May 07

(To read the entires "Quotes Behaving Badly" series, check out the posts below:

The Return of...Quotes Behaving Badly

The Fury of the "Quotes Behaving Badly"

Quotes Behaving Badly IV: The Quotes Strike Back

Escape from the Mountain of Bad Attribution: Quotes Behaving Badly V

Quotes Behaving Badly: Edition

Why We Still Hate Quotes Behaving Badly


"A witty saying proves nothing." - Voltaire 

 You've heard it before. A heated discussion flares up on a forum or comment thread, and someone quotes Plato or Ghandi or Clausewitz to prove a point. So you look it up online, and find out the person was full of it.

Since michael C and I started On Violence one day and a year ago, we've encountered this syphilitic rhetorical device dozens of times. (This probably applies to all areas of debate, but I've only experienced it in the milblog/foreign affairs community debate.) At its core, it is a logical fallacy: just because Einstein or Churchill said something doesn't mean it's true

The quotes that follow are the worst of the worst, the most annoying, irritating and upsetting. (A note on structure: we've cited the following quotes the way they were originally incorrectly repeated.)

Without further ado, here is the list:

1. "Only the dead have seen the end of war" - Plato

Remember this quote from Black Hawk Down? Or Call of Duty? Or on the wall of the Imperial War Museum in London? Well, Plato never said it. George Santayana did. But no one knows who he is.

You can blame Gen. MacArthur for making it famous in a speech at West Point. My take is the same as the author of the previous link: if a quote of a famous person doesn't cite the text, take the quote with a grain of salt.

2. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

If the philosophical father of conservatism and classical liberalism said it, it must be true. Unfortunately, Edmund Burke never said this, but that hasn't stopped this quote from becoming a rallying cry. Wikiquote has nearly 70 versions of this sentiment.  It seems like the only thing necessary for a quote to go viral is for people never to double check it. In fairness to everyone requoting it, it is probably a paraphrase of this actual Burke quote, "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." But that just won't fit on a bumper sticker.

Oh, and to that guy saying, "Well, I still like the sentiment" you're wrong. It's banal and, in the hands of demagogues, has probably caused more death than it's saved.

3. "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." - George Orwell

Aside from using the ear-breaking adverb peaceably, Orwell never said this! (I hate it when Michael C uses exclamation points in his posts, but I'm so angry I just used one.) He said something similar, but as part of a larger essay. He set forth an intellectual challenge to pacifists, not a declarative statement supporting Soldiers.

4. "Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst." - Heinlein

You might remember this quote from this comment thread.  The long-winded commenter Charles quotes Robert Heinlein as if it proves his argument. But we're sick of people quoting Heinlein when they should be quoting "Starship Troopers" (as the MLA thinks you should ). Re-read my post "War is the Opposite of Civilization" I love that quote, but I'll always cite the novel or the character who said it, before I cite the author who wrote it.

(In an aside: when did Heinlein rise to the level of Plato, Churchill and Lincoln? Just because Heinlein said something doesn't make it true.)

The problem is that an author cannot take ownership for the dialogue of the characters he creates. If two characters debate, does the author then believe both sides of a debate? And would the author have to support the views and opinions super villains, serial killers, dictators, and even child molesters. And you would never want to quote a child molester...

5. "Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner." - Blood Meridian, a novel by Cormac McCarthy.

Imagine my surprise when I found this quote in Criag Mullaney's The Unforgiving Minute, written as an inspirational quote on the back of a wall at West Point. It is from Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, one of the greatest novels of the last century. Mullaney seems very well read, and properly identified this quote's source. The problem is that it is spoken by a serial child rapist/murderer, who child rapes/murders dozens of children through the course of the book.

Quotes from novels are mostly spoken by characters from novels. In the case of this quote, the speaker cannot be divorced from the sentiment. A serial murderer may believe that war is eternal, but he is also a psychopath, not the type of person we usually go to for philosophical advice. This is why no one quotes Hitler or Manson to support their arguments.

6. "I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence... I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor." -- Ghandi

Eric C discovered this text book example of quoting someone out of context on this comment thread on The full quote (emphasis mine) is actually: "I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence....I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour. But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence..."

Compared to the second quote, the first quote reads like a bad joke. The next sentence Ghandi says changes the entire passage. According to Ghandi, non-violence isn't slightly better than violence, it is "infinitely" better. To imply Ghandi endorses violence is foolish.

