Book Reviews

Newspaper stories traditionally begin with a lead, the short, fact-packed overture that introduces what is to come. Patrick Tyler, an investigative reporter for The Washington Post, follows this format, starting off this engrossing book by telling the reader, on the first page, that this will be:

"a story of ambition, commercial greed, and the exercise of unmoderated power in the peacetime system of defense procurement. The impact of these forces collapsed the nation's shipbuilding program into an industrial quagmire. The devastation toppled a corporate dynasty inside the country's largest defense contracting firm and shattered the reputations of men who had stood at the top of the U. S. defense establishment."

That is the story Tyler delivers.

The narrative is basically a moralistic tale about those reputations, shattered not by fate but by flaws as real as bad welds on a submarine's hull. The lust for power brings down Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear Navy, as he snarls and threatens in his quest to control the building of what he calls his submarines. Greed blinds David Lewis, the chairman and chief executive officer of General Dynamics, as he plots and cajoles in his campaigns to get the Navy to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in cost-overruns on the Los Angeles (SSN-688)-class attack submarines and the first Trident submarine. Ambition sets the destructive course for P. Takis Veliotis, general manager of the General Dynamics shipyard, which is the arena for the struggle.

Veliotis, a conniver with a crime to hide, had secretly taped his telephone conversations with Admiral Rickover, Lewis , and other General Dynamics officials. Tyler incorporates these conversations in the text, allowing the reader to eavesdrop as, for example, Veliotis, in an angry exchange with Rickover, says, "But we're talking about the customer. The customer is the Navy." Rickover agrees. Neither mentions that the customer was in fact the United States and that the products were warships designed to safely carry U. S. sailors into harm's way.

In a Lewis-Veliotis conversation, Lewis says that a tricky move that Veliotis is considering "isn't the honest thing to do."

"But I'm not," Veliotis replies, "…I'm not trying to wave the flag of ethics here…"

A rare hero in this tale is Evelyn Small, a Navy inspector unconcerned with power, ambition, or greed. Her flashlight spotted bad welds on an attack submarine about to go on sea trials. A full inspection of that submarine and all the others in the Electric Boat shipyard revealed that thousands of welds were either missing or defective. This was the beginning of the end of what Tyler calls "the partnership that existed between Lewis and Veliotis to keep the lid on at Electric Boat while they tried to shake down the navy for more money."

The tale ends with each man fallen from grace: Lewis, testifying before a congressional committee for the first time in his career, heard his own conspiratorial voice on Veliotis's tapes and then heard a congressman shout, "You lied!" Lewis, his integrity in shreds after the hearing, was retired by General Dynamics. In a conciliatory, clean-the-slate deal engineered by Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, President Ronald Reagan retired Admiral Rickover and General Dynamics kicked Veliotis upstairs to a corporate job.

For Veliotis, the tale had one more twist. Years before, at another shipyard, he had taken more than $1 million in kickbacks from a supplier. Now, suddenly, the secret was out. By the time he was indicted, he was a fugitive in his native Greece. He tried unsuccessfully to bargain by dangling his tapes before federal prosecutors. They refused the offer. The words on the tapes were not lost, however. They resound in this book, and provide some of the revelations about men who, while supposedly building submarines, devote their energies to the destruction of each other.

Thomas B. Allen , coauthor of Rickover: Controversy and Genius (Simon and Schuster, 1982) and author of the forthcoming War Games (McGraw-Hill, 1987), was assistant director of Book Service at the National Geographic Society.

 

Supercarrier

George C. Wilson. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company (Naval Institute Press Edition), 1986. 273 pp. Photos. $19.95 ($15.96).

Reviewed by Lieutenant Commander James Stavridis, U. S. Navy

The ultimate test of a man's love of the Navy is the forward deployment. It is the final frontier, a six-month cruise to the edge of the empire. When a battle group departs its home port amidst tears and anticipation, every man in the force feels a sense of purpose and dedication mixed with the inevitable sorrow that accompanies a separation from home and country.

