Keep Fighting, Keep WritingMy Life as a Foreign Country: A Memoir. Brian Turner. W.W. Norton & Co. 222 pages. $23.95.By Ron CappsSgt. Brian Turner’s memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country: A Memoir, provides readers multiple, distinct points of view: At times we are all-seeing, a drone operator switching from white-hot to black-hot imaging above a battle; at other times myopic, seeing the war in Iraq from name-tape defilade in the back of a Stryker. Turner presents American soldiers as thoughtful intellectuals—reading Marcus Aurelius and classical Arab poetry by women—and as lonely young men mindlessly visiting strip bars and prostitutes while on leave. In short, it is a marvelous, insightful and important book.Throughout, Turner reminds us that we are not the first to go to war. We are at moments in the Pacific Theater in a Higgins Boat with vomit and seawater swilling around our ankles; on a reconnaissance aircraft over the Soviet Union; being photographed with the bones from Srebrenica, Bosnia; at Sharpsburg, Md., in 1862, pulling teeth from the dead; with a Kamikaze pilot preparing to climb aboard his aircraft; or lying naked on a cold floor having our core temperature checked with a rectal thermometer because we are a prisoner under interrogation and there are rules about that sort of thing. But we are most often in Iraq in the early days of that war with his infantry squad kicking in doors, rolling along on convoy protection, patrolling and guarding checkpoints, killing, and dying.Turner’s book is dramatically different from so many other recent war memoirs. I’m speaking particularly of those written “with” an author and that nearly often include the words Navy SEAL, sniper, or some variation of kill. This is a meditation on war and humanity, not a discussion of operations or a cataloguing of ambushes and kills. Turner keeps us close. We see very few officers—a lieutenant who Turner says was a good leader and a colonel spouting bromides on a parade field. Most often, we are with Turner and his squad: on patrol, at a checkpoint, picking up pieces of the dead, at chow or in the shower, standing up in the back of a Stryker when a rocket-propelled grenade slams into the vehicle.The book won’t be to everyone’s taste. No book is—or should be—but it is worth reading by anyone with an interest in the war in Iraq or in war’s effect on humans. Turner lends the poet’s eye and empathy to the war and the soldiers, of course, but also to civilians and to the enemy. He observes that returning soldiers bring the war home with them and notes, “America, vast and laid out from one ocean to another, is not a large enough space to contain all the war each soldier brings home.”Turner’s writing rings with the poetic. In Iraq, we see a sign on the chow hall: “Wednesday Nite/Open Mic/Poetry Nite.” Turner carries with him a book of poetry; he holds an advanced degree in poetry, yet he cannot reconcile the part of him that is Brian Turner, poet, with Sgt. Turner, 11B infantry team leader. “Sgt. Turner was too small of a space for a human being to live in,” he writes.Thankfully, Brian Turner, poet, did write.Ron Capps served 25 years in the Army and Army Reserve and is a combat veteran of Afghanistan. He is the author of Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years and the director of the Veterans Writing Project. The Art in WarSouth Pacific Cauldron: World War II’s Great Forgotten Battlegrounds. Alan Rems. Naval Institute Press. 307 pages. $38.95.By Lt. Col. James Jay CarafanoU.S. Army retiredThe attention lavished on AirSea Battle and the controversy swirling around the pivot to Asia often seem to ignore the U.S.’ long history of major land combat in the Asia-Pacific Theater from World War II to Korea and Vietnam. None of these were optional wars; each responded to a perceived threat to U.S. vital interests. Forgetting America’s land-war heritage in Asia makes no sense. South Pacific Cauldron: World War II’s Great Forgotten Battlegrounds by Alan Rems makes that point well.In truth, the great land campaigns of the Pacific War are not nearly as forgotten as the book flap suggests. While the scales of published history tilt heavily toward the Western Front, there are an awful lot of very good studies on the campaigns on the other side of the world. The official Marine Corps and Army histories of these battles are particularly strong and have held up pretty well over the years. For example, War in the Pacific: Victory In Papua by Samuel Milner, part of the Army’s official “green book” histories, remains a solid and valued work. The Australian histories are equally impressive. In recent years, much more of the Japanese side of the story has appeared in English as well.That said, Rems, an independent scholar, has assembled a competent and