7. “Out of every hundred men, ten shouldn’t be there, eighty are are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” - Heraclitus

Aside from my disagreements with the sentiments and applicability of this quote, as I've discussed before, I've never been able to verify the accuracy of this quote. Neither has wikiquote. If you know of what book this can be found in, please pass it along.

8. "Any peace is better than any war" - Plato, or Benjamin Franklin, or who knows who else...

Don't think it is just pro-military guys who use quotes disingenously; peaceniks are just as bad. Hat tip to Andy Rooney, who first heard this quote in the forties and wryly remarks that it's been attributed to both Plato and Benjamin Franklin.

9. "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug." - Chris Hedges in War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning

Aside from Hedge's book being the only one I know where the thesis is in the title, it has a really interesting next sentence: "It is peddled by myth makers -historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists and the state." An ironic next line because this quote was used as an epigraph to a film--The Hurt Locker--that endorsed the myth that war is a drug.

Also, Hedges' writing couldn't be more anti-war. War is a drug, and that's a bad thing. Whereas the first quote tentatively endorses war, or at least excuses it, the second sentence makes it clearly verboten.

Help us stomp out these quotes from the larger military culture. At the least, pause the next time you hear someone quoting Patton and question their source. Google it, or look it up on wikiquote. I also expect that a lot of military professionals will be upset with this post because at least half of these quotes are so entrenched in the military's consciousness, that removing them will cause at least a dozen field grades and general officers brain hemorrhaging.

Oh, and that quote from the beginning? Voltaire didn't say it, a character from Le Dîner du Comte de Boulainvilliers did. So much for using quotes to support your argument.

May 06

One year ago today, Eric and I launched On Violence. To commemorate our first year, we decided to do (what else?) a link drop of what we think is our best work from the past year.

We appreciate all the support from readers and friends. There are too many people to thank, but we'll say this: it is always nice to feel like you aren't just shouting off into space, and that some people are actually reading.

Frankly, we're kind of surprised at how far we have come. Going over our posts from the last year, we think the quality of our writing, and clarity of our ideas, has improved dramatically. We have over a 1,000 twitter followers and a 134 fans on facebook. We've had articles published on Thomas Rick's blog The Best Defense,,,, and others. Our traffic has increased every month.

Though we don't know where we will be exactly in the next year, (hint, hint: deployment) On Violence will keep going strong; we have at least two year's worth of stories, gripes, complaints, opinions, reviews and philosophical musings to share. Expect our regular schedule to continue, and expect to see our work popping up in old media and around the blogosphere. We also hope to launch at least one new blog project within in the year. We'll keep you up to date.

Finally, how you can help. Tell your friends and followers about On Violence. Invite all your friends to become fans of our On Violence facebook page. Tweet this post for us today. Give us a shout out on followfriday (#ff). Drop us an email with what you like (or don't like) about our blog. Send us a guest post. Add us to your blogroll. And please, comment on our posts because we want to hear your opinion.

So without further ado, the best of On Violence. If you think we missed anything, comment below.

     Personal Experience-
       Were You Scared?  
       Operation Judgment Day
       Hey Michael, What Did You Do Out There?
       Fear and Black Hawk Down
       Mistaking Goats for the Taliban

    Philosophy of Violence-
Defining Violence
 Violence in Context
On Genocide

    Counter-Insurgency Warfare-
 Arcs of Fire
        Why Leaders Make the ROE
        On Curling
        Why BlackWater?
        Is Waste (in Warfare) Immoral?
        A DMV, a Contractor, and a Captain Walk into a Bar

    Foreign Affairs-
        National Security with a License to Kill, or Torture
        Failed States, Terrorism, and Afghanistan
        Why We Love "Cool Runnings"...Oh, and Globalization
    Military Affairs-
PowerPoint is Not a Children’s Story Book: 5 Ways to Improve your PowerPoint Presentations
    Our Fashion Conscious Army: Order, Discipline, and Good Looks

    Art of Violence-
When They ARE Out to Get You...
        Executioner's Song -- When On V Disagrees -- Song Battle Pt. 1 and Pt. 2
        The "Battle Mentality" of Hollywood
        Degrees of War
        The Sword and the Joystick
        (Photo) Graphic Truths
        Unleash the Dogs of War
        A Million Little Memoirs
        Generation Kill vs. One Bullet Away
        The Litmus Test: 9 Things Every War Memoir Should Include (But Don't)
        Propaganda Week: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6
        Defining Political War Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4       
       The Battle for Algiers Week Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4
Academy Award Series Part 1, 2, 3, and 4
My Tributes to Two Fallen Heroes, Lucas Beachnaw Part 1, Mark Daily Part 2, and a Guest Post

    Guest Posts at On Violence-
  Guest Post: 15 Bullets by Matty P.
        Guest Post: Coming Back and Moving Forward - PTSD and the Military by Chris C.
        Guest Post: Rainbow by Matty P.

