Teresa Fazio. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books, 2020. 214 pp. $28.95.
Reviewed by Kate Hendricks Thomas
More than 200,000 women have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than 140 killed and more than 1,000 injured. Yet, most war stories fail to incorporate their experiences. With Fidelis, Teresa Fazio joins the small band of women veterans writing to frame the voice of the military woman within the conversation on war and national security.
Lyrical and moving, Fazio’s memoir stands out among Iraq war stories for several reasons. In 2005, Lieutenant Fazio was a communications officer in the Marine Corps. She writes wryly of being proud of her work as a “Fobbit,” even though it meant she played a support rather than a direct combat role. Her deployment to Iraq was characterized by incoming mortars and laying cable inside the wire rather than IEDs, convoy security, and cordon and knock missions. She does not pretend to write anyone else’s story, or borrow anyone else’s voice, and this is why her prose is so riveting. She adds her authentic voice to the genre of Iraq memoirs and provides a fresh perspective.
Studies have shown that adverse mental health outcomes occur more often in military women than in their male counterparts. Some of this is because of prior adverse experiences and the increased rate of sexual trauma they face, but much of it is about social support. Women navigate tricky waters as minorities in the military, and lower levels of unit cohesion while serving have impact post-service. Fazio’s book highlights the social environment for women Marines when she served, and does not shy away from discussing the pitfalls.
Most of Fidelis focuses on Fazio’s notions of self in the uniform, comparing herself often with the only other female officer in her unit. Both of them struggled, but their means of fitting in were different. Fazio grapples with gender norms, sexism from peers and supervisors, and with male attention—a deployment complication that took her by surprise. She paints a vivid picture of the double bind women find themselves in when they join the military. As a woman, you stand out, especially in a deployed environment. She carefully monitored her dress, affect, speech, and even hobbies to avoid being sexualized. None of her careful self-policing changed the game entirely, and Fazio writes powerfully about falling in love on a forward operating base.
This affair was a complicated, drawn-out event that caused pain long after she left the military. By becoming involved with a male Marine, she lost her sense of true north. She had broken her cardinal rule of constant professionalism and never calling attention to her gender. Her combination of hope and guilt is painful to read. In the end, her lover battles serious stress injuries and their tie does not survive the return home and her departure from the service.
In addition to the voice Fazio gives deployed Marine women, she also writes poignantly about transitioning from the Marine Corps, a place that came to feel like home and identity to her. Even as she achieved success in academia and in the corporate world, she struggled to find the right social support and to carve a life that left the pain of her formative Marine Corps years in the past. She loved the Corps, but was not sure it loved her back.
Fidelis is a coming-of-age story told with war, love, and moral injury as backdrops. Fazio suffers from a moral injury of sorts as she works to process her guilt for having an affair. She also rebuilds her sense of self by looking for the unbalanced and the ludicrous in her own stories. The picture she paints for military women thus is an honest, if complicated, one. For her, it was both the best of times and the worst of times.
Brave, unflinching, and self-aware, Fidelis is an important contribution to the field. It is a war story, a love story, and a true story capable of giving readers an insider’s glimpse into the life of a woman Marine.
Dr. Hendricks Thomas is a former Marine Corps officer and a professor of global and community health at George Mason University. She is the coauthor of a new book titled Stopping Military Suicide: Veteran Voices to Help Prevent Deaths (ABC-CLIO/Praeger, 2020).
Thomas Hegghammer. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020. 695 pp. Maps. Illus. Tables. Figs. $34.99.
Reviewed by Robert M. Cassidy
In Defeat Is an Orphan, a book about Pakistan’s cultivation and employment of Salafi-Wahhabi jihadist proxies to advance its security policy in South Asia, Myra MacDonald observed that Abdallah Azzam “provided the intellectual framework for transnational jihad.” In The Caravan, a comprehensive biography of Abdallah Azzam that analyzes his role in the emergence of the global jihad, Thomas Hegghammer sifts through his life and his movement to conclude, with pith, that “jihadism went global because of local repression.”
The Caravan is the result of research that spanned a decade, bringing the author to the greater Middle East for extensive fieldwork with primary source interviews, some with former jihadists. This book is a serious work of scholarship. It is arguably the most insightful and complete look at Azzam and his role in transnational jihad so far.
