Archive for the 'Books' Category
By Bill Doughty
On Sept. 11, 2001 Michael P. Murphy was an ensign in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.
Michael Murphy, a graduate of Penn State University, who grew up in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, internalized and personalized what happened on 9/11, according to colleagues, mentors and writer Gary Williams, author of “SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Michael P. Murphy, USN.”
The book is on Adm. Greenert’s bookshelf as an essential Warfighting First selection of the CNO Professional Reading Program.
Murphy led a SEAL team into Afghanistan in 2005 where he faced a profound ethical dilemma after capturing some civilian non-combatants. (His dilemma and moral decision is examined in detail in another book about Operation Red Wings, “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell.)
The team then endured a prolonged firefight against a larger Taliban force. At the end of the terrifying and deadly fight, Murphy faced a second, more personal moral choice. At great personal risk, he put himself directly in the path of enemy fire in order to call in help for his team.
In “SEAL of Honor” Williams introduces us to Murphy’s family, shows in detail his training regimen as a Navy SEAL, describes the mission Murphy led in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, and shows the honors paid to Murphy and his family after he was killed. “SEAL of Honor” preserves history and offers a well-documented biography of an American hero.
Murphy’s bond with first responders from his home state is legendary. He had his unit wear the bright orange patch of FDNY Engine Co. 54, Ladder Co. 43 — “El Barrio’s Bravest” — on their uniforms as a team symbol and constant reminder of 9/11 and why the SEALs were in Afghanistan, according to Williams.
Marcus Luttrell also refers to the patch several times in “Lone Survivor.”
Like Williams’s “SEAL of Honor,” Luttrell’s book is understandably an autobiographical account. Before describing Operation Red Wings, “Lone Survivor” explores Luttrell’s upbringing in Texas, his SEAL training in San Diego and a mission in Iraq desperately searching in vain for weapons of mass destruction: “chasing shadows out there in that burning hot, sandy wilderness.”
Luttrell’s telling of the firefight with the Taliban in Operation Red Wings is gripping and graphic, but at the end of Luttrell’s book the reader is left with a hunger to know more about the hero, leading protagonist Michael P. Murphy.
“Seal of Honor” shows us how Murphy’s qualifications as a leader developed starting in early childhood. As a toddler, Michael’s favorite book was Wally Piper’s “The Little Engine that Could.” He was a voracious reader at Canaan Elementary School.
According to Williams, Murphy’s favorite book as an adult was “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield, a historical fiction novel about the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 brave Spartans protected their homeland and democracy from an invading Persian Army. Greek warrior culture is part of the SEAL tradition.
The never-give-up attitude, willingness to sacrifice for a cause and strong personal ethos all contribute to what makes a Navy SEAL, provided the individual can tough it through BUD/S training, described in detail by Williams.
“Despite the brutal training, Michael soon realized that almost anyone could meet the physical requirements of the SEALs, but the unending challenge from day-one would be the mental toughness, that never-ending inner drive that pushes you forward when every nerve and muscle fiber in your body tells you to stop — to quit. That warrior mind-set — the mental toughness — is what separates a Navy SEAL…”
“SEAL of Honor” includes inspiring SEAL Creed excerpts or, in some cases, complete remarks from SEAL leaders like Adm. Eric T. Olson, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Loo and Commodore Pete Van Hooser. All focus on leadership expectations and maintaining high standards.
Williams describes the tragic rescue attempt in which Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen and 15 other would-be rescuers were killed when their MH-47E Chinook helo, call sign Turbine 33, was shot down by the Taliban.
Both “Lone Survivor” and “SEAL of Honor” showcase the importance of the concept: “no one left behind.”
Near the end of “SEAL of Honor,” Williams lists each of the warriors who died trying to rescue Murphy and his team.
He describes the many tributes to Lt. Michael P. Murphy, including the awarding of the Medal of Honor by then President George W. Bush. One of the most significant tributes, especially as far as Sailors are concerned, is the naming of an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer for him, dedicated May 7, 2008.
During his remarks, then Secretary Donald C. Winter predicted, “Every Sailor who crosses the bow, every Sailor who hears the officer of the deck announce the arrival of the commanding officer, and every Sailor who enters a foreign land representing our great nation will do so as an honored member of the USS Michael Murphy,” writes Williams.
