5.0 out of 5 starsEqual to Cain at Gettysburg, Takes Fact-Based Fiction to New Level, May 13, 2013
I started this book, having given a rave review to Cain at Gettysburg convinced that the sequel would disappoint, as most sequels do. Although I counted only five goosebump moments in this new book (Cain had six, The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War By Michael Shaara only had one), I have to rate it the equal of the earlier book, and also the linch pin book in what should be a series of at least four books, each – as the first two have been – a detailed study of men at war at all four levels (strategic, operational, tactical, technical). The concluding sentence in this book is brilliant, and it left me with precisely the sense of angst and anticipation for the next campaign as the author no doubt intended. If Cain was the thunderclap of divine providence, then Hell is the tough hard slog through mud during which the North adapts and learns lessons while Lee’s health worsens substantially, his weakness all the more grave because Longstreet is wounded and Stuart killed, leaving Lee with no bench, less Gordon as a late bloomer too easily ignored by his elders.
There is little doubt that with this book Ralph Peters has established a nearly impregnable position as the leading practitioner of historical fiction, taking it to a new level of accuracy and relevance to the military and political professionals who wage war, setting the gold standard for factual historical fiction that reveals the soul of those making history.
If I were to sum up the book in three words it would be leadership, logistics, and learning.
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular Blend of Rigorous & Populist History,February 24, 2012
I have read The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War (Modern Library), which the author himself acknowledges as one of the best books about Gettysburg – but also one that bought into the prevalent myths. This book is the equal of Killer Angels in its atmospheric electricity, certainly the equal if not more moving with respect to “aha” professional insights and “feeling in the fingertips” gut-wrenchers (I counted six goose-bump moments reading Cain, I recall only one in reading Killer Angels), and vastly more important than Killer Angels in the grand scheme of things because this author and this book have restored the reputation of General George Meade at his finest hour – given the Army THREE DAYS before Gettysburg, and leading that Army to the single most important victory of the Civil War, however one may view that war while also instantly assessing and correcting the mistakes of his predecessor, the most important being a scattered leaderless army.
This is a book written by a professional military officer who is also a historian, a brilliant and often poetic author of both non-fiction and historical fiction better than dry academic texts, and an adventurer who knows the world from gutter to grand salons.
The book concludes with a very clear explanation of how General Meade’s reputation was ruined by a scheming General Sickles, and how some of the main characters fared after the war of secession. More to the point, this is the definitive book that rescues the reputation of General Meade. While there are many other books, one in particular being Meade: Victor of Gettysburg (Military Profiles), no other book can match the eloquence, authenticity, and level of detail of this ultra-historical and poetic work of redemption.
Here are some of the professional highlights that I noted down – I do not report the goose bump moments–for those, buy the book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Six Star Epilogue, the Capstone Work, September 26, 2011
I have been a fan of Ralph Peters for over fifteen years now, going back to the early 1990’s when the US Marine Corps was trying to get the Secretary of Defense (then Dick Cheney) to focus on most likely vice worst case threats. Having been the senior civilian responsible for creating the Marine Corps Intelligence Center, and the Study Director for the flagship study, Planning and Programming Factors for Expeditionary Operations in the Third World, I recognized both his deep integrity and his broad intelligence, both so uncharacteristic of the near-venal to all-banal US secret intelligence community that I had served since 1976.
This is his capstone work. Below are a few of his most notable recent works, there are many others, and I also recommend his Owen Parry series on the Civil War. If you only get one book by Ralph Peters, this is the one to buy.
2012 in my view is a turning point year for America, and I pray that it is the year that citizens with integrity kick politicians without integrity (all of them) out of office and get a clean sheet fresh start in recreating a government of, by, and for We the People instead of what we have now, what Matt Taibbi describes so well in Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History, “a highly complicated merger of crime and policy, of stealing and government.”
