How others study and learn is a mystery to me.Unfortunately, for me, I study and learn by fits and starts.
When I read a book, and it is like watching a torch burn, watching it catch fire and watching as its knowledge lights another torch in turn. One day recently, I was reading an essay by the great Spanish philosopher, Ortega, Mediations on Hunting, and he made remarks about Polybius, a Greek historian writing about Rome, and I began to read him, and soon I was finishing The Iliad and began to read Greek plays that I haven’t read in 50 years.
Like everyone, I am often guilty of saying to myself that I read such and such a book in college or high school. Unfortunately, I often cannot remember what they said. Simply recalling titles is hardly praiseworthy, so when I began to study the Greeks again, I once again discovered that the Greeks are incredibly good!
Why? They are full of vital force. They don’t age. Their voices remain alive with strong and tumultuous life. They aren’t uselessly theatrical.Homer, at the beginning of The Iliad plunges us immediately into a near-violent quarrel.The king of the Greeks is Agamemnon, and while powerful, he is very self-willed and stubborn and ruinously touchy.He is known as the “wide-ruling king,” but his pride overpowers his ability to reason fairly or clearly.He is always insisting tediously that his is the greatest of all the Greeks.They grow weary of hearing it.
"Edwin Stanton was not a generous man. He hated anyone who might prove a rival for power and position, anyone. He often worked late and alone brooding on the threats presented by wartime Washington.
On this particular November morning, he sat in his 17th St, office in the light of day, and reflected on the many slights offered to him. He correctly believed that Washington was filled with his enemies. The Confederate underground was not among his pre-occupations. He reckoned that he and Lafayette Baker could deal with them straightforwardly. No. Edwin Stanton was more concerned with his rivals within the Lincoln Administration. They are all jealous, he thought. There are so many, so many from before the war. They are waiting for a sign of vulnerability, a political weakness, a chance to make me look inept before the president. Today he had something special to worry about. He was not happy with Lincoln’s invitation to Devereux to accompany the official party to the cemetery dedication. It was bad enough that so many officers of the regular army and navy had direct political access to the president without the hazard of this man who worked in Stanton’s own offices being given several days with Lincoln without benefit of Stanton’s supervision. Who knew what sort of foolishness he might tell the president. He looked out the grimy window of his office. Leaves fell and rattled against the cold glass of late autumn. A hopelessly lost cardinal landed on the sill and looked in. It pecked the glass hoping for food, for anything. He looked away. The bird flew on. It had been left behind as its kind flew south toward warmth and food.
Stanton forced his attention back to the task at hand. It was his way. The need to survive and prosper was always foremost in his mind. After all, he thought he is still a Virginian, even though a loyalist.How much can you ever really trust these people? Innate caution made him thing of Devereux, the man, as opposed to Devereux the potential rival. In civilian life he is a merchant banker. What sort of schemes will he press the president to support either now or after the war?After the war, I must think of “after the war.”
"Science currently holds that time travel is an impossibility, but readers of Down the Sky, thefinal volume of Colonel Pat Lang’s Strike the Tent trilogy will question that assertion. Code-named “Hannibal,” Confederate penetration agent Claude Devereux is firmly lodged in the upper echelons of the Federal war machine. Now a Brigadier General of the Union forces with the new Congressional Medal of Honor on his chest, Major Devereux of the Confederate Secret Service knows time is running out. His minders in Richmond may no longer trust him, his personal life is a shambles, and Union spy-catcher Lafayette Baker is determined to bring him down. Only his peculiar, personal friendship with President Lincoln holds his enemies at bay.
MS2 in the comments to COL Lang's recent post about Marshall asked about where to go to get started reading about these things. In regards to the Senator McCarthy material I highly recommend Oshinsky's biography entitled A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy. I found it very easy to read, well researched, and the author, clearly dealing with a controversial subject, actually manages to show Senator McCarthy's humanity while clearly articulating how far off the rails he had gone.
The transcript for the Army/McCarthy Hearings can be found at this link.
* Adam L. Silverman is the Culture and Foreign Language Advisor at the US Army War College. The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Army War College and/or the US Army.