Osama bin Laden haunts both books, written prior to President Barack Obama’s authorization to kill or capture the terrorist leader of al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After a Muslim ceremony, bin Laden was buried at sea from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) just days before the USS Michael Murphy christening.
“It is my sincere belief that this ship will build on the momentum gained by our special operations forces in the fight against extremism and sail the seas in a world made more peaceful by sustained American vigilance, power and dignity,” said then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead. “This ship will carry Michael’s legacy and values to Sailors several decades from now and to a new generation of Americans…”
USS Michael Murphy’s homeport is Pearl Harbor.
(A version of this review was originally published Sept. 10, 2011 on Navy Reads.)
Since coming ashore as an NROTC Assistant Professor, I have come to wonder why poems and literature at sea are losing popularity amongst our ranks. Perhaps the mystery and feel of navy life has been diminished – Electronic Chart Data Information System (ECDIS-N) does not have the feel of a sextant and receiving storm data vis-à-vis Meteorological Officers in Hawaii isn’t the same as predicting gales using weather gauges.
Many officers and sailors have talked to me about “how interesting navy life used to be,” or have confessed, “it isn’t the same anymore.” These are accurate observations and I think that an organization with a rich history such as ours deserves admiration. Nevertheless, this is the best time to be in the Navy. Women and minorities serve at equal status with their white male counterparts; sailors have more support networks then ever before; and social media allows many of us to communicate with our families in nearly real time. Our sensory connections with the duties we perform at sea are indeed not what they once were, but does this necessarily mean we are less inclined to write about the encompassing power of our planet’s restless and mysterious waters?
Despite the interest our careers inspire amongst men and women of all ages, there has been a considerable decline in literary reminiscences over the last few years. Instead of using turning to pen and paper to share and confess our thoughts, we merely use hash tags and click ‘share.’
The nineteenth century gave us Walt Whitman, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad; the early twentieth century produced Jack London and Patrick O’Brien. They were sailors with the ability to portray sea life from a variety of perspectives that engaged readers at their core. Although their work was primarily fiction, I’d offer that the difference between fiction and reality is razor thin. The stories poignantly reveal human nature at sea and provide meaning that all of us can relate to. Like these famed authors, we too must strive to make meaning in what we do and then portray this cogently to the public domain and each other.
Popular writers have weighed in, but their contributions are not necessarily accurate. The April 19 New Yorker article “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier” by Geoff Dyer, ended with the same dubious colloquialism every landlubber surmises. “When, at last, I was back on the very dry land of Bahrain, I checked in at a hotel, went up to my room, and showered for a long time. The water felt cleaner, more sparkling [. . .] I looked out the window at the empty cityscape and experienced another revelation: I could go for a walk!” Similarly, the only question Thomas Friedman asks a young junior officer when he rode the USS New Mexico for one night was “how do all of you stand being away from your families for so long underwater, receiving only a two-sentence ‘family-gram’ once a week?”
I would contest we are not simply motivated by the same social connotations that our civilian counterparts enjoy. We are sailors. We come from a different breed and our lives by nature do not possess the homogeneous social norms of our civilian counterparts. Although we may have put to sea for a variety of reasons – service to our nation, learn new skills, earn the GI Bill – all of us have been affected by the wonders of navy life; our lives sharpened by the life on the seas. Some of the mystery is gone, but the beauty still remains.
Proceedings and other naval publications primarily exist to discuss and debate naval doctrine, but it should also reflect on our social experiences in a meaningful way. To be honest, I have never mused about the powers of Aegis beneath the vast night sky, with the dust of the Milky Way scattered as far as the eye can see. Even though the Main Propulsion Assistant and the senior gas turbine technician could recite each valve within the main drainage system by memory, we never argued too much about engineering improvements that our senior leaders should be pursuing. We told sea stories, discussed books and history, laughed as we reenacted scenes in our favorite movies, and then went about our duties.