Normally, ships making forward deployments are detached from the media, getting their news through week-old newspapers or wire service echoes in the Plan of the Day. However, when the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) battle group departed Norfolk in November 1983, they carried a paper lion from the press: George Wilson, a respected defense writer from The Washington Post. This book is the story of the entire seven-month deployment he made on board the John F. Kennedy.

In the finest tradition of the World War II correspondents who earned the respect of the troops by their participation at the front, Wilson straps into every aircraft on board, lights fires in the boilers, works the flight line, and pulls liberty in ports around the Mediterranean. His description of the departure from the pier on Day One of the deployment will ring true for anyone who has left a family behind and steamed off to meet the horizon. The description of Christmas while deployed, with the videotapes from home, the crushed Christmas cookies, and the good-humored decorating and partying, is also accurate and moving.

In particular, his descriptions of flight operations and the pilots who do the flying are accurate, down to the nicknames, the stateroom bars, and the language used. By focusing on a group of Kennedy men—officers and enlisted—from both ship's company and air wing, he manages to give one of the most realistic portraits of the Navy at sea that exists in print today. This is the book on which the movie Topgun should have been based.

The major flaw in Supercarrier is the book's harsh criticism of "higher authority" or the military command structure based on several incidents the John F. Kennedy was involved with, notably the attack on Lebanon. There is always justification for study and review of lessons learned from all military operations, but Wilson attempts wide-ranging general criticism based on the incidents he observed on his only cruise. His investigation into the bombing incident is shallow and his conclusions are based on too narrow a data base (one attack). Another example of his flawed approach to military analysis is his harsh criticism of "Smart" bombing in Chapter 15, based on his observations of only one—and in this case a failed—mission.

In fact, whenever Wilson forays into political commentary, the book loses steam and rambles. If the author wants to use his long experience in the defense field to write a broad, reasoned criticism of the Department of Defense, à l a Luttwak's The Pentagon and the Art of War (Simon and Schuster, 1985) or Arthur Hadley's Straw Giant (Random House, 1986), that is fine. His long association with the military establishment certainly represents a reasonable credential for undertaking such a study. But trying to take a few scattered shots based on his front-line experience during a single cruise does not make sense or do his arguments justice.

What makes the book remarkable is its humanity and accurate portraiture, which constitutes easily 90% of the work. It also includes a wide-ranging and fascinating interview with Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, as well as superb photos of the principal characters. Wilson's descriptions of shipboard life make Supercarrier a unique and readable book, both for those who go down to the sea in ships and for friends or relatives who want to learn what these men endure while at sea.

Politics and military reform aside, Supercarrier is a book about the dead center of the naval experience-forward deployment in powerful warships, steaming every day in the shadow of potential harm.

Commander Stavridis , a frequent contributor to Proceedings, is the operations officer on board the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). He made two forward deployments on board the USS Forrestal (CV-59) in 1979-1981.

 

Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939

Alvin D. Coox. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press , 1985. Two Volumes. 1,253 pp. Maps. Photos. Tables. Append. Bib. Ind. $95 .00 ($76.00).

Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Merrill L. Bartlett, U. S. Marine Corps (Retired)

In 1910, a promising Marine Corps officer attending the Army War College noted in one of his research papers: "The Japanese soldier is probably the finest fighting man in the world." While John Archer Lejeune may have been a bit overenthusiastic and hagiographic in his evaluation of the troops of Nippon, individual prowess and courage on the battlefield made the Japanese soldier a legend by the end of World War II. Unfortunately for the Empire and its leadership, the tactics, unit training, and senior leadership failed to match the dizzying heights of individual performance. Had Professor Alvin Coox's superb study been in the hands of Allied commanders and their staffs during World War II, the long march through the Pacific to Japan might have been shorter and less costly to the Allies.