    On V in Other Places-
        - Rebecca’s war dog of the week: K2, the weenie of Afghanistan at Thomas Rick's blog, The Best Defense
        - What It Means to Be Anti-War at Chris C's blog, the Opinion Spigot
        - The Golden Rule of Writing and Ten Writing Rules You Can't Break and How to Break Them at
        - 9 Things Bloggers Can and Can't Learn from the Military at

May 05

(This week we're celebrating our first full year of blogging. Today we finish our review of Hannah Arendt's "On Violence." (Click here for part 1 of our review) Tomorrow we look back at our best posts from the last year. Finally, on Friday, Eric will blow your mind with ten of the most abused quotes in the blogosphere and the military.)

International terrorism is the gravest threat America has ever faced.


Is it? Is it really? When thousands of nuclear weapons were pointed at us by the Soviet Union, wasn't that significantly more dangerous? What about the German and Japanese armies marching through Europe and Asia? No, terrorism isn't the most dangerous threat we have ever faced, but it is the most dangerous right now. Because terrorism is currently our biggest concern, it feels like it was always our biggest concern.

If you are writing philosophy, the context of your times will shape your opinions. When I read Hannah Arendt's On Violence, I was struck by the fact that, no matter how hard I try, I am constrained by my times.

On Violence (Arendt) obsesses over nuclear weapons and their effect on warfare and human violence; On Violence (the blog) obsesses over counter-insurgency and its effect on warfare and human violence. So when it comes to our philosophy, Arendt and I use two entirely different sets of data: Arendt uses nuclear weapons, WWII and the student riots of the 1960s; I use Afghanistan, Iraq, and 9/11.

The first part of On Violence (book) deals almost exclusively with the historical and contemporary context of nuclear weapons. Referring to nuclear weapons, she states bluntly that, “technical developments of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential.” Arendt understands that the creation of nuclear weapons, and the creation of a “military-industrial-labor complex,” have altered the future of violence.

Her analysis of nuclear weapons makes sense. If violence is a result of politics, then Clausewitz’s famous aphorism about war (violence) as being the continuation of politics by other means would become a “means towards universal suicide.” The invention of thermonuclear weapons allows violence to be divorced from politics and economics--and all other causes--to stand on its own.

I appreciate that Arendt acknowledges how her culture influences her philosophy (and this is my only gripe with her book) but having to slog through a whole chapter of it (especially considering the length of the book) seems like too much. Read from a distance of forty years, a good twenty pages describing the rise of violent revolutionary fervor among students and Marxists comes across as dated. She also almost predicts the rise of insurgency and revolutionary war (she writes, “the more dubious and uncertain an instrument violence has become in international relations, the more it has gained in reputation and appeal in domestic affairs, specifically in the matter of revolution.” Sounds like political war defined.) but then gets stuck on the actions of student activists, who in hindsight evolved into yuppies instead of toppling the government.

So while Arendt is attempting to create a philosophy behind violence--that ideally should withstand the test of time or events--she is inexorably mired to her historical context. Here at On Violence (the blog) I have the same problem. I see political violence, insurgency and terrorism as the biggest foreign policy issues today. I think this is, partly, because the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq influence my everyday life. I can't divorce my philosophy from my personal experience.

Will Eric and I rise above our culture? We try to acknowledge our culture. That is why my blog is about my personal experience, counter-insurgency and foreign policy, while my true love is the philosophy of violence.

May 03

(This week we're celebrating our first full year of blogging. On Monday and Wednesday, we will review Hannah Arendt's "On Violence." On Thursday we look back at our best posts from the last year. Finally, on Friday, Eric will blow your mind with ten of the most abused quotes in the blogosphere and the military.)

When I first came up for the title of On Violence, the tone I was going for was something crazy philosophical, like Clausewitz’s On War, Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy or Liebnitz’s Discourse On Metaphysics. The day after we launched, of course, I finally got around to googling "on violence" and I found out that I wasn't the first to use the phrase “On Violence.” That honor goes to political philosopher Hannah Arendt.


