View Full Version : What are you currently reading in 2017?

01-02-2017, 06:18 PM
A new thread for 2017.

The 2016 thread has a very low number of posts, 38 but had 48k views. See:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=23778

Backwards Observer
01-02-2017, 11:52 PM
Black Sun by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke

Chinese Negotiating Behaviour by Richard H. Solomon


01-03-2017, 05:05 PM
A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (New Cold War History)
by Vladislav M. Zubok


I am more than halfway through this book, and it is interesting, informative and frequently enlightening (as in shedding new light on old topics).
Well worth a read (but then again, I am just an amateur reader, what do the experts say?)

Bill Moore
01-09-2017, 03:47 AM
America's Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy, by Nicholas Kralev


I have been to Foggy Bottom (Dept of State Headquarters in Wash D.C.) several times, and worked with numerous U.S. Embassies in different parts of the world, but I still gained valuable insights from this book that I haven't picked up elsewhere.

While the Department of State (DOS) as an organization is more dysfunctional than the Department of Defense, the people who serve in the Foreign Service for the most part are true patriots and exceptionally talented.

The author's intent beyond explaining the role of diplomacy was to put a human face on it, by interviewing numerous foreign service officers and Secretaries of State. I had the good fortune of listening to the author speak once, and he provided additional insights that unfortunately were not in the book, but the bottom line is he is was well qualified to write this book.

Since the book was written in 2012 there is a lot of attention given to shock that our operations and Iraq and Afghanistan generated in the DOS, and how they adapted.

Throughout the book there were insightful views from these officers you don't hear during the spin sessions when the public affairs representative presents the DOS's official position. Such as our strategic communications is overly focused on manipulating and spinning, which makes us look like hypocrites. What people around the world really want is for us to trust them enough to be honest with them. They don't have to like our policies, but we should honestly explain them.

The unpopular war in Iraq was an immense challenge for the DOS, even if the individual officers didn't agree with it, they still had to defend the policy. The impact on the Counselor Service was significant, since their mission was to increase to U.S. visitors and student visas, but at the same time now had to go through a very thorough and deliberate process to approve visas, which resulted in a significant reduction of visitors and students. The reason for doing so was understood, but the goal of increasing visitors while increasing security checks was extremely challenging.

One of the more interesting aspects for me was the lack of guidance these officers get when they get an assignment. Iraq was a perfect example, where officers were sent out to the various parts of Iraq with the goal of stabilizing the country. It was beneficial in some regards, because it gave the diplomats with the wherewithal to do so great latitude to figure out the problems and come up with creative solutions. For others, they struggled. This issue is bigger than Iraq though, the author points out that very foreign service officers in 2003 could explain how their activities tied into national interests and supported the goals in the National Security Strategy, but that number has reduced significantly. Largely due to efforts by Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton to produce Diplomatic and Development Strategies that nested with the NSS.

When Powell assume the SecState position, he was shocked to discover how unprepared the FS was to do their job. Understaffed, outdated technology, and no real training/education to prepare them for their positions.

The draw back to this modernization and growth is that the DOS is becoming a large bureaucracy, and as a result the diplomats who should be learning the local culture and gaining a deep understanding of the host nation's issues to inform U.S. policies are now increasingly becoming bureaucrats that have little time to engage with the locals. Instant communication is impacting the DOS as much as DoD. The ability to communicate instantly is resulting in more and more power consolidating higher up, striping Ambassadors and others of authorities they used to have. They call it e-hell (we're brothers in arms after all). Not in the book, but I remember Susan Rice stating she does strategy, not the Ambassadors, they just implement it what she tells them. A very dangerous place to be when we have the blind leading the country, and those informed of the situation marginalized. The author states there is a long term cost to pay when FS officers are neither expected nor challenged to become top foreign policy strategists and thinkers, figuring we can just bring in political appointees for that.