The book lies at the intersection of history, biography, and international security studies. It will resonate with security practitioners, scholars, and students. It covers many details, but the concluding chapter excellently distills the essence of Azzam’s influence in the evolution of jihad in the past half-century. Readers should begin at the end, with the excellent conclusion, and then proceed to the beginning.
The Caravan comprehensively analyzes the reasons why the Arabs went to Afghanistan and the scope of Azzam’s role in recruiting and mobilizing the foreign fighters. Readers will learn what shaped Azzam’s path in history, and to what degree he was responsible for the radical Islamism that came after his death.
The book also examines the role governments played in the advent of the Afghan Arab movement and the rise of transnational jihadism. Because Arab states were unwilling and unable to accommodate Islamists in the late 1970s, those governments oppressed and repressed local Islamists and created grievances that catalyzed Pan-Islamism. This phenomenon preceded the Soviet-Afghan war, but that war galvanized and incubated Islamist militancy with global aims and reach.
Azzam did not initiate the Arab participation in the Soviet-Afghan war, but he contributed to its growth in three ways: He established an organization to recruit foreign fighters; he lectured in support of the Afghan jihad hundreds of time in Pakistan, the Gulf, and the United States; and he developed a legal and ideological argument that framed jihad as a religious duty for foreign Muslims.
Under historical responsibility, Hegghammer imputes to Azzam five corollaries of the aforementioned contributions. First, Azzam helped start the militant careers of al Qaeda and other radical groups because he was successful in mobilizing Arab fighters. Second, Azzam inspired many jihadists with a foreign fighter doctrine that outlived both himself and the Soviet-Afghan war. Third, Azzam cleared the path ideologically for al Qaeda’s subsequent global terrorism strategy—in other words, his work laid the foundation for al Qaeda, Inc. Fourth, by promoting a culture of Sunni martyrdom, Azzam impelled an increase in the scope and magnitude of suicide bombings. Last, the author asserts that Azzam’s most destructive legacy was undermining the established authority states have over whether their citizens join jihads.
The relevance of Abdallah Azzam and this book for Islamist militancy today lies in his substantive influence on the foreign jihadists in the Soviet-Afghan war and on that war’s impact on the global jihadist movement. Azzam and the war changed everything by inculcating in Arab jihadists a new audacity and a solidarity for action against states they collectively and increasingly perceived as their enemies. Azzam dedicated his life to the Mujahideen cause in the Soviet-Afghan war, and that war was the crucible for today’s jihadist movement. It was where al Qaeda began, and the Afghan jihad served as an incubator for Islamist ideology and the jihadist subculture that permeates a host of Islamist militant groups around the world today. During the decade leading up to his death by car bomb, Azzam became the rock star of militant jihadism worldwide.
The Caravan is a readable and salient scholarly work. Through the life’s purpose and work of one man, Abdallah Azzam, Hegghammer does a masterful job of explaining the etiology of global jihadism.
Dr. Cassidy is a retired U.S. Army colonel who teaches at Wesleyan University as the Andersen Fellow in Defense and Foreign Policy. He has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Ben Buchanan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020. 389 pp. Notes. $27.95.
Reviewed by Lieutenant Brandon Karpf, U.S. Navy
Two men face each other in a darkened room. Its Victorian décor is tinted vaguely green. “The Matrix is everywhere,” one reflects. “It is all around us. . . . Take the red pill . . . and I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Morpheus offers Neo a choice: Witness the true levers behind power and control, or remain an ignorant subject to those forces. Neo chooses the former, sealing his fate, to the joy of nerds like me everywhere. This iconic scene is, of course, from the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix, and portrays a fantastical world ruled by computer programs. In starting Ben Buchanan’s marvelous new book, The Hacker and the State, I recognized that same choice. By the end of his introduction, I needed to know more—and reached for the red pill.
Buchanan’s book is ambitious in its intent. He summarizes the entire known history of major cyber campaigns, their effects on geopolitics, and the evolving nature of cyberwar. By the end, he illuminates a cohesive set of first principles that expose the utility of a hacker to the power of a state. In three sections, his analysis mirrors the evolution of cyber warfare from a nascent stepchild of intelligence operations to today’s raging inferno of statecraft, manipulation, and political engineering.
