Archive for the 'Books' Category

 

Laptop_picture_with_notepad

The June issue of Proceedings offered a call from CNO Admiral Richardson, and his speechwriter Lt. Ashley O’Keefe, encouraging naval professionals to engage with their service through the act of professional writing. The CNO has not discovered a new idea, but instead lends his voice to something a number of recent senior officers have called for, from Stavridis to Winnefeld. Even some “not so senior” officers have suggested the same. Others have written indications and warnings about the risks the voyage entails.

There have been a long list of professionals throughout our history who have participated in the development of naval affairs in this way, from Maury to Mahan, Nimitz to Zumwalt. And while the spark for this post came from the CNO and the Navy, the other services have a history here too: from soldiers in the 19th century to leaders like Patton in the 20th century. However, the repeated calls to arms over time, or perhaps calls to pens, have missed something. How do you do it?

Our Navy is a technically oriented service. This is also generally true of the other services to greater or lesser degrees. Our educational policies focus on engineering and technical study, and rarely encourage us to learn how to communicate in writing beyond a bare minimum. In our staff positions we use briefing slides and other communication methods which inspire partial thoughts, quick hits, and incomplete sentences and no concept of paragraph structure or style. For cultures raised on procedural compliance and powerpoint, what is the procedure for writing a professional article? Some simple steps inspired by the words in the Naval Institute’s mission can help set our course.

R…T…S…W

The mission of USNI is to:

Provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to global security. [emphasis added]

The bold words are borrowed from President John Adams. In his 1765 pamphlet “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” Adams examined monarchy and feudalism and compared them to the growing movement for freedom and liberty in the American colonies. The future president called for Americans who valued liberty to develop their knowledge, and their argument, by daring to read, think, speak, and write on the subject. It was a clarion call, but it also hinted at a certain amount of process. Adams was a careful writer and it is quite possible he put these words in a very specific order. Following his counsel can help professionals chart their process for developing an article which contributes to understanding of our profession.

Read.

In order to make a contribution to the field of military, naval, or national security knowledge, you have to know the state of the field. The way to do this is by reading. If you have come up with an interesting analogy for a current debate the only way to know if someone has made the argument before is by reading the field. If you wonder what counter-arguments may be against your position, that also comes with reading the field. Articles in journals like Proceedings, Military Review, or Naval War College Review, online publications like War on the Rocks and The Bridge, blogs like Next War, all contribute to the state of the field. Not only will reading them give you new information, and new ideas, but they also tell you what others have said before. It can save you from the embarrassing retort: “yeah, Lieutenant Commander Jones said it six months ago and had a better argument.” (Not that you have to be entirely original, but knowing the field helps you understand where you fit.)

It is not just articles and online posts we should be reading. Books have long given us the deep knowledge needed to understand where the profession has been and where it may head in the future. There is a common refrain in the modern world that we simply do not have time for books. The watch schedule keeps us too busy. Digital media has affected our attention span. Military service is demanding, and we need time with our families. Yet we find time for physical exercise, while we discount intellectual exercise. According to some studies the average college graduate reads around 300 words a minute. If we read 15 minutes each evening, it totals up to 18-20 books a year. The excuse there is “no time” would never be accepted when we failed the PFT. Accept the challenge to read more widely. Maybe this sounds “high brow” or too “egg headed” but as President Truman, a WWI Army veteran, said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

Think.

Once a servicemember or natsec professional has an idea of the subject they want to write about, has done some research and reading about it, and has come up with the initial kernel of an argument, they must spend some time thinking about it. This advice probably goes against the grain of what digital media incentivises, or what social media seems to encourage. However, the point of this effort is to make a contribution to the field of military and naval affairs or national security, not to rush into being a “thought leader” in the crashing tide of the blogosphere. Thinking hard about the subject you intend to tackle includes attempting to employ the skills of critical thinking.

Critical thinking gets a lot of attention these days and there are numerous competing definitions of what it means. Unfortunately, too many people seem to think “critical thinking” means “thinking about important or critical things.” That’s not the case. Instead we need level criticism at ourselves and our ideas. We need to examine our ideas with depth, and rigor, in order to get to the heart of whatever issue we want to write about. This includes becoming a critic of yourself and your own ideas, as well as the ideas of others. As you develop the concept for your article, be exacting and penetrating with the evidence you have amassed either through research or your own experience.