Mahan’s diary as a junior officer is a fascinating read. Many of his entries lament about his fear of drinking too much and his abhorrence of superior officers. “The Captain has annoyed me, and I have felt and spoken angrily and sullenly.” And, like so many of us, he does not always complete tasks on time. “Have failed in my duty concerning the reading of the Articles of War.” Yet, within his complaints and small victories, a portrait of life at sea emerges. His ability to reflect on sea life, both positive and negative, ultimately led to him thinking more critically about naval tactics and the naval profession as a whole. Simply put, it gave him meaning and persuaded him to remain at sea.
Over the years, I have found that life itself is like the sea. Our lives ebb and flow like a foaming tide. We attempt to seize each moment, try to live one day at a time, hang on tightly to lifelines and trust that our faith in each other will get us there. So much we do in our lives as sailors is wandering and I do profess that wandering the ocean is the most exciting profession in the world.
Perhaps John Masefield says it best in Sea Fever.
Oh I must go down to the seas again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by
And the heel’s kick and the wind’s song,
And the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face
And a grey dawn breaking
Before my final deployment aboard USS Milius, my wife gave me the finest gift anyone could: a journal. It was an impeccable idea. After all, there’s nothing like a day at sea, to meditate about this earth and to think of all the challenges that await us afloat and ashore. So, as naval officers who experience the daily grind, let us tell the evolving story of our Navy. One hundred years from now these entries will capture us for who we were and where we were going.
Geoff Dyer, “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier,” The New Yorker, April 2014, 6; Thomas Friedman, “Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle,” The New York Times Sunday Review, March 29, 2014.
Diary entry on August 6, 1868 and May 11, 1869 in Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, vol. I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1975), 201; 301.
John Masefield, “Sea Fever” in Salt Water Ballads (1902).
How did the United States Navy achieve victory at Midway and turn the tide in the Pacific so early in World War II? An anthology from the Naval Institute Press shows the answer: Sailor ingenuity, science and skill blended with Nimitz’s wisdom and determination — along with some luck.
Other factors contributed, including miscalculations and overconfidence of Imperial Japan, whose military leaders were set on taking out “Hawaii’s sentry,” Midway Atoll. But fortune favored many of the U.S. carrier aviators who fatally damaged three enemy carriers, writes John B. Lundstrom in historian Thomas C. Hone’s “The Battle of Midway: The Naval Institute Guide to the U.S. Navy’s Greatest Victory.” Imperial Japan would lose four carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor and more than 100 of its aviators.
Lundstrom notes, “The actual sequence of events was stranger than anyone could have imagined; as [Rear Adm. Murr] Arnold wrote in 1965, it was ‘the most god-awful luckiest coordinated attack.'”
In “The Battle of Midway” editor Hone brings together a gifted roster of writers and leaders including Craig L. Symonds, E.B. Potter, James Schlesinger, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, Rear Adm. Edwin T. Layton, Elliot Carlson, Mitsuo Fuchida, Masatake Okumiya, Lundstrom and Mark R. Peattie, among others.
Throughout this book of mostly essays written over a span of seven decades, Hone adds context and analysis. In his introduction to Chapter 9, “Prelude to Midway,” he explains Imperial Japan’s motive for the attack.
“The Midway operation had two central objectives. The first and more limited one was the seizure of Midway as an advance air base to facilitate early detection of enemy carrier forces operating toward the homeland from Hawaii, with the attack on the Aleutians as a diversion … The second, much broader objective was to draw out what was left of the United States Pacific Fleet so that it could be engaged and destroyed in decisive battle. Were these objectives achieved, the invasion of Hawaii itself would become possible, if not easy.”
Hone’s “The Battle of Midway” opens with Part I, which explores Nagumo’s kido butai (air fleet), presents Admiral Yamamoto from a Japanese perspective, and shows why Imperial Japan’s carrier pilots were so skilled in the first year of the war with the U.S. Navy; it was because they had already gained experience in the previous decade in China. Part II is titled “Approach to Midway” and includes a brief but powerful piece from Proceedings, “Lest We Forget: Civilian Yard Workers,” by Lt. Cmdr. Thomas J. Cutler, USN (ret.). Cutler is author of “Bluejacket’s Manual,” “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy” and numerous other books.
