me to the concept of “verisimilitude”: the likeness or resemblance of a creative writing effort to reality. While this was a difficult feat for me in my writing assignments, it is something that Luke Larson has effortlessly achieved in his first novel, Senator’s Son.

Luke was a journalism major at a rival PAC-10 school, courtesy of an NROTC scholarship to the University of Arizona, and as a junior officer in the U.S. Marine Corps served two tours in Iraq (both in al Anbar province – first in 2005 during the election of the Iraqi Transitional Government that was to draft a permanent constitution, and again in 2007 during the Iraqi national referendum and the start of General Petraeus’s “Surge”).

Senator’s Son wastes no time hurling the reader into the breech. Written in a tempo prestissimo style, this rapid-fire novel gives you a no-holds-barred perspective of modern counterinsurgency from multiple perspectives: the families at home with a dissociated populace; the wounded warriors battling the demons of recovery, opiate pain-killer addictions and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; the careerist bureaucrats that infiltrate every large organization; and most importantly the junior officers and non-commissioned officers who must make up for “higher’s” planning inadequacies and strategic myopia. Larson’s use of a 2047 scenario in the southwest Pacific, with a lone Senator holding the deciding vote on whether or not to commit U.S. military power abroad, helps to reinforce the strategic consequences our actions today can have on future generations.

Set in 2007 Ar Ramadi, a city of nearly a half-million that serves as the provincial capital of al Anbar province just west of Baghdad, Senator’s Son is the story of the platoons of GOLF Company. GOLF is a Marine company (part of a Marine battalion tied to an Army brigade) responsible for sweeping missions in south Ramadi in the days prior to the 2007 Iraqi national referendum (and a few months prior to “The Surge”). Their early ventures from the “Snake Pit” (a heavily fortified Marine firm base) poignantly demonstrate the complexities of contemporary warfare.

The force protection concerns are palpable – one can almost smell the raw sewage flowing through the ruined streets of a dying city, and feel the peering eyes of snipers tracking you in their sights. Every piece of litter is a potential Improvised Explosive Device, and every sound a threat. And like Mayor Giuliani’s “Broken Windows” theory in late 1990s New York City, the reluctant shift from a hardened, up-armored patrol mindset to one of cooperative engagement with a foreign culture underscores the essence of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine now codified in FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5: Counterinsurgency.

Like real life, there are few “happy endings” in this book. Each platoon commander in GOLF has his own strengths and fallibilities: from steadfast Bama’s bravery and bigotries to the maverick Greg’s ingenuity and independence. And each must face his own demons in the prose that Larson deftly weaves.

At a minimum, Senator’s Son is a brilliant primer on leadership: how to learn which rules are worth breaking, the importance of adaptability when there are no black-or-white situations but only gray, and the primacy of relationships.

But it is also a tribute to those who answer a call to serve – whether they serve in their own communities as volunteers, or have the privilege of wearing the Eagle-Globe-and-Anchor of a Marine (like my grandfather, a mortarman with CHARLIE-1-6 in Guadalcanal and Tarawa, and my grandmother, a clerk-typist at Hunters Point-San Francisco who met my grandfather after his malaria washed him out of the Fleet Marine Force). Senator’s Son is a testament to the resilience of those who carry the burden of personal sacrifice with such humility that we can take our own freedom for granted.

This book is a “must read” for anyone who cares about the greater world beyond our neighborhood – and the role that power (be it the “hard” power of weaponry and kinetic energy, or the “soft” power of relationships) can play in shaping the world for better or for worse.


(cross-posted at Antilibrary and Zenpundit)


Labels: , , , , , , ,

13.6.08

Generations of War: New Post

After a nearly-four month hiatus, I have posted a new piece over at my co-'blog, Dreaming5GW. Check it out.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

14.5.08

Review: tdaxp's Revolutionary Strategies

Überblogger and 'blogfriend Dan Abbott (of tdaxp) has published his first book: Revolutionary Strategies in Early Christianity: 4th Generation Warfare (4GW) Against the Roman Empire, and the Counterinsurgency (COIN) Campaign to Save It. It's on sale now on Amazon.

Dan, a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a co-contributing colleague of mine at Dreaming 5GW, is a dutiful student of the late Col. John Boyd's ideas regarding conflict, decision making and leadership. He introduced this book on his 'blog earlier this month.

Dan has done a remarkable job applying contemporary theories of warfare and network science to the early Christian / late Roman era. The most notable strength in Revolutionary Strategies is his inventive correlation of the defensive strategies employed by Caiaphas (the chief antagonist of Jesus’s ministries) to those of Diocletian (the late-3rd century Roman emperor who ordered the most severe persecution of the Christian faithful). Accompanying this analysis is a very cogent application of the theories of Boyd (Penetrate - Isolate - Subvert - Reorient - Reharmonize, or PISRR), with modern examples like Vichy France that match the dynamics in the early Christian church.