Fortunately, our predecessor in things “On Violence” was no intellectual slouch. Arendt--philosopher and prolific writer--coined the oft repeated phrase, “the banality of evil” and penned the works Eichmann in Jerusalem and On Revolution. (She was also a student of existentialist-cum-Nazi Martin Heidegger, but that's a different story.) Since Arendt’s work is one of the few to discuss violence philosophically (the other core text is William T. Vollman's seven volume tome Rising Up, Rising Down, philosophically and physically the opposite of Arendt's 90 page tract), I decided, a year after beginning our blogging adventure and stealing her title, that we should review her ideas.

On Violence (Arendt) makes two bold claims. First, that violence is understudied in the social sciences. Second, that because of the lack of study, we do not understand violence. When I read On Violence (Arendt), I felt a kindred spirit at work. I believe that she is the starting point--in tone, language and analysis--for a conversation On Violence (the blog) is continuing forty years later.

Violence Has Not Been Studied

To start her work, Arendt explains why violence gets the shaft by academic circles, “violence and its arbitrariness were taken for granted and therefore neglected.” This holds today. We study the process of war, or the historical context of war, but never the philosophical issues (or importance) behind such a complicated study.

This was true for Arendt; it is true now. The few social scientists who do explore violence do so as the exceptions to the rule; for example Lieutenant Colonel Rex Grossman in On Killing, or John Keegan in A History of Warfare. The former is read throughout the military for its brilliant insights into the psychology of violence; the latter is an underrated tour de force by one of the premier war historians of our age. Each dives deeper then their field usually goes when discussing violence.

But while Grossman and Keegan analyze violence through social science, they avoid the metaphysics. They discuss the empirical evidence psychologically, historically and sociologically, but never philosophically. Thank God for Arendt, or we would have no basis to study at all.

(Arendt also discounts the work of scientists who try and explain violence through the study of the natural sciences. There are too many leaps to apply animal behavior to human behavior when the whole concept of reason makes man incomparably different to animals.)

Overturning the Definition of Violence

When Arendt moves to her philosophy, she overturns the basic notions about violence that most of us take for granted. Arendt refutes the idea that, “violence is nothing more than the most flagrant manifestation of power.” In other words, the idea that violence is synonymous with “the power of man over man.”

Because violence is so understudied, most thinkers (think Clausewitz or Engels) who reference violence are doing so en route to another political point; Arendt is dissecting violence philosophically for its own sake. This leads her to a critical idea: in the present state of political science, “our terminology does not distinguish among such key words as ‘power,’ ‘strength,’ ‘force,’ ‘authority,’ and, finally, ‘violence.’” I couldn’t agree more. It is one part why we created this blog.

She then redefines “power” by stating that it actually describes the “human ability not just to act but to act in concert.” Power is not the ability to dominate, but the ability to influence; a powerful person has many followers, not just a few.

Because of that unique definition of “power,” Arendt can then redefine violence. She states that not only is power different from violence, it is the opposite. On Violence (Arendt) concludes that “violence can always destroy power” but can never give power, only destruction. In the last paragraph of her second part she sums up clearly that “power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent.” This probably shocks most readers, but it makes sense.

Bringing the Philosophy to the Present

When I thought about the difference between violence and power, I couldn't stop thinking about Afghanistan. As a platoon leader, I felt powerful, primarily because I had the means of violence--machine guns, trucks, 18 men and the ability to call for heavier fire power--but how powerful was I? I couldn’t stop IEDs from being placed. Clearly much of the population supported the insurgency. The government struggled with violence throughout my time in Afghanistan. Violence throughout the region was a sign that no one had power in Konar Province, exactly as Arendt says.

On Violence (Arendt) specifically uses examples of insurgencies to prove her point. The revolutionaries or insurgents, using power, square off against governments or counter-insurgents, using violence. And here is the point: Arendt provides the philosophical basis for population-centric counter-insurgency. Our military relies on violence not power. The difference between maneuver warfare and counter-insurgency is the difference between violence and power.

May 02

(To read the entire "War Memoirs" series, please click here.)

Every time I write a negative review of a war memoir, I have one of two reactions. The first is fear. Some of the authors I've reviewed are famous, acclaimed or successful; others are opinion makers or high up in government. Criticizing these authors could come back to to get us.

But the second reaction hits me deeper: I feel guilty.

I feel guilty criticizing works by other writers because I respect anyone who has not only finished a book, but gotten it published as well. Even if it isn't very good, they've accomplished something I haven't yet. I admire that.

