Informed readers, especially military buffs, will appreciate this provocative, blistering critique of a system where...

THE GENERALS

AMERICAN MILITARY COMMAND FROM WORLD WAR II TO TODAY

Foreign Policy contributing editor Ricks (The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006–2008, 2009, etc.) assesses the state of generalship in the U.S. Army and finds it wanting.

During World War II, Gen. George Marshall designed a template for identifying leaders and selecting generals, rapidly promoting those who met the standard and readily relieving underperformers. For Marshall, firing a general was part of the natural order, a necessary tool of personnel management in the notoriously difficult business of battlefield success. How is it, asks the author, that we’ve fallen away from this strict standard over the past 75 years? After acknowledging the occasional flaw in the Marshall system and identifying the grand exception, Douglas MacArthur, Ricks turns to the Korean War, where only O.P. Smith and Matthew Ridgeway met the Marshall standard and prevented disaster. Post-Korea, senior officers acted “less like stewards of their profession, answerable to the public, and more like keepers of a closed guild, answerable mainly to each other.” In Vietnam, the system collapsed entirely, with rotation, ticket-punching and micromanagement the norms. Relieving a general came to be seen as a system failure. From this low point—Ricks recites the manifold sins of Maxwell Taylor, Paul Harkins and William Westmoreland—the Army retooled, improving training, doctrine and weaponry, but leaving its concept of generalship untouched. As the author turns to our recent wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, none of  Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Tommy Franks, Ricardo Sanchez, or George Casey will much appreciate what Ricks has to say about continuing deficiencies in military leadership. Only David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno emerge unscathed.

Informed readers, especially military buffs, will appreciate this provocative, blistering critique of a system where accountability appears to have gone missing—like the author’s 2006 bestseller, Fiasco, this book is bound to cause heartburn in the Pentagon.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-404-3

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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