Ralph Peters is an acquired taste for some, an addiction for others. I am in the latter camp and read everything he publishes, with a strong preference for his non-fiction books about reality, war, and the general lack of integrity across both governments and corporations.
The book is full of gifted phrases and insights, a few of which stick with me now:
— Staff officer’s smile
— Idiocy of military classifying a BBC documentary
— How far the mighty can fall
— Army swooning for computers, losing its collective mind
— Broken promises (or lost integrity) = men die
This book, while good, is not as good (at least for me) as his first military-industrial complex book, Traitor, where the detail was chilling and compelling. I also liked The Devil’s Garden This particular new book is certainly a good read, and I endorse the other positive reviews, but for Ralph Peters at his very best, I recommend his non-fiction and his Civil War novels, the latter written under a pseudonym.
27 March 2010: Full spread sheet and optimal links added below Amazon review.GOT TO RUN, Links later today.
Beyond Five Stars…Gifted Mix of Intelligence, Integrity, Insight Deeply Rooted in History and Firmly Focused on Today’s Reality
March 21, 2010
I do not always agree with Ralph Peters, but along with Steve Metz and Max Manwaring, both at the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the U.S. Army, I consider him one of America’s most gifted strategists whose integrity is absolute. He simplifies sometimes (e.g. Iraqis turned against Al Qaeda because of the demand for marriage that was refused followed by the bloodbath execution of the family by Al Qaeda, not because of anything the US did) but that aside, Ralph is the ONLY person that reminds me of both Winston Churchill–poetry and gifted turns of phrase on every page–and Will Durant, historian extraordinaire. Ralph has a better grasp of history, terrain, and the military than Robert Kaplan, and deeper insights into our failed military leadership (no longer leaders, just politically-correct administrators out of touch with reality) than my favorite journalist-adventurer, Robert Young Pelton.
I have read and reviewed most of Ralph’s books, and am proud to consider him a colleague and a fellow Virginian. Ralph is the only author whose books jump to the top of my “to read” pile, and I absorbed this masterpiece over the course of moving my own flag from Virginia to Latin America. US national and military intelligence have completely given up their integrity, and it resonated with me that the key word that Ralph uses throughout this book–a word I myself adopt in my latest book in carrying on the tradition of Buckminster Fuller on the one hand, and most respected mentor-critic Chuck Spinney on the other–is that very word: INTEGRITY.
It seems that whenever the international community discovers another al Qaeda franchise, a financial reward to the host seems to follow. Pakistan has perfected how to profit from this perverse incentive. Yemen is now showing itself to be an able student of the same technique.
The U.S. Army’s role in all of this is to help strengthen the capabilities and capacity of our land force partners … so they can help protect their people, secure their borders, support development, contribute to better governance and help achieve regional stability.
Except, apparently, in cases where there’s too much terrorism, violent extremism, cyber attacks, piracy, illicit trafficking, crime, corruption, disease and displaced people.
Although I read mostly non-fiction, one of Ralph Peter’s novels (his first in ten years, the last one I really liked was Traitor), is better than reality, for it portrays what we can expect when our delusional political, economic, and military acquisition practices play themselves out, and in the case of this book, what happens when we ignore the desperate need for religious counter-intelligence that I have been calling for since the 1980’s.
In a nut-shell, this a marvelous depiction of what happens in the future when enemies of the USA plant two small nuclear devices in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, leading to a nation-wide call to arms with crusade overtones.
We were all right then, we are still right now, but unless General James Jones, USMC gets himself a deputy that is grounded in strategy & integrity, this Administration is toast, in part because there is NO DIFFERENCE among the apparatchiks that trade places within the two-party system. They ae ALL out of touch with strategy, and hence reality.