Speak.

Having researched, considered experience, and critically examined the subject in your own mind, it is important to get a sanity check from someone else. In the academic world, this is part of the reason there is peer review before journal articles are published. In the professional and popular press, editors and editorial boards will judge your work with a dispassionate eye. The best way to ensure your argument makes sense, and you have developed a sound approach before contacting an editor, is to talk about it with other people.

Speaking about your idea can take a number of forms. It can happen with a pint in your hand at a pub with a mentor or group of respected friends. In the lost days of our Officer Clubs this was actually a common way of helping people develop professional ideas. It could also involve a cup of coffee. Seek out a mentor who you trust, whether a senior officer or a former professor or co-worker, and see what sticks in your conversation with them. Speaking also does not have to be taken literally, even if some of us work better in the give and take of live conversation. It can take the form of an email or social media exchange. The goal is to introduce new criticisms the writer has not considered, or clarifying the way to express the ideas.

Write.

Sit down and write the article. Just do it. Don’t allow the blank page on the computer screen to intimidate. One of the benefits of having thought through the idea systematically, and then spoken about it with a trusted friend or mentor, is you have already started to develop the words to express the idea. As many successful authors have told us, from Stephen King and Anne Lamott to Ernest Hemingway: the first draft is going to be bad. It does not matter. Sit at the keyboard and bang away until you have said everything you want to say.

Once the words are on the page, raw and terrible as they might be, the writer has crossed a major hurdle. After that, it is a matter of editing, organizing, and rewriting, which should be easier than putting the idea down the first time. The editing does not need to be rushed, and the mentor or friend you spoke with probably will be excited to take a look at the article and help make suggestions to improve it. You have already made them feel like a part of the process. When the draft is something which reads well, and you’re happy with it, then it is time to start looking for a place to publish it. Good editors, strong editorial boards, and the review process they use will help strengthen the piece even more. Be ready to make more adjustments to help clarify any issues they discover.

The RTSW Loop

The steps of RTSW might be seen as a sort of OODA loop for professional writing. In some ways it is similar to Boyd’s strato-tactical ideal. For example, each element can send you back to a previous spot. Speaking with a mentor may send you to a book or article you had not heard of before which you need to read, or the process of writing may cause you to return to your thinking and reorganize your approach. But there are also differences with Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act sequence, most notably speed. Speed can be your enemy when writing a good professional article. There is no hurry. Please do not try to beat the rush of modern media, this can lead to shallow writing, weak argument, and poorly sourced facts. Doing it right may take time, and multiple rounds of the “RTSW loop,” but that only makes the article stronger and a better contribution.

Writing for publication can be a rewarding challenge. It is also something a legion of Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and security professionals have done throughout history. Many discover the process of writing clarifies their thinking. It also develops our communication skills, our critical faculties through practice, and our leadership ability. All of these make us better military professionals. Writing for publication is not something we should do because we need another FITREP or evaluation bullet, or because we think we can impress our boss. We don’t do it simply because the CNO says so. It is something we do in order to move our profession forward and to improve our service or our nation’s security. So, it is time to dare. Dare to read, think, speak, and write.

 

The author would like to thank Cdr Mike Flynn and his Naval Academy summer school class on “Professional Writing” for their invitation to join them for a day of class, where the author had a chance to speak about and refine some of these ideas.

This post is the first in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The advice contained is worth exactly what you have paid to read it and individual experience will vary. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.



Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 12 June 2016 for Midrats Episode 336: “21st Century Knox and The Historical Imperative”:

As part of our ongoing series of interviews with the editors of each

addition to the 21st Century Foundations series, we will have David Kohnen the editor of the latest in the series, 21st Century Knox, on for the full hour.

Kohnen described the focus of the book, Commodore Dudley Wright Knox, USN, as someone who, “… challended fellow naval professionals to recognize the inherent relevance of history in examining contemporary problems. In his writings, Knox cited historical examples when strategists foolishly anticipated the unknown future without first pursuing a detailed understanding of the past.”


