BEYOND HELL AND BACK by Dwight Jon Zimmerman


How America’s Special Operations Forces Became the World’s Greatest Fighting Unit
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Nuts-and-bolts accounts of Special Forces missions.

Military writers Zimmerman (First Command: Paths to Leadership, 2006, etc.) and Gresham (DEFCON-2: Standing on the Brink of Nuclear War During the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2006, etc.) recount seven operations of the past four decades, undertaken in places including Vietnam and Iraq. They show a SEAL team on the ground plucking two downed fliers from the midst of a major North Vietnam offensive after 14 air rescuers had already died in the attempt. They dissect a complex operation in which elite attack-helicopter teams flew far beyond their normal range to destroy Iraqi radar sites, opening the way for air strikes before the first Gulf War. In the Second Gulf War, half a dozen Green Berets slipped 350 miles inside Iraq, hid near a major road and military concentration site, called in intelligence and devastating air strikes, then withdrew after ten days without firing a shot. Some operations depicted here were misfires. A brilliantly executed 1970 operation to rescue prisoners in North Vietnam went off without a hitch, but the camp turned out to be empty. The operation known to most readers is the disastrous 1979 attempt to rescue American hostages held in Iran. The authors relate the excruciating details, emphasizing the lessons our forces learned and not neglecting the opportunity to criticize a Democratic president. Their narrative provides solid entertainment for military buffs with its densely technical descriptions of weapons, training and tactics, an avalanche of acronyms and the traditional purplish prose. Zimmerman and Gresham don’t conceal their contempt for the Hollywood version of special ops: colorful but insubordinate soldiers, missions described as suicidal, big explosions, a dazzling triumph despite crippling casualties. In the real world, they remind us, brains and teamwork trump heroism, and planners reject operations likely to fail. Five out of seven represents a reasonable success rate.

A portrait of elite fighting men at their best that will appeal to a largely male readership.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-312-36387-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2007


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