Over 200 Marines died in the barracks by the beach in Beirut, in their sleep, because the White House failed to understand that the strategic situation had changed; because chicken hawk staff approved the launching of battleship salvos (think really pissed-off Volkswagons in flight) that certified the US was “taking sides” rather than seeking to preserve the peace; and because the “rules of engagement” imposed on Colonel of Marines Tim Gerrity required that his Marines not have rounds in the chambers and not fire as approaching vehicles that failed to stop–at the same time, intelligence sucked then as it sucks now.
The photos are our own, from Beirut in August 2007. We grieve for our Marines, who sought to serve their country while being used as an expendible tool by the White House. Today the same thing is happening in Afghanistan and Ralph Peters has unleashed his own volley against the insanity of asking our troops to allow themselves to be killed whenever a civilian is in the area. Click on the collage for today’s deja vu.
Stops where we need to start: USG and US Bank Complicity, June 9, 2009
The ultimate cold call was made by the head of the SEC who went to Colombia to meet the FARC leadership and urge them to invest their drug money with Wall Street.
The Los Angeles crack cocaine plague was fueled by Blandon, a Nicaraguan contra drug dealer protected by CIA and DEA while Ricky Ross paid for being the street-level entrepreneur.
OF COURSE the top leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan are major drug dealers–their political US Government counterparts are in on the deal and the bureaucrats go along.
This is a GREAT book and the kind of investigative journalism melded with academic research that we no longer do as a Nation, so kudos for that. However meritorious, it joins other similar books from the past and does not address the core brackets: the money provided by the US Government to Pakistan in the 1980’s, and the money laundering and cash liquidity that Wall Street enjoyed in the 1990’s in large part because of its close alliance with global drug dealers, arms merchants, and traders in women and children as well as 40+ dictators happy to loot their commonwealths while pretending to support our “war on terror” with rendition and torture.
Until the US Government itself has integrity, and imposes integrity on Wall Street, this book is a superb account that will go absolutely nowhere in terms of impacting on the problem. WE are the problem in so far as we persist in lying to the American people about all that we do, and do not do, in their name.
What Humans Knew in 1990’s That Secret Mandarins Refused to Hear, June 28, 2008
This book is not, as some might expect, a collection of past Op-Eds, but rather an extraordinary retrospective at the 1989-1996 time frame when officers like Ralph (and General Al Gray, myself, and a number of others in the Army and the Marines) were seeing the writing on the wall: the end of big war and the emergence of global instability in every clime and place). Ralph actually walked the ground and had “eyes on.”
I was immediately charmed anew by the poetic writing and the visually elegant turns of phrase. I have in my notes: chuckled, amused, reminded.
This review is going to combine my fly leaf notes with as many short quotes as I can fit in within my 1,000 word allotment.
Deep reading of Tolstoy and others set the stage for *understanding* today’s culture and mindset in Russia. Earlier in his life, a subscription gift from an aunt to National Geographic opened his eyes to the rest of the world.
Early on, disdain for how we spend billions on satellites and nothing on officers walking the ground. He notes that overt human intelligence can absorb and articulate what no satellite can provide: “the temper of the people, the taste of the land.”
USSR in 1991 was potholes and rust. In his “walk-about” he gained direct invited access to an MVD commander’s office, to all of the local “secret” messages, and had invited “eyes on” the MVD special intelligence communications room.
In the Bosnia-Kosovo run-up, which he and others anticipated, he learned that Europe cannot be trusted to act in unison or decisively in the absence of strong US leadership–France, Germany, and the United Kingdom all revert to their historical animosities, and despite their large standing armies, lack the political will or the deep strategic analytics necessary to use those armies in a coherent manner.
His respect for Armenia is deeply rooted in his on the ground experience among them.
Col Stu Herrington, whose book Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher’s World I have praised, is strongly praised in this book. He and the author were part of a team that worked with the Russians to address the long-standing concern over Americans being held in the Gulag, and the pages in this book, covering each of the wars from World War II onwards, are a complete surprise and essential reading for anyone interested in POW/MIA accounting.
He blasts the US policy of crop eradication, and his devastating criticism of arm-chair politicians and ivory tower diplomats warms my heart.