David Kohen earned a PhD with the Laughton Chair of Naval History at the University of London, King’s College. He is the author of Commanders Winn and Knowles: Winning the U-boat War with Intelligence as well as other works.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or get it later from iTunes or Stitcher.



Posted by Mark Tempest in Books, Navy | No Comments

Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 15 May 2016 for Midrats Episode 332: August Cole, Co-Author of Ghost Fleet

The best fiction doesn’t just entertain, it informs and causes the reader to think.

Our guest for the full hour this week is August Cole, the co-author with P.W. Singer of one of the best received military fiction novels on the last year, Ghost Fleet: An Novel of the Next World War.

August is an author and analyst specializing in national security issues.

He is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council where he directs The Art of the Future Project, which explores narrative fiction and visual media for insight into the future of conflict. He is a non-resident fellow at the Modern War Institute at the United States Military Academy (West Point). He is also writer-in-residence at Avascent, an independent strategy and management consulting firm focused on government-oriented industries.

He also edited the Atlantic Council science fiction collection, War Stories From the Future, published in November 2015. The anthology featured his short story ANTFARM about the intersection of swarm-warfare, additive manufacturing and crowd-sourced intelligence.

He is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Washington and an editor and a reporter for MarketWatch.com.

Please join live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. In alternative, you can also get the show on our iTunes page here or on Stitcher



From Mr. Midshipman Easy

The greatest error now in our service, is the disregard shown to the feelings of the junior

Frederick Marryat

officers in the language of their superiors: that an improvement has taken place I grant, but that it still exists, to a degree injurious to the service, I know too well. The articles of war, as our hero was informed by his captain, were equally binding on officers and crew; but what a dead letter do they become if officers are permitted to break them with impunity! The captain of a ship will turn the hands up to punishment, read the article of war for the transgressing of which the punishment is inflicted, and to show at that time their high respect for the articles of war, the captain and every officer take off their hats. The moment the hands are piped down, the second article of war, which forbids all swearing, etcetera, in derogation of God’s honour, is immediately disregarded. We are not strait-laced,–we care little about an oath as a mere _expletive_; we refer now to swearing at _others_, to insulting their feelings grossly by coarse and intemperate language. We would never interfere with a man for damning his own eyes, but we deny the right of his damning those of another.
***

But it remembered that these are not the observations of a junior officer smarting under insult–they are the result of deep and calm reflection. We have arrived to that grade, that, although we have the power to inflict, we are too high to receive insult, but we have not forgotten how our young blood has boiled when wanton, reckless, and cruel torture has been heaped upon our feelings, merely because, as a junior officer, we were not in a position to retaliate, or even to reply. And another evil is, that this great error is disseminated. In observing on it, in one of our works, called Peter Simple, we have put the following true observation in the mouth of O’Brien. Peter observes, in his simple, right-minded way:

“I should think, O’Brien, that the very circumstance of having had your feelings so often wounded by such language when you were a junior officer would make you doubly careful not to use it towards others, when you had advanced in the service?”

“Peter, that’s just the first feeling, which wears away after a time, till at last, your own sense of indignation becomes blunted, and becomes indifferent to it; you forget, also, that you wound the feelings of others, and carry the habit with, you, to the great injury and disgrace of the service.”

Let it not be supposed that in making these remarks we want to cause litigation, or insubordination. On the contrary, we assert that this error is the cause, and eventually will be much more the cause, of insubordination; for as the junior officers who enter the service are improved, so will they resist it. The complaint here is more against the officers, than the captains, whose power has been perhaps already too much curtailed by late regulations: that power must remain, for although there may be some few who are so perverted as to make those whom they command uncomfortable, in justice to the service we are proud to assert that the majority acknowledge, by their conduct, that the greatest charm attached to power is to be able to make so many people happy.

About Captain Frederick Marryat, While he was an early 19th Century man in many regards and attitudes, he certainly got the above correct. References to the “article of war” are to the Royal Navy’s articles of the day.