Coox, a former Army historian, begins his monumental work with a discussion of the creation of the Kwantung Army in 1919 coincident with Japan's expansionist interests in north Asia. As Russia's political and military power in the region began to subside rapidly following the disastrous Russo-Japanese War, World War I, the Russian Revolution, and finally the Russian civil war, many Japanese sought to capitalize on Russian reverses in the region. The vast and endless reaches of Manchuria appeared especially attractive for development by the Japanese. Buttressed on one side by an inefficient and ineffective Chinese government and military, and on the other by a weak Soviet regime ravaged by civil war and communist revolution, the Kwantung Army appeared in 1919 as Japan's answer to the political and military power vacuum in the region.

Coox traces the growth of that army as a power broker in north Asia, emphasizing the political activism of its leadership. In 1931, the aggressive spirit of at least some of the army's officers led to the Manchurian Incident followed by Japan's creation of its puppet state, Manchukuo. From that date through the Nomonhan war, political disobedience racked much of the Kwantung Army's officer corps. Officials in Tokyo appeared powerless to put a damper on such restless spirits and too often, the end seemed to justify the means. Bureaucrats at home rewarded disobedience in the field if success followed; a practical philosophy of "sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind" emerged.

While Western strategists saw Japan as a growing threat to China and colonial interests throughout Asia in the years following the Russo-Japanese War, Japanese fears and interests focused to the north. From their naval base at Vladivostok on the Pacific edge of Siberia, Soviet bombers were only six hours flying time from Japan's matchbox cities. At the same time, Japanese military theorists wrote off the power of the Red Army, taking solace from intelligence reports that emphasized its growing weakness following the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.

In 1938, Japanese and Soviet military forces clashed at Changkufeng/Khasan over disputed territory in the region; Coox's study of this conflict, The Anatomy of a Small War (Greenwood Press, 1977), provided students of military history and modem East Asia with a tantalizing glimpse of what was to follow in Nomonhan. After this initial clash with Soviet forces along the disputed border region, military units in the area continued to bait each other in a contest of wills until, finally, in the early months of 1939, open hostilities broke out.

Volume One of Nomonhan ends with each side positioning its forces during August of that year. To the north, Stalin sent the venerable Marshal Georgei K. Zhukov to command the Soviet Army group. Coox describes the Kwantung Army (not really an army in size or organization) in Manchuria as unready for sustained combat against a modem military force. It was suffering from factionalism and rivalries among its officers, experiencing difficulties with logistical support, and relying too heavily on questionable intelligence information.

The Soviets began their offensive on 20 August 1939, and quickly gained air superiority. Using the tactics of World War I, the Japanese military suffered severe losses as unit after unit fell before Marshal Zhukov's blitzkrieg. By 31 August, Zhukov's forces had completed the third phase of their offensive at Nomonhan. The next day, reassured about Soviet intentions, Hitler's legions invaded Poland. By then, the Japanese 23rd Division had been decimated; 30% of its men lay dead on the desolate plains; another 34% suffered wounds. Other units in the Kwantung Army suffered less grievously, but a feared and respected military force—the focus of Western strategic planning for a generation—had been defeated soundly.

After the Pearl Harbor disaster thrust the United States into armed conflict with Japan, naval and military strategists were apparently slow to realize the inherent weaknesses of the Japanese military machine. Had Coox's massive study been available to them, the long march to Tokyo might have been less onerous for Admirals Ernest J. King, Chester Nimitz, Raymond A. Spruance, and William F. Halsey; and Generals George Marshall and Douglas MacArthur. The weaknesses of the Japanese Army, trapped in its own code of bushido, are underscored as Coox quotes from an interview with a retired colonel of the Imperial Japanese Army (one of 204 such oral histories conducted by the author); "I wondered…whether the army's leaders really understood the importance of modern weapons…they thought Japan could win a war solely by reliance on spiritual strength."

Students of modem military and naval history, as well as armchair strategists of the Pacific War, will find grist for their intellectual mills in these volumes. The admirals and generals who guided Western destinies after Nomonhan/Kbalkingol never appreciated the significance of that small armed clash. While low-ranking combatants threw their lives away against Soviet onslaughts, using cider bottles filled with gasoline to stop Russian armor, the Japanese officer corps marched on—endowed and encumbered with its ancient and honorable spirit, displaying consistent and unquestionable devotion to the emperor, harboring an inordinate fixation on protecting unit colors in combat, and showing more concern at times with the proper way of dying in battle than with winning.