Late in the book he focused on Pakistan and I find this chapter especially vital for the public understanding of how the US is destroying its once-close ties to the Pakistani officer corps. The older officers are fully trained by the British or the US. The company and field grade officers are not, and are so delusional about Islam and so ignorant about the rest of the world as to be very dangerous to us.
Throughout the book he laments the lot of women across most Islamic countries (with Indonesia and Malaysia as notable exceptions; I add this from my own knowledge and Ralph’s official report to the Marine Corps in the 1990’s).
Now the quotes. Page number, then words:
8 On [the Russian and Central Asian] frontiers, humanity is a brotherhood of smugglers.
29 Only its women allowed the Soviet Union to endure as long as it did.
38 …I am convinced there is no Russian word for maintenance.
45 …worry too much about dead facts and too little about their antagonist’s delusions.
66 Artist and intelligence challenges similar: an eye for detail and ability to reduce complexity to coherence
73 …no one in the US intelligence community was interested. If the data didn’t come from a satellite, it didn’t count.
87 What Belgrade lacked … was human dignity.
108 I knew we could overpower [Iraqi] military….I had seen…his officer corps…drunk and whoring.
132 Conquest of Central Asia is a chronicle of…cruelty….Soviets are the champs….[others] tortured human beings. The Soviet Union tortured the earth itself.
141 Bukhara is where Islam turned dark…
146 The Clinton Administration was run by intolerant dreamers… With neither self-critical faculties nor experience of the world …
151 Islam froze by the mid-fifteenth century when science-fearing zealots….
172 And there you have our diplomats. Unwilling to talk to our enemies… Unwilling to learn.
200 Azerbaijan was the first place where I got n inside look at the nastiness of our Saudi “friends.”
204 Everywhere, the Saudis took an interest in human suffering only if it offered them an entry point for missionary activities. And any Muslim who wouldn’t sign up for … Wahhabi Puritanism was welcome to die.
218 …the callousness with which our government had treated the family members of our MIAs…
231 [General McCaffrey] wasn’t getting an adequate tie-it-all-together picture of the cocaine problem. Not from his staff, and not from the alphabet-soup agencies…
239 You cannot take away the livelihood of the poor [coca crops] unless you have the wherewithal to replace it immediately and enduringly.
244 Found wealth, when immature countries…hit the natural-resources lottery, is uniformly destructive of the souls of men and nations.
251 [Army saw the future coming.] It was impossible, however, to persuade the Clinton White House, the intelligence establishment, or even our own services (except for the Marines) that our enemies, rather than our desires, would shape the future security environment.
319 [Drug Czar] was not allowed to differentiate between hard and soft drugs.
335 [At the Plain of Jars] I saw my country’s dark side….we go mad now and then. And when we do, we leave desolation behind.
This is an amazing book and for anyone who is concerned with strategic warning, honest intelligence, strategy, force structure, the need to rebalance the instruments of national power, and the future of humanity, will find this book inspiring.
E Veritate Potens–From Truth, We the People Are Empowered
You Can Read This More Than Once, and Learn Each Time
July 22, 2007
Ralph Peters is one of a handful of individuals whose every work I must read. See some others I recommend at the end of this review. Ralph stands alone as a warrior-philosopher who actually walks the trail, reads the sign, and offers up ground truth.
This book is deep look at the nuances and the dangers of what he calls the wars of blood and faith. The introduction is superb, and frames the book by highlighting these core matters:
* Washington has forgotten how to think. * The age of ideology is over. Ethnic identity will rule. * Globalization has contradictory effects. Internet spreads hatred and dangerous knowledge (e.g. how to make an improvised explosive device). * The post-colonial era has begun. * Women’s freedom is the defining issue of our time. * There is no way to wage a bloodless war. * The media can now determine the war’s outcome. I don’t agree with the author on everything, this is one such case. If the government does not lie, the cause is just, and the endeavor is effectively managed, We the People can be steadfast.