This doesn't apply to every negative review. If you’ve read my Jarhead posts, you know I detest it. Nihlistic, ugly, war porn--it portrays the worst side of the military possible. Equally bad, in the exact opposite way, is the almost fascist, sloppy ghost-written Lone Survivor, (which we plan on tearing a new, um, orifice in a few weeks. Look for it.) a paean to President Bush and the "War on Terror". One impossibly pro-soldier, the other impossibly negative; both unrealistic pieces of propaganda.

Both books are so deliberate in their approaches, I feel free to trash on them. Luttrell didn’t even write his book, and his political asides are both so needless and so innaccurate, that he desrves to be criticized. Swofford, on the other hand, is clearly a good writer. I don’t feel bad criticizing him for choosing to focus on such ugliness, and releasing his book at the most politically convenient time possible.

Some authors don't need my praise, including Hemingway, Ursula Le Guin, Orson Scott Card, and Tim O’Brien. They’ve won literary awards and sold millions of books. They don't need or care if I praise or criticize them.

But then comes the other books. I really respect Fick, Van Winkle, Friedman, and Mullaney for doing what they’ve done. But even the memoirs I liked, like The War I Always Wanted, Soft Spots and One Bullet Away, I criticized. These authors wrote memoirs, which means they put themselves out there. This is, of course, both a blessing and a curse. They put themselves out there, but in doing so, they open themselves up to criticism.

And critique. Their memoirs aren't bad, but they weren’t good either. Even though this is true, I feel bad writing this and I feel the need to get this off my chest. I want everyone to know I don't write negative reviews lightly.

At the same time, I want (and need) to be honest. That is what really matters.

Apr 29

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

Since I was twelve, I've trained in sparring. In Tae Kwon Do, two men face one another on a square mat and attempt to strike one another to draw points. Two points are awarded for a strike to the head and one point is awarded for a strike to the torso. For the less experienced; the lower degree belts, this meant that quite a bit of your round was spent rapidly shooting out roundhouse kicks to the opponent’s flank with your favored leg while the opponent fired back the same. As the degree of experience progresses and the belt level becomes more elite, the flailing and constant motion give way to tactical strikes, an increase in blocking, and lateral movement. While it may be apparent that two competitors are "fighting," they are in fact not.

During my third sparring competition, I defeated one opponent (just barely) and prepared to spar a second opponent of comparable skill level and weight. Prior to the match we shook hands and bowed. When the referee said fight, we began. My focus was on quickly striking the other guy's side with sliding round houses (which were fairly new to me at the time) and then quickly retreating. Some connected drawing points, but most missed or were blocked. Midway through the match, I threw the same type of kick but this time, decided not to retreat. I attempted a back kick right to his stomach. As I connected with his torso, his kick landed square on my face breaking my nose.

The referee stopped the match. My nose dripped blood and began to swell. As with any sport, in Tae Kwon Do there are risks of injury due to the contact involved. We wore pads to prevent skeletal or soft tissue damage. Striking of the face and groin is prohibited. But mistakes happen. Strong kicks lead to falls which lead to the occasional broken bone. Quick spins and a moving target lead to unintentional contact to the groin or face. I gave and received my share, a fact visibly evident as my face showcases a broken nose that never set correctly. 

Sparring is not fighting. I've fought people since I the first grade. There are similarities of course. There may be spectators, just as there are if you spar. And usually in a fight, there is a great deal of flailing by someone inexperienced. Still, there is no ref, which means there are no rules, which means it's not a competition. When you fight, someone your mindset is different. You're not considering points and strategy, you're considering how (and how much) you want to hurt this other person. 

Fighting is chaotic. Real fighting isn’t like movies or television. A fighter never just throws a straight punch to be easily blocked resulting in a counter punch. An angry and aggressive person, regardless of gender and age is unpredictable. They can do anything from bullrush you to throw heavy objects to wielding improvised weapons. This results in a response fueled most likely by instinct rather than training.

In college, I stood up to a guy hassling a female friend of mine. Outside after he called her a "whore" I attempted to defend her honor while pleasantly buzzed. I remember twisting on the ground with a guy pressing his head hard into my stomach while simultaneously swing both arms toward my ribs. I tucked in and jammed my elbows down on his collar bone to force him off. I left the conflicted bruised and with a torn collared shirt. 

Sparring is competition. Fighting is chaos. While sparring resembles a chess match of moves with counters, strategy and skill, a fight is propelled by anger and a lack of logic where two combatants clash with unpredictable and detrimental results.

