5 posts tagged Thomas Ricks
This week, we’re excited to share a Longreads Member Exclusive from Thomas E. Ricks, whose new book is The Generals, published by The Penguin Press. Chapter 21, ”The End of a War, the End of an Army,” details how the U.S. military and its leadership faltered in the final years of the Vietnam War. Ricks is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor of Foreign Policy magazine.
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Photo from United States Army Heritage and Education Center, via Wikimedia Commons
Our book The Generals is a Longreads Member Exclusive!
Wolf Blitzer and Thomas E. Ricks (author of New York Times bestseller The Generals) discuss the Petraeus affair on “The Situation Room.”
TIME’s Mark Thompson talks to Thomas E. Ricks about what’s changed in the military since 9/11.
TIME: Is it true that privates are punished more today for losing a rifle than generals are for losing a war? If so, why?
Thomas E. Ricks: Yes, it is true. I say that because privates are routinely punished for infractions. But as far as I can tell, no general has been fired for incompetence in combat since Maj. Gen. James Baldwin was fired as commander of the Americal Division in 1971.
Since then, others have been relieved for moral and ethical lapses that are embarrassing to the Army, but not, to my knowledge, for combat ineffectiveness. Indeed, one ineffective general, Lt. Gen. [Ricardo] Sanchez, was outraged that he was not promoted to 4 stars after failing in Iraq in 2003-04.
TIME: Why did you write The Generals? How much were you influenced by what you saw in Iraq and wrote about in Fiasco and The Gamble?
Ricks: This book comes directly out of those two earlier ones. In 2005, while I was writing Fiasco, I went on a Johns Hopkins University staff ride study of the allied campaign in Sicily in 1943.
While we were standing on a hilltop in central Sicily, one of Professor Eliot Cohen’s students related the tale of Omar Bradley firing Terry de la Mesa Allen, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, after Allen won one of the toughest battles of the campaign.
I was stunned. Here I was coming out of Iraq, where generals were failing yet not being removed, and I was being told about the firing of one of the most successful American generals during our first year of World War II.
How could that be? Why had the Army’s approach to leadership and accountability changed so much? That was the beginning of this book.
TIME: What is your favorite part of the book?
Ricks: I have several. I really liked doing researching about George Marshall, who should be better known. I enjoyed sitting in archives and reading his notes and letters, even going through the “desk litter” collected from the drawers of his Pentagon office. Some files I read had penciled letters home from generals during World War II.
But my favorite parts of the book were narratives. Dwight Eisenhower’s train journey from Texas to Washington, D.C., in December 1941, a week after Pearl Harbor, amazed me—not only did he meet the man who would help finance his presidential campaign 11 years later, he also got off the train and was asked the same day by Marshall how to win the war in the Pacific.
Another favorite section is the chapter on how Marine Maj. Gen. O.P. Smith waged the Chosin campaign in the Korean War. He’s another guy who should be better known.
His actions likely saved 15,000 or so Marines from being killed or captured—which would have been the greatest military disaster in American history, much more devastating than Custer’s Last Stand. And he had to do that while dealing with superiors—Gen. Ned Almond and Gen. Douglas MacArthur—who didn’t understand what he was doing or why.
(Photograph of Army General Tommy Franks, via.)
With respect to foreign policy and the military, what have the candidates not been talking about?
With tonight’s presidential debate in mind, Thomas E. Ricks (Fiasco, The Gamble, The Generals) talks to Steve Inskeep on “Morning Edition” about Obama and Romney’s defense plans, and the cognitive dissonance between what the candidates say the military wants and what the military itself has requested.
A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.
Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.
And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.
Critics will argue that this is a political non-starter. It may be now. But America has already witnessed far less benign forms of conscription. A new draft that maintains the size and the quality of the current all-volunteer force, saves the government money through civilian national service and frees professional soldiers from performing menial tasks would appeal to many constituencies.
Illustration by Ross MacDonald