Book Reviews

Retired Army General Wes Clark, the officer who commanded Operation Allied Force, NATO's combat operation in Kosovo, has written a book that makes a significant contribution to the understanding of modern warfare. In Waging Modern War, General Clark traces the progression of events prior to and through the 78-day NATO air operation in the spring of 1999 that culminated in the capitulation of President Siobodan Milose vic and the Serbs that June. In a direct and readable style that contains a remarkable level of detail of events and conversations between the principal participants, General Clark takes the reader through the complexities and challenges of leading a military operation that ultimately was successful and, ironically, led to his being replaced prior to the end of an expected three-year assignment as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

General Clark's account of the progression of events from diplomacy backed by threat, to diplomacy backed by force, and finally to force backed by diplomacy takes us through the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovar Albanians by the Serbs, the failed negotiations in Rambouillet, the decision by NATO to intervene, and the dramatic events of the air campaign. He details all of the significant moments of Allied Force, including the shoot-down and recovery of two Allied airmen, the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, and the face-off with the Russians over Pristina airfield at the end of the conflict.

The interplay of personalities is discussed in frank detail, including his difficulties and disagreements with Defense Secretary William Cohen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Hugh Shelton over the strategic direction of the campaign. General Clark analyzes the lack of support for the operation in the Pentagon, especially among the service chiefs. Some of this lack of support stemmed from (in General Clark's view) a fixation by service leaders on the two major regional conflict strategy that he had helped craft when he was assigned to the Joint Staff in 1994 and 1995. He also covers at length the two issues that created the greatest divergence of opinion with the reluctant Washington establishment: the employment of AH-64 Apache helicopters and the planning for the expected ground campaign that never came.

As entertaining and useful to historians as General Clark's accounting of the events of Allied Force may be, the lasting contribution of Waging Modern War will be its dissection of the essence of the employment of military force in the modern era. General Clark traces the evolution of military strategy from the time when nation-states, as described by Clausewitz, would commit to total war with unconditional surrender as the ultimate goal. This is captured in some current military thinking by the phrase "the military exists to fight and win the nation's wars," with the implication that any other use is misuse. When a conflict is not total, General Clark believes a different set of criteria is required than that prescribed by Clausewitz.

Diplomacy will be a continuous part of the process of conflict resolution. Military activities must be coordinated with and integrated with civilian activities, including diplomacy, police-type operations, and humanitarian relief. The participation of military personnel in peace-support operations is an appropriate, even noble use of their capabilities. Thus, the "Clark Doctrine" is not a military strategy in the purest sense; it is a conflict-resolution strategy. The Kosovo conflict is a textbook case, and Waging Modern War is a significant contribution to understanding the role of modern military forces.

Admiral Abbot was Deputy Commander of U.S. Forces in Europe from 1998 to 2000.

 

A Soldier's Duty

Thomas E. Ricks. New York: Random House, 2001. 245 pp. Glossary. $24.95 ($22.45).

Reviewed by The Honorable Richard Danzig and Rear Admiral James Stavridis, U.S. Navy

When a Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter writes fiction, one approaches his work with expectations rather like watching Michael Jordan play baseball. Some skills are likely to be transferable and others lacking. One expects a serious theme and a strong sense of setting and character. Readers may be less optimistic about plot and dialogue. In this first novel, Tom Ricks, The Washington Post's senior Pentagon correspondent, conforms to these expectations but ultimately provides more quality in all four dimensions than might reasonably have been expected.

A Soldier's Duty begins with the burgeoning relationship of two Army majors, a man and a woman, headed to top-level assignments as aides to four-star generals in the Pentagon. Both find themselves at the center of an escalating series of dangerous confrontations driven by increasing alienation of the officer corps of the Army from it s civilian masters. That alienation is bred by presidential decisions to force acceptance of service by openly gay and partially disabled individuals and then, more intensely, by an unpopular and dangerous excursion into Afghanistan unwisely undertaken by the administration.

Military resentment against these policies manifests itself in an increasingly vituperative e-mail campaign by the shadowy "Sons of Liberty" organization, composed mostly of midgrade officers. Dramatic protests, strikes, and demonstrations by uniformed personnel follow. Then things really start to get ugly.

There are significant flaws in Ricks's rendering. His protagonists are real enough and his story is good enough to keep us engaged. Dialogue intermittently falls to caricature, however, and the plot eventually goes over the top with several murders whose improbability in execution is matched only by the implausibility of people's naive reactions to them. As the plot becomes ever less credible, it reaches an abrupt resolution only by having Ricks's beloved Marine Corps pull a number of unlikely rabbits out of various hats.

If A Soldier's Duty is only passable as a story, it still is well worth reading as an object lesson. It delivers' on its main promise by skillfully illuminating an important problem: what is a soldier's duty to follow orders he or she believes to be badly motivated and profligately wasteful of lives? The debate about duty is played out intelligently at two levels in the book. The first, and most sharply etched, is between two very senior Army generals, one an old-school traditionalist who is the Army Chief of Staff and the other a "new wave" general who is assigned as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In a more human key, the same debate is replayed between their two aides, with the added spice of their own unfolding relation ship. Ricks shows very clearly how perceptions of duty to superiors and duty to peers and subordinates can clash and contort organizations and people.