Part III, “The Battle,” recounts the battle Kurosawa-like, from different angles and viewpoints including several from an Imperial Japanese perspective. “I Sank the Yorktown at Midway,” by Yahachi Tanabe and Joseph D. Harrington, is one provocative title. Parts IV and V deal with the aftermath of the battle, its finale and the official report by Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Part VI of “The Battle of Midway” explores the personalities, strategies and relationships of the commanders: Nimitz, Spruance, Nagumo, Yamato, Fletcher and Mitscher. Part VII shows how code-breaking helped provide some of the “god-awful luck” that gave U.S. Navy the edge against the enemy fleet. Editor Hone leads with an analysis of the complicated state of affairs with regard to code-breaking, and he includes an excerpt from Elliot Carlson’s excellent “Joe Rochefort’s War: The Odyssey of the Codebraker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway.”
Hone’s book concludes with Part VIII “Assessments of the Battle” and appendixes, including the USS Enterprise Action Report and Spruance’s Letter to Fletcher of June 8, 1942.
The source materials, oral histories, chronologies and analysis in “The Battle of Midway” make this book a compelling overview of the heroic battle while leaving some mysteries, fog-of-war questions, and the impact of luck as still part of the story and lessons of Midway.
An extended version of this post appears on Doughty’s Navy Reads blog, along with a recent review of Robert D. Kaplan’s “Revenge of Geography.”
Women and men of the Class of 2002 may think they are in the shadow of their grandparents — “The Greatest Generation” who beat fascism, crushed nazism and crossed the Pacific to avenge Pearl Harbor and win the war in the Pacific in less than four years.
“In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service from America’s Longest War” is a compilation by or about members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2002. (USNI offers comprehensive reviews of the book, published in 2012; this is another look into the shadows.)
Put together with love and appreciation by Joshua Welle, John Ennis, Katherine Kranz and Graham Plaster — and including a foreword by David Gergen — the book is filled with essays and memories by and about members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2002. The authors set the stage with a look back to the past:
“The magnitude of World War II provided the opportunity and experiences that shaped twentieth-century American leaders. As men served abroad, women provided support at home. All overcame great odds and faced adversity that gave them confidence and shaped their outlook in the decades to come. This ‘greatest generation’ returned from war, took advantage of the educational benefits offered through the GI Bill, and advanced the country’s economy and transformed its society. World War II veterans, while fueling economic advancement, remained resolute in their value system: service, sacrifice, and community.”
Among “Shadow’s” contributors are aviators, surface warfare officers, submariners, U.S. Marines and mothers of junior officers killed during training or in action.
The book is filled with first-person, heartfelt accounts of triumph and hardships: what it’s like in humanitarian assistance missions, duty at sea, Search and Rescue operations, and combat; what it means to face family separation, “setting aside the comforts a normal life in service to our country and the Constitution. The dark sides of these sacrifices are broken marriages, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and estrangement.”
But there is plenty of triumph here, too, focusing on why and how Navy and Marine Corps leaders choose to serve — “not for self, but for country.”
A highlight is the account by Meghan Elger Courtney, who served aboard USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) of her commitment to promote warfighting readiness for Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. Courtney recognized a need to improve shipboard physical fitness opportunities to help Sailors who would deploy forward — either aboard ship or as individual augmentees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the blessing of her commanding officer and strong support from the command master chief and Chief’s Mess, j.o. Courtney planned for, procured and arranged for installation of a new fitness center that replaced outdated insufficient gear and space. Courtney writes, “Almost immediately, I saw a positive renewal in people’s attitude toward fitness, healthy eating, and incorporating workouts into their daily routine as a way to relieve stress and stay in shape.”
“What some may have viewed as my silly pet project, the command master chief took seriously, and he became my closest ally in seeing it through. I never really knew how much the experience had impacted him until I saw him become visibly choked up recollecting it during his closing remarks when he transferred off the ship. I don’t think he thought that a young officer like me could have cared about his crew so much, but I did, and I still do…”
Courtney’s story is just one of many inspiring reflections. She said she was inspired by a quote by explorer Robert E. Peary on a motivational placard in Halsey Field House at the academy: “I will find a way, or make one.”
