An Act of Piracy: The Seizure of the American-flag Merchant Ship Mayaguez in 1975
Gerald Reminick. Palo Alto, CA: The Glencannon Press, 2009. 330 pp. Illus. Appens. Notes. Bib. Index. $22.95.
Seized en route to Thailand by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, the Mayaguez was reputedly the first American merchant ship taken by a foreign country since our Revolutionary War. Here, author Gerald Reminick thoroughly dissects the hijacking aimed at asserting Cambodia's claim to territorial waters outside limits prescribed by international law. The book is an impressive history that features verbatim statements by many of those directly involved in the action.
The book's early chapters provide historical background on the fall of Cambodia's Khmer Republic to communist forces, the evolution since 1944 of the vessel that would be renamed SS Mayaguez, and accounts by crewmen of her capture in May 1975. After directing a successful mayday transmission under the enemy's nose, the skipper was relieved that "our military had been notified."
Thereafter, the book traces in detail Washington's decisions once crewmen had been offloaded to Koh Tang Island. On 14 May, President Gerald Ford ordered operations "to recover the Mayaguez and her crew." These involved air attacks against military facilities to prevent support "from the mainland for Cambodian forces detaining the ship and its crew," a Marine helicopter assault on Koh Tang, and destruction of all Cambodian craft that intervened. In just over three difficult and confusing days, the ship and crew were recovered.
The Marines' assault met far greater resistance than Washington planners predicted (no surprise). Because of heavy enemy fire, several units were separated and had to form defensive perimeters. One lance corporal recalled, "I thought I was going to die, but I wasn't going to die with my tail between my legs—I was going to take out one of those tough little bastards with me."
Forsaken Warriors: The Story of an American Advisor Who Fought with the South Vietnamese Rangers and Airborne, 1970-71
Robert L. Tonsetic. Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishing, 2009. 256 pp. Illus. Gloss. Notes. Bib. $32.95.
This is an exciting account of Robert Tonsetic's combat tours during the final stages of our long involvement in the Vietnam War. Two years earlier, he had served as a company commander with the Army 199th Infantry Brigade in zones south of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).
Tonsetic summarizes his previous service in the first chapter. His frustration over routine staff work while in Germany drove him to ask for reassignment to Vietnam. He agonized about his decision one weekend, he writes, "over a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red." Two weeks later, his corps commander personally advised him that his request was approved.
Chapter 6 relates his introduction to the advisory effort and points out a key difference in the roles of U.S. and South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) battalion executive officers. In U.S. infantry outfits, they performed, then as now, largely administrative functions; in ARVN battalions, they had direct responsibility for part of the maneuver force's field operations on the ground—an important distinction I had forgotten.
Some historians would agree that the inadequate leadership and combat readiness of ARVN units cited here were the primary reasons for the downfall of the Saigon government. Certainly, because political reliability was the main criterion for achieving high rank, "cream did not always rise to the top." Even so, other scholars believe that South Vietnam's defeat owed principally to the widespread Vietcong infiltration of the ARVN high command dating from 1960.
Having served as an adviser to both Vietnamese Ranger and Marine battalions, I was especially taken by Forsaken Warriors' account of the gratification and frustration that faced advisers some 38 years ago. Soldiers and Marines training for advisory duty in Iraq or Afghanistan would do well to read this excellent work.
An Introduction to Military Ethics: A Reference Handbook
Bill Rhodes. Denver, CO: Praeger Security International, 2009. 224 pp. Bib. Index. $44.95.
This compact book presents the philosophical and conceptual foundations of military ethics. First it focuses on the 2,500-year legacy of the "just war" theory and its use throughout history. It then discusses the application of that tradition today and also covers peacetime ethical issues such as gender integration and the role of religion.
In his introduction Rhodes makes clear that he does not seek to take a particular position or "make advances in problematic conceptual areas." Rather, he provides an overview of the moral challenges military personnel face, as well as the methods and insights that ethics can convey. The book's concepts and methods are meant to be applied in the real world.
Rhodes introduces the major themes related to using armed force from a historical perspective. He reviews "just war thinking" and its attendant criteria: e.g., legitimate authority, right intention, proportionality, and war as the last resort. The philosophical thoughts on war that he covers range from those of St. Augustine (354-431 AD) to those discussed in Michael Walzer's book, Just and Unjust Wars (Basic Books, 1977).
In Chapter 5, Rhodes underscores that war, by its very nature, appears to be immune to ethical constraints; nevertheless, "militaries usually do follow rules of war." While he cites atrocities—the Bataan Death March in World War II and the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War—he notes that, given the vast number of military operations conducted throughout history, such immoral and illegal acts are by no means commonplace. I found the section on "legitimate targets" to be especially insightful.
An Introduction to Military Ethics is a commonsense guide that should be given extensive distribution at our mid- and high-level war colleges.
Daring Young Men: The Heroism and Triumph of the Berlin Airlift, June 1948-May 1949
Richard Reeves. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2010. 336 pp. Illus. Notes. Bib. $28.
A syndicated columnist and author of biographies on Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan brings us a stirring tale of bravery and resolve. The story takes place three years after World War II, when gutsy airmen flew over a Russian blockade to deliver needed supplies to a beleaguered city.
Soviet Premier Josef Stalin invoked the blockade in hopes of forcing the United States, Britain, and France to leave Berlin. Many of President Harry S. Truman's advisers wanted to abandon the city; others were willing to risk war to remain there. Truman, opting neither for confrontation nor retreat, ordered the Berlin Airlift and the recall to active duty of thousands of aviators and air controllers. Reeves' introduction quotes Royal Air Force Lieutenant (later Air Marshal) John Curtis: "We were professionals, they were amateurs but they were just as good as we were. You'd be talking to some fellow and find out he had been a lawyer in Manhattan a couple of weeks before."
In 13 chapters the story unfolds of the initial Allied withdrawal from Berlin and Lieutenant William Lafferty's first airlift mission, the potentially dangerous clashes with Soviet officials, and the final accords establishing that Stalin's gamble had failed. Throughout are the deeds and recorded views of participants in the saga, including mayoral adviser Willy Brandt, General Curtis LeMay, Soviet General Vasily Sokolsky, and the young German refugee Wolfgang Samuel, who immigrated to America and became an Air Force colonel.
Reeves cites incredible statistics in his epilogue. For example, the total flights into Berlin are recorded as 277,569: 189,963 by the Americans and 87,606 by the British and their Commonwealth partners. More than two million tons of supplies were delivered.
Readers of this engaging work will understand why Richard Reeves is touted as a bestselling author.