Saturday, July 25, 2009

Book Reports:

Some stuff I've just finished reading...

Mark Antony's Heroes, by Stephen Dando-Collins. This is the fourth in his series of unit histories of famous Roman legions. They're written in a style more familiar to readers of Stephen Ambrose than of Thucydides, and provide an engaging and accessible grasp of how the Roman army worked and how it fought.

One Soldier's War, by Arkady Babchenko. This book makes All Quiet On The Western Front look like the feel-good family hit of the summer. Sent to Chechnya as a conscript, barely taught how to fire a rifle, subject to the brutal hazing of Russian military life, and left squatting in frozen rubble for weeks with an empty tummy and the bloody runs, the book Arkady wrote about his experiences is hardly a good recruiting aid for the Russian army. It's beautifully written; poetry, even. But it's the kind of poetry that makes you wonder if the book shouldn't have come with a length of garden hose to run from your tailpipe to the driver's window when you were done reading it.

Down Range: Navy SEALs in the War on Terrorism, by Dick Couch. Taking place on the same planet, and yet somehow light-years away from Babchenko's book, unofficial NAVSPECWAR PR man and ex-SEAL Dick Couch has already written two books on the training of Navy SEALs. Now that we know how they get their bachelor's degrees in mayhem (srsly. The average SEAL is in training for three years before their first deployment), he takes us to see them doing their post-grad work in killing people and breaking their stuff. As a Vietnam-era SEAL vet and an Annapolis grad, Couch has plenty of access in this world and has intimate personal knowledge of the topic. Of course, for the same reason, don't expect a hard-hitting exposé, either. Unit commanders speaking to journalists, even combat vet journalists, give glowing reviews that sound like NASCAR drivers after a race: "Well, I'd just like to thank all the guys in Alpha Platoon and the fabulous support crew on the boats and back in the intel shop that made this all possible, everybody was just great!" They're not going to add "Except for that one egotistical turkey who didn't have his head in the game and dropped a lug nut on the last pit stop that nearly cost us the race." Still and all, a worthwhile read.


Anonymous said...

"srsly. The average SEAL is in training for three years before their first deployment"

The Sunglasses Selection Phase is what, two semesters now (you have to match the shades to the bike, very demanding course)?

The Beach Volleyball School goes on forever as well.

Shootin' Buddy

Dave said...

Just got "My War Gone By, I Miss it So" in the mail today (on your say-so).
Also got "The Reaper's Line" about the US/Mexico border.

Steve Skubinna said...

I have enjoyed all of Dando-Collins' books to date. His latest, Blood of the Caears, is a departure from the regimental histories and attempts to solve the mystery of who murdered Germanicus. While not as sensational as Robert Graves' version, it is interesting.

Most interesting of all is his contention that Germanicus' death threw the succession to the Principate into chaos (okay, no astounding revelation there) and that it planted the seeds for the Empire's eventual dissolution. Not sure about that - a five century slide is hard to pin on one guy's death, but Germanicus does provide some interesting what-if's.

the pawnbroker said...

speaking of which, one might make the same assessment of the little synopses here...

from a few paragraphs i feel as if i have a feel for not just the gist but the tone of the books, with contemporary popular reference and a bit of dark humor on the side. thank you.


the pawnbroker said...

huh, that comment should have led with:

"It's beautifully written; poetry, even."

gremlins got it, i guess.

the pawnbroker said...

"i feel as if i have a feel"?

shit, no typing after margaritaville...

Old NFO said...

Couch and Marcinko famously had a falling out that ended up with Couch getting Marcinko booted and couple of his people court maritaled.

Chas S. Clifton said...

One Soldier's War is amazingly brutal, all right -- not just the hazing of the new soldiers but the fact that logistics seems to be an afterthought.

And the most amazing thing is that he went back as a volunteer for a second tour in Chechnya.

Tam said...

"not just the hazing of the new soldiers but the fact that logistics seems to be an afterthought."

Yup. Czars, Commies, post-Soviet thugocracy... the offhand way which Russia treats her soldiers is just shocking to westerners.

Hunsdon said...

From the Guardian link:

Erich Paul Remark's All Quiet on the Western Front.


We iz teh doomed.

Boat Guy said...

"Couch and Marcinko famously had a falling out that ended up with Couch getting Marcinko booted and couple of his people court maritaled"
Um ... not exactly what I remember. Pretty sure Marcinko hinslef was convicted of travel-claim fraud, which was somewhat common in the last unit he "led". The travel claim fiasco was merely the last in a series of abuses. LOTS of senior Frogs have taken Marcinko to the woodshed - and rightfully so - among them Larry Bailey.
Marcinko isn't even on the same planet as Dick Crouch much less even approaching the same league.
Dick Crouch's books are an excellent intro, a "SpecWar 101" for the layman and an update for old guys. Also highly recommended for "SOF 101" is Bill McRaven's Spec Ops; a very good explanation (if a bit "scholastic") of what really distinguishes SpecOps from conventional.

Hunter said...

I recommended Couch's series on the training of Naval SF to the mom of a BUD/S hopeful. He made it and evidently was pretty happy that Mom had a good idea of what he went through. He didn't have to explain much and she had some good questions to ask of him.

markm said...

"logistics seems to be an afterthought."

There is a sort of brutal sense to the Russian way of handling infantry - as long as a pitched battle is what they're in for. Send them in with what they can carry on their backs. When half of them are dead, they can scrounge ammo from their comrades' bodies. (Food? They should be too busy fighting to have time to eat.) When that ammo runs out, send in the second wave, because the first one's done for. No need for re-supply.

Some survivors still make it back. Make them the NCO cadre of new units. Unless you're a paranoid bastard like Stalin, in which case surviving against too heavy of odds is suspicious, so you chain them up and send them to Siberia.

Aside from the least shred of respect for human life, there's only one thing missing here. That's a plan for an extended deployment with only light fighting, so most of the troops are still alive - and often with plenty of ammo - after they've eaten the food they brought with them and everything else in the area. And that's just the situation they've got in the Chechnya occupation force.