Apr 28

Whenever I hear a critic claim that Rules of Engagement (ROE) gets our Soldiers killed, I always want to scream, "Well, what's your [expletive] alternative? (If you want to know who the ROE critics are, check out my post “Why Leaders Make the ROE.”) Since ROE opponents rarely provide specific alternatives to the ROE, I am going to take their anti-ROE position to its (il)logical extreme.

Our current rules of engagement specify, in broad terms, that our Soldiers and Marines must positively identify targets as exhibiting hostile intent. That intent could be firing a weapon, or preparing to fire a weapon (including an IED), but hostile intent must be present; our Soldiers always have the right to self-defense.

So what is the direct opposite of our current ROE, the other end of the spectrum? It would be that any Soldier or Marine could target anyone they want, regardless of identification or hostility (short of intentionally shooting their own men). This ROE would not hold Soldiers as legally responsible for anyone they kill regardless of the circumstances.

Just pause and imagine this scenario.

Soldiers could drop as many 2,000 pound bombs on as many villages as they want. A Soldier could line up villagers and shoot them one by one to get answers. During a fire fight, any person moving, fleeing or running is a viable target, any person regardless of age, intent, or hostility. There would be no consequnces for our Soldiers actions.

Obviously, the “Free Fire ROE” is impossible. No one could support it. At a minimum, there have to be some rules to prevent needless civilian casualties, genocide and torture. ROE opponents must acknowledge at least some form of ROE. So while you can criticize the specifics of our current ROE, you can’t condemn the concept wholesale.

(The other obvious problem with the “Free Fire ROE” is that it removes all ability of commanders to control the fire of their men. Commanders need to control the the fight; ROE allows that.)

Is there a way to take a pro-ROE position to its extreme? There is. If Soldiers couldn't ever shoot anyone, that would hamstring an Army into paralysis. It would, but that is why you don't take things to extremes, and you have a reasonable ROE that keeps Soldiers and civilians alive.

The problem isn't ROE, it is bad ROE.

Apr 27

(Click here for our review of "Where Men Win Glory")

I can usually guess if I will enjoy a book before I read it. For instance, I loved Into the Wild and Under the Banner of Heaven (which I read months ago, but held off on publishing my thoughts because the book is so controversial). So when I heard Jon Krakauer was tackling the life of Pat Tillman, I was all for it.

That is, until I read the reviews. Two individuals whose work I greatly admire--Dexter Filkins and Abu Muqawama (nee Andrew Exum)--massacred Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, so I didn't know what to expect.

Andrew Exum writes a mostly critical review, with several good points. For instance, he explains in simple terms that, "blaming the Bush administration for all that has befallen the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan unfairly excuses the military itself for the many errors it made." I couldn't agree more. He also charges Krakauer with borrowing a little too heavily from Steve Coll and Lawrence Wright for his background information.

I think Exum, probably without realizing it, takes too much of Krakauer's criticism to heart, and this colors his review. Where Men Win Glory isn’t really about the whole US Army; it is much more about the elite Army Rangers--Exum's former unit. When the Rangers show up in Where Men Win Glory, they read like power-crazed frat boys. Army Rangers belittle new recruits, follow senseless time schedules, and ultimately covered up and lied about Pat Tillman’s death. The elite US Army Rangers look like amateurish jerks, far from their reputation.

And I wish Abu Muqawama would have responded to this. Pat Tillman is the best of the best, so why did he desperately want to leave this vaunted organization? Exum does agree that the officers in charge of the Tillman situation made gigantic errors, but I don't think he addresses the subtle condemnation of the Rangers as an outfit.

Andrew Exum's review ended up raising plenty of controversy. Because of his close relationship with both the Army Rangers and General Stanley McChrystal--Krakauer criticizes both in Where Men Win Glory--Jon Krakauer took issue with Exum's percieved bias. I agree that Exum probably had some bias, but no more than any officer or former officer trying to rationalize the actions of the larger military.

Dexter Filkins also took issue with Where Men Win Glory for mostly stylistic choices, not the content as Abu Muqawama did. It seems like his main point is that he wanted more Afghanistan scenes, and less background into Pat Tillman's life. I disagree though. Pat Tillman's life is inseparable from the background that led to his death. Afghanistan, the Rangers, the cover up, and even the Jessica Lynch rescue provide the context for why he gave his life in Afghanistan.

Finally, I recommend this article by Charles McGrath because it has this killer quote by Krakauer: "There are a lot of officers who will risk their lives for their country, but damn few who will risk their careers." I couldn't agree more.