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Robert D. Kaplan turns away from the more incendiary front line of the war on terror in this follow-up to Imperial Grunts. He spent over two years embedded with a diverse group of soldiers, and his admiration for their work comes through on every page. That same high esteem opens up the major vein of criticism, as some reviewers fault Kaplan for veering "dangerously close to cheerleading" (Washington Post). Well-researched and sympathetically drawn, these portraits of the modern military are essential reading for those interested in the day-to-day lives of our men and women overseas.
"Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts" is the second book in Robert Kaplan's series on the American military. Kaplan's purpose in writing these books is to inform the general reading public about the current state of the United States military. What distinguishes this book from "Imperial Grunts" is that Kaplan leaves his usual reporting beat with the Marines and Army Special Forces and spends time with Naval and Air Force units.
Robert Kaplan is a magazine writer who has spent many decades living and working in the Third World. Since September 11th, he has spent many months embedded with small, elite military units. His travels have sent him to such off the beaten track places as Colombia, Mali, Niger, Guam and the Phillipines. Kaplan genuinely likes and respects the service people he spends time with. In his affection for the common soldier, he reminds me a lot of the great journalist Ernie Pyle of the Second World War. This book is at its very best in describing training missions that Marines and Special Forces carry out in the far fringes of the devloping world. Kaplan goes places and reports things that ordinary journalists never experience.
As with "Imperial Grunts", Kaplan dances around with this idea that the United States is an Imperial power and that our military is an Imperial force. I am not sure that I agree with his thesis but I wish Kaplan would be more forthright in stating his argument and backing it up with hard evidence. It seems that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the perfect laboratory for analyzing his thesis. Did we invade these countries as acts of self defense as President Bush and most of the United States military would argue? Or are these "Imperial" wars as President Bush's most vocal critics would argue?Read more ›
As pointed out by several other reviewers, this book is a sequel to the earlier and better Imperial Grunts. Kaplan revisits some of the locales of the earlier book and reports tremendous progress in places like Columbia and the Philippines. He spends time on a nuclear carrier, a destroyer and a nuclear fast attack submarine. Those were the best parts of the book. He spends time with A 10 pilots on deployment to Thailand and provides well-deserved credit to these blue collar fighter pilots who fly the unloved but tremendously valuable attack aircraft. It was so unloved by the fighter mafia that runs the US Air Force that they were going to retire the plane. The Army, which depends on air support, and has no air wing of its own like the Marine Corp, offered to take over the plane and add it to its own air arm. The Air Force quickly restored the A 10 units to full flying status and no more was heard for a while about retiring them.
Kaplan does travel a lot and the depth of his interviews in the earlier book isn't here but it is still a good source of information about the far flung US military as it fights the savage wars of peace.
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This book is not as good as Imperial Grunts; however, few books are. In my opinion, Imperial Grunts was a masterpiece, a perfect book, so expecting Hog Pilots to be just as good, probably is a little unfair to Kaplan. There is a lot of valuable, interesting and fascinating information in this book, but it seems like it was written in a hurry. I've read numerous books by Kaplan and this one by far is the most choppy and disconnected of them all. That said, there is much to learn in this book and it's probably better than 90% of the books out there today that relate to current affairs/US military. Kaplan's books are consitently great, consistently at the top, this one unfortunately falls a little short.
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In this book, Atlantic nationalist correspondent Robert Kaplan argues that the American military's greatness does not lie in its strategy, leadership, or technology. Rather, it's in logistics, in co-ordination, and in its espirit de corps -- embodied in the noncoms, who are the heart of the American military establishment. Whereas in other militaries that are more hierarchal and insecure noncoms play a subservient and passive role, American noncoms are respected, understanding the nuts and bolts to complement the officers' strategic thinking. They are the middle managers who leverage their experience and technical know-how to serve the American military.
Noncoms can play such a crucial role in the American military because of the military's decentralization, which permits diversity and flexibility. Lieutenants, sergeants, and privates are expected to think on their feet, communicate with each other, and learn from each other. The American military's collaborative spirit means that it's constantly improving itself, and learning from its mistakes -- as we witnessed in Iraq, where the bumbling army eventually developed effective counter-insurgency tactics.
Robert Kaplan loves the men and women of the American military. He appreciates them as human beings with their own personal stories to tell, and he appreciates the depth and diversity of the different branches of the military: Those who work in nuclear submarines are "math geeks with tattoos" whereas Special Forces are "wine connoisseurs with tattoos.Read more ›
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