After laying these volumes aside, even a novice historian will gain a new appreciation for the expression "magnum opus." For the long ranks of Professor Coox's students, the author's depth of historical inquiry, accuracy, and clarity of writing will offer no surprises. The endnotes and bibliography in these volumes bear witness to the enormity and thoroughness of his scholarship. Coox has relied on primary source materials, judicial use of secondary references, clear-cut and methodical organization, and straightforward polished prose to create Nomonhan. (According to Coox, "If the reader cannot understand you, it's your fault!")

Colonel Bartlett taught history at the Naval Academy, 1977-82, winning the Clements Award and the Heinl Award in 1980. He is now retired, and is completing a biography of Lieutenant General Lejeune and co-authoring with Professor Jack Sweetman an illustrated history of the Marine Corps, to be published by the Naval Institute Press.

 

Soldiers: A History of Men in Battle

John Keegan and Richard Holmes. New York: Elisabeth Sifton Books/Viking, 1986. 288 pp. Illus. Ind. $22.95.

Acts of War: The Behavior of Men in Battle

Richard Holmes. New York: The Free Press, 1985. 436 pp. Illus. Bib. Ind. $19.18 ($17.27).

Reviewed by Colonel John E. Greenwood, U. S. Marine Corps (Retired)

In The Face of Battle (Viking Press, 1976), John Keegan wrote:

"What battles have in common is human: the behaviour of men struggling to reconcile their instinct for self-preservation, their sense of honour and the achievement of some aim over which other men are ready to kill them. The study of battle is therefore always a study of fear and usually of courage; always of leadership, usually of obedience; always of compulsion, sometimes of insubordination; always of anxiety, sometimes of elation or catharsis; always of uncertainty and doubt, misinformation and misapprehension, usually also of faith and sometimes of vision; always of violence, sometimes also of cruelty, self-sacrifice, compassion; above all, it is always a study of solidarity and usually also of disintegration—for it is towards the disintegration of human groups that battle is directed."

While these human aspects are touched on in Soldiers: A History of Men in Battle, they playa surprisingly smaller part than one would expect, knowing the backgrounds of the authors. Only two of the book's 13 chapters—those appropriately labeled "The Fighting Spirit" and "The Experience of War"—are dedicated to this theme, which would seem so crucial to any history of "men," as opposed to "nations" or "armed forces," in battle.

Nevertheless, Soldiers is a worthy book offering an interesting overview of its subject. The orientation is British; the focus is on the means and methods of warfare. Separate chapters trace the evolution of the various branches and weapons that have dominated battlefields over the past 10,000 years of human history. Thus, there are chapters on infantry, cavalry, artillery, tanks, engineers, aviation, and irregular forces. Others look at essentials such as command, logistic support, and medical care. It is a format with obviouslimitations, one that probably was chosen, or imposed, because the book was designed to accompany a British Broadcasting Corporation television series. Wars are not fought by separate arms in isolation, and such thematic treatment causes obvious distortions. Still, there is a wealth of interesting detail here. The complexity of war, the difficulty of finding in any era the best answer in terms of weapons and structure, is clearly revealed. Above all, it is a book written with grace and elegance.

If some of the human side of war is slighted in Soldiers, it is covered in full measure in ACIS of War: The Behavior of Men in Battle. Holmes' purpose was to write a "study of the soldier's feeling and behaviour from his training for war, through his experience of battle and on into its aftermath." His hope was to grasp the nature of war through a detailed study of the individual soldier. At a time when combat experience is a vanishing commodity in our armed forces, when countless serving officers and men cannot help but wonder what battle is really like and how they personally would cope with the strains and challenges it presents, his goals and his book should interest many.