Buchanan starts with the early days of digital spying, code breaking, and encryption backdoors. With an occasional reference to the golden days of Turing and Rochefort, he reviews the worn-out espionage scandals of the early 2000s. Buchanan does not provide any notable revelations in this first section. He often blurs opinion and conjecture with hard facts. What he does provide is context. It allows him eventually to describe the terrifying prospects of cyberwar, as if to say, “Look how much has changed in two decades. Where do you think we’ll be in two more?”
By the end, Buchanan offers a most insightful conclusion. He reveals that cyber weapons, no matter the hype, are like neither conventional military nor nuclear weapons. Ambiguity is fundamental to the cyber realm—restraint is not. These are not tools for signaling, counterforce strikes, or deterrence. State hackers serve precise functions: spying on, attacking, manipulating, or disrupting a target without attribution. They are insidious in the truest sense of the term.
In that way, Buchanan gracefully contends with a paradox: cyber operations, to shape the geopolitical environment, require secrecy and obfuscation. While everyone was nervously waiting for a cyber Pearl Harbor, it had already happened dozens of times. Haven’t you noticed?
Buchanan’s herculean effort to make this research approachable has paid off. His remarkable sourcing drives a compelling narrative. He has delivered an exceedingly readable book that explains the profound implications of our coexistence with the digital world. Cyber war will forge ahead with continued secrecy, unpredictable and uncalibrated force, and unobservable escalation to global conflict. It is shaping U.S. politics, international norms, and the balance of power. It is even shaping our lives. Buchanan wants to show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. You should let him.
Lieutenant Karpf is a cryptologic warfare officer with qualifications in cyberspace operations, information operations, and signals intelligence. He currently serves as the tactical information warfare officer on board the USS Boxer (LHD-4) in San Diego, California.
Kevin M. Callahan. Norwalk, CT: Brothers in Arms Press, 2020. 379 pp. $35.
Reviewed by Captain Bill Bray, U.S. Navy (Retired)
In paying tribute to the many incredible sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, the U.S. military reserves a special category for families that lost two or more siblings at war. The Navy honored the five brothers lost on the USS Juneau (CL-52) at Guadalcanal by naming two destroyers for them: The Fletcher-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD-537) and, later, the Arleigh Burke–class destroyer, also named The Sullivans (DDG-68). And it was through the almost unimaginable pain of losing three, and potentially four, sons that Steven Spielberg told the story of the Normandy invasion in his 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan (based on the true story of the Niland family and the War Department’s “sole-surviving son” policy). What many do not realize is just how many World War II families belong to this unfortunate club.
Kevin Callahan and a small team of interns do not give readers that answer, precisely. But what their exhaustive research does show is that the heartbreaking occurrence was not rare. In this fantastic book, Callahan chronicles the stories of more than 100 of 286 sets of brothers who rest in the 14 overseas World War II American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries. This is remarkable, considering fewer than half of fallen American World War II servicemen are buried overseas (families had the option to repatriate their loved ones’ remains, and some 60 percent did so).
In addition to visiting the cemeteries, which are located in eight countries, Callahan and team trekked to 35 states and Canada seeking local records and often meeting with surviving family members and descendants. At these meetings, many families provided photos and other archival material in addition to sharing their recollections. Preceding this groundwork were months of remote research to build online family trees for each set of brothers. The extent of this detailed work is clearly evident in achieving the book’s goal, “to tell the stories, in words and images, of brothers buried side by side in American World War II cemeteries overseas.”
Each cemetery has its chapter, beginning with the only cemetery in North Africa (American Cemetery, Carthage, Tunisia) and finishing with the only cemetery in the Pacific (American Cemetery, Manila, the Philippines). Callahan provides a brief explanation of why the sites were chosen, the architectural design, and the memorial features on the grounds. Short sections then follow on each set of brothers for whom the research has been completed. For example, one of the four sets buried in Carthage is included, along with 12 of the 40 sets in the American Cemeteries at Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, and another 12 of the 43 sets of brothers resting in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium. Research has been completed on sets from eight other cemeteries, with only the cemeteries in Cambridge, Rhone, and Florence omitted thus far.
