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One Million Steps: A Marine Platoon at War Hardcover – September 9, 2014
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“A compelling account of what these men endured . . . [Bing] West is at his best describing the tactical decisions of small-unit leaders. The opening chapters give a heart-pounding portrayal of the battalion’s brutal first month. . . . What makes these Marines so impressive is not that they are superhumans for whom danger and exhaustion are their natural habitat and killing a joy, but very young men for whom the prospect of walking 2.6 miles a day for six months over IED-riddled ground is no more appealing than it would be for anyone else. . . . Only two years after 3rd Platoon’s final patrol there, the district’s governor was proclaiming, ‘Sangin is like an open space for the Taliban.’ If we’re going to do better in the future, stories like this need to be told.”—Phil Klay, The Washington Post
“A gripping, boot-level account of Marines in Afghanistan during the bloody struggle with Taliban fighters . . . [West’s] style is narrative, almost novelistic, capturing the personalities of individual Marines and their roles in the platoon. . . . His approach here is pointillist, sharp colors that blend into a cohesive picture.”—Los Angeles Times
“A blistering assault on America’s senior military leadership.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Bing West has reconfirmed his standing as one of the most intrepid and insightful observers of America’s wars. . . . One Million Steps reveals the essence of small-unit combat, the very soul of war.”—The Weekly Standard
“This book is a searing read, but it is one that all Americans should undertake. We send our sons into battle, and few know what our warriors experience.”—Gary Anderson, The Washington Times
“A moving account of bravery . . . Marine veteran [Bing] West offers a suspenseful account of the perilous mission, during which the platoon suffered a greater than 50 percent casualty rate. . . . West demonstrates the tenacity and cohesion that kept this fighting force together and driven despite the horrendous conditions. The author gives a terrific overview of the Western attempt after 9/11 to expunge Al-Qaida, while the U.S. remained ostensibly to build a democratic nation.”—Kirkus Reviews
“This new book, I believe, will go down in American military history as one of the most important books written about the ‘long wars’ of the twenty-first century in the Middle East.”—Nicholas Warr, author of Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968
“One Million Steps should be mandatory reading for every citizen who wants to understand the reality of the war we are in with those who would destroy our civilization and kill us. It is a stunning, sobering, and brilliantly written book. Every presidential candidate should read it and then meet with Bing West. It is a first step to rethinking the thirteen years of strategic failure we have been engaged in.”—Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and author of A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters
“One Million Steps transcends combat narrative: It is an epic of contemporary small-unit combat that in austere prose depicts the old fighting virtues of selflessness, skill, and perseverance. It is, at the same time, a stinging indictment of our strategy in Afghanistan that inspires reflection on wars upon which we have closed one chapter, but not, in all probability, the book.”—Eliot A. Cohen, author of Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime
“Bing West has created another masterpiece of war reporting. His first, The Village, was his personal account of leading a Marine rifle platoon in Vietnam. Now he has done it again. If you want a firsthand account of small-unit infantry combat, this book is it, and few others will ever top it.”—Colonel Gian Gentile, U.S. Army (retired), author of Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency
“Bing West has spent a decade chronicling the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the Marine grunt’s viewpoint. West has seen more war than most professional soldiers or Marines, and he has never flinched at going where the fighting is heaviest. One Million Steps is the latest (and he says final) product of his courageous ground-level reporting. Like his other books, it displays remarkable empathy for the warriors on the front lines. West shows the reality of modern warfare in a way that is utterly gripping—and utterly different from the sanitized picture presented in the news.”—Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present
“One of the most intrepid military journalists of our time, Bing West, delivers a heart-wrenching account of one platoon’s fight for victory and survival on the front lines of Afghanistan. West reveals what inspired these fearless warriors, and what each of us can learn from them.”—William J. Bennett, host of Morning in America and author of America: The Last Best Hope
“These are Marines at the Marine Corps’s best—worthy successors to all who wore the cloth before them. Bing West uses his Marine infantry experience in Vietnam to great advantage, comparing and contrasting strategy, tactics, technology, and daily life. He ends by expressing frustration because such great sacrifices are being made willingly and eagerly by admirable Marines—but to what end? This book will indeed make you think and ask why.”—Brigadier General Thomas V. Draude, USMC (Ret.), president of the Marine Corps University Foundation
“Once again, Bing West has absolutely nailed it! This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know how much we ask of the young men and women who fight on our behalf. And it’s a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the human element—and the human toll—of war in the modern era.”—Donovan Campbell, New York Times bestselling author of Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood
About the Author
Bing West, a Marine combat veteran, served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He has been on hundreds of patrols in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. A nationally acclaimed war correspondent, he is the author of The Village; No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah; The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq; and The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan. Most recently, he was the co-author of Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer’s memoir, Into the Fire. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Infantry Order of St. Crispin, West is the recipient of the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Colby Award for Military Writers, the Andrew J. Goodpaster Prize for military scholarship, the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation award (twice), Tunisia’s Médaille de la Liberté, the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association Award, the Father Clyde Leonard Award, the Free Press Award, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars News Media Award. He lives with his wife, Betsy, in Newport, Rhode Island.
