August 2015 Book Reviews
Nine Tales That Sing the Songs of Unsung Heroes By Col. Kevin C.M. Benson, U.S. Army retired
Valor: Unsung Heroes from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front. Mark Lee Greenblatt. Taylor Trade Publishing. 224 pages. $22.95.
I took this book at face value. For a moment, I thought I was reading a longer version of Chris Buckley’s September 1983 article in Esquire, “Viet Guilt,” in which he opined regret that he didn’t serve in Vietnam. I decided this book is assuredly not that type of read. Mark Lee Greenblatt wanted to write about unsung heroes from our current wars. Greenblatt noted past wars had heroes who became household names: “This generation does not have an Audie Murphy, and I set out to change that with this book.”
The book has no conclusion. There is a short preface, acknowledgement and introduction—11 pages in all. Greenblatt devotes the remaining pages of the book to nine tales of remarkable men who cared more for their brothers in arms than themselves.
In reading this book, I asked myself what makes it special and what it contributes to our knowledge of our 21st-century wars. While I cannot echo some of the comments on the dust jacket, this book is worth reading and owning because it tells stories only close friends of these heroes would know. This is the contribution Greenblatt makes, and he tells a good story using the words of the men of valor he cites.
Not all soldiers are heroes, but they have the stuff of heroes inside them. We do not know how anyone will react in the searing moment of combat when one can see what must be done and then has to do it. These men did what they did not for glory—although they surely deserve it—but because they saw what needed to be done in a fiery moment and acted for the good of their brothers in arms.
The chapter about former Army Cpl. Steve Sanford is subtitled “The Worst Soldier in the History of the Army,” but the language is tongue-in-cheek. Greenblatt relates how this “worst soldier” went into a village street in Afghanistan and put his body between enemy fire and a wounded soldier. He was also wounded, but remained between his friend and enemy fire until he killed the sniper who shot both of them. He then lost consciousness and awoke in a hospital.
These moments of fire and decision are similar to the other eight moments in this book. Greenblatt’s contribution to our knowledge of war is another affirmation that you do not know what you are capable of until you come face-to-face with a moment that requires courage and decision. All of these men met their challenge. They acted as they were trained to do and placed their teammates ahead of themselves. Greenblatt sings the songs of heroes, most of which would otherwise be unsung.
Col. Kevin C.M. Benson, USA Ret., Ph.D., served in armor and cavalry assignments in Europe and the U.S. He commanded a tank company at Fort Polk, La., and a tank battalion at Fort Hood, Texas. He also served as the C/J-5 for Combined Forces Land Component Command during the initial invasion of Iraq and as director, School of Advanced Military Studies. He has a doctorate in history from the University of Kansas, and writes for a wide range of professional journals.
Biggest Battles Can Be at Home
By Walter E. Penk
The Last and Greatest Battle: Finding the Will, Commitment, and Strategy to End Military Suicides. John Bateson. Oxford University Press. 384 pages. $29.95.
In The Last and Greatest Battle, John Bateson tells stories of suicide among those who served in combat. His main point is that suicides among service members and veterans have been ignored. As a country, we are losing many of the people who do the most to protect us. In this book, he urges us all to work together to stop combat veterans from killing themselves once wars stop.
Bateson did not expect to write a book about suicide in the military until he became the executive director of a suicide prevention center in San Francisco. He learned about combat veterans trying to kill themselves, and his knowledge about suicides among veterans deepened when he co-founded the California Strategic Plan on Suicide Prevention.
Bateson tells us suicide by combat veterans is overlooked and ignored as a result of wars. He traces suicide among veterans from the Civil War through current times, telling why and how they decided to end their lives. In an appendix, he writes: “People don’t kill themselves because they want to die. They kill themselves because they want their pain to end—whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional pain—and suicide seems like the only way this will happen.”
Starting with the Civil War, Bateson traces death by one’s own hand through World Wars I and II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. His task is monumental since so many records of suicide are hidden. What he finds and reports, however, compels us to share events that led to depression, despair and decisions to die. He tells stories in detail, analyzing memoirs and letters to demonstrate similarities in suicide throughout the last 150 years.
Bateson finds that more than twice as many people die by their own hand as are murdered every year. In years past, the U.S. government and states did little to track numbers, for only recently have suicide records begun to appear. He cites a 2008 VA statistic in making a horrifying reckoning: One suicide per combat veteran happens every 80 minutes, 126 each week, and 6,500 each year.
