A clear-eyed portrait of American military culture, and a subtle critique of the civilian leadership that governs the armed forces.
Washington Post military affairs reporter Priest has clearly spent a great deal of time among warriors; she writes not only from the corridors of the Pentagon and the briefing rooms of faraway theaters of operations, but also from the pillboxes, bunkers, and command posts very near to where the bullets are flying. At the heart of her study lies a subject of great debate: How can fighters whose mission is to kill people, break things, and, in the words of one warrior, commit massive “hate crimes” be put into the essentially diplomatic role of nation-building and peacekeeping? This question now divides the military and its civilian overseers, though it was nothing new in the time of Eisenhower and Truman, who thought nothing whatever of putting the army to work rebuilding Europe and Japan and “reestablishing political life at the local level,” such as the military recently tried to do in Kosovo and Bosnia. Yet the current leadership, headed by an apparently unengaged George W. Bush and a perhaps too-engaged Donald Rumsfeld (who, by Priest’s account, is none too beloved in the Pentagon, yet respected for actually having served in the military, unlike many in the previous administration), has little interest in nation-building or making the world safe for democracy, a matter troubling to some American warriors in Afghanistan who believed that such work was the only way to keep the fighting from starting all over again. (“You promised many things for Afghanistan,” one mujahadeen remarks to an American officer, “and we want you to keep your promise.”) Profiling members of the highest command echelons as well the dirtiest-trousered of frontline troops, Priest does a fine job of exploring some of the contradictions involved in maintaining a citizen army and keeping peace in a world bent on killing itself.
Rich instruction for policymakers, soldiers, and politics junkies alike.