Review: Phantom Soldier–The Enemy’s Answer to U.S. Firepower

5 Star, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), War & Face of Battle

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Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Addictive Common Sense, Trashes High-Tech Blinders,

April 28, 2005
H. John Poole
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.

This author is addictive. I started with Crescent Moon, got Phantom Soldier next, and now am eagerly awaiting the Last 100 Yards. Although I do not expect to see combat in my remaining years, I have three boys that almost certainly will if things keep going as they are, and this book is frightening to any parent or voter.

His bottom line is clear: all of our expensive high-tech equipment is increasing the soldier's load (shades of SLA Marshall) at the same time that it is reducing the soldier's ability to see (one eye covered by a sensor), smell, move, and communicate. We are pursuing a very expensive top down command and control model of confrontational fire-power warfare that is rather easily bogged down by stealth adversaries patient enough to crawl for days and dig underground for months in adavance. I am reminded of the “Tunnels of Ch Chi.” The author is totally tuned in with what I think of as 5th Generation or “bottom up” warfare in which the small units do most of the sensing and thinking, and they are not simply pawns on a giant chessboard.

Much of the book is a highly readable and easily understood account of the common sense and complex thinking that allows Eastern units that are very well-trained to defeat or avoid Western units that are very well-provisioned (I am also reminded of MajGen Bob Scales “Firepower in Limited War,”, but not trained in the infantry skills needed to go man on man in stealth mode.

There is a very great deal to this author's thinking. I do not expect him to have the impact necessary on our new brigade Army or expeditionary Marine Corps, but I hope that by the time my three boys are of draft age, there are generals in power that share this author's wisdom. This is seriously good stuff that every parent and voter should be reading.

I would add, however, that there is another side of grand strategy that we are neglecting. While this author focuses on the tactical excellence that Eastern warriors can achieve, I also worry about American naivete in not understanding that some countries–China and Iran for example–are home to very strategic cultures that know how to “set the stage” with all of the instruments of national power. As I watch China infiltrate Latin America, pushing a wide range of treaties and trade deals, investments in oil and other resources, pipelines to by-pass the Panama Canal and move Venezuelan crude oil to Cartagena, Colombia, and then refined crude to ships on the coast headed for China, I have a very strong sense of foreboding. In 50 years–a fraction of the time the Chinese consider when thinking strategically (not our strong point), we may well have been marginalized. I hope not–but the same traits this author discusses at the small unit level exist in Iran and China at the top leadership level, and I recommend the book for anyone interested in either the top down threat or the bottom up threat.

See also, with reviews:
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy
Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions
Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror
Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism

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