Backwards Observer
01-11-2017, 12:05 AM
Cold War Anthropology by David H. Price

Perilous Interventions by Hardeep Singh Puri


01-11-2017, 04:57 AM
My review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1846934426?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1) of "Failed Empire" (which I think is a must-read book)

A must read for anyone interested in the history of the Soviet empire and its eventual (almost bloodless) fall under Gorbachev. The author presents an inside look at the Soviet side of events and some very interesting re-evaluations of the various leaders (from a Russian perspective). For example, the fact that Brezhnev was a much more grounded and sensible operator than his late drug-addled senile years would imply; that Gorbachev was a wooly idealist who was unfortunately or fortunately almost hopelessly inept at actually running things; that Bush senior was a competent executor of American interests; that Reagan's inner peacemaker/decent human being were far more important in bringing down the Soviet Union than his SDI or military buildup (which the author regards as almost incidental and of little significance in events); that money simply running out had a lot to do with the fall of the Soviet empire in East Europe; that failed ideology led to cynicism and a simultaneous nave optimism about social democracy in the 1960s generation, and so on.
The author has a Russo-centric view and for most Russians the fact that the Soviet experiment failed is not enough reason to accept that the Russian empire (which predated and undergirded the Soviet experiment) and the vast, ambitious and (sometimes at great cost and with great cruelty) expansion of the Russian peoples across Eurasia should also be setback THIS far as a result of that failure. Outsiders may wish to take a more forgiving view of Gorbachev, who managed to let all this happen without bloodshed.
Anyway, well worth reading. IN fact, a must read if you are interested in those times and those events.

Bill Moore
01-17-2017, 02:11 AM

Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies, and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War
by James Kitfield

Throughout this book, the author focuses on how the military, law enforcement, and intelligence adapted to a new way of war despite the challenges posed by the failed policies of both the Bush and Obama administrations. It is a very human versus an analytical story, with numerous personal insights provided by some of the senior leaders involved. Some minor errors (related to what unit did what) in the book didn’t distract from an overall balanced account of our nation’s war on violent extremist organizations.

I admire the likes of GENs Petraeus, McCrystal, Dempsey, and Special Agent McCauley among others for their ability to build teams and solve difficult problems. Those who repeatedly claim the military is not innovative are either blind, or unfortunately served in bad organization that clung to rigid doctrines. Intelligence, law enforcement, and the military innovated significantly since 9/11. Much of it centered on networking, both technical and human.

The chapter on enhanced interrogation in the early part of the book effectively exposed Panetta for spinning the narrative on the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation program, by deliberately trying to take credit for the FBI’s successful interrogation of a key AQ member, when in fact the CIA’s method resulted in shutting him down. When you read how the CIA conducted the interrogation, you would think it was conducted by a couple of sadistic high school kids. The only reasoning behind it was to break down the subject. Nonetheless, it resulted in a multimillion dollar contract for these clowns to continue, which left a stain on America and the values it represents. However, that shouldn’t reflect on the heroic work the CIA officers are doing downrange and the competence of their analysts, which the author emphasizes.

However, the real story in this book is about the men and women who transformed our security services and soldiered on despite incompetent politicians and failed policies. The author also demonstrates you can tell a good story without exposing classified information. Overall a decent and quick read.

01-17-2017, 04:25 AM
I am patiently awaiting the release of the first book about DET-A Berlin:


I'm hoping it will provide some insight into how the Cold War was fought in Eastern Europe and how the Baltic States could be defended moving forward.

Until then, and while I'm focused on the Hacking 4 Defense Educator's Course starting here in Washington DC:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

....highly recommended and only $1.99 right now on Kindle. Awesome value.


Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days:


The Lean StartUp:


Thinking Fast And Slow:


Steal Like an Artist:


Everything by Dr Tina Seelig(creativity & innovation):

Innovation Engine (Enhanced Edition with video & audio): A Crash Course on Creativity is only $6.99

https://www.amazon.com/Tina%20Seelig/e/B00MAPL7P0/ref=la_B00MAPL7P0_rf_p_n_feature_browse-b_2?fst=as%3Aoff&rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_82%3AB00MAPL7P0%2Cp_n_feature_br owse-bin%3A618073011&bbn=283155&sort=author-pages-popularity-rank&ie=UTF8&qid=1484626866&rnid=618072011

I buy tons of books. These are some of the very best I've found in recent years on creativity, innovation, and problem solving.