Great books need not be written here. They would be useless now. Literature is dead in America, killed by generations of children not trained to enjoy the written word and language for its own sake, killed by "journalism" that reduced argument and description to "sound bites," and given the coup de grace by the reduction of the American population to cretins who think that the glories and pain of life can be expressed by telegraphic messaging sent and received in tortured little snippets.
No more will we see the likes of Melville, Hawthorne, Faulkner and all the rest of the storied writers' "gang" of old. Why? Simply put, there is no reading market for such beautifully polished expressions of the human spirit. Margaret Mitchell today would not be able to find a publisher. Remember her?
Books are still published, but they are not real literature. The books that sell well today are; utilitarian "manuals" on things like cooking, gardening, and computer science. Then, there are "wonk books," (fodder for the hyper-ambitious so that they know what to agree with at meetings), celebrity biography, social theorizing and labored exposition for journalists' "insights" on history.
The human soul has been "growed" as a collective organic network in which the collected experience of humanity was recorded and expressed in the form of literary fiction by such masters as Hemingway and Conrad. In their works the human experience found both narrative and emotional expression as truth deeper than any textbook could hope to achieve. This kind of teaching is nearly gone in America. What is left is to be found in screen plays. Let us hope that works such as "Inception," "Game of Thrones" or the "Zen" series will carry forward such shreds of human culture as may be needed. Many universities and colleges that were once centers of learning are changing the emphasis in their English Departments to rhetoric rather than literature. They believe that reading, writing and learning to do power point are more important than Mark Twain.
As a result of such starvation, the collective American mind is dying. It is now reduced to subsistence on a diet of supposedly objective volumes of scholarly self admiration thinly disguised as "scientific" works. Ask anyone you know who is under thirty to recount the history of the United States in broad terms. Ask the same sort of person to describe in general terms what rough course (direction) an Israeli strike on Natanz would fly and what the appoximate distance might be. Ask if there are US air bases in Iraq. Ask. Ask who were the first five presidents of the United States. Ask who Dante Alleghieri might have been. Ask.
The US Army is now trying to prepare itself for some other war in which understanding the locals might be important. Their major thought on the subject revolves around neurology and psychology.
In reading Jeffrey Record's “A War It Was Always Going to Lose: Why Japan Attacked American in 1941” (2011) I was struck that the enduring historical lessons he draws in examining this case also underscore the relative ease
with which the US and Iran could now easily drift toward war with dire consequences
for both sides. For those interested,
a shorter version of Record’s book was published in 2009 as a U.S. Army War College
publication available here.
Allow me to briefly extend the ‘Top Five’ of Record’s historical
lessons (within quotation marks below) to the situation with Iran today:
1. “Fear and honor, ‘rational’
or not, can motivate as much as interest”: A war between the US and Iran is almost
certainly not in the objective rational interest of either party. Iran’s relatively anemic military forces
could not hope to stop the inevitable onslaught from a massive, sustained, and
technologically superior US air and naval campaign. Iranian nuclear, military, and any associated
facilities (both economic and political) would lay in absolute ruins.
Strange things took place at the end of the Cold War. It was all the war many of us had ever known. This is a fiction story, but the millieu is real enough.
Some of our leaders were the "rough men" from previous conflicts and they often questioned, just as we did, whether the incessant meetings with former foes were real or fantasy. This is an extract from a novel called "The Goodbye Kiss." Some here have read parts of it before. Perhaps someday you may read it all.
My thanks to our host for sharing many memories of the time and for being a good writing partner.
A Meeting of Devils
For me, it was scutwork.
The end of the Cold War, at least my part of it, came with bewildering rapidity. It shouldn’t have been that way, I admit. Our jobs in West Berlin clearly involved understanding what was going on “Drüben.” It was German for “over there,” and that’s we called the East. Of course in Berlin it wasn’t just east in direction it was all around us.
Since the occupation zones were set up at the end of the war we had been smack in the middle of five Soviet armies. It was the new kind of normal. Politicians on the Potomac wailed and gnashed teeth about the dreaded “Fulda Gap,” and the threat of marauding Soviet Armor, but sitting literally inside the Group Soviet Forces, Germany we didn’t think about it all that much. We carried on spying as normal.