A couple of expansions. I recently posted a list of the top ten timeless books at the request of a Stanford ’09, and i7 includes Philip Allott’s The Health of Nations: Society and Law beyond the State. Deeper in the book the author has an item on Blood Borders, and it tallies perfectly with Allott’s erudite view that the Treaty of Westphalia was a huge mistake–instead of creating artificial states (5000 distinct ethnic groups crammed into 189+ artificial political entities) we should have gone instead with Peoples and especially Indigenous Peoples whose lands and resources could not be stolen, only negotiated for peacefully. Had the USA not squandered a half trillion dollars and so many lives and so much good will, a global truth and reconciliation commission, combined with a free cell phone to every woman among the five billion poor (see next paragraph) could conceivably have achieved a peaceful reinvigoration of the planet with liberty and justice for peoples rather than power and wealth for a handful.
The author’s views on the importance of women stem from decades of observation and are supported by Michael O’Hanlon’s book, A Half Penny on the Federal Dollar: The Future of Development Aid, in which he documents that the single best return on investment for any dollar is in the education of women. They tend to be secular, appreciate sanitation and nutrition and moderation in all things. The men are more sober, responsible, and productive when their women are educated. THIS, not unilateral militarism, virtual colonialism, and predatory immoral capitalism, should be the heart of our foreign policy.
The book is organized into sections I was not expecting but that both make sense, and add to the whole. Part I is 17 short pieces addressing the Twenty-First Century Military. Here the author focuses on the strategic, lambastes Rumsfeld for not listening, and generally overlooks the fact that all our generals and admirals failed to be loyal to the Constitution and instead accepted illegal orders based on lies.
In Part II, Iraq and Its Neighbors, we have 24 pieces. The best piece by far in terms of provocative strategic value is “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look.” Curiously he does not address Syria or Lebanon, but I expect he will since the Syrians just evacuated Lebanon and Syria and Iran appear to be planning for a pincer movement on Baghdad after they cut the ground supply line from Kuwait.
A handful of pieces, 5 in all, are grouped in Part III, The Home Front. The best two for me were “Our Strategic Intelligence Problem” in which he points out that more money and more technology are NOT going to make us smarter, it is humans with history, culture, language, and eyes on the target that will tease out the nuances no satellite can handle. He also points out how easily our satellites are deceived. I share his anguish in the piece on “Lynching the Marines.” I called and emailed the Colonel at HQMC in charge of the defense, and offered a heat stress defense that I had just learned about from a NASA engineer helping firefighters. If the body gets too hot, the brain starts to fry, and irrational behavior is the norm. The Colonel declined to acknowledge. That told me all I needed to know about how the Marines were all too eager to hang their own.
Part V was the most unfamiliar to me, covering Israel and Hezbollah. In 17 pieces, the author, an avowed supporter of Israel, pulls no punches, tarring and feathering the Israelis for being corrupt (selling off their military supplies on the black market (to whom, one wonders, since the only people in the market are terrorists?) confident the US will resupply them) and militarily and politically incompetent. To which I would add economically stupid and morally challenged–Stealing 50% of the water Israel uses to do farming that is under 5% of the GDP is both nuts and short-sighted. See the brief by Chuck Spinney at OSS.Net.
Part V, The World Beyond, is a philosophical tour of the horizon, from water wars and plagues (see my lists for books on each of the ten threats, twelve policies, and eight challengers), to precision knifing of Russia, France, and Europe. Darfur, one of over 15 genocides being ignored right now (Darfur because Sudan pretends to be helping on terrorism and the US does not have the will or the means to be effective there) is touched on.
The book ends marvelously with a piece on “The Return of the Tribes,” a piece that emphasizes the role of religion and the exclusivity of cults and specific localized tribes. They don’t want to be integrated nor do they want new members.