Backwards Observer
01-19-2017, 10:09 PM
The Perfect War by James William Gibson

Gunboat on the Yangtze by Glenn F. Howell


01-30-2017, 06:16 PM
To Rule The Waves. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/85632.To_Rule_the_Waves) How the Royal Navy Shaped the Modern World, by Arthur Herman.

My review:

The title overstates what the book is about, but if you are a bit of a British or naval history fan, this is a wonderful book to read. The "over-statement" part comes from the fact that the book does not in fact go into great detail about how the Royal Navy shaped the modern world. It makes that claim and offers good arguments for it, but they are not detailed arguments and they are not the meat of the book. The meat of the book is a history of the Royal Navy, from its beginnings in piracy, slave-trading, massacre and general high seas criminality (at least by later standards; standards enforced by the Royal Navy itself) to its final decline and fall in the postwar era (presided over, for a crucial period of time, by First Sea Lord, Lord Mountbatten, who performed the same service for another pillar of the British empire! though Herman does not bring up this interesting co-incidence).
The author (an American, who also wrote the very interesting "Gandhi and Churchill", as well other books I have not read) is not politically correct and goes out of his way to show this in his unabashed hero-worship and his straightforward admiration (as long as they were successful) of daring or resourceful ventures, no matter whether they were piratical or imperialist; but he also goes out of his way to describe them (and their consequences) warts and all, without any attempt to hide or underplay the horrors. This may not be enough to satisfy many postmodern readers, but I was happy that as long as you read on, you almost always get all sides of every story.
And this is a surprisingly comprehensive effort. Not just the adventurers and commanders and admirals, but also the intellectuals (including John Dee, Astronomer, mathematician and very prescient naval and imperial strategist!), the bureaucrats (Samuel Pepys is honored in great detail) and the ordinary seamen, get their due. The famous pre-20th century battles are all covered in detail, with the most hagiographic treatment (factually balanced, tonally hagiographic) being reserved of course for Nelson, climaxing with a detailed description of Trafalgar. While most of his hero-worship is factually accurate and the hyperbole is kept within bounds, he does go overboard with his comparison of Nelson with Napoleon, not just as wartime commanders but as a world historical figures, which is a bit too much.
The wars of the 20th century are described relatively broadly, though Jutland is covered in detail; as is "operation Catapult" and the sinking of the Repulse and the Prince of Wales in WW2. Otherwise, famous actions are generally covered in a few lines and sometimes not even mentioned (as with the battle of the River Plate, skipped completely).
The book ends with the Falklands war, told entirely from an elegiac British point of view, but given all that came before, perhaps this too should be excused.
Definitely worth reading if you are interested in the topic or in British history and recent world history in general (concurrent world events and politics is covered fairly well along with the naval story).

Backwards Observer
01-31-2017, 12:13 AM
Propaganda by Edward Bernays

Make Love!* *the Bruce Campbell Way by Bruce Campbell


Backwards Observer
02-07-2017, 01:28 AM
Age Of Anger by Pankaj Mishra

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges


Backwards Observer
02-12-2017, 03:53 PM
The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud

The End of the World News by Anthony Burgess

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3f/Douglas_Fairbanks,_Enid_Bennett,_and_Wallace_Beery _listening_to_radio.png/400px-Douglas_Fairbanks,_Enid_Bennett,_and_Wallace_Beery _listening_to_radio.png

Backwards Observer
02-23-2017, 09:32 AM
Modern Man In Search Of A Soul by C.G. Jung

SS-GB by Len Deighton


Backwards Observer
02-28-2017, 01:18 AM
Ghost Riders of Baghdad by Daniel A Sjursen

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov


03-06-2017, 09:37 AM
Just picked up Nadia Shadlow's War and the Art of Governance

First couple chapters in and it is a quick read. Great synopsis of how Army forces have, out of necessity, performed tasks to consolidate military action into sustainable political gains while not optimized to do so.