Other essayists share their sources of inspiration as President Teddy Roosevelt, President Dwight Eisenhower, President John F. Kennedy, Senator Daniel Inouye and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, among others.
One essayist quotes the last two lines of a poem by Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day” in pursuing a life of purpose, wanting to make a difference:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
The authors and essayists show how core values of honor, courage and commitment make up an ethos that “forms the fabric of people’s personality and drives them to a life of service, in and out of uniform.”
“‘In the Shadow of Greatness’ was envisioned to recognize and chronicle the service of brave men and women and through their stories establish connections with the broader, nonmilitary community. These first graduates of the Naval Academy after 9/11 entered a global war at sea, in the air, and on land. This war would last more than a decade and define the United States in the early part of the millennium. The actions of the select few profiled here represent those of a much broader spectrum of patriots.”
Attacks on 9/11/2001 changed the lives of the Class of 2002.
In a short introductory piece, “Inside the Gates of Annapolis,” Adm. Sam Locklear (now Commander, U.S. Pacific Command) writes about the investment the country makes in the women and men who attend service academies, including the Naval Academy, reflecting on the morning of September 11, 2001 when he sat at his desk as commandant of midshipmen.
“I recall vividly watching the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. When the images reached the Brigade, and the uncertainty of the events rapidly became reality, I asked myself, Are these men and women, these young patriots, ready for the challenges that most certainly lay ahead. A decade of war has proven that they were more than ready. Fortunately for us all, they remain ready today. We are extremely proud of all they have accomplished and thankful that we chose the right men and women to lead the next great generation.”
The book, published by the Naval Institute Press, is a key title on the CNO’s Professional Reading Program essential list under “Be Ready.”
A version of this post appeared on Bill Doughty’s Navy Reads blog.
In trying to come to a better understanding of what the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell should be, I came across at old (from 1988! ) essay written by Stephen Rosen titled New Ways of War: Understanding Military Innovation (h/t Adam Elkus for the lead on it). Rosen’s essay details the full evolution of innovation, what innovation is as a process, and how ‘disruptive thinking’ is only the first step and is not innovation in and of itself. Innovation doesn’t truly take hold until the intellectual, technical, and political aspects of the new idea has matured. While the tempo of technological change can be breathtaking, institutional changes in the service still have a tempo that iterates at a generational pace. For Rosen, innovation is not complete until an innovation has been fully developed into doctrine and operational paradigm. In other words, only once the disruption from new ways of thinking has dissipated can the innovation process be considered complete.
The organizational struggle that leads to innovation often involves the creation of a new path to senior ranks so that a new officer learning and practicing the new way of war will not be hunted aside into a dead-end speciality that does not qualify him for flag rank.
Rosen frames military innovation in terms of there actually being three struggles: intellectual, political, and technological. He observes this in three case studies. However, in my remarks here, I shall only stick with one of the examples: development of carrier warfare by the USN.
Rosen pays special attention to how Rear Admiral Moffett performed his duties as the first Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. Rosen accounts how at first, aviators objected to the notion of a battleship sailor being chosen to lead the newly minted BuAer. However, they would come to find that it was Moffett’s ability to wage the political struggle, and his ability to articulate the role of the carrier in warfare – in a manner that met the evolving nature of the intellectual struggle – that warranted his selection. As Rosen states
The intellectual redefinition of naval warfare from combat among battleships to the development of mobile air bases at sea would have been futile if the political struggle for power within the officer corps in the Navy had not been fought and won by Moffett and his allies.
Technology alone doesn’t cause innovation, nor does it usher in a new way of war, neither does a good idea make it very far if the champion of that idea can’t help foster institutional change. Rosen cites the efforts of Moffet and so many others as having taken 24 years from the general board first considering naval aviation in 1919 to fruition with the publication of PAC-10 in 1943. A truly generational effort, that saw not just the technology of naval aviation develop, but the aviation career field take its initial shape, and the political structure of the officer corps evolve and the wider community adjust accordingly.
Rosen had to chose for his case studies large and significant shifts that do not often occur in militaries. Where the Navy finds itself today doesn’t nearly parallel the example of the development of naval aviation. However, this is not to say that there are no lessons to be gleaned from it, especially in regards to the intellectual and political struggles within the Navy.