complete summary history of the South Pacific. He doesn’t neglect the role of the joint force, giving appropriate coverage of the naval and air forces. He adds in the strategic context in which the campaigns occurred and sketches out the plans of the Japanese strategic and operational commanders. This book is also good at pinpointing the key operational debates and controversies of the various campaigns. Rems interjects his own sober and reasoned judgments on many of them.The great value of collecting these campaigns in one volume will be for students of war interested in how militaries learn and adapt over time as well as the role of improvisation in campaign planning. The commanders and troops that landed at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands performed, thought and looked quite differently from the forces that fought at Okinawa. The evolution of American land and amphibious power really emerges from reading these campaign histories in one integrated narrative.In particular, the book ought to be of great interest to those who study the art of operational design. It is no small feat to plan operations to fit the enemy, circumstances, geography, logistics and mission requirements of a unique theater rather than force military decisionmaking into a cookie-cutter process that tries to turn every task into the same problem. Even Pacific commanders often engaged in operational design may never have had a name for it.They may not be household names in history, but many Pacific ground commanders were some of the best in the business—powerful leaders and imaginative tacticians. Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger is a case in point. He succeeded in the Papua New Guinea campaign with far more efficiency than what could reasonably be imagined under the circumstances. Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins did such a competent job in the Pacific that he was shipped to Europe to command a corps where he performed equally well under very different conditions.There are few aspects of operational design on which South Pacific Cauldron can’t offer food for thought.Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, USA Ret., Ph.D., served in Europe, Korea and the U.S. Before retiring, he was the executive editor of Joint Forces Quarterly, DoD’s professional military journal. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Carafano holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from Georgetown University as well as a master’s in strategy from the U.S. Army War College. Saluting Army Aviation’s ‘Ace of Aces’Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed. John F. Ross. St. Martin’s Press. 414 pages. $27.99.By Col. Cole C. KingseedU.S. Army retiredWith the possible exceptions of Gen. John J. Pershing and Sgt. Alvin C. York, Eddie Rickenbacker emerged from World War I as America’s premier military hero. As his country’s “Ace of Aces,” Rickenbacker had 26 confirmed kills before the end of the war. In this biography of an extraordinary airman, John F. Ross paints a flattering portrait of Rickenbacker and his handful of fellow pioneers who first straddled the early automotive and aviation worlds.Ross is no stranger to writing American history. He has served as the executive editor of American Heritage and on the board of editors at Smithsonian magazine. In writing Enduring Courage, Ross attempts to expose the “true” Rickenbacker, whose life “offers us an extraordinarily rich salient into the intersection of fate, luck, courage, will, and intention—as well as the early-20th century American spirit that launched a self-absorbed nation into becoming a world power.”Three previous biographies of Rickenbacker exist, but Ross relies more extensively on less commonly used primary sources. A notable example is his use of the interviews Rickenbacker gave to his ghostwriter Bootes Herndon, which were recorded and transcribed into more than 7,000 pages of typed script in 1965. Ross also examines Rickenbacker’s two autobiographies as well as primary archival material stored at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.Ross divides Rickenbacker’s life into four segments: Racing, Flying, Fighting and Immortality. Rickenbacker initially received national recognition as a race car driver after setting automotive speed records and winning several races. According to Ross, no other sport required such sustained concentration as a long-distance car race, and Rickenbacker “discover[ed] not just that he could stare down death and risk—but that he was really good at it.”Ross dedicates the majority of this biography to Rickenbacker’s service in World War I. When the U.S. entered the war, Rickenbacker volunteered for the air service, but he initially saw duty as a driver for the General Staff in