Each story is told poignantly and often complemented with family and childhood photographs that say more than words ever could about the tragedy of war. While the chapters are relatively brief, the cumulative effect of reading one after another is powerful.
Callahan also provides a short history of American war cemeteries in the introduction, from the first cemetery dedicated in 1851 in Mexico City, where the remains of 750 Mexican-American War dead rest, through the Civil War to the World Wars. There are eight World War I cemeteries in Europe containing the remains of about 30,000 of the more than 100,000 U.S. war dead. Finally, Callahan provides a complete list of the 286 sets of brothers at the back of the book.
Brothers In Arms is not a finished product. The research continues, and updates are regularly added to the book’s corresponding website. Callahan’s inspirational project is a living one and can be accessed via social media @brothersinarmsbook.
Captain Bray is a retired naval intelligence officer and the deputy editor-in-chief of Proceedings.
Captain Terry C. Pierce, U.S. Navy (Retired). Stanwood, WA: Heart Ally Books, 2020. 734 pp. Maps. Illus. Appxs. $29.95.
Reviewed by Rear Admiral Paul Becker, U.S. Navy (Retired)
This is an amazing, exciting, easily readable historical novel. America’s Civil War and those who fought it feature prominently in today’s social discourse. The timing could not be better to renew one’s understanding of such a pivotal moment in our history.
Few, if any, authors in recent decades have examined the perspective of the Union Army victors at Gettysburg. Vanquished Confederates have drawn most of the literary and cinematic attention, while Northern leaders often appear as minor characters in supporting roles. Daring author Terry Pierce has no trepidation in flipping the script with a compelling character study of the champion of the most decisive battle ever fought on American soil.
Michael Shaara’s well-known 1974 novel The Killer Angels tells the story of Gettysburg from Confederate viewpoints, mostly those of Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet. In Without Warning, Pierce provides a masterful depiction of triumphant Union General George Meade, Lee’s counterpart. He does so through a writing technique called “deep point of view,” which enables readers, scene by scene and chapter by chapter, to penetrate the main character’s psyche.
General Meade was a reluctant commander of the Army of the Potomac. His orders from President Abraham Lincoln were unexpected and unsolicited as he took command of more than 90,000 troops from General Joseph Hooker just three days prior to Gettysburg. A sharp-tempered topographic engineer (his nickname was “the Snapping Turtle”), Meade was elevated from leading a corps to becoming the Army’s fourth commander in eight months. It was a daunting task that lends itself to captivating scenes involving leadership challenges with a new staff and fog-of-war decision making while the Confederate Army’s whereabouts was unknown.
Many have the impression that Meade’s choices at Gettysburg played little role in the battle’s outcome. Pierce’s examination of the historical record from 27 June through 3 July 1863 dispels that perception and makes the case that Meade out-generaled Lee. A former commanding officer himself, Pierce employs realistic, gripping battlefield dialogue to depict Meade’s operational course of action and deliberations, as well as the tactical choices of subordinates in the field.
All events in Without Warning are factual and paired with timestamps and illustrated maps to ensure a smooth flow of information. The characters were real-life participants in the battle. Meade is the centerpiece, but much attention is devoted to senior leaders such as Generals George Sykes, Gouverneur K. Warren, Winfield Scott Hancock, John Newton, David B. Birney, and George S. Greene. Also covered is the especially unscrupulous General Daniel Sickles, a viciously compliant Chief of Staff General David Butterfield, and several heroic First Minnesota Infantry Regiment soldiers from a unit that suffered an 82 percent casualty rate—while charging at Cemetery Ridge and the following day repelling Pickett’s Charge.
American book readers and moviegoers enjoy stories of protagonists’ struggles to succeed even when the endings are known in advance. Apollo 13, Argo, and On Wings of Eagles are a few examples. After reading Pierce’s Without Warning, I am emphatic that it belongs in this category. Not only is the fast-paced story entertaining, but it is replete with case studies on dedication to duty, devotion to planning, flexibility in plan execution, making sense of ambiguous indicators in the absence of intelligence, and the value of humble, apolitical senior military leadership.
Rear Admiral Becker is a former Director of Intelligence (J2) for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Pacific Command, and International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Afghanistan.