People, ideas, hardware… In that order! — Col. John Boyd, USAF (ret)
Boyd was more right than he realized. Not only is that the order of importance for military leaders, it’s also the order what is the hardest to improve, and once improved that is the order which has the greatest impact. As well, it is the evolution of all three aspects that are required for innovation in the military.
The Assets, an eight-part ABC miniseries event based on Circle of Treason will premiere on January 2, 2014 at 10|9 c. The series is based on Circle of Treason and will look inside the true, personal stories of the conclusion of the Cold War as told by the keepers of the nation’s secrets: the CIA. The series is produced for ABC by Lincoln Square Productions. Morgan Hertzan, Rudy Bednar, and Andrew Chapman are executive producers for the series.
From May through December 1985 the CIA experienced the unparalleled loss of its stable of Soviet assets. There was no indication of the impending disaster, which all but wiped out human source reporting on the Soviet Union. Whatever the nature of the problem, something was seriously wrong. Circle of Treason is the story of Sandra Grimes’ and Jeanne Vertefeuille’s personal involvement in the CIA’s effort to identify the reason for the losses and to protect future Soviet assets from a similar fate of execution or imprisonment. In 1991 the quest led to their hunt for a Soviet spy in the CIA and to their identification of the “mole” as case officer Aldrich “Rick” Ames, a long-time acquaintance and coworker in the Soviet-East European Division and Counterintelligence Center of CIA. That identification allowed the FBI to take the necessary law enforcement steps that led to Ames’ arrest in February 1994 and, two months later, a conviction and life sentence. One of the most destructive traitors in American history, Ames provided information to the Soviet Union that led to the deaths of at least eight Soviet intelligence officers who spied for the United States.
Not only is this the first book to be written by two of the CIA principals involved in identifying Ames as the mole, but it is also the first to provide details of the operational contact with the agents Ames betrayed, as well as similar cases with which the authors also had personal involvement—a total of sixteen operational histories in all. Of particular note is GRU General Dmitriy Fedorovich Polyakov, the highest-ranking spy run by the U.S. government during the Cold War. Described as the “Crown Jewel,” Polyakov provided the United States with a trove of information during his twenty-plus-year history of cooperation. The book also covers the aftermath of Ames’ arrest, including the congressional wrath for not identifying him sooner, the FBI/CIA debriefings following Ames’ plea bargain, and a retrospective of Ames the person and Ames the spy. Now retired from the CIA, Grimes and Vertefeuille are finally able to tell this inside story of the CIA’s most notorious traitor and the men he betrayed.
Matt and Chris wax on about the new budget deal and military benefits before finally discussing the incident between the Chinese and American navies, the Pacific balance, robotics, and books for the holidays. Remember to tell a friend and subscribe on Itunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a rating and a comment. Enjoy, Episode 13 of Sea Control, The Queen’s Shilling (download).
By Mark Tempest
Called “the nation’s premier naval reference book,” Combat Fleets of the World is internationally acknowledged as the best one-volume reference to the world’s naval and paranaval forces. Updated regularly since 1976, it has come to be relied on for all-inclusive, accurate, and up-to-date data on the ships, navies, coast guards, and naval aviation arms of more than 170 countries and territories. Large fleets and small maritime forces get equally thorough treatment. Comprehensive indexes make the book easy to use and allow for quick comparisons between ships and fleets.
So, just what kind of naval force does Thailand have? What about Brunei? Brazil? Switzerland?
Yes, it’s all there. And if you think that I am joking about the hours of fun your friendly neighborhood wannabe naval expert can have with this book, I invite you to check with my wife.
I think that she’s around here someplace, but I haven’t seen her since my copy of this book arrived in the mail . . . well, perhaps after I read about Montenegro’s fleet, I’ll try and find her.
As a liberal arts guy with issues stitching decent prose together himself, who spent a career surrounded by a bunch of technical school types – I’ve always thought that each seabag should include Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style, along with Lynne Truss’s, Eats, Shoots & Leaves – but perhaps we need to add two more items.
