December 19, 2012
The Marines are the most celebrated but least understood of our four military services. They have done a brilliant job of burnishing their martial image, from the days of the 1949 John Wayne movie "The Sands of Iwo Jima" to today's "The Few, the Proud, the Marines" commercials. With nearly 200,000 personnel and their own aircraft, tanks and artillery, they comprise one of the most capable military forces in the world. But so adept have the Marines become at telling their story—somehow the even less-than-heroic portrayals in "Gomer Pyle, USMC" and "Full Metal Jacket" have enhanced their reputation—that it isn't always easy to separate myth from reality.
December 11, 2012
Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations:
The beginning of wisdom on Syria is the realization that the current policy—which consists of calls for Bashar al-Assad to step down coupled with a small amount of humanitarian and non-lethal assistance to his long-suffering people—isn't working. The war continues to rage on, more cruel than ever (at least 40,000 killed so far), and it is spilling over into neighboring states (refugee flows, cross-border firing into Turkey and Israel, and increased instability in Lebanon), while in Syria itself, jihadist groups appear to be growing in strength.
December 7, 2012
Gen. George C. Marshall, the United States Army’s steely chief of staff during World War II, was ruthless in relieving subordinates who didn’t measure up to his exacting standards. Between the time he assumed office in September 1939 and America’s entry into the war on Dec. 8, 1941, he cashiered at least 600 officers — and he wasn’t done yet. Numerous others, including generals, would lose their jobs when they didn’t perform well enough in the caldron of combat. As the veteran military correspondent Thomas E. Ricks notes in his new book, “The Generals,” “Sixteen Army division commanders were relieved for cause, out of a total of 155 officers who commanded Army divisions in combat during the war. At least five corps commanders also were relieved for cause.”
IN THE 21ST CENTURY we've become used to ragtag rebels beating military superpowers. Armed with little more than the will to carry out shocking acts of terrorism and the savvy to cultivate worldwide sympathy through the media, the little guy has come out on top more often than you'd expect. The paradigms are the 1962 French defeat in Algeria, America's 1975 withdrawal from Vietnam, and Russia's disaster in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The United States was similarly dealt defeats in Beirut in 1983 and in Somalia in 1993. It almost happened in Iraq—and may yet happen in Afghanistan. What few remember is that the script followed by groups as diverse as the Vietcong and the Taliban was written in Ireland during its 1919–1921 War of Independence, the first successful revolt against the British Empire since the creation of the United States of America. But at the beginning of the uprising, victory for the insurgents seemed highly unlikely. The Irish, after all, had been rebelling regularly and futilely against British rule since 1798. As recently as 1916, during the Easter Rising, the British Army had speedily repressed an attempt by Irish rebels to seize power in Dublin. What made the difference in 1919? For one thing, Britain was war-weary after the conclusion of the War to End All Wars. And while ideas of national self-determination spread like wildfire, the British appetite for imperialism rapidly declined. But it's doubtful the revolt would have succeeded without the genius of one man: the Irish Republican Army's de facto military commander, Michael Collins, described by one of his foes as a man "full of fascination and charm—but also of dangerous fire."
November 16, 2012
Every year brings a fresh batch of memoirs from the new "Greatest Generation"—the veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two of the most notable entries this year were produced by enlisted men. "No Easy Day" (Dutton, 336 pages, $26.95) was written by Matt Bissonnette (under the nom de plume Mark Owen). As you no doubt know by now, Mr. Bissonnette was one of the SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden, and the book both begins and ends with this high-profile mission. But in between there is a good deal of interesting material about the training and mind-set of an "operator" who did 13 consecutive combat deployments as a member of the storied SEAL Team Six.