France, where a chance meeting with Col. Billy Mitchell in 1917 enabled him to take flight. Rickenbacker soon became enamored with flying. After he earned his wings, Rickenbacker shot down his first enemy aircraft on April 27, 1918. Nearly a month later, Rickenbacker became an ace following his fifth kill.During the interwar period, Rickenbacker capitalized on his wartime fame and formed an automobile company. He later began a long association with Eastern Airlines, a subdivision of General Motors. As general manager and president of Eastern Airlines, Rickenbacker made the airline the most profitable in the country.Rickenbacker’s last brush with fame occurred in October 1942. Asked to deliver a special message to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Rickenbacker set off from Hickam Field in Hawaii on Oct. 20, but his aircraft crashed in the Central Pacific. Rickenbacker and his seven crewmen endured 21 days at sea in three rafts. Drifting in the Pacific, Rickenbacker “taught a master’s class in extreme survival.” His raft mates acknowledged that they would have died without him; he was the only one who never gave up. In 1943, Rickenbacker recounted his experience in Seven Came Through.The Pacific ordeal changed Rickenbacker. His extraordinary courage in the face of adversity never eroded and had saved his companions. A close friend observed that Rickenbacker’s near-death experience “gave him a reflective side he never had before.” In a magazine essay entitled “When a Man Faces Death,” Rickenbacker recounted his many near misses.Added years only brought disillusionment. Toward the end of his tenure as president of Eastern Airlines, even this visionary was “unable to keep up with the rapid changes around him. The end came in sight when Rickenbacker strenuously objected to bring[ing] jets into Eastern’s fleet.” Rickenbacker’s America had changed as well, and America’s Ace of Aces had difficulty with the social changes that characterized the late 1960s.To his credit, Ross presents the less glamorous aspects of Rickenbacker’s life. Never truly comfortable wearing a hero’s mantle, Rickenbacker often “shaped the narrative of the events to support his role as gritty hero, just as he would later conjure up fantasies of a sunny childhood and had earlier let a ghostwriter embellish his memories of World War I.” Such arrogance, claimed his critics, smacked of self-aggrandizement and pure egotism. Ross writes, “Success for Eddie was not just getting out alive but telling the story; not just standing up but also standing out.”Where does Rickenbacker rate in America’s pantheon of heroes? Extremely high, opines Ross. Even though Rickenbacker never moved beyond that small-town boy who marshaled all his available resources to hold off his father and the harsh circumstances of his childhood, Rickenbacker’s “courage in extremity … served as a model for successive generations of explorers, adventurers, and warriors, from Charles Lindbergh and Jimmy Doolittle to Chuck Yeager and John Glenn.”Col. Cole C. Kingseed, USA Ret., Ph.D., a former professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy, is a writer and consultant. History’s Generals:Some Succeed, Others Languish’General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans Influenced Our Understanding of the Civil War. Frank P. Varney. Savas Beatie. 336 pages. $32.95.By Lt. Col. Timothy R. StoyU.S. Army retiredGeneral Grant and the Rewriting of History by Frank P. Varney is thought-provoking and illuminating. Varney ably argues that our current understanding of Ulysses S. Grant and his campaigns in the Western Theater of the Civil War is based almost solely on what Grant says about himself in his memoirs. Varney criticizes generations of Civil War historians for inadequate research and sourcing—which result in what he alleges is a skewed, overly positive view of Grant’s generalship in his Western campaigns—and for not only accepting but also propounding Grant’s personal views on other Civil War commanders and personalities as accepted wisdom and fact. In this first of a planned two-volume effort, Varney examines Grant’s treatment of Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans.Varney also documents how Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s dislike for Rosecrans led him to withhold critical logistical support for Rosecrans’ campaigns as commander of the Army of the Cumberland and subjected Rosecrans to a steady barrage of criticism throughout his command tenure and afterward.Varney first examines Grant’s battles at Shiloh, Iuka and Corinth. He poses logical questions to be considered in evaluating Grant’s performance and statements in his memoirs and other writings. He documents the instances in which Grant glosses over his errors at Shiloh, inflates his role in the battle