When Gorbachev came we began to hear unthinkable things. “Common European Home,” “Perestroiks,” even Maggie Thatcher opined that Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev was one with whom we could do business. When Ronald Reagan said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” he ruined our business.
Today I was at the annual flower and garden festival in Leesburg, Virginia. We try to go every year. It is a wonderful occasion with the Old Town streets closed to vehicles and hundreds of vendors of garden goods and plants. This gentlemen sells splendid birdhouses and garden tables of his own creation. He had a copy of the great American novel, "The Butcher's Cleaver" with him which he asked me to sign. I was pleased to do so. pl
Someone sent me this link to a piece of Stephen Vincent Benet's book length poem, "John Brown's Body" that won a Pulitzer in 1928 if I remember correctly. It is uneven. The best parts IMO are the descriptions of the two peoples, the armies and the leaders. The narrative that runs through it of some mythical mountaineer has always escaped me. That is probably my fault.
This description of the "marble man" is exquisite. pl
I was busy doing something in the wargame business for the government the last couple of days. It was depressing as usual and unmentionable.
A Catholic prelate friend who once taught "The Novel" has been reading my books. His point of view is of necessity different from that of the rest of us...
He says that one of my "unforgivable" sins in these books is that I have detached "faith and flag" from each other in a way that has become incomprehensible for many since the second world war.
In other words, my books are predicated on the idea that people on both sides of that war were good or bad depending on their actions rather than their adherence to one side or the other.
As soon as he said that to me I recognized the truth of his statement. I often meet people who when exposed to my books say to me, "but, Lee was a traitor." My usual response is, "a traitor to what?" They look baffled, but mny question is intended to elicit an answer as to what Lee's position should have been. pl
Jeff Shields, Stonewall Jackson's 2nd Corps headquarters officers mess steward. He is wearing his UCV convention uniform in this picture. He was a slave during the war. His colleague, Jim Lewis, (mentioned in "The Butcher's Cleaver") was not. I have a large collection of photographs of African-American Confederate veterans. pl
I will be at Preston Library at VMI in Lexington, Virginia on Friday the 11th. I am going to talk about my two novels, the process of writing them, levels of focus within the books, etc. If you are in the area I am sure that the library would be glad to have you attend. 6:30 PM. I'll bring a few books with me.
I guess the picture is from the '30s, the "Brother Rat" era. The statue is one of the several extant copies of the Houdon "Washington." pl
I think there is a reading revolution starting up and devices that enable portable reading of e-books are what the revolution is made of.
Statistics may prove me wrong when wielded by one of our readers, but my impression is that reading of actual physical books has been on the decline for a long time now. The "tactile pleasure" of holding a book is great but it does not seem to have been enough to hold the formerly reading public. On the other hand I have noticed that people are much more willing to read a finished book with covers, etc., than they are to read a manuscript that contains exactly the same words. Go figure!
In any event, I have ensured that my two novels, "The Butcher's Cleaver," and "Death Piled Hard," (available next month) will be "kindlized" (Sony as well) from the start. The intelligence book "Intelligence: The Human Factor" is not my property andI can't fix that.
"A new book by the author Ron Suskind claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a back-dated, handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein.
Suskind writes in “The Way of the World,” to be published Tuesday, that the alleged forgery – adamantly denied by the White House – was designed to portray a false link between Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda as a justification for the Iraq war.
The author also claims that the Bush administration had information from a top Iraqi intelligence official “that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion.”
The letter’s existence has been reported before, and it had been written about as if it were genuine. It was passed in Baghdad to a reporter for The (London) Sunday Telegraph who wrote about it on the front page of Dec. 14, 2003, under the headline, “Terrorist behind September 11 strike ‘was trained by Saddam.’” Politico
Suskind argues that this charge, if proven, would constitute a "High Crime." I agree. "Reasons of State" may be an excuse for such behavior in some polities, but, it is clear that it is not in the United States.
President Bush is called a liar and a law-breaker in this book. The charge is that he, personally, ordered some documents forged and others ignored in order to lure the American people into support of a foreign war. These are charges that make Bll Clinton's difficulties with his libido look rather trivial.