My pet theory was that our own rather particular Navy writing style came about as a byproduct of a strange mix of the old requirements of HF TTY record message traffic from the warfighter, an other-worldly and opaque self-affirmation cant that we use to write FITREPS and awards from the terminal-N1 – sprinkled with a healthy dose of passive voice CYA concerns from the suffering fonctionnaire with one two many tours with the Potomac Flotilla.
To help get around that habit, a few more should be added in the seabag to join the previously mentioned two. The third on the list should be an email you can find in full here, one that CHINFO, RDML Kirby, recently put out to the PAO Knitting Club titled, “Killing English.” Here are a few of the pull quotes that hopefully will lead you to read the whole thing;
Here’s an… example … about the Zumwalt-class destroyer:
“This advanced warship will provide offensive, distributed, and precision fires in support of forces ashore and will provide a credible forward naval presence while operating independently or as an integral part of naval, joint or combined expeditionary strike forces.”
I count 14 adjectives in that sentence, maybe three of which are necessary. If you remove the 11 others, you come up with this:
“This warship will provide fires in support of forces ashore and will provide a naval presence while operating independently or as a part of expeditionary forces.”
That’s still a bit stodgy, but it’s a whole lot easier to understand. And it gives the reader a better sense of what the ship can actually do, which is what I think we were trying to accomplish in the first place.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, we grew scared of verbs. That’s a shame, because the English language boasts plenty of verbs that convey action and purpose. And the American military, perhaps above all professions, has reason to use them. Action and purpose is what we’re all about.
We can no longer afford to say nothing. Each word must count. Each word must work as hard as we do. With resources declining and the gap growing between the military and the American people, we must at least try to communicate better and more clearly.
… it’s not merely what we say that matters. It’s how we say it. It’s about the words we choose … or don’t choose. It’s about the sentences we build, the stories we tell. Frankly, it’s about how we practice — yes, practice — our own language.
That doesn’t just apply to the people who write the program guide or other policy wonks. It applies to PA professionals and the bosses we advise, too.
Mary Walsh had it right. When it comes to English, we have met the enemy. And they are us.
It’s time to put down the adjectives and back away.
Yes, great Neptune’s trident – YES.
First step is to speak clearly. Then we can lead to speaking directly. Then we can get to a place where in open we can speak as adults about adult problems in a way that can stand up to the follow-on question.
Ah, ha! There we go. A good PAO stays long enough for the follow-on question. I can see why this conversation is starting here.
Well done CHINFO … now let’s see if we can get it to grow roots.
Oh, I promised the reader a 4th bit for the intellectual seabag, didn’t I? You’ll need to read his email in full to see how he applies it, but RDML Kirby mentions On Writing Well.
I might have to give that a spin.
By Mark Tempest
Join us for Midrats on 14 July 13 at 5pm Eastern for Episode 184: “The Big Man Theory”
For the first half of the hour we will have LCDR BJ Armstrong to discuss his book, 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era.
For the second half of the hour our guest will be Stephen Roderick to discuss his book, The Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life.
LCDR BJ Armstrong is a Naval Aviator and an occasional naval historian. His articles have appeared in numerous journals including USNI’s Proceedings and Naval History, Naval War College Review, and Infinity Journal to name a few. He is a research student with the Department of War Studies at King’s College, University of London. He was recently named the 2013-14 Morison Scholar by Naval History & Heritage Command and was awarded the 2013 Navy League Alfred Thayer Mahan Award.
Stephen Rodrick is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and a contributing editor for Men’s Journal. He has also written for New York, Rolling Stone, GQ, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, Men’s Journal, and others. The Magical Stranger is his first book.
Before becoming a journalist, Rodrick worked as a deputy press secretary for United States Senator Alan J. Dixon. He hold a bachelors and masters in political science from Loyola University of Chicago and a masters in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.
Join us live or listen later by clicking here
- The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 3: Viper and the Pitfalls of ‘Good Enough’
- Midrats 21 Sept 14 – Episode 246: “When the short snappy war goes long, with Chris Dougherty”
- The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 2: Are All Nuggets Created Equal?
- Back to Basics: Restoring the United States Merchant Marine
- On Midrats 14 Sep 14: Episode 245: “The Carrier as Capital Ship” with RADM Thomas Moore, USN, PEO CVN