Highly recommend.

03-19-2017, 07:23 PM
The Romanovs by Montefiore

The Ghost Warriors by Katz

Bill Moore
03-31-2017, 07:26 AM

Indestructible: One Man's Rescue Mission That Changed the Course of WWII October 11, 2016

by John R Bruning

I had no idea what to expect when I bought this book, but once I started reading it I had a hard time putting it down. I guess we'll always be cursed by not knowing and honoring all the real heroes who made a difference in the world. Hero is term we throw around too loosely in today's politically correct world, but it is no exaggeration to call Pappy a hero, and we have the opportunity to learn about Pappy thanks to Bruning's book.

It is a love story, a story of deep courage and commitment to winning the war, a story of how man overcomes a bureaucracy, a story of innovation, and a story of how a Mother and her three children survive in a Japanese Detention Camp in Manila. It contains almost unbelievable episodes of daring in combat and in garrison, such as Pappy stealing American made aircraft given to the Dutch in the Indonesia. These aircraft were more modern than the ones the Army Air Force had, so he and his band of merry men stole some to fight the Japanese. The story of how Pappy progressed from a member of the flying Chiefs in the Navy, one of the best Naval Air Squadrons at the time and most of the pilots were enlisted, to establishing a Philippine Airlines Company in the Philippines (prior to WWII and again afterwards), to getting recalled to serve in the Army Air Force. Even the short epilogue is fascinating.

Bill Moore
03-31-2017, 07:48 AM

Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization
April 19, 2016
by Parag Khanna

This is the most insightful book I read this year, and it certainly adds to the stories told in previous books I posted about here such as "The Rebalance" and "The Seventh Sense." I will address the arguments made by the author in strategy for a 21st Century in the forum. To save time, I'll refer you to one my favorite book reviewers review of the book on Amazon. I certainly couldn't say it any better.

6-Star Utterly Brilliant Survey and Strategy


The author of this book has done something no one else has done – I say this as the reviewer of over 2,000 non-fiction books at Amazon across 98 categories. For the first time, in one book, we have a very clear map of what is happening where in the way of economic and social development; a startlingly diplomatic but no less crushing indictment of nation-state and militaries; and a truly inspiring game plan for what we should all be demanding from countries, cities, commonwealths, communities, and companies, in the way of future investments guided by a strategy for creating a prosperous world at peace.

This is a nuanced deeply stimulating book that makes it clear that China’s grand strategy of building infrastructure has beaten the US strategy of threatening everyone with a dysfunctional military that crushes hope and destroys wealth everywhere it goes; that connectivity (cell phones, the Internet, roads, high-speed rail, tunnels, bridges, and ferries) is the accelerator for wealth creation by the five billion poor that most Western states and corporations ignore; and it provides to me more surprises, more factoids I did not know, more insights – than any five to ten other books I have read over time.

At one point it occurred to me that in some ways the author is our generation’s successor to Alvin Toffler, Peter Drucker, and Robert Kaplan, combined. I really am deeply impressed, in part because the author’s insights come from years of crisscrossing the world and touch reality in a hands-on manner not achieved by any diplomatic, intelligence, commercial, media, or academic network in existence today; and in part because the book comes with 38 glorious color maps that are each alone worth the price of the book [an appendix points to 38 web sites that supplement the book and are a discovery journey of their own].

This is the best book – the deepest and the most useful – the author has produced to date. This is a book that should be read by every prime minister, president, senator, organizational chief – and by those who aspire to such positions. Many people publish content – few publish context – this book has both.

03-31-2017, 03:27 PM
The Pursuit of Power (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29430010-the-pursuit-of-power) by Richard Evans.

I am approaching the end of the book and it is great. A very thorough review of European history from 1815 to 1914 (or so). Not just the kings and revolutionaries, but also (and in great and insightful detail) the technological, social and cultural changes that created the modern world. A great reference book, but also easy to read and always interesting.