The charge is so serious that Bush deserves an opportunity to clear his name of the accusation. Therefore, the House Judiciary Committee should meet to consider a bill of impeachment. Anything less will leave a stain on Bush that will follow his family name down through the ages. pl
Note: I know Ron Suskind fairly well and respect both him and what I have read of his work in the past. I have not discussed this book with him although we have talked about the general direction of his work.
"Some at Sic Semper Tyrannis have asked about the successful rise of David Addington -- Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff and the leading apostle of the unitary executive theory. I’ll leave it to others to offer high octane legal insights, but Jane Mayer, in her excellent article “The Hidden Power”, goes into great detail when describing Addington’s approach. And, after reading her article, if someone asked me to choose one sentence to write on a chalkboard to sum up Addington and his weltanschauung, then I would offer the following: Addington doesn’t believe in the US Constitution.
What else does anyone really need to know? If you want an academic description, I suppose one could say that Addington’s intent to destroy the US Constitution is the source of his praxeology and thus drives all of his actions. One therefore can analyze his work based upon the assumption that he wants to decimate the US Constitution so as to create an imperial presidency. But, in simpler terms, this description of Addington simply sums up his "m.o.", or for those who believe he should face prosecution, his “mens rea”, that is, his “guilty state of mind”.
Of course, if you want to take it a step further and construct an argument against the views of Addington, then you must first decide the venue and audience. And because the tempo and motif of Sic Semper Tyrannis is one of The Butcher’s Cleaver and the Confederate Secret Services, I suggest tailoring such an argument with the specific intent of triggering a particular “collective memory” of anti-imperialism -- a collective memory long forgotten. By relying in part on the insight of Dr. Christine Helms that the "collective memory is a toolshed" that may lead to social change, the hope is that the revival of this specific collective memory will help end the days of Addington and Cheney as a political power. .."
Over the last couple pf years, I have been spending a lot of time teaching, perhaps "trying to teach" might be more adequate an expression. I never liked teaching particularly. I was twice named best classroom teacher of the year at West Point. I never liked it particularly. A pose? You will make your own judgment. Nevertheless, circumstance has caused me to return to this activity. I need not explain the circumstance.
My recent exposure to adult American students associated with universities and the military makes me think that Susan Jacoby is largely correct in believing that we Americans are becoming more and more ignorant even as we become more and more proud of our ignorance.
What passes for education these days is largely devoid of the kind of cultural depth and richness of knowledge of the human experience that I associate with real education, as opposed to vocational training in; marketing, communications, journalism, business administration, etc., ad nauseam....
And then there are the social "sciences." These are ritualistic disciplines in which the devotees worship such gods as Weber, Durkheim and the like in pursuit of the ability to discern the esoteric meaning of data involving peoples the world across. For the political "scientists" the quest always seem to be to explain why the apparent data does not reflect "inner reality." Thus, for the social sciences trained geniuses of the Coalition Provisional Authority, it was perfectly clear that the Iraq visible to the naked eye was only masking the real Iraq that would emerge when the visible shell was smashed.
College students today do not read unless forced to do so. They do not watch old movies. They do not have intellectual bull sessions. They are too busy learning vocational skills to do that. In high school, the vast majority of them were too busy building their "resumes" to do any of those things. Ah yes, their parents encouraged that.
Senior military officers in this country have largely become anti-intellectual people who cringe from the idea of independent thought and who, in the main, seek to intimidate their subordinates into accepting politically driven depictions of reality even when the evidence of their eyes shows that reality sent down from above is nonsense. As an example of that, senior officers in Iraq continued through '05 to threaten the careers of subordinates who insisted that US forces faced a full blown insurgency. The seniors should not be blamed too much. They are too poorly informed to know better,
We have largely lost the ability in the US to see events in the context of human experience over the millennia. That experience is called "history" and since "history" is one of the humanities, its name is dirt in America. "Literature" for Americans is the trash on the best seller lists, Clancy, etc.
God help us.