Nothing sticks in your memory like a “screamer” whether in the service or in a civilian job, especially that part about “we were not is position to retaliate, or even to reply.”



Posted by Mark Tempest in Books | 4 Comments
Tags:

Many, many years ago, as a newly minted Ensign fresh out of the clutches of the Naval Academy, I participated in a wargame that considered one of the Cold War’s more dangerous possibilities. The wargame scenario postulated a combined attack by a Soviet Backfire Bomber regiment in coordination with an ECHO II class SSGN on a NATO convoy bringing reinforcements to Europe in response to a Soviet invasion. The game was run by Larry Bond, at the time known more for his design of the “Harpoon” the wargame ruleset. Having been accepted into the Navy Nuclear Power program with plans to join the Submarine Service, I was happy to act as the commander of the Soviet submarine. My partner on the red side was an insurance salesman from Baltimore, who when told of my service selection, offered that he had just written a novel on Cold War submarine operations that would interest me. He informed me that the book was about to be published by the US Naval Institute and should be available shortly. I muttered a non-committal response, all the while thinking that my teammate must think I was particularly dense, even for an Ensign, as everyone knew that the Naval Institute did not publish fiction. Having significantly damaged the NATO convoy by the conclusion of the game, I bade my partner goodbye, never expecting to see or hear from him again. Several months later when The Hunt for Red October topped the best seller lists, I could only mutter about being proven wrong. Yes, the Naval Institute really did publish fiction, and yes, I really had met the author, Tom Clancy, before he became world famous.

Many years later the Naval Institute’s practice of publishing high quality fiction featuring important concerns of the nautical world endures.  Syren’s Song by Claude Berube, a former US Navy officer and current director of the Naval Academy Museum, continues this tradition. Instead of considering the force on force conflict of warring superpowers at sea however, this volume examines the increasingly hazardous maritime realm in an era where the Western navies have stepped back from security missions they find too costly, onerous or merely uninteresting. Into this vacuum other guarantees of security will flow, and Connor Stark, the novel’s protagonist, leads his company, Highland Marine Defense through a series of fast paced and entertaining adventures to help tame the rising tide of lawlessness. In this account, a non-state actor’s naval contingent, the reconstituted Sea Tigers of the former Tamil insurgency on northern Sri Lanka, use a combination of ruthless devotion to the cause and a technological breakthrough to launch a devastating attack on the Sri Lankan Navy. Under the leadership of Vanni, a fearless veteran of the previous guerrilla war, the conflict is renewed with the dream of finally achieving independence. Flying his flag on a discarded but refurbished US Navy vessel, Stark and his company are contracted to assist the Colombo government until more formal assistance can arrive. In the process they are joined by an American Arleigh Burke class DDG, the USS LEFON, with a Commanding Officer and crew willing and able to assist Stark’s efforts for the Sri Lankan government. A dead shot investigator from the Department of State searching for the murderers of another Diplomatic Security Agent official joins their attempts. The combined forces come together to determine the source of the insurgent technological breakthrough, an effective if short ranged Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon, the location of the enemy naval base and the killers of the American Foreign Service Officer. The plot is fast paced as the author ties together the various strands of the story together, showing how the insecure maritime commons might not be exploited by any number of unseemly national entities, multinational corporations with ties to continental powers, and nefarious non-state actors. As might be expected in this genre, the heroes act heroically, the villains perform vile acts with much zest, the weapons do not jam and the shirkers earn their just desserts. There is even a gratuitous slap at the somewhat ironically named Littoral Combat Ships that have been sent to replace the sunken hulls of the much attrited Sri Lankan Navy, perhaps because no one else wanted them. All in all Syren’s Song is a satisfying read that keeps the gentle reader’s interest across the two hundred pages of action and analysis.

