Monday, December 29, 2008

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy by Rick Atkinson.

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 by Rick Atkinson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Atkinson follows his previous work "Army at Dawn" (about the Allied invasion of North Africa in WWII) with the account of the Allied invasion of Italy that followed. The book focuses on the growth of the American Army in both number and experience. After North Africa there were 4 combat experienced American divisions. With green divisions arriving in Europe in preparation for the invasion of Western Europe that was sure to come, the Americans had the task of learning how to wage war. And that meant learning lessons in North Africa and Italy, then passing them on to the soldiers preparing in England.

Atkinson takes a series of campaigns, and looks at them from the point of view of the commanders and the soldiers. The decisions that were made out of caution or aggressiveness. Soldiers who had their first experiences of brutality, the mistakes that lead to either defeat, death or mutilation, And the plain hardness required to survive. You get the feel of desperation, from general to private, and sort of get what motivates them to do things that sometimes look outright stupid and self-destructive, because they had to act on what they knew, not what they did not.

Atkinson also goes beyond looking at the British and Americans, but also touches on the colonials, the Free French from North Africa and the British colonies (India, Gurkhas, etc.) the fact that he touches on them makes this seem that much more comprehensive.

I liked the fact that Atkinson does not present anyone as heroes or demons. Leaders were not presented as merely geniuses, idiots, or gloryseekers. Individual soldiers were not merely heroic or monsters, but everyone there had conflicting motivations, abilities and pressures. And all trying to function in the chaos of war.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

A Handpicked Team for a Sweeping Shift in Foreign Policy - New York Times

A Handpicked Team for a Sweeping Shift in Foreign Policy by David Sangler, New York Times

President-elect Obama today introduced a set of cabinet appointees for positions involved in national security. Among them are Sen. Hillary Clinton (a rival candidate for the Presidency), Mr. Gates (current Secretary of Defense under a Republican Presidency) and Gen. Jones (USMC, ret.) The range of reactions has reached a bit of predictability. Progressives/liberals complaining that these are people who have been working in this field and therefore do not represent change. The Republican National Committee talking about how these picks are taking their places alongside the Four Horsemen of the Apocylpse (I'm only slightly facetious here). And various greybeards observing that President-elect Obama has a pattern of picking pragmatists for all of his policy positions. And Obama supporters who have observed that the entire Obama campaign was based on pragmatism planks over ideology.

But looking at those senior picks of Jones and Gates, neither of whom is there any reason to believe are Obama loyalists, the question is how can they work together. All of the picks (to include Sen. Clinton, Dr. Rice and the others) have strong personalities and definitive beliefs. President-elect Obama has stated that he intends his senior leadership meetings to be one of vigorous debate, in stark contrast to the current policy of removing all cabinet members that showed dissent. But it is also observed that people who disagree all the time don't work together all that well.

It turns out there is a unifying theme among the top nominees. The theme are the elements of national power, described as DIME (diplomacy, information, military, economic). Gen. Jones and Secretary Gates have been heard on many occasions advocating the need to strengthen the non-military elements of national power. Sec. Gates going so far as to say he would willingly give up part of the budget of the Department of Defense to strengthen the Department of State. (and reminding JCS Chief Admiral Mullen he made similar statements when he was PACOM). This is also the driving factor of candidate Obama's national security platform when running. So, essentially, the top-level nominees and the President-elect (with the exception of Sen. Clinton, whom I do not know about) have each independently advocated the same change in the overall approach to the national security of the United States. For all their differences (and it is expected that intelligent, capable people have differences), the fact that they have subscribed to the same paradigm makes the rest details.