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Top Customer Reviews
One million steps is about how many steps a Marine rifleman will take patrolling the fields, paths and ditches in the Sangin district of Helmand province in Afghanistan during a tour of duty. West is embedded with 3/5 (3rd Battalion, 5th Marine regiment) and sees the same war the young men of 3/5 do. More, he is a Marine Vietnam combat vet who can not only describe what's happening, but occasionally give the reader insight into not only this war, but also how it compares to America's other long, losing war.
This book opens up the lives of young men in combat. There is magnificent courage, utter professionalism and gritty toughness of young Marines. There is even grudging respect for a hated, but adaptable enemy. But, mostly, there is sorrow. The author never shrinks from telling the reader of the IED blasts that tear limbs off young men or the bullet that ends the life of a man who's child is born the same week - a child he didn't live to see.
From a strictly military point of view, there is some discussion of the strategic confusion caused by having generals, secretary of defense and President who do not share a common strategy (Obama is simply trying to find an exit). But, this is limited and for the most part, it's a squad and platoon war with small units of Marines versus small gangs of Taliban fighters. Each day, the Marines patrol around the district hoping to draw fire so the may use their advantage in supporting fires (artillery, air strikes) to kill the enemy in ever-increasing numbers to win a war of attrition. I am struck by the strange fact that these men used the same strategy (or, lack thereof as even the author admits) used in Vietnam that failed! Reading of these patrols in which these young men put themselves forward as bait, the reader is left wondering: "Is this the best our military can think of?"
This is an important book on several levels. Although its main attraction is to the military history reader, others will gain an understanding of the young men that go to war for our country and what they face in combat. The author writes with insight and conveys the courageous spirit of our fighting men for all to see. Five stars.
Like his previous books, West offers an up-close look, this time at Marines in the Sangin region of Afghanistan. A reader will appreciate the grinding, repetitive and brutal nature of the combat, which costs this battalion many dead and wounded servicemembers. There is little/no counter-insurgency here - the Marines are sent to fight, one general says, so they fight.
West is harshly critical of higher-ups, from Presidents to generals, and offers nothing but high praise for the Marines who have to suffer from the mistakes and bad planning of those above them. However, at times I wanted to see more depth from the individuals; West offers brief biographical information, but most of the dialogue involves combat planning or motivational remarks. It's certainly "in the moment," but the Marines seem larger-than-life most of the time, and lose some of their essential humanity. I reported from Iraq a few times in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne - and soldiers are profane, cynical, very funny and not quite as perfect and hyper-motivated as they seem here (but Marine culture is different than the Army).
Mostly, though, West captures the violence and brutality of this kind of war. Whether it's an IED on the right, and a sniper on the left, there were dozens of ways for Marines to die. It happened quickly, without warning and without time to dwell on it. The Marines gave back in equal measure - and it's unnerving how the rules of engagement stretched from the obvious of shooting at those Afghans carrying weapons to those talking on radios. It was a fight with nobody asking for any quarter - each side was trying to kill the other side, period.
I think the most depressing thing about this book (and I've read dozens of books about Iraq/Afghanistan) is how little we've moved on in 13 years. The accounts of small-unit fighting described here could have been written in 2002 or 2003 or...That's not the Marine's fault, but is bitter testimony to how badly the war was planned and executed. The Marines in the Sangin fight the Taliban who were there when they got there, and who are still there when they left. One of the Marine captain's commandments is "end every fight standing on the ground where the enemy fired at you," and while in small battles the Marines do just that, the strategy obviously failed in the larger war.
West has provided several of the essential books about our decade-plus at war, and to those readers looking for a look at the endless frustration that Marines had to deal with, "One Million Steps" provides it. If this is his 'retirement' from this part of the conflict, he ends on a fitting note.
West takes declassified logbooks the platoon kept while in Afghanistan. The stories he creates are often sad, as some very talented young men died, and at times the entries read like casuality reports, one after the other. It can get graphic at times, The Taliban are ferocious fighters who find nothing wrong with sacrificing village children for their cause, but get revved up when Americans attack them in villages.
This is at times a graphic read, and I had to stop a few times because I got to read detailed casualty reports in Iraq and old memories came back to me. Veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan may also find this book graphic, so be warned. But this is war at its most honest, when the most likable, most talented, best-trained sharpshooters lose their lives in violent ways.
There are appendici at the end of the book listing the Marine companies by members' names. Common abbreviations to tactics and weaponry or Marine lingo are also listed, so that even a civilian can follow along.
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