Both Caiaphas and Diocletian sought to preserve the status quo. For Caiaphas, appeasing Rome was his primary objective: a rogue rabbi who preached of other-worldly gifts would have reflected poorly upon him and his hierarchy. Diocletian clearly understood the management complexities of so vast an empire, and seemed to adeptly address many of the most-pressing ills that plagued the Empire (poor civic participation, an army spread thin on the borders with little to no interior defenses) despite his rampant cronyism (particularly in the establishment of the Tetrarchy). But for the first 18 years of his reign Diocletian was unconcerned about the "Christian threat" – and if it not for Galerius would likely have never ordered the Great Persecution.

Most significantly, Dan’s book opens several new fronts on the debate over the nature of insurgency – and counterinsurgency. For instance, is the ex post facto presumption of “co-option” by the splinter Jewish sect that has become the Christian church practical? Or, rather, was the Christian faith “culturally appropriated” by the Roman empire upon Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the early 4th century? While Dan asserts the former through the hypernetworking of the Apostle Paul, I believe this is a topic worthy of broader study. For instance, was Paul (née Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee) savvy enough to realize that his peers in Jewish leadership were attracting the ire of Rome? Did Paul’s ministries throughout the Mediterranean seek to increase the rift between Jerusalem and the splinter sect of Christian faithful? And were the Gospels written in a manner to give Rome (and particularly Pilate) a “pass” in the crucifixion of Jesus? (Note that three of the four Gospels were published immediately prior to the First Jewish-Roman War and the subsequent destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.)

Dan also provides another benchmark in the evolving theory of the “generations of war”, to wit his development of a taxonomy to differentiate between the various generational constructs. Though I disagree with his assertions that the “0th” (zeroth) generation connotes a form of “total war” and that 3rd generation warfare connotes “better minds”, Dan brings value by identifying possible relationships across the xGW generations and inviting further dialogue.

This is perhaps the greatest utility of Revolutionary Strategies: proffering novel ideas in order to provoke debate. Just as the spiritual values of the Romans were initially at odds with the splinter Jewish sect we now call Christians, the different cognitive approaches of Islam and Christianity – one society favoring creativity and innovation, the other cherishing rote memorization – will have similar consequences for our own unfolding century.

Labels: , , , , ,

7.12.07

A Date Which Lives in Infamy

Flags across the United States are at half-mast today in recognition of "a date which shall live in infamy". At 7:52 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, the first wave of Japanese bombers reached the western shore of O'ahu (near today's Lualualei Naval Weapons Station), crested the Waianae Ridge at Kolekole Pass (which connects Lualualei to Schofield Barracks), attacking military airfields as well as the fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor to the south. More than two thousand sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed -- along with 68 civilians -- compared to just 65 Japanese airmen killed.

The photo above has been a staple of my briefings on defense transformation for years. When I show the photo cropped to show only the lower-right quadrant, nearly everyone correctly observes "Battleship Row" at Pearl Harbor. Showing the full photo (from a scale model in wartime Japan) demonstrates the challenge we in a open society face when battling adversaries who don't share our values -- nor our freedoms.

John Robb has aptly noted our vulnerability to "open source warfare" -- a challenge that is exacerbated by the openness of our society. But the solution is not to trade our freedoms for the "warm blanket of security". Rather, we should remember that it is those freedoms -- the freedom to live, to love, to pursue happiness and prosperity -- that make us strong.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

19.10.07

Yorktown Day

About 15 miles to the east of the original Jamestown colony in Virginia (the first permanent British establishment in the "New World") sits the port of Yorktown -- and its deep water access to the York River, Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. This is ironic because, in the space of about 30 minutes, one can drive the Colonial Parkway through the National Park Service's Colonial National Historical Park across nearly 200 years of British rule in America.

The Siege of Yorktown (Autumn 1781) was the perfect storm of:
  • strategic miscues (General Charles Cornwallis was sent to Yorktown to secure a deep-water port, but he wanted to "split" the colonies in the middle to shatter their cohesion)
  • operational brilliance (particularly Washington's deceptive maneuver from Dobbs Ferry, New York to the Virginia Peninsula, freezing Clinton's forces in New York to defend against Washington's already-departed army)
  • French naval success (Admiral de Grasse's stalemate against Admiral Graves in the Battle of the Capes allowed Compte de Barras to create a naval blockade in the Hampton Roads)
  • and lucky weather (storms prevented the pinned-down Cornwallis from evacuating across the York River to Gloucester Point)
After three weeks of intense bombardment by Washington and Lafayette, with reinforcements from New York still many days away, Cornwallis realized his tenuous position. On October 19th, 1781, he formally surrendered to General George Washington.