Beyond this, the novel offers a rich case study of the use of e-mail as a mechanism of debate, opinion shaping, and disinformation. E-mail becomes a central mechanism of what might be termed bureaucratic asymmetric warfare. In these pages we see new age combat warriors—exemplified by an unorthodox but highly effective Air Force officer assigned to the CIA as an undercover agent in the Sons of Liberty network—conducting their own private war in cyberspace. Ricks perceptively writes: "One of the reasons that the rank structure originally was devised was to control the flow of information. But now information ricocheted around the military as sergeants wrote to their old captains and captains wrote to colonels." Cleverly conceived, this electronic warfare subplot by itself warrants a read.

As Ricks intends, this book will stimulate debate. As a small contribution in that regard, reading it against the backdrop of our own experience, we note the importance of mediative figures that are absent from Ricks's account. Nowhere, for example, do the Deputy Secretary of Defense or the secretaries of the services appear in these pages. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is conveniently emotionally paralyzed by a combat injury to his son. Individuals who might therefore better connect an isolated President and Secretary of Defense to an alienated officer corps are missing.

Fundamentally, however, Ricks hits the nail on the head when his heroine makes it clear which side of the dilemma she will endorse: "Taking care of your troops—that can't be the highest good. The military can't be governed by its own self-interest. Our ultimate duty as officers is to the nation, not to ourselves…S. L. A. Marshall says that distinction, that willingness to sacrifice ourselves, is all that elevates the soldier's claim above the civilians." In the end, a book that makes this point so powerfully is well worth reading.

Mr. Danzig was the 71st Secretary of the Navy. Rear Admiral Stavridis was his executive assistant and now is at N81 (Assessments) on the Navy Staff.

 

The Irritable Heart: The Medical Mystery of the Gulf War

Jeff Wheelwright. New York: W. W. Norton, 200 I. 352 pp. Notes. Index. $26.95 ($24.95).

Reviewed by Captain Arthur Smith, Medical Corps, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)

In the late 19th century, medical care and pensions for veterans of the Civil War absorbed nearly 20% of the federal budget. Among the amputees, morphine addicts, and war-torn "insane" were pensioners described as having been weakened by an "irritable heart." First witnessed during the combat period, and often leading to medical discharge, this condition was characterized by a rapid pulse and complaints of palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pains, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and disturbed sleep.

Experts who study the fall out from traumatic events indicate that in addition to agitation, nightmares, and excessive fears, subjects often experience problems with their physical health. This was true of Vietnam veterans as well as of flood victims, battered women, Israeli combat veterans, prisoners of war, prostitutes, refugees from Cambodia, and Pennsylvania residents who fled the Three-Mile Island nuclear accident. All had in common an increase in health complaints.

Responding to the host of ailments borne by veterans with service in the Persian Gulf theater of operations in 1990-91, Congress pressed the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon to demonstrate gains in treatment, even though the condition to be treated never had been defined, despite extensive and costly investigative expenditures implemented by the best and brightest of our nation's healthcare researchers. Opinions regarding the genes is of these ailments have remained divided between proponents of a "toxic hypothesis" and supporters of a "stress hypothesis." The toxic group has argued that the illnesses borne by the veterans emanated from the hazardous substances rife both in the theater of war and during the sustained heavily polluted post-combat environment, abetted by untested substances administered to the troops. The opposing stress position suggests that the illnesses were either caused by or greatly amplified by psychological stress.

This book is a composite portrait of conflicting theories, speculations, and frustrations. Veterans are portrayed as complainants who plead vigorously that they have not been taken seriously by a government that has an obligation to fix their problems. Ironically, the very same government agencies responsible for providing protection against the hazardous exposures suffered during the Gulf War (and now responsible for investigating what has gone wrong with them) are depicted as in sensitive and untruthful. Associated scientists and healthcare professionals are demeaned and vilified as being "bureaucratically slow of foot." Advocates claim proof that the Pentagon has lied to veterans and Congress about toxic exposures, that medical records are missing, and that the Veterans Administration has responded to the needs of soldiers with a history of toxic exposure by providing, at most, psychiatric care.

The author suggests an even more abstract relationship of the maladies plaguing the afflicted veterans with the highly charged arena of "functional illnesses," or those that cannot be identified by physical signs. These conditions are characterized more by symptoms, suffering, and disability than by consistently demonstrable tissue abnormalities. Related "functional" phenomena in the general population currently enjoying high visibility are: chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivity, irritable bowel syndrome, temporomandibular joint dysfunction of the jaw, and the conditions stemming from silicone breast implants and whiplash injuries.

The Irritable Heart is not recommended for relaxed, idle reading. It provides few new scientific insights, and contains no concrete answers to the wrenching miseries of many unhappy veterans, which are described in detail. The text is more akin to a swirling, bubbling cauldron of discontent, frustration, political manipulation, conflicting theories, and attempts to legitimize abstract subjective phenomena by demeaning the traditional "scientific method." One wonders, however, whether a congressional mandate similar to the Agent Orange legislation, officially legitimizing the presumption that all sick veterans encountered toxic substances during their Persian Gulf service and authorizing compensation without a squabble, would bring an end to the invective and hypothetical posturing of the "experts."

Captain Smith is a professor of urology at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia. He also is adjunct professor of surgery and military and emergency medicine at the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.

 

 
 

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