on March 3, 2015
One of the strong pillars of the American constitution is freedom of belief, which has lead to a flourishing of new ways to look at anything from religion to politics. Because of this vast spectrum, many sociologists and political analysts have developed theories on how our modern globalized society functions domestically and in foreign affairs. One such theory is elite theory, where by a select few have power over huge segments of the human populace, and ostensibly that would put each elite in charge of one hundred million people which to try and illustrate this point further, If every human is allotted a square yard on a football field, 6480 people would fit on a field, which means each elite is in control of a little over 15,432 football fields of people. This theory as crazy as it looks, after reading fourth star no longer seems out of proportion; two thirds of the way through the novel general Casey takes over daily operations in Iraq, putting him in the position of over seeing 160,000 soldiers.
The novel Forth Star follows the intertwining life paths of the four generals, John Abizaid, George Casey Jr., David Petraeus, and Peter Chiarelli. Much has happened for these men in the last decade, and some would say there lives in the military have grown exponentially as there individual character, charisma and determination gave each of them the strength to lead when others could not and to fight when others saw no chance. This ambition goes a long way as was evident in Petraeus’s storyline, however there are many contributing factors to becoming a full general. Becoming a full general requires dubious amounts of studies, strong planning skills, arguably one thing mentioned time and time again across all the generals lives is networking, although the author was good about making each man seem humble, honest, and honorable, it was evident that there is a strong camaraderie within the military and if you have the necessary qualifications for a position, all that is needed is endorsement from another well respected member of the military. The author showed the reader that endorsements within the military come without provocation, which although admirable seems unlikely. Critical of both the author’s words and his lack of words it is hard not to wonder if things happened as smoothly as they appeared. The hiccups mentioned only materialized in the book to humanize calculative warlords. Warlord is a title many have deemed negative but used, as it should “a military leader, especially of a warlike nation.” Accurately describes the generals and our nation, The United States of America.
Two generals whom stood out to me as I read the novel were John Abizaid and George Casey JR. these two men appeared to be less opportunistic and more calculative and steady in there values. These characteristics are evident and show promise throughout the book of how each man comprehended the situation and which road was necessary to be walked, then planning how they were going to walk it. However steadiness does not mean putting your head in the sand and holding fast. No, Casey proves this when after a string of kidnappings, homicides, and destructive bombs he writes an email to central command and the secretary of the department of defense asking for the return of a battalion he had only four months earlier sent home, he knew the sorrows of the soldier’s families, yet he sent the email anyway, because he could admit that yes Iraq does need to rebuild itself from the inside out, politically, economically and physical reconstruction. He was also aware that more security and stability was necessary for this vision to become a reality. “Casey received nightly e-mails from wives chastising him for keeping their husbands in the warzone for another four months.” Chiarelli, who served under Casey for a time, saw some of the horrors rogue American soldiers were performing, “Time magazine had shown Chiarelli a disturbing video from Haditha, west of Baghdad. Twenty-four Iraqis, including some women and children, had been killed after a bomb attack on a marine convoy…the investigation concluded that senior officers in the 2nd Marine division had been negligent in failing to investigate the killings—a conclusion that Chiarelli endorsed after plowing through the voluminous report.” Which shows similarity to previous US mistreating Iraqis, such as Abu Ghraib prison scandal, which was investigated at the order of John Abizaid. The book does an excellent job how highlighting the heroism and the hardships each general had to endure during there time in the military.
In Yoda -esc ideals, the military’s competitive nature leads the over ambitious to achieve, then to gloat, and gloating leads to overconfidence, and when you over confident you miss things you might have otherwise been cautious about. Just today Petraeus has plead guilty to leaking confidential information to his mistress. Not to say he was not a good general, as he did have great success and generated lots of progressive change not only in military doctrine but also in how to handle collapsed government when there is an unfriendly insurgent force. However he came off in the book as brash, which in turn refracted light on to the more calculative and stable Abizaid and Casey. Petraeus does well to illustrate with his own life how power elites begin and become a cog in the four components of the military industrial complex. Four components of power, military, corporations, executive/ congressional, and the newest gear, think tanks; so Petraeus has shown how the systems intertwine not only through unwritten suggestions in the Fourth Star but also in the positions of power he has held and how he attained them. This digression is necessary to further the contrast-ation of Petraeus from the two generals of focus. Although the author is not any of the described generals his portrayal of each, using viewpoints of narrative remembrance to individuals future aspirations, allows the reader to visualize each general to the fullest extent possible in exception to actually knowing them.
