Sunday, October 04, 2009

Book Review: The Unforgiving Minute by Craig Mullaney

The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education by Craig M. Mullaney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Unforgiving Minute is about the training of Captain Craig Mullaney, U.S. Army. Craig starts out at West Point as part of training to be an infantry officer. He does the usual path of West Point and Ranger school, but also takes a detour, to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. And then to find out if the training was right, be leads men in battle in Afghanistan as part of the American effort in Operations Enduring Freedom.

Two underlying questions: First, was the best leadership education that the United States Army could devise sufficient for bringing us into a different kind of war then we had prepared for. Second, does the finest liberal arts education in the world make a difference in what is sometimes called the graduate school of war.

The first part of the book looks at his training. Military training at West Point, Airborne School, Ranger school, Infantry Officers Basic Course. And it contrasts with his time in Oxford. Each type of education brings its merits. The stress put into military training was attributed to instill attention to detail and precision in action, even when under stress. Such discipline would be needed in a battle, when your duty must be done perfectly even under the worse conditions, or it would mean someone's death. The education and habits of thought at Oxford provide the ability to think critically, and to grasp the overall picture and understanding where details fit in the overall scheme of things. And it comes together at the end, where Craig is now teaching the next group of young officers-to-be, and he has the opportunity to put everything together as best he knows how.

Another aspect that made this book unique was how it was in the context of something else. All of us have lives, even soldiers. And much of the book had as background his family life, his relations with his father, mother and siblings, and his courtship and marriage of his wife. All in a context of an Army whose members believe that it is only one part of a full life. And the parts intrude on each other. Not just the interference in time due to duties, but all the ways that it affects the plans of life into the future.

One scene near the end was poignant. Before his wedding, he went to Arlington Cemetery with his fiance. I remember doing the same, walking through the area with the newest graves from the time I was in Afghanistan with my fiance.

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