Anyone who has read much of my stuff knows that I am a pacifist. And I have that stand for religious reasons. There is more to it though. I grew up during the Viet Nam era and an anti-military stance was easy to come by. While family members of my father's generation all served - one uncle was in a German prisoner of war camp in WWII and my father served in Korea - we did not have a strong military tradition in the family. There is not a significant military presence in Pittsburgh, PA, where I grew up. I had few friends who served after Viet Nam and not a lot who served there. Those who did, never spoke of their experiences. Since moving to California, where the military has a significant presence, I have had more friends and church members with military backgrounds but even playing with guys stationed at Vandenberg Air force Base didn't give me much real information. All of that adds up to a serious ignorance about the way the military works. Any impressions I had were just that... and had various degrees of accuracy.
I heard Tom Ricks speak the other day at UCSB and was fascinated by what he had to say about Iraq. So I've started to work through his first book on Iraq Fiasco and when I'm finished with it, I will read The Gamble. I'm fascinated at his portrayal of the way the military works... even though I don't have any sense of how accurate it is. The philosophical and organizational principles really are significant to understand.
I was particularly taken by his discussion of "strategy," which he says is a technical term in the military, not to be confused with tactics. Strategy, he says, emerges from the answers to 4 straightforward questions and the clarity with which those questions are answered is foundational to everything that comes afterward.
1. Who are we in this situation?
2. What are we ultimately trying to do in this conflict?
3. How will we do it?
4. What resources will we use to accomplish these goals?
Good questions... that apply to just about any area of life but critical in situations where the decisions made can have lethal consequences.
I highly recommend the books. And I'd love to hear back from folk with a military background on the accuracy of his descriptions.