at Corinth and denigrates Rosecrans’ performance at Iuka. He shows how many historians have unquestioningly accepted Grant’s version of those battles, neglecting or excluding other sources, such as the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, which contradict Grant or provide a more nuanced and fairer view of other commanders. Varney examines contemporaneous letters and newspaper reports that could result in a more objective analysis of Grant’s generalship and character as well as those of Rosecrans and other commanders.Varney continues with analysis of Rosecrans’ command at the Battle of Stones River, in the Tullahoma campaign and at Chickamauga. He documents how Grant denigrated Rosecrans’ performance at Stones River, going so far as claiming that battle was not a Union victory in the presence of President Abraham Lincoln. He examines other sources and succeeds in showing how Stones River was won through Rosecrans’ competence and toughness.Next, Varney discusses the highly successful but relatively bloodless Tullahoma campaign, which coincided with the Battle of Gettysburg in the east and Grant’s Vicksburg campaign in the west. He discusses Stanton’s and Grant’s criticism of Rosecrans’ delay in conducting the campaign and shows the challenges Rosecrans faced in mounting it, including Stanton’s failure to fully understand local conditions in Tennessee from his seat in Washington, D.C.Varney examines Rosecrans’ planning and conduct of the campaign and battle of Chickamauga as well as historians’ treatment of the battle and his generalship. He again shows historical bias against Rosecrans based on an unquestioning acceptance of what Grant stated in his memoirs and other writings. Varney examines charges made against Rosecrans’ performance at the time and in the years since the battle. He provides well-reasoned responses, which allow for alternative and less critical judgments, and addresses important background information left out in many histories (for example, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside’s failure to tie into Rosecrans’ left flank), thus placing Rosecrans’ tactical and operational decisions in a different light.He goes on to examine the damaging role of Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana in destroying Rosecrans’ reputation and discusses how Rosecrans’ politically ambitious chief of staff, Brig. Gen. James A. Garfield, torpedoed Rosecrans to inflate his own role in the battle. Varney ably explains the factors that led Rosecrans to leave the field at Chickamauga and prepare to defend Chattanooga, which had been the goal of the campaign in the first place; the good reasons why Rosecrans chose not to defend Lookout Mountain; the true logistical condition of the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga; and the high state of morale of that Army even after Chickamauga. He repudiates the reasons given by Grant and others for Rosecrans’ relief and again points out the historical understanding we have today is based almost solely on what Grant wrote in his memoirs.The final chapters deal with Rosecrans’ relegation to the Department of Missouri and the counter-guerrilla and pacification campaign there, his final removal from command by Grant in December 1864 and a final analysis of Rosecrans’ achievements, Grant’s manipulation of the historical record, and the witting or unwitting abetting by generations of historians in Grant’s distortion of the true history of the Civil War.Varney writes, “Ulysses S. Grant did not give William S. Rosecrans the credit deserved for the victories at Iuka and Corinth, and historians have followed his lead. Grant was credited with winning battles he had little to do with, while Rosecrans was blamed for letting the enemy escape by supposedly ruining traps Grant had set for them. Grant did his best to discredit the victory Rosecrans won at Stones River. Grant failed to convince Lincoln, but has managed to convince most historians. Grant failed to support Rosecrans during the Chickamauga campaign, unfairly relieved him from his command of the Army of the Cumberland, and removed him again after Rosecrans had helped to repulse the Missouri raid of Sterling Price.”Varney dims some of Grant’s shine, goes a long way toward rehabilitating Rosecrans’ reputation and assists in a more accurate understanding of the battles and campaigns discussed. This book reminds historians and students of history not to base historical judgments on single or limited sources when there are numerous sources available, and not to blindly accept the writings of sainted generals and revered historians as truth or fact.Lt. Col. Timothy R. Stoy, USA Ret., is the historian for the 15th Infantry Regiment Association and the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division.