You foreigners should not feel too good about this. Look around you. pl
"Draper emerges with a treasure trove of detail and anecdotes, but he often doesn't delve -- or isn't allowed to delve -- into the deeper questions. Early in his book Dead Certain, he tells the story of Bush's failed bid for Congress in 1978. Against all the best advice, Bush decided to run against a conservative West Texas Democrat, Kent Hance. He lost badly, but not embarrassingly. Explaining his decision to Draper, he said, "You can't learn lessons by reading. Or at least I couldn't. I learned by doing. I knew it was an uphill struggle. But see, I've never had a fear of losing. I didn't like to lose. But having parents who give you unconditional love, I think it means I had the peace of mind to know that even with failure, there was love." Wolffe reviewing "Dead Certain."
Wolffe is a very clever man. He and Olberman "play" well together. Wolffe remains essentially European in his manifested attitudes. His casual dismissal of the behaviour of Royal Navy and Royal Marine people in Iranian captivity as "meaningless" had much about it that most Americans would not approve. We would not tolerate that behavior in our forces.
Nevertheless, his review of this book points to a couple of interestin' thangs about Dubya.
Bush's insistence that he reads a lot and his statement that one can not learn from reading are mutually exclusive, I think. I am reliant on a few things the Army taught me. One of these was the Myers-Briggs personality indicator classification system. This system has been useful to me in understanding people I meet and work with. Dubya hates tests like that and also hates talk about it. That is a typical reaction of several of the grous classified under the test.
I don't think he is lying in the ridiculous statement about "learning." I think that he is (in MB terms) A "Sensory-Perceptive" (SP) type. This groups typically does not learn much by reading and is quite capable of holding two mutually exclusive views at the same time. About 50% of the American public belong to this broad group. Look it up.
Then there is the matter of "unconditional love." There is very little of that in the world. Rational beings may SAY that they love without condition, but it is not usually true. I suppose there are parents who will love a child who is a sadistic child molester and murderer, but they must be few. In fact, only dogs love unconditionally, at least until they meet Michael Vick.
That kind of statement from Bush reveals how much he needs to be loved. that probably points to something less than "unconditional love" in his past. Perhaps that is why he needs to surround himself with adoring women.
This "biography" of Bush reinforces my belief that he will never, never, never give up in Iraq. Never. pl
The two books reviewed here bring to mind the remark of Crown Prince Rupprecht (Wittelsbach) of Bavaria who said of the British Expeditionary Force of 1914-15 that they were "an army of lions led by asses."
This will be in the Autumn number of "Middle East Policy" in the book review section and can be seen there or on their site in the last week of September.
This little book has recently been published by the US Army.
This is a "pocket" guide for junior soldiers. It is intended that small groups of soldiers should use this as a reference and in conducting small unit (squad/platoon) training.
On the whole I think it is a useful primer on the Arabs and Muslims. It contains a few "typos" and minor errors, but this is to be expected. The guide is properly cautious about the generalizations that must be made to make a book like this useful.
Most importantly, it addresses these populations on the bases of their shared thought and traditions. This is a major step forward for an army that prefers to think of people, all people, as inter-changeable "parts."
Green Berets, some psychological operations and some intelligence people rise above that kind of de-humanizing thought, but they are an exception in an army that all too often would rather deal with machines.
I congratulate Training and Doctrine Command on this project.
People keep asking me how to "fix" the Iraq mess. Hey! I didn't make it a mess. Those that did should fix it.
Brings to mind the old saw about driving your car off a cliff. "Once you've done it you might as well enjoy the view on the way down."
I opted out of the policy business after Vietnam and refused to take jobs in that field from then on. Policy makers are in the business of trying to create some new reality that they fancy. Intelligence people are in the business of describing reality as it is or as they think it will come to be.
It is very important to keep these two functions separate because if you don't, then the policy guys start making decisions based on what it is they WANT TO SEE in support of their proposed new world.
Now, it is true that some intelligence people get "tapped" as individuals to do things for the government that are more in the nature of covert action, but that is not intelligence. Intelligence is about information.
Since I am interested in information and teaching the teachable. I offer the following two short pieces written by T.E. Lawrence, one on British occupied Mesopotamia and the other on the Revolt in the Desert. There is also a picture of an art deco bronze plaque of him which my wife bought me in Buenos Aires of all places.