Leadership lessons from a life of war and peace.
Clark (Winning Modern Wars, 2003, etc.) has been many things during his adventurous life, including a Rhodes Scholar, a four-star Army general and an ardent presidential candidate. In this spare but engaging autobiography, he recounts his evolution from a struggling Arkansas youth with a speech defect to a military man and respected strategist who led troops at home and abroad. To the book’s detriment, much of it is couched as a leadership manual; even the valid lessons smack of management coaching vernacular and are often superfluous to the events at hand. Fortunately, the events themselves make fascinating reading. Clark begins with a terse, visceral account of a bloody ambush in the jungles of Vietnam. The easy choice would be to glorify his military experience, but the book’s vivid descriptions of his hazardous duties are understated and candid, whether he’s recalling a failed attempt to rescue soldiers from a burning convoy while under fire or limning the treacherous political minefields of Washington. Another tense stretch came during Clark’s posting in Kosovo, where he played a life-and-death game of chicken with Yugoslavian president Slobodon Milosevic and raced the Russians to capture Priština International Airport. Clark’s willingness to admit tactical failures is admirable, and his strategic insights are piercing yet clear-cut. “Only soldiers win battles,” he writes. “The top leaders can lose by making mistakes, but the winning is done by the troops, by their skill, cunning, discipline, intuition, and motivation.” His measured criticisms of America’s approach to problems in Africa and the Middle East are equally cogent, delivered in the careful language of a political platform and drawing strongly upon his personal vision for American intervention and diplomacy in the world’s conflict zones: “pushing for the United States to do what was right, not just what was easy.”
An earnest reflection on war and peace from a commander’s unique point of view.