Bateson tells us about suicide among warriors by assembling stories of why they took their lives. His accounts include stories of attempts to treat what was called “nostalgia” and “irritable heart” during the Civil War and “shell shock” in World Wars I and II. Suicidal threats were at one point treated by lobotomies. After the Vietnam War, treatments began to improve once diagnostic formulations became more accurate—for example, adding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to diagnostic classification in 1980. Further clinical research took place. The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study of 1988 aimed to develop empirically validated diagnostic techniques for classifying PTSD. Federal and state governments began to improve techniques to record numbers of suicides and attempts.
Bateson describes how warriors are trained to kill—and what happens to them after they are forced to do it. He presents how veterans who have had to kill in combat feel accountable and suffer internal moral injuries without relief. Bateson examines suicides during the draft when many in the U.S. opposed the Vietnam War. Today, however, our military is all-volunteer. People who choose to fight may be more vulnerable to suicide. Stories in the chapter “Challenges Coming Home” highlight conflicts in which veterans must re-establish control over aggression and relearn to live with family and friends.
Bateson specifies the steps we all must take to reduce suicides after war. We must agree that all of us will work together to stop them. We must assume every combat veteran needs our support. We must eliminate the stigmas associated with seeking help and connect with combat veterans. We must expedite treatment and claims for benefits. These steps must be taken to reduce redeployments and improve predeployment training and postwar support, with services for all family members and combat veterans. There must be zero tolerance for prejudice and sexual harassment.
Bateson provides excellent resources the reader can use to help prevent suicide and reduce life-threatening behaviors. One cannot read this book without wanting to learn more. I await stories of combat veterans who decided to live after hoping to die. Why, wanting to die, do they decide to continue to live?
The VA and DoD are doing much more now than they once did, but we all need to keep striving to connect with all combat veterans who are at risk and help them decide to live.
Walter E. Penk, Ph.D., is a professor in psychiatry/behavioral sciences at Texas A&M College of Medicine. He specializes in post-traumatic stress and started working as a VA psychologist in 1965. He retired in 2003 but continues to serve as a consultant in VA rehabilitation and education.
Class of 1915 Had Many Stars
By Col. Cole C. Kingseed, U.S. Army retired
West Point 1915: Eisenhower, Bradley, and the Class the Stars Fell On. Michael E. Haskew. Zenith Press. 224 pages. $30.
A century after two future five-star generals, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar N. Bradley, graduated from West Point, their graduating class still occupies a unique position in the U.S. Military Academy’s lore. It is truly “the class the stars fell on.” Of the 164 men who graduated from West Point in 1915, 59 went on to attain the rank of brigadier general or higher. Though overshadowed by Eisenhower and Bradley, the class also included two four-star generals, seven three-stars, 24 two-stars and 24 one-stars.
In chronicling the achievements of the Class of 1915, Michael E. Haskew attempts to shed light on the lesser-known graduates, lest we relegate “their stories to the darkened recesses of history.” Two distinguished members of this class were Maj. Gen. Luis R. Esteves and Gen. Joseph T. McNarney. Esteves was the first Puerto Rican graduate of West Point and is remembered today as the father of the Puerto Rican National Guard. McNarney reorganized the War Department’s command structure as Gen. George C. Marshall’s deputy chief of staff and later succeeded Eisenhower as commander of U.S. Forces in the European Theater and then U.S. Forces of Occupation in Germany.
Haskew brings impressive credentials in having written and researched military history subjects for over 20 years. He is the editor of WWII History and World War II magazines as well as The World War II Desk Reference with the Eisenhower Center for American Studies. He is also the author of De Gaulle: Lessons in Leadership from the Defiant General and The Sniper at War: From the American Revolutionary War to the Present Day.
Haskew is best when he challenges the traditional interpretations of history. He takes exception to Bradley’s claim that Gen. James A. Van Fleet’s promotion to brigadier general was delayed due to Marshall’s mistaken impression that Van Fleet had an alcohol problem. Haskew concurs with Van Fleet biographer Paul Braim, who opines that Marshall’s negative impression may have been the result of the fact that Van Fleet “had requested to return to ROTC duty at the University of Florida in both 1929 and 1940, twice declining to attend the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth.” Moreover, Van Fleet “had never served in a staff position or with Marshall in Washington” in the War Department.