syren_coverPerhaps more important than the parts of the satisfying action filled intrigue are the background questions that frame the story but do not overwhelm the plot. What should be the role of private security companies (dare they be called mercenaries?) functioning in the maritime environment? How might these organizations operate with navies of smaller nations interested in protecting their own security and economic interests as well as the larger navies of more expeditionary states? What should the rules of engagement be when operating in the hostile and potentially highly lethal at the lower end of the spectrum of conflict? How might the maritime forces of non-state actors operate against more capable maritime forces that have had their communications capabilities degraded? The USS LEFON acts with, shall we say, somewhat more liberal authorities than US warships do in the current era of conflict that features only slightly less deadly threats and more secure communications with higher headquarters. Absent such lifelines, how should an American warship perform its duties and responsibilities to protect national interests and concerns? Is mission command merely a trite phrase that sounds intriguing in some doctrinal manual but at sea is executed only in fictional stories? These topical questions are answered decisively in this novel, but in the real world naval professionals need to think about these issues and come up with acceptable solutions well before the first round or missile goes down range, particularly if it is coming at their vessel. There may not be a Connor Stark and his elite cohort of sea going mercenaries to save the day, though one might surmise he will at least appear in a follow on book. There are too many nefarious actors yet to vanquish and unanswered questions to resolve for the Naval Institute to cut short Stark’s new career at Highland Marine Defense. Jack Ryan wants, no needs to know what comes next. You will too.



Please join us at 5 pm EST on 15 November 2015 for Midrats Episode 306: Author Claude Berube on his next book: Syren’s Song

This Sunday for the full hour our guest will be author Claude Berube to discuss his second Connor Stark novel, Syren’s Song. From the Amazon page,

Syren’s Song is the second novel featuring Connor Stark, and it promises to be just as engaging as The Aden Effect. This geopolitical thriller begins when the Sri Lankan navy is unexpectedly attacked by a resurgent and separatist Tamil Tiger organization. The government issues a letter of marque to former U.S. Navy officer Connor Stark, now the head of the private security company Highland Maritime Defense. Stark and his eclectic compatriots accept the challenge only to learn that the Sea Tigers who crippled the Sri Lankan navy are no ordinary terrorists.”

We will also discuss the craft of writing, how emerging real world events can influence the writing of fiction, and as we usually do with Claude, perhaps some other interestiing topics that crop up in the course of our conversation.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also catch the show later on our iTunes page here (though the episode number might be different because …?)



Rebuttal Book CoverOver the past nine months, a variety of companies and organizations have republished in book form the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s December 2014 report on the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. Most of those publications tried to convey the impression that the SSCI report, produced by Senator Dianne Feinstein and her staff, was the definitive word on a very controversial part of American history. It was not.

These publications often did not even mention that the Feinstein report was produced by only one political party and that there were robust rebuttals to it produced by the then minority Senate staff and by the current CIA leadership.

Every senior CIA officer who was involved in the creation, administration or oversight of the interrogation program, as I was, are convinced that the conclusions of the Feinstein report were terribly flawed. For that reason, a number of us sought to have the historical record balanced – by the publication, in book form, of the SSCI Minority and CIA rebuttals. To provide additional context and illumination, eight of us wrote essays to also be included which give our personal perspective on the program. This personal perspective was important because, incredibly, despite working on their report for five years and spending more than $40 million in the process – the SSCI majority never spoke to a single one of us. Their excuses for failing to do so were laughable. They cited Department of Justice Investigations which ended years before their effort did as a principal reason. They claimed that basing their report entirely on a review of documents was an acceptable alternative to talking to eye witnesses and then they cherry-picked their way to conclusions that their chairwoman held before the investigation even started.

When our response, called Rebuttal, was published about ten days ago, the reaction from Senator Feinstein and her supporters was quick and predictable. They claimed there was nothing new in our publication. But Rebuttal contains the very strong responses from the SSCI Minority and CIA staff which were left out of other publications and which were only infrequently mentioned in press accounts following the initial December release. What will be new to many readers is the firsthand accounts from my seven former colleagues and me – which show the folly of Senator Feinstein’s staff working so hard to make sure our voices were never heard. In a second response published this week in the Huffington Post, Feinstein and her staff were quoted as saying “Only (former CIA Director General Michael) Hayden can say if he intentionally mislead policymakers.” No, anyone who knows Mike Hayden knows he did not – and in any case – if Feinstein had concerns –why didn’t she have the decency to ask him?

