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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

One Million Steps by Bing West

In the tranquil atmosphere of Daydream Cottage, on the Nature Coast of Westcentral Florida, I got lots of reading done along with dog hiking and birding. The first book was a most interesting, inspiring and yet troubling book by Bing West on Americans longest war – Afghanistan……
Battalion 3/5 suffered the highest number of casualties in the war in Afghanistan. This is the story of one platoon in that distinguished battalion.
Every day brought a new skirmish. Each footfall might trigger an IED. Half the Marines in 3rd Platoon didn’t make it intact to the end of the tour. One Million Steps is the story of the fifty brave men who faced these grim odds and refused to back down. Based on Bing West’s embeds with 3rd Platoon, as well as on their handwritten log, this is a gripping grunt’s-eye view of life on the front lines of America’s longest war.   Each time a leader was struck down, another rose up to take his place. How does one man instill courage in another? What welded these men together as firmly as steel plates? 

West is at his best describing the tactical decisions of small-unit leaders. The opening chapters give a heart-pounding portrayal of the battalion’s brutal first month. . . . What makes these Marines so impressive is not that they are superhumans for whom danger and exhaustion are their natural habitat and killing a joy, but very young men for whom the prospect of walking 2.6 miles a day for six months over IED-riddled ground is no more appealing than it would be for anyone

Yet "One Million Steps," even as it focuses on the relentlessness of the Marines in Sangin, also offers a blistering assault on America's senior military leadership for purportedly adopting a new counterinsurgency approach that Mr. West depicts as a "quixotic strategy of a benevolent war," one that "replaced war with social evangelism" and is more "an exercise in civics" than a type of military strategy
Lambasting military leaders for turning American warriors into "community organizers" is attention-grabbing, but it isn't convincing. Neither the 2006 Counterinsurgency Field Manual, written by Gen. Petraeus and Gen. James Amos, nor an assessment of the COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan square with Mr. West's take. The two generals assert in the manual's preface that a "counterinsurgency campaign is . . . a mix of offensive, defensive, and stability operations," which hardly sounds like "an exercise in civics." Moreover, Gen. Petraeus's September 2007 report to Congress on the Iraq surge doesn't focus on schools but on "significant blows to Al Qaeda-Iraq.

In the end I’d rate the book A as a revelation of the what the war was like for our young Marines. And a D for strategy analysis.  Which seems about right considering how the Iraq conflict was botched from unnecessary beginning to end and The Afghan one wasn’t much better after it switched from rooting out the terrorists to “nation building.”  in tribal, ethnically and religiously divided place on the map.  What a disaster….



Far Side of Fifty said...

Seems we never give our soldiers the right equipment or leadership to win a war. Disheartening for me.
May as well line them up like in the Revolutionary War...March and shoot:(

Lin said...

How frustrating to witness. And how sad for all those lost soldiers.

Barrie said...

This book is very much outside what I normally read. But your review is making me re-think this! Which is a very good thing.

amanda said...

Good review on a book that is likely up my husband's alley. I'm making note of it for him.

I just yesterday finished Unbroken, the story of Louie Zamperini.. Brutally intense, but quite extraordinary.

Sharon Wilfong said...

I love reading these kinds of books. I'm not sure I agree with the author's premise. Yes, we need to incapacitate terrorists, but we also need to help the communities over there so they don't side with the terrorists.
My husband served there and he said the problem is that these countries are made up of individual tribes that don't feel a loyalty to each other so it's hard, if not impossible, for them to achieve any kind of unity in defending themselves against terrorist organizations. Thanks for the review.