By the way, someone here was reading "Age of anger" (which I just got from the library last week and which looks awful, as expected; tendentious and cherry-picked from the git-go, with unfounded assumptions and opinions slyly and casually passed off with an "as everyone knows" air in practically every paragraph), and I wonder what you made of it?
I will have more on it later, but Pankaj is something of an obsession with me because he so completely personifies all that is wrong with postmarxist leftist "scholarship" (you can see my rant about of a previous book here (http://brownpundits.blogspot.com/2014/05/pankaj-mishras-tendentious-little-book.html) , I hope to edit and fix it someday, but you will get the point)

Backwards Observer
04-03-2017, 11:52 AM
By the way, someone here was reading "Age of anger" (which I just got from the library last week and which looks awful, as expected; tendentious and cherry-picked from the git-go, with unfounded assumptions and opinions slyly and casually passed off with an "as everyone knows" air in practically every paragraph), and I wonder what you made of it?

I dunno, it was like "angry" maybe


04-04-2017, 01:40 AM
My review/rant about "age of anger" is now done. The whole thing is here at Brownpundits com
Pankaj Mishra is a British-Indian writer and public intellectual who currently lives between London and Mashobra and writes regularly for publications like the NY Times and the NYRB. He started his career as a promising literary critic (Naipaul was initially impressed) but soon switched to "native informant" mode, presenting and interpreting what he described as the angst, atomization, envy and ressentiment of newly emerging and fitfully modernizing India; a phenomenon that other elite commentators and foreign visitors were presumably failing to notice. He then expanded this theme to all of Asia and has finally graduated to interpreting the Metropole to the metropolitans themselves. This could have been a somewhat risky move, since Western reviewers who received his reports about the darker nations relatively uncritically, might well know enough about their home turf to become critical. But by and large, that has not happened; reviews have generally been favorable.

This is not one of those favorable reviews.

I found the book tendentious, shallow and repetitive, with quotes and facts cherry-picked from across his vast (but chronologically limited and highly Eurocentric) reading list, full of unfounded assumptions and opinions that are casually passed off with an "as everyone knows" air in practically every paragraph.

The book begins with a brief account of D'Annunzio's occupation of Fiume in 1919. This relatively obscure episode is sprinkled with cherry-picked quotes and while the facts are mostly true, their significance is asserted rather than proven. This pattern is followed throughout the book; vast historical claims (e.g. that modernity led ultimately, not just transiently, to more immiseration in Europe; "First manifested in 19th century Europe - Bursts of technological innovation and growth offset by systemic exploitation and widespread immiseration") are casually asserted as if they are already known and accepted by all sane-thinking people. There is no systematic description of what happened economically, socially or culturally in Europe (or elsewhere) in the last 200 years, and no data is ever offered to support any claims, but since these claims (sometimes stated, frequently just hinted at) are almost all prevalent (if only vaguely and without systematic evidence) in postmodern liberal European (and Westernized Desi) circles, so the book gets a pass in those circles; but the fact is that if you stop and dig into any random claim, the tone and the details will not pass muster.

It could be objected that this is not the point of the book. As Pankaj himself puts it:

"This books is not offered as an intellectual history; and it cannot even pose, given its brevity, as a single narrative of the orign and diffusion of ideas and ideologies that assimilates teh many cultural and political developments of the previous two centuries. Rather, it explores a particular climate of ideas, a structure of feeling, and cognitive disposition, from teh age of Rousseau to our own age of anger"

He goes on to say "It tries to show how an ethic of individual and collective empowerment spread itself over the world, as much through resentful imitation as coercion, causing severe dislocations, social maladjustment and political upheaval. "

Marx said it better but this is not bad either. But unlike Marx, who offered a diagnosis and then a prescription (right or wrong), Pankaj goes on to dig through 200 years of (mostly European) intellectual history to find quotes and episodes that bewail this process of destruction of the old in action; but he never offers a diagnosis of why human beings and human societies created modernity in the first place (after all, even Europeans, or rather Anglo-Americans, who appear in this book as the only people who actually do things instead of just reacting to things being done to them, are also humans); nor does he offer any ideas about what an alternative may look like. What he does add to the diagnosis of some of the authors he quotes is a relentless focus on ressentiment as the quintessential human emotion; the secret sauce that explains everything that Pankaj does not like about the world today, from Trump and Modi to Erdogan and, somewhat surprisingly, the New York Review of Books ("a major intellectual periodical of Anglo-America").