The media response to the publication of Rebuttal was similarly predictable. Some complained that in our essays we did not often mention things like waterboarding. True. That is because the issue was dealt with at length in the 300+ pages of the two following reports. Other media accounts repeated some of the canards from the Feinstein report as if they were gospel.

Let me stress that we are in no way saying that the program that we were involved with was perfect. Far from it. But we know for a fact that the enhanced interrogation program was legal, authorized, and accurately briefed to the highest levels of the U.S. government and senior officials on our Congressional oversight committees. We knew at the time the program was being developed and implemented that the details of the program would one day leak and would be controversial. But we never believed for a second that anyone would challenge the effectiveness of the program. Monitoring the intelligence windfall that came from the program day after day in the years immediately after 9/11 as I did – I can say with absolute assurance that the program was effective and saved lives. Those who believe that the absence of a major al Qa’ida inspired attack on our homeland over the past 14 years is just luck are fooling themselves and trying to fool the American public.

We are grateful to the Naval Institute Press who, unlike Senator Feinstein’s SSCI, gave us a forum from which we could tell our experiences and make accessible versions of the two other reports which undermine the credibility of the one that Feinstein’s staffers peddle as “the report.”

We entered into this effort solely to make sure that both sides of the story get told. Any profits produced by the publication of “Rebuttal” are being donated to the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation – which looks after the children and spouses of Agency officers who die in the line of duty.



Please join us on Sunday, 14 June 2015 at 5pm (1700)(EDT) for Midrats Episode 284: 200th Anniversary of Waterloo with John Kuehn:

18 June will be the 200th Anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, fought in present-day Belgium. Just in time, a regular guest to Midrats, John Kuehn, has his latest book out, Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns where he covers the operational level analysis of European warfare from 1792 to 1815, including the tactics, operations, and strategy of major conflicts of the time.

More than just a description of set piece battle, there is a discussion of naval warfare, maneuver warfare, compound warfare, and counterinsurgency.

We’ve got him for the full hour … we should be able to get to most of it.

Dr. John T. Kuehn is the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer in EP-3s and ES-3s. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008) and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco, as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011.

His previous book was, A military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also find the show later at our iTunes page here.



9780544142848_p0_v4_s260x420

Ghost Fleet. P.W. Singer & August Cole, (2015). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. New York, NY: 416 pp. $28.00.

An editorial in China’s Global Times reportedly said that if the U.S. position is that China must halt its reclamation activities in the South China Sea “then a U.S.-China war is inevitable.” Meanwhile the United States has signaled its willingness to move up the escalation ladder in defense of its position with Freedom of Navigation transits and P-8 flights. Elsewhere, Russia’s rulers seem bent on military adventurism along its borderlands. With such a real-life backdrop readers could be forgiven for fixating on the geopolitical backstory of Ghost Fleet, P.W. Singer and August Cole’s self-described new “novel of the next world war.” After all, the writer/academic/think-tanker/consultant duo chose to portray the three powers* as the plot’s antagonists – opening with a P-8 flight above a Chinese position.

Yet, despite a review of Power Transition Theory examining why these states might come to blows, Ghost Fleet’s expedition into the near future primarily focuses on how such a great power conflict might be fought. Singer and Cole are at their best in teasing out the interplay between potential advances in emerging technologies – backed by impressive end-noting – rather than isolating the implications of a single capability. These range from Big Data and unmanned systems to additive manufacturing and augmented reality. The authors’ depictions of cutting-edge Chinese developments picking apart current U.S. weapons systems might make for queasy reading among some in the military. In this way it effectively serves to warn against complacency in presuming American technological superiority in conflict. But it bears remembering that success in employing the new capabilities detailed in Ghost Fleet, as in life, requires a level of creativity available (and not guaranteed) to both sides.

Singer and Cole also explore how the supposed American Way of War of grinding attrition, popularized by the eponymous 1973 Russell Weigley book, might fare in an age of offensive space and cyber weapons. In doing so they create intriguing portraits of empowered individuals (both socio-economically and skills-wise), expats, and a globalized defense industrial base on a war footing. Some of the most memorable scenes come from the juxtaposition of new capabilities with old operational concepts (occasionally set to the strains of Alice Cooper). Singer and Cole also ably confront readers with a reversal in the traditional role of U.S. forces in an insurgency and the ethical decisions it demands of them.

