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)


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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.

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17.5.08

Thermodynamics & Resilience

Author and blogfriend John Robb (of Global Guerillas) has done some fascinating "horizontal thinking" lately, tying the concept of "resilience" to thermodynamics. Yesterday's 'blogpost (entitled "Dissipative Structures") combines entropy and complexity -- with special attnention given to the concept of "scale" in complex systems.

John has raised an important point -- one that I echoed in his comments section at GG. If we presume that organizational and political structures exist because they make it more efficient (i.e., less entropic) to live, then we can also presume they will gradually become extinct when people have better options to pursue. "Resilient Communities" may just be one method by which we are able to satisfy Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. From John's comment section:

On the topic of thermodynamics, remember that entropy can be controlled -- but it takes work to do so (otherwise it would be impossible to make ice, an organized lattice of hydrogen-bonded water molecules, from a disorganized liquid).

Organizations are formed in order to accomplish tasks more efficiently. While it is a staple of GG and your own JR blogs (and BNW) to note the declining role of the nation-state, it is worthwhile to remember WHY our nomadic species settled into agrarian communes: because it was more efficient. Therefore, urban centers arose because that was the BEST way to accomplish the tasks required in a civilization dependent on industrialization. Similarly, nation-states were the most efficient mechanism for providing for common defense while creating -- and regulating -- markets in the post-Renaissance era. The former political structures based on the church and the "Divine Right of Kings" were discarded, and we adapted to the new norms.

Have nation-states recently exceeded some threshold of efficiency? Or are there better examples for how we can organize to live, work and play without further disruptions to our environment?

RCs may just be one case -- and I hope you will more fully develop this theory in your forthcoming RC book. It probably deserves and entire section, rather than just a lone chapter.

The premise should be how can we best abide by the 1st Law of Thermodynamics (Energy is always conserved) while also allowing the core social structures to thrive within our environment.


Zenpundit has provided a handy reference of John's work toward his second book (on "Resilient Communities"). Check it out and join the fray.

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22.10.07

Terror vs. the Marines: Beirut

At 6:22am local time in Beirut (4:22am GMT) on Sunday, October 23rd, 1983, a yellow Mercedes-Benz delivery truck (taking the place of a hijacked water delivery truck) approached the U.S. Marine Corps compound near the Beirut International Airport. Marines from the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (1/8) were deployed there as part of an international peacekeeping force (Multinational Force in Lebanon) to oversee the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon the previous year.

The flatbed truck turned onto the access road toward the Marine compound, circled a parking lot, and accelerated toward the sentry post. Since “suicide bombing” was a relatively new development in the post-kamikaze age (perfected by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka in the previous few years), force protection measures pale in comparison to today: there were no “Jersey barriers” obstructing direct access into the compound, the only barricades were sewer pipes behind a raised gate, nearby perimeter fencing was simple barbed wire, and “Rules of Engagement” for the sentries were so restrictive that they could not load and raise their weapons until the truck had already crashed into the lobby of the four-story cinderblock barracks building.

Nearly 12,000 pounds of explosives were detonated by the driver, lifting the building from its 15’ circumference footings and causing it to collapse into rubble. 241 U.S. servicemen died that morning, including 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel, and 3 Army soldiers – the deadliest single-day toll for the Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

Almost simultaneously with the attack on the Marine Barracks, an identical attack was made against the barracks of the French 3rd Company of the 6th Parachute Infantry Regiment, killing 58.

In 2003 a U.S. District Court judge declared that the Islamic Republic of Iran was responsible for these attacks, since Hezbollah was entirely dependent on Iran in 1983. Just last month (September 2007), the same District Judge ordered that Iran pay $2.65 Billion to the families of the killed servicemen.

Today, 1/8 continues to proudly serve our nation as part of 2nd Marine Division under II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF). They are currently under the able leadership of LtCol Mike Saleh, USMC, deployed to Al Anbar Province in western Iraq as “Task Force 1/8”.

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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.

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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.

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