In my informed opinion, although each man was different, the generals were the same. To extrapolate my point it must be understood that there is a degree of meritocracy in not only the military but in most places across the world. However, endorsement is the true push, which is usually denied or kept to whispers, which is somewhat ridiculous, the reason networking, works, is because if you have two applicants who are equal in all respects you go with the one you know, because that requires less risk calculation and causes less dissonance with the employer. Although we each are an individual, the office does not change. The ideology, the responsibilities and the accountability are adopted by the office occupant in order to maintain system wide equanimity, stability, and progression. The tremendous amounts of pressure to conform to ideals makes progress in any direction an uphill battle. This battle is well summarized in The Fourth Star by showing the struggles each man had to face in their individual ascents’ to the generals office. Thus, Abizaid and Casey accomplished the most change in their respective roles, by instead of pushing against the system, redirecting, so that funds are better allocated and soldiers are less required. Causing a slow, but strong reconstruction of a decimated nation whose chaotic turbulence within causes strife between the two major religious sects of Iraq. Casey’s plan for peacekeeping and rebuilding flowed with Abizaid knowledge and understanding of the Iraq culture to allow for successes, even amongst other failures like the Abu Gharib prison scandal. I repeat, one of the strong pillars of the American constitution is freedom of belief, which has lead to a flourishing of new ways to look at anything from religion to politics. Because of our abilities to be so different, yet maintain the same goals and objectives, America and the military together have been a strong force around the globe, and has evolved into a powerful system.
on March 26, 2011
I just finished an excellent book called The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army. I believe that the experience of the generals profiled in this book can teach us in academia a great deal about how the culture of large and tradition bound institutions can be transformed.
In order to effectively fight in Iraq these generals, particularly David Patraeus, needed to reverse the deeply held traditional Army doctrine of force protection and overwhelming kinetic warfare. In its place, Petraeus was able to instill counter-insurgency tactics that emphasized protecting the population and co-opting former insurgents to create the security necessary to build institutions.
As a learning technologist working for a private college I have very little contact with military people and institutions. I know little about the armed forces academies and colleges, beyond that they have a reputation for extreme academic rigor and are known for producing some of our highest quality postsecondary graduates.
I have no idea how the armed forces utilize learning technology in their institutions of higher learning. I have an inkling that a great number of active duty personnel and veterans utilize online learning, but I have never worked directly with this population.
I've come to believe that my ignorance about our military is a problem. Beyond the embarrassing fact that I don't personally know anybody who has served and sacrificed in our nation's wars over the past 6 years, and have a poor understanding of military educational institutions, I think that I am missing an opportunity to learn about cultures and how they transform themselves.
In higher education we are engaged in a cultural shift. One that puts the learner at the center of the construction and delivery of education, a process that is catalyzed by technology. We are living through a transition from a scarcity of educational materials and knowledge to an abundance. We are working to redesign our institutions, programs and courses to meet the needs of a new set learners, as well as to open up higher education to groups that have traditionally been closed out.
How can we make connections and build relationships with members of our military who also work in education? At EDUCAUSE I did not see any presentations by people from armed forces academies or institutions (did I miss them?). I'm not sure how to make these connections. How can we learn from the larger experience of transformation in the military to help us manage our own transformations?
Below are 4 books that I read in the past couple years on the U.S. military. Any recommendations for other books would be appreciated.
The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground
Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond
on March 16, 2014
The author has chosen the careers of 4, four star generals to illustrate the transformation in the post-Vietnam War military. Although he focuses on the early lives of these 4 generals, the latter part of the book gives credit to a number of supporting officers who contributed to their successes. Inevitably, the book focuses on the decade long war in Iraq (and to a lesser extent the one in Afghanistan), and its ups and downs. That does not detract from the central goal of illustrating the struggles within the modern military organization. The book has an easy flow, and a pleasure to read.
I found a number of interesting things in the book. Commanders in the modern military fought wars with PowerPoint sides (like the rest of us on the main street do, much to the detriment of good communication). You need a good "PR strategy" to remain visible, and move up the ranks in the military. For 2 of the 4 generals in the book, Iraq was their first time in the front lines. Going into Iraq, US military did not understand counter-insurgency even after all the debacles of Vietnam.
There is a quote in the book from "Bureaucracy Does Its Thing", by Robert Komer which best describes both Iraq and Vietnam ... "The sheer incapacity of the regimes we backed, which largely frittered away the enormous resources we gave them, may well have been the single greatest constraint on our ability to achieve the aims we set ourselves at acceptable cost". The army was caught in the middle ... between the goals to fight a war and build a nation.
on August 23, 2010
This book is a biography of the Iraq war's leading Generals. But more than that, in following these men's careers the book gives a very readable overview of the modern U.S. Army from the post Vietnam "hollow" Army, through the Cold War build up and the following force cuts and the Gulf War through the 90s and finally the war in Iraq. This overview gives a good perspective and background to the constraints and strengths of the Army as it faced the crucible of Iraq, and raises important questions about the future of the force. The men and women of the U.S. Army have proven that they can learn on the fly and change, that they can be a nimble, quick-thinking, situationally aware force.
It remains to be seen if the senior most Generals and policy-makers will ensure that the lessons learned stick with the force as an institution by guaranteeing real and permanent structural changes to reflect the cultural changes that have already happened, or if the hard-won wisdom of today's junior and mid-level officers and NCOs is forgotten in favor of political considerations. It is also not yet clear what the impact of nearly a decade of hard combat will be. Some have warned of the Army reaching a "breaking point" after two many individuals doing repeated combat tours.
I served two tours in Iraq, but as an enlisted soldier, my view of the war was necessarily very narrow. I enjoyed the book, as it gave me an idea of the wider picture of what was going on in Iraq.