The book’s eighth chapter, “Brave Men and Black Sheep,” highlights the members of the Class of 1915 who served in World War II. Not all members of the class enjoyed as much success as Eisenhower and Bradley. On the eve of the Normandy invasion, Eisenhower relieved classmate Maj. Gen. Henry J.F. Miller of his 9th Air Force Service Command for Miller’s indiscreet comment that D-Day would occur by mid-June 1944. Miller was stripped of his stars and sent home as a lieutenant colonel. Eisenhower said, “I know of nothing that causes me more real distress than to be faced with the necessity of sitting as a judge in cases involving military offenses by officers of character and good record, particularly when they are old and warm friends.”
Bradley also encountered difficulties dealing with West Point classmates. Maj. Gen. Roscoe B. Woodruff, commander of VII Corps, one of three American Army corps slated for the Normandy campaign, also found himself relieved of duty on the eve of D-Day. “Bradley referred to Woodruff as a ‘fraternity brother,’ but he worried that Woodruff had no experience in amphibious landings or in commanding large formations of troops in combat.” Consequently, Bradley relieved Woodruff and transferred command of VII Corps to Maj. Gen. J. Lawton “Lightning Joe” Collins, who had come to the European Theater from Guadalcanal after he led the 25th “Tropic Lightning” Division.
Despite the compelling stories from the Class of 1915, multiple inconsistencies exist. In the text, Haskew correctly identifies Eisenhower’s career-ending football injury occurred during the game with Tufts University in 1912, but a photo caption states that he suffered his devastating injury against Jim Thorpe’s Carlisle Indians. Moreover, a more careful editor would know that President James K. Polk never graduated from West Point. The U.S. Military Academy can claim only two U.S. presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and Eisenhower, among its distinguished alumni.
These observations aside, Haskew has produced a stirring account of the West Point Class of 1915. Well-researched and gripping in its narrative, this book is a fitting tribute to the soldiers of the class the stars fell on. These extraordinary cadets “are worthy of remembering, with a legacy true to the West Point motto of ‘Duty, Honor, Country’—not only in theory, but also in the magnificence of their deeds.”
Col. Cole C. Kingseed, USA Ret., Ph.D., a former professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy, is a writer and consultant.
Keeping the Faith in the Ranks
By Lt. Col. William C. Latham Jr., U.S. Army retired
Change and Conflict in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps since 1945. Anne C. Loveland. University of Tennessee Press. 349 pages. $64.
Chaplains have served in the U.S. Army since its birth more than 240 years ago, and they have made invaluable and often heroic contributions to the morale and spiritual welfare of their assigned units. Their role, however, occupies a difficult middle ground. Army chaplains bear a ministerial obligation to comply with the moral and spiritual tenets of their own personal faith while attending to fellow believers within the military. On the other hand, Army chaplains bear a second, pluralistic responsibility to meet the religious and spiritual needs of every soldier within the unit regardless of that soldier’s religious affiliation.
These conflicting obligations grew increasingly difficult after World War II as American society became increasingly multicultural and pluralistic in its religious beliefs. In turn, those social changes provoked several challenges to the role of chaplains within military formations, and the U.S. Army’s Chaplain Corps has confronted several threats to its continuing existence. In each case, senior leaders wisely adjusted policies and doctrine in order to clarify the duties and obligations of the men and women commissioned to provide for the moral and religious needs of American soldiers. In Change and Conflict in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps since 1945, Anne C. Loveland provides a well-researched, concise and eloquent summary of this evolution.
The role of the Army chaplain began changing almost immediately after World War II, when American military and political leaders called upon Army chaplains to help stem the tide of embarrassing misconduct by U.S. occupation forces. In response, the Chaplain Corps developed a program of instruction on citizenship and morality, officially recognized in 1948 as Character Guidance. The program significantly improved chaplains’ professional standing, and they began to directly contribute to the moral and ethical development of young soldiers and improve order and discipline within units. The program also seemed to enhance the status of the U.S. military in general—and chaplains in particular—among civilian religious leaders.
That newfound stature proved short-lived. The advent of an unpopular war in Southeast Asia provoked a cultural crisis that challenged many Americans’ values, particularly those involving religious belief and military service. Some military chaplains publicly embraced the war while “a small minority,” according to Loveland, opposed it. Meanwhile, antiwar activists accused the Chaplain Corps of subverting theological principles to military virtues in several areas and warned against “using religion as a rationale for the righteousness of our cause” and “sacrificing faith to the fighting spirit.” The truth proved far more complex, and Loveland’s summary of chaplains grappling with the morally ambiguous horrors of war provides some of this work’s most compelling accounts.