Resentment and envy drive everything in Pankaj-world. Herder and Fichte, for example, are "young provincials in Germany.. who simmered with resentment against a metropolitan civilization of slick movers and shakers that seemed to deny them a rooted and authentic existence". This motif is repeated with variations throughout the book. Everyone (except the Anglo-Americans of course) is endlessly burning with resentment and hates who they are. It almost makes one wonder if the book is really about Pankaj digging through 200 years of intellectual history to find his own mirror image everywhere? But this would be to psychologize, and one should try to avoid that, even if Pankaj never does.

04-05-2017, 03:25 AM
I just finished "The Pursuit of Power" (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1957965915?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1).

My review follows:

An outstanding, thorough and magisterial review of European history, from 1815 to 1914. This is not just the story of all the kings, ministers, revolutionaries and assorted adventurers who ran (or created) the nations of Europe (though that story is covered in detail too); there are chapters on everything from agriculture and science to tourism and travel. And of course, writers and musicians get their due, and not just those already well known in the anglophone world.
I found it generally fair and balanced, with every group's achievements as well as massacres and genocides getting their due. There is a very mild pro-British tilt in the description of European imperial expansion, mostly in the form of a mild but persistent tendency to drop in a sentence or two about why such and such British commander went too far on a given occasion, but the French, Germans and Belgians tend to get less exculpation (to fair, the latter two rarely deserve any exculpation, being distinctly more vicious as colonists, so there is always that). But there is no attempt to hide any crimes or to explain them away completely.
What did l learn that was new? Lots of details, but not a lot of big picture stuff. Partly because I have been on a history binge recently, so the big picture was already known to me, but mostly because there is very little attempt to draw grand "lessons" or to ram meta-stories down your throat. They are sometimes there, but they are kept very low-key. Still, if you happen to be unfamiliar with the history of the period (or get most of your history third hand from woke-stylists and suchlike) then this book should convince you that Europe was not always the Europe that exists in recent imagination. The Europe that exists today is a relatively recent creation and much that is solid melts into thin air if you go back a 150 years or so. And the same goes in spades for imperialism and the famous culture of empire, which really did not flower in Britain until the latter part ot the 19th century; meaning there were people who were born before the first empire day was celebrated, who were still alive when the empire died.
Overall, a great read, loaded with information, and well worth owning and reading at leisure.

Backwards Observer
04-05-2017, 05:21 AM
Connectography by Parag Khanna

The Pursuit of Power by Richard Evans


Bill Moore
04-16-2017, 01:59 AM

Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army's Elite, 1956–1990

The author, James Stejskal, was the right man to author this book. He writes in an honest, straight speaking style that effectively captures his reflections on a unit he was very proud of. In the book he demonstrates the potential value of UW, while avoiding the recent hype associated with UW as the answer to all our national security woes. He explains what talents his peers had, the UW mission they were originally focused on, and why his unit was pulled in many directions that frequently distracted them from their UW skills, but nonetheless were appropriate missions based on the threat and they way the U.S. planned to fight the war in Europe after the 2d Off-Set Strategy, where Strategic (now Special) Recon became a more valuable role for SF based on the conventional thinking that dominated the Army.

For those in SF, at least during the 70s and 80s, they'll be familiar with parts of this story, yet they'll learn from and appreciate the personal insights of the SF soldiers as their mission evolved over time, but until the Wall fell, they always retained to varying degrees their skills and readiness to execute their UW missions. SF readers will also appreciate the various missions SF was pulled into based on changes in the operational environment. The book reinforced my view, that the bedrock mindset that makes SF unique is UW, and that mindset and the wide range of skills that go with it that make SF one of the more adaptable and effective forces in the military.

