June 2004
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June 2004 Archives

June 09, 2004

Lenner - Federal Principle

Andrew Lenner, The Federal Principle in American Politics, 1790-1833

I turned every page on Monday, so I guess I read the book (I did skim some.)

Lenner is a bright guy working with a relatively defined body of material and coming up with some clever insights about it. He examines the Federal Principle, and especially the role of Natural Law and the Law of Nations, in American politics from the 1790s through Nullification. In many ways this is a sequel to Jack Greene's Peripheries and Center, although Lenner is more interested in the working of dual sovereignty while Green told the story of how dual sov. was invented.

Lenner reminded me of the importance that Natural Law and the Law of Nations held for the founders, I might blog on that on the main blog later this week.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)
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Chinatown

Chinatown

This is a classic. I have long wanted to see it. I took it from the library and watched it (on day 20 of my 21 days).

I liked it. It was dark. I was surprised by several of the plot twists. I can see why other movies refer to it. I loved Faye Dunaway. I spent the first part of the movie being distracted by Jack Nicholson - he is such a distinctive personality that I tend to see the actor and not the character.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)
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Modesitt - Adiamante

L.E. Modesitt, Adiamante

Ooh, look another Modesitt. You would think that Ted found a prolific author he likes and is working through the guy's complete catalogue. You would be right.

This is science fiction, which Modesitt is better at than he is at fantasy, but his science is sufficiently close to magic that it sometimes feels like fantasy anyhow. We have a standard Modesitt hero, grieving for his lost wife, living in a post-post-post apocalypse Earth where they have rebuilt society in stable terms by coming to new understandings of power and authority and responsibility. It is a fascinating society he imagines, and he challenges it by showing how a group of people can fight off a potential (almost certain) invasion when they have a code of ethics that not only prohibits first strikes, but also prohibits threats, demonstrations, or any use of power to coerce another before they take their own violent action.

Light, but entertaining, and some good ideas. Like most good science fiction, I finished the book, put it down, and spent some time thinking about it.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:46 AM | Comments (0)
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Clancy and Franks - Into the Storm

Tom Clancy and General Fred Franks, Into the Storm

This is the first of Clancy's Commanders series. Clancy is teaming up with senior or retired military leaders and working through a brief biography and a case study of a major event, all as a way to study the meaning of command (and sell books.)

The third in the series is controversial, while waiting to get it from the library I decided to read the first two. Franks is an interesting fellow - he lost part of a leg in Vietnam but returned to active duty; he commanded the VII corps during the Gulph War, coordinating thousands of vehicles and tens of thousands of soldiers in an attack on the Republican Guard; after the was he was one of the people who put together the "shock and awe" battle doctrine.

A few things jumped out at me from this. The first is that Franks certainly took the notion of command styles seriously; in every chapter he spends time explaining what a commander should do, how people should relate, and how they do relate to one another. Franks's style is low-key - no screaming and shouting - and he thinks that staff meetings should be vigorous. He sees a meeting as a chance for everyone to speak, for people to hash out their goals, and then for everyone to go execute.

Franks and Schwartzkof have very different command styles, and the difference in their styles was one of the problems in the Gulph War, for both men misunderstood the other.

The other thing that Franks and Clancy were pushing was that the Vietnam War really was very bad for the armed forces, destroying readiness, morale, and effectiveness, and that during the late 1970s and then 1980s the armed forces worked very hard and very effectively to reinvent themselves. My dad works with a retired Army general and is always effusive in his praise for the man's planning, decision-making, and people skills. Reading Franks' account of the Army training purpose, I was greatly impressed.

Franks and Clancy wrote the book in 1997, looking back at the Gulph War in terms of Vietnam. I read the book in 2004, looking back at the Gulph War in terms of the Iraqi invasion.

A couple of things jumped out at me. The first was that the Gulph War really was fought by Cold War tactics - the same tools that had been designed to slow or halt a Soviet wave coming through the Fulda Gap were turned around and used in the offensive to damage and almost destroy the Soviet-style Republican Guard. The Iraq War was fought with different maneuver elements, far fewer troops, and doctrine and technology that went even farther than the Gulph War had in giving information, navigation, and mission decisions to local units; in the Gulph War, only commanders' tanks had GPS and everyone else had to form on them while in Iraq I think everyone had it and could concentrate on what was around them and not on keeping formation.

The second was that I got a much better understanding of Wesley Clarke's critique of Rumsfield's plan for the war. Franks explains that the military planning starts with the mission statement, reviews the terrain, troops, and technologies available, and then works up a plan, adjusting the troop levels and the plan where appropriate. But, the whole very sophisticated and powerful planning process starts with the mission definition. Clarke complained that Rumsfield told his planners "Defeat Saddam Hussein" when he should have told them "Create conditions in Iraq condusive to creating a representative democracy." It is a subtle but huge difference - you can defeat Hussein with a small force and some risks - we did it. But it takes more warm bodies to create the security situation required for democracy, and it requires a different presence on the ground, control of different locations at the end of fighting - a very different mission.

I am glad I read it. I will read a couple of novels and then read the second in the series.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:42 AM | Comments (0)
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June 03, 2004

Massie - Nicholas and Alexandra

Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra, (New York: Atheneum, 1967)

I read Massie's Dreadnaught many years ago and liked it.

After reading Sheila O'Malley's rave about this I grabbed it and dropped it into my light non-fiction shelf. I also grabbed Massie's Steel Castles which I will read soon.

Massie has found a niche - he is immersed in the lives and personalities of world rulers at the turn of the twentieth century. He then tells the tale of the Belle Epoque and the Great War through those rulers, explaining the path to war in part through their personal foibles.

This approach works wonderfully for Nicholas and Alexandra. Massie argues convincingly that the Russian Empire fell because of Tsarevitch Alexis's hemophelia combined with the fact that both Nicholas and Alexandra were loving parents. From one medical fact and some personalities, all else follows. Otherwise, he suggests at the end, Russia was well on its way to becoming a constitutional monarchy during the Great War, with Nicholas ceding some power to the Duma as responsible reform, excluding the poor from political power for a while, and relying on the massive emotional pull of Orthodoxy and the Tsar to hold the nation together.

But it failed, and Massie tells us why.

For that reason it is a hard book to read - not just because the list of chapters ends with Ekaterinberg and we all know what happened there, but because the first four hundred pages are a train wreck happening in slow motion. In his classic anecdote of the bomb under the table, Alfred Hitchcock defined suspense as being when the audience knows that something terrible is about to happen, the characters on screen do not know it will happen, and so the audience is all worried to see if the characters will escape.

In Hitchcock's version, the audience knows there is a bomb under the table, but does not know if the people sitting at table will finish their conversation and leave before the bomb blows up. For Nicholas and Alexandra, we know that not only do they not stand up, they actually take steps that will make the bomb more explosive. And so we get to watch as well meaning people screw up by the numbers. It is a painful read; historians like to dissect failures so we can see what went wrong, but it can be hard to read about failure, especially for those of us with a limited capacity for schadenfrude (spelling?).

Good book - anyone who likes reading about people should read it.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 10:02 AM | Comments (0)
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Forsyth - Avenger

Frederick Forsyth, The Avenger

I like Forsyth's thrillers, especially the first batch that he wrote in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is not up to those standards, rattles around a bit, spends rather too much time diving into the background of each character as they are introduced, but worked to keep the pages turning.

The curious thing about it is that this is the first post-9/11 fiction that I have read in which a crucial plot turn involves an attempt to kill Usama Bin Laden. I expect to see the events of 2001 appear in many future thrillers.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:17 AM | Comments (0)
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