Holmes' approach is literary, not analytical. He first examines the soldier's entry into service and his early training. Next, he treats the non-battle elements of war—separation from home, sexual influences, living conditions, food, fatigue, weather, etc.—and how these impact on the individual. Thisleads to pre-battle apprehension and then to "The Epitome of War," the battlefield itself. Discussions of wounds and death, fear, why men fight, and the image of the enemy round out the story.

The author takes up these subjects, primarily, by drawing on an impressive bibliography of more than 300 books and journal articles (almost all of them in English), dealing with men in battle. A series of quotes, vignettes, and summaries is used to capture what various participants, observers, analysts, and historians saw or thought. Thus the book becomes a potpourri of individual experiences and opinions used to paint the picture of man in a combat environment.

Holmes' bibliography is not flawless. Anyone who would quote William Manchester as an authority on the beach at Iwo Jima or cite Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War (Ballantine Books, 1978) as a definitive account of the Vietnam War can anticipate substantial criticism. Some have already complained of his British and Western bias, that is, the lack of referenced works reflecting the experiences of other nationalities on other fronts. But, this noted, he still has assembled and used an impressive collection of writings about warfare at the cutting edge. One of the major pleasures of this book is Holmes' repeated reference to these works about war at the personal level. Close attention to his bibliography yields a collection of some authors long neglected and others worth meeting for the first time.

There is not much in these books for the sailor; hardly a scant reference to the impact of battle on those who must fight it from the bowels of a ship or from an aircraft or submarine—except by interpolation from a soldier's experience. But for Marines, and particularly for Marines who have yet to hear shots fired in anger, it is a different story. Battles are decided by basics, by how well individuals can perform fundamental tasks under terrible conditions, by how well men handle themselves in chaos and horror. Read Acts of War and then, maybe, Soldiers, and think seriously about battle at the basic level. Such forethought is crucial to a sea soldier's personal readiness.

Colonel Greenwood , a 1950 graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy, served on active duty for 30 years in the U. S. Marine Corps and is now the editor of the Marine Corps Gazette.

 

Inside the Aquarium: The Making of a Top Soviet Spy

Viktor Suvorov. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1986. 249 pp. Ind. $17.26 ($15 .53).

By Commander Dennis A. Bartlett, U. S. Naval Reserve

Soviet military intelligence has a powerful incentive for its members not to commit treason: Traitors are burned alive in the presence of their former colleagues at the crematorium at the Aquarium, the headquarters of the GRU, the Chief Intelligence Administration of the Soviet General Staff. Located on Khoroshevskoye shosse on the south side of Moscow's Central Airfield, only a short walk from the Polezhayevskaya metro station, the Aquarium consists of a nine-story office building surrounded by a two-story building with a windowless exterior, and, of course the crematorium, surrounded by lilac trees, which does double duty as a classified trash burner. Outside the main compound is the "colony"—living quarters for active and retired GRU officers and their families.

On the day he officially signed on with the GRU, Viktor Suvorov (a pen name taken from the brilliant 18th century Russian field marshal, Alexander Suvorov, whose memory is venerated even by the Soviets) first was required to watch a film of a former GRU colonel being burned to death. Suvorov was then given one minute to reflect and a last chance to back out. Fortunately for the West, he did not. The author now resides in Britain in great secrecy under a new identity. Inside the Aquarium is a sequel to Suvorov's Inside Soviet Military Intelligence (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1984), which contains a history of the GRU plus an analysis of its organization and operations. One of Suvorov's intentions in writing Inside Soviet Military Intelligence was to expose the vast scope of the GRU's operations and to show differences between it and its better known hostile competitor, the KGB. For example, Suvorov points out that the main mission of the KGB is to prevent the collapse of the Soviet system from within. The primary task of the GRU, he explains, is to foil destruction of the Soviet Union from without.

Inside the Aquarium is Suvorov's personal reminiscence of the GRU. Before joining military intelligence, Suvorov was a company commander in a tank battalion. He was recruited into the Spetsnaz, Soviet special warfare forces, under the command of the GRU. He was then chosen for training in espionage at the Military Diplomatic Academy in Moscow. Suvorov and his classmates were told that one of the reasons behind their selection for espionage work was their unremarkable appearance. They were advised to neither look nor act like spies. Because of their open, honest faces radiating simple goodwill, they would be unlikely to draw attention. In addition, they were to be good listeners, disciplined to cover up any revulsion they might have for the govnoed, or foreign Soviet supporters, with whom they were dealing.