While chaplains struggled to respond to the moral and ethical challenges of the Vietnam War era, the Army suffered its own crises in leadership, discipline, morale, race relations and drug addiction. In the early 1970s, senior leaders within the Chaplain Corps responded by urging Army chaplains to serve as “agents of change” who would be willing to address problems within the military environment that produced these challenges. These initiatives met with mixed results, due in part to the secular emphasis of these new programs. Loveland, however, observes that the proactive nature of “institutional ministry”—particularly those focused on drug and alcohol abuse, racial equality and human relations—further strengthened the reputation of chaplains within the Army itself.
The final crisis Loveland addresses is one that continues to challenge chaplains today. It stems from the perceived obligation of some evangelical Christian chaplains to proclaim the Gospel at all times. Alarmed by the increasingly secular nature of both society and the military, these chaplains and their supporters outside the military viewed any limitations on their prayer as an infringement of their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religious exercise. At the same time, the Pentagon faced a series of legal challenges from plaintiffs arguing that evangelical proselytizing by commanders and chaplains alike posed a threat to the religious freedom of the service members in those units.
Unlike his colleagues in other services, Army Chief of Chaplains Maj. Gen. Matthew A. Zimmerman and his successor, Maj. Gen. Donald W. Shea, managed to navigate these difficulties by emphasizing accommodation and respect for “not just religious pluralism but all forms of human diversity.” Loveland’s balanced analysis of this debate will challenge assumptions and educate readers of all persuasions, regardless of their own views on religious freedom.
Lt. Col. William C. Latham Jr., USA Ret., is the author of Cold Days in Hell: American POWs in Korea. He currently directs the operational contract support course for the U.S. Army Logistics University at Fort Lee, Va.
Casting Light on War in the Shadows
By Col. Steven A. Patarcity, U.S. Army retired
Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present. Max Boot. Liveright Publishing. 750 pages. $35.
In Invisible Armies, Max Boot gives us a well-documented treatise on the history of the war in the shadows. Considering the history of American, allied and coalition forces in small-wars engagements across the world, Boot’s current effort provides an excellent historical analysis of guerrilla forces and their impact throughout history.
A rather large effort, this book more than adequately handles the massive topic of guerrilla and insurgent warfare by dividing it into eight sub-books made up of chapters grouped around a common theme, such as the leftist revolutionaries of the 20th century (Book VII), the rise of radical Islamic fundamentalism (Book VIII), and the liberal revolutionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries (Book II).
Boot reviews commonalities among insurgent organizations, their motivations, and what led to the victory or defeat of each cause. He cites not only well-known examples (such as the Irish Rebellion) and those not so well-known (for example, French marshal Hubert Lyautey’s pioneering counterinsurgency in Morocco in the early 20th century) by incorporating numerous examples in every chapter. He then makes his conclusions on guerrilla war with “Implications: Twelve Articles, or the Lessons of Five Thousand Years.”
Despite his insistence that guerrilla warfare (or, as he terms it, “the weapon of the weak”) is the rule rather than an exception in terms of warfare, Boot is astute enough to concede that insurgencies—while long and drawn-out—are most effective when they are allied with conventional forces. They require foreign assistance in order to succeed (and then by doing so, jeopardize their standing with the population they contend to support). The realization that the reader comes to is that irregular warfare may very well be the wave of the future—provided we agree with Boot’s assessments—but that conventional forces will remain. The error of assessing that irregular warfare will be the only warfare in which we will engage in the future, however, is not a logical conclusion. Try selling that concept to the Ukrainians.
A few of Boot’s historical analogies are suspect as well. His contention that the irregular forces of the American colonies were almost solely responsible for the defeat of Great Britain in the American War of Independence is faulty in the extreme. The defeat of Great Britain can be directly traced to Baron Von Steuben’s training of regular forces in the Continental Army so that they were effective enough to go toe-to-toe with Crown Forces on the battlefield in the linear formations of the time. Likewise, his analysis of Native American warfare as “guerrilla” by definition bears scrutiny. Native American warfare was highly ritualized by its nature and was not developed as a response to Western expansion across the North American continent.
Despite these historical flaws, this book is well-researched and superbly documented, and it statistically supports the author’s valid conclusions. The danger in reading this work is in misinterpreting the data on hand. Conventional warfare is here to stay, although the sweeping engagements of World War II may not be the norm. Any nation that ignores that fact and prepares only for guerrilla or insurgent warfare will be swept neatly into the dustbin of history.
Col. Steven A. Patarcity, USA Ret., is a strategic planner with the Strategic Plans and Policy Branch, Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate, at the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve. He retired as a colonel in the Army Reserve in October 2010 after 33 years of service.