The result was the capture of nearly 2/3s of all British forces in America, and a loss of interest by the U.K. government in the then-six year old war. Prime Minister Lord North began the proceedings that would result in the Treaty of Paris -- and would become the first head of government ever ousted by a vote of "no confidence" in March 1782.

The Yorktown Battlefield is one of the best preserved in the National Park Service, with the interior lines and redoubts available for close-up investigation as well as an outstanding audio-guided driving tour. Anyone who visits Colonial Williamsburg or Tidewater Virginia should plan to spend an afternoon at Yorktown.

Labels: , , , ,

12.10.07

Terror Salvo: USS COLE

In August 2000, the USS COLE (DDG-67) guided missile destroyer departed Naval Station - Norfolk in southeastern Virginia for a five-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf. After transit through the Suez Canal, it moored on a floating refueling platform in Yemen's Aden Harbor (near the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula).

Approximately two hours after arriving in the harbor, a small inflatable craft laden with more than 500-lb. (200kg) of C-4 military-grade plastic explosives made its way to the "dolphin" where COLE was refueling. Watchstanders mistook the boat for one of the many harbor craft routinely seen in the area. At 11:18am local time (08:18 GMT) on Thursday, October 12th, 2000, the two suicide bombers on the inflatable craft detonated their shaped charge alongside the port hull near COLE's galley, tearing a 10m-wide hole at the waterline. 39 sailors were wounded, while 17 gave the "last full measure of devotion" in service to our nation.

The seventeen sailors who lost their lives in this attack:
  • Hull Maintenance Technician Third Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter
  • Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer First Class Richard Costelow
  • Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis
  • Information Systems Technician Seaman Timothy Lee Gauna
  • Signalman Seaman Apprentice Cheron Louis Gunn
  • Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels
  • Engineman Second Class Mark Ian Nieto
  • Electronics Warfare Technician Third Class Ronald Scott Owens
  • Seaman Apprentice Lakiba Nicole Palmer
  • Engine Fireman Joshua Langdon Parlett
  • Fireman Apprentice Patrick Howard Roy
  • Electronics Warfare Technician Second Class Kevin Shawn Rux
  • Mess Management Specialist Third Class Ronchester Managan Santiago
  • Operations Specialist Second Class Timothy Lamont Saunders
  • Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis, Jr.
  • Ensign Andrew Triplett
  • Seaman Apprentice Craig Bryan Wibberley
A memorial page with poems and photos is here. Only through the quick action and extraordinarily competent damage control by her crew did USS COLE remain afloat -- and is still in commission today.

This attack was ultimately traced to al-Qa'ida, in their escalating war against the United States and the forces of freedom and egalitarianism -- a war that was sown in the mountains of Afghanistan during the insurgency against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and began in earnest in America with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Labels: , , ,

9.8.07

An xGW Primer (Abridged)

Since my good friends Zenpundit, tdaxp and General of the Hordes Subadei Ba'adur have offered primers on the "generational" model of different approaches to warfighting, I respectfully offer this abbreviated primer:

"Zeroth" Generation Warfare:


First Generation Warfare:


Second Generation Warfare:


Third Generation Warfare:


Fourth Generation Warfare:

Fifth Generation Warfare:


Too bad Mel Gibson (the architect of warfighting archetypes) wasn't in the ultimate 5GW movie:

Class dismissed...

Labels: , , ,

25.7.07

A fresh perspective on Iraq

David Kilcullen's recent post at Small Wars Journal, "Understanding Current Operations in Iraq," provides a ground-eye perspective on "the surge" -- and a frank appraisal of GEN Petraeus's strategy. David, the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor for Multinational Force-Iraq, underscores the shift in focus from an attritionist, "2nd generation warfare" approach (i.e., kill insurgents) to a population-based approach that seeks to deny insurgents sanctuary.

Some may view his comments on "positioning" as an attempt to justify lack of perceived progress to date, while others may profess skepticism at the willingness of the Iraqis to accept increased U.S. presence in their neighborhoods.

But David's article also raises substantive ideas that will enrich our popular understanding of counterinsurgency. In particular, his grasp of our own limitations in contending with a "fluid" adversary -- and that opponent's dependence on the fixed elements of Iraqi society -- are important for an honest appraisal of GEN Petraeus's success come September.

Labels: ,