After putting in some time at the Aquarium, Suvorov was assigned to the GRU office (in Soviet spy parlance "residency") at the Soviet embassy in Vienna. Before going overseas, Suvorov was summoned to the corridors of power, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, for a chat with the Party's watchdog over the GRU and the KGB, Colonel General Kir G. Lemzenko. The general did not give Suvorov a pep talk on communism. Instead, he warned him against defecting to the West. Lemzenko said that 65% of KGB and GRU defectors returned to the Soviet Union freely. "We execute them," he added. Lemzenko further commented that those who remained in the West ended their days as paranoid alcoholics.

Once in Vienna, Suvorov was raced into action on all kinds of operations. From the book's account, GRU clandestine operations appear to be lavish affairs, orchestrated from on high. In these operations, the individual GRU officer plays a limited role and probably never learns the purpose of his mission. For example, Suvorov was ordered on a hiking trip in the Austrian Alps to stash a Soviet-made grenade launcher and five grenades at a predetermined spot. He never found out for whom the weapon was intended. He could only conjecture that the recipients were terrorists because the article was not packaged for long-term storage.

International conferences, especially those on high technology, such as electronics, lasers, computers, and so forth, draw hordes of GRU operatives from residencies both in the host and nearby countries, as well as analysts from the Aquarium who arrive from Moscow armed with shopping lists and hard cash. Suvorov claims that the GRU has not missed a major international conference in the last 50 years. The GRU also goes to elaborate lengths to gain access to potential agents. The GRU even bought three alpine hotels on the long chance of netting a few vacationing U. S. servicemen.

The GRU officer takes great pains to avoid personal meetings with agents. The more important the agent, the more elaborate the contact instructions: To avoid radio intercepts, Suvorov once communicated with an agent through the waters of an Austrian lake by means of a radio disguised as a fishing pole.

A GRU officer posted overseas is the envy of dozens of less fortunate colleagues stuck at the Aquarium or in remote Soviet military districts. But it is a high-risk occupation. No matter how much success a GRU officer enjoys, it is never enough for his Moscow masters. The only time that the Aquarium says "enough!" is when the information is poor. The least failure (real or perceived) can mean immediate evacuation to Moscow (subdued by a syringe full of Gordon's gin directly into the blood stream), a veto of further foreign travel, demotion, or even prison.

According to Suvorov, in the GRU a return from a fall from grace is about as common as a resurrection from the dead. Only the most ruthless and cunning survive. One cannot afford the emotional baggage of friendship. The individual is constantly tested to see whether he is subordinate in all things, including self and family, to the collective. Herein lies the Achilles' heel of the system.

Communism is devoid of moral absolutes. Its leaders must create an environment of fear and terror—an artificial hell—because the ruled cannot be trusted to act from any motive other than fear of punishment. The GRU is but a microcosm of this inferno, whose members occupy a ring just higher than most other Soviet citizens. It is a pandemonium held together by fear of both pitiless retribution and the loss of privileges which most in the West take for granted and enjoy as a matter of right.

Suvorov's book is not well written. It is the fascinating content—not the style—that carries the book. Many of Suvorov's sentences appear to be literally translated from the Russian. Some sentences are incomplete. He also recounts incidents that have no bearing on the subject. Suvorov's editors should get a first rate ghost writer to polish his future books.

Nonetheless, for an inside view of a heretofore secret world, especially one that poses a threat to free people, Inside the Aquarium is must reading for the informed public.

Commander Bartlett is currently attached to Defense Attaché Naval Reserve Unit 0166. He has a masters degree in international relations from the University of Southern California, a masters in philosophy from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley, and a doctorate in education from the University of San Francisco. He is now associate director of the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco.

 

 
 

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