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January 17, 2013

Military book provides a compelling read

Norman Schwarzkopf died recently. “Stormin’ Norman” was the general in charge of Operation Desert Storm, the first Iraq war that we basically won in four days once we put boots on the ground. He was a national hero not only for leading the quick defeat of Iraq, but for restoring American pride in the military after the debacle of Vietnam. It appeared that the country finally had an Army it could have confidence in again and trust to do the right thing.

One unfortunate outgrowth to the first Iraq war was the way Americans tended to overreact to its success. Soldiers who didn’t actually participate in the fighting were being given parades in their honor when they returned home. It appeared that these celebrations were as much about relieving the guilt of how we treated the Vietnam War veterans as it was about kicking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

The war also set the stage for our involvement in other regions of the world including the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq (again) and Libya. We tended not to question the wisdom of our armed forces because they operated with such efficiency in Iraq the first time around. Issues such as the premature “Mission Accomplished” celebration and the Abu Gharib scandal left open questions about exactly how well the military was really operating.

Military historian and best-selling author Thomas Ricks examines the whole U.S. Army mystique in his latest book, “The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today.” Ricks believes that the mistakes the Army is making today are the direct result of a change in its culture. He explains in intricate detail how the Army has switched from making leadership decisions based on merit and ability to ones where the good ol’ boy network prevailed.

During World War II, Gen. George Marshall, Army Chief-of-Staff and FDR’s right-hand man, believed in rewarding leadership and competence, and firing any commander who was failing in his job. The top U.S. commanders in Europe, including Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, followed this protocol.

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