Instead of the current army UW doctrinal nonsense that is all the rage in some circles, where doctrine writers try to overly define (versus describe) UW, and then seek to apply a doctrinal template to today's challenges. SF soldiers in Berlin, nor SF soldiers in the field today, pretty much ignored these empty academic debates and adapted their skills to the problem at hand.

Furthermore, UW during this time frame included unilateral Special Forces activities focused on sabotage and psychological warfare activities. Not everything SF does needs to be with or through partners as this book clearly illustrates. It is probably fair to day there is an ideal form of UW where SF operates through indigenous personnel organized into an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force(s). That has happened in the past, and will likely happen again in the future, but it won't be the norm. SF brings a wide range of UW options to support the norm.

While it may seem bizarre to readers today that the Special Forces Berlin Unit was planning to hit strategic targets that the Air Force was also planning to hit, and neither unit was aware of the conflict. However, this was before we had the joint doctrine we enjoy today. Furthermore, UW was highly compartmented for good reason, but there significant risks if it is overly compartmented. A lot of these problems have been fixed since the Goldwater-Nichols Act.

From a Department of Defense perspective, we still have major gaps in our education of the entire force. At best, most conventional force officers may get exposed to the definition of UW, and that USSOCOM is the lead for this in the military (further pushed down to USASOC). That doesn't help them at the higher command level identify opportunities for UW, or integrate UW into their plans. It still largely a matter of SOF planners suggesting add ons to existing plans after the base plan has been approved. Again, new doctrine, additional education, will help alleviate this short fall, but it will take a generation to make incorporating UW and even the large umbrella IW a norm within DoD planning.

Another wart exposed was the lack of a dedicated OPSEC plan and the ability of military to support it, but that was also fixed later in the organization's existence.

I was surprised and pleased to see that the Det's mission in Iran to support the hostage rescue was declassified, and the additional details of that mission in the book were helpful for me to piece together the rest of the story. It demonstrated how these members combined UW and CT skills.

Perhaps the most valuable part of the book, especially for young soldiers today, was the numerous examples of creative (or unconventional) approaches for accomplishing their missions, whether it was emplacing a cache, or penetrating a target.

Overall a fun and productive read.

04-18-2017, 05:20 AM
Up next:

The Pentagon's Brain: an Uncensored History of Darpa by Jacobsen

The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 by Toland

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Coll

Washington's Immortals: the Untold Story of an Elite Regiment who Changed the Course of the Revolution by O'Donnell

The Third Reich in Power by Evans

Russia's War: a History of the Soviet Effort 1941 - 1945 by Overy

Backwards Observer
04-18-2017, 06:31 AM
The Occult Underground by James Webb

The Occult Establishment by James Webb


04-21-2017, 02:55 PM
I am reviewing "The Fleet at Flood Tide" by James Hornfischer.

This is a book that does some things really well, but omits others for no rhyme or reason and is also taken down a notch by the author's tendency towards grandiloquence and flowery worldplay (an urge to try and describe what he considers heroic and awe-inspiring events, in language that is equally heroic and awe-inspiring).
First, the things he does well. This is a really comprehensive account of the Marianas campaign, including the preparation that went into making such a campaign possible. The creation of the greatest battle fleet the world has ever seen is relatively well known, but many books ignore the truly massive (and entirely new) infrastructure that made these amphibious operations, conducted thousands of miles from home, look so easy. The transports, supply ships, landing craft, amtracs, floating artillery (old battleships pressed into service in this role, as well as many other innovations), fire control teams, construction battalions and underwater demolition teams (the first SEALS), all these are covered in great detail. Innovators and leaders who made this gigantic (and completely unprecedented) effort possible are brought to life.
There is also an effort to describe how things looked and felt from the Japanese side. Their leaders as well as ordinary soldiers and civilians (who were soon