Ghost Fleet may be the authors’ first novel, but it’s not their first foray into helping tell a story. Singer has consulted on such projects as Activision’s “Call of Duty” video game franchise and honed his prose in such works as Wired for War, an earlier book on the future of robotics warfare. Cole meanwhile has been engaged in the development of insights on warfare by facilitating near-future science fiction writing at the Atlantic Council’s “Art of Future Warfare Project” (full disclosure: I had the opportunity to publish a short story of my own there). These experiences have paid off in a very enjoyable page-turner.

This is not to say Ghost Fleet is without flaws. One of the novel’s driving emotional stories, an estranged father-son relationship, never quite rings true. With an expansive and fast-moving narrative, a character here and subplot there trail off without satisfactory conclusion. Lastly, while the authors investigate many impacts of a war’s fallout on the U.S. Navy, including the resurrection of the ships of the book’s title and a call-up of retirees, they missed an opportunity to look at the complications a mobilization of existing Navy Reservists might cause. But such a minor sin of omission doesn’t detract from the overall merits of the work. Whether on a commute to the Pentagon or relaxing on a beach in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone, readers will find Ghost Fleet a highly enjoyable, at times uncomfortable, and always thought-provoking read.

 

 

*It should be noted Singer and Cole don’t tie those nation’s current regimes to their countries’ futures, and in doing so remind readers that what would follow a collapse of the Chinese Communist Party is not necessarily more amenable to U.S. or Western interests.

 

 



I encourage you to spend forty-eight minutes of your day listening to author Karl Marlantes talk about war. Many of you are already familiar with his work. For those who are not, here is a short bio: Marlantes is a Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar. After a year at Oxford, he left, joined the Marines, and was then in some of the worst fighting of the

US Marines fighting in Hue, 1968.

US Marines fighting in Hue, 1968.

Vietnam War. He was awarded the Navy Cross for assaulting a hilltop bunker occupied by the NVA. Here is a part of his citation:

“While continuing to function effectively in his primary billet, First Lieutenant Marlantes skillfully combined and reorganized the remaining members of two platoons, and on 6 March initiated an aggressive assault up a hill, the top of which was controlled by a hostile unit occupying well-fortified bunkers. Under First Lieutenant Marlantes’ dynamic leadership, the attack gained momentum which carried it up the slope and through several enemy emplacements before the surprised North Vietnamese force was able to muster determined resistance. Delivering a heavy volume of fire, the enemy temporarily pinned down the friendly unit. First Lieutenant Marlantes, completely disregarding his own safety, charged across the fire-swept terrain to storm four bunkers in succession, completely destroying them. While thus engaged, he was seriously wounded, but steadfastly refusing medical attention, continued to lead his men until the objective was secured, a perimeter defense established, and all other casualties medically evacuated.”

Years later, he wrote Matterhorn — a fictional account of his experiences as a platoon leader in Vietnam. I read his second book, What It Is Like to Go To War, while deployed in 2011. After reading it, I handed my copy to our senior chaplain. As a chaplain that spent considerable time with Marines in Iraq, and seeing some of the worst combat of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I thought he would get something out of it. Two days later he came up to me and asked me if he could keep my copy. He ended up buying me a replacement copy when we pulled into Singapore. It not only spoke to the power of his book, but it was a reminder that books can make an incredible gift.

200px-Matterhorn_(Karl_Marlantes_novel)_cover_art

Recently, Marlantes came to the US Naval War College to speak to the students about war, ethics, his work, and many other topics. He was funny, insightful, and refreshingly honest. One of my friends, when leaving the auditorium, said, “That was one of the best Q&A’s I’ve heard this year.” Marlantes touches on some pertinent yet divisive topics that many of us are debating today: Should there be a draft? How do veterans assimilate back into society? Is it too easy for policy makers to use the military? And many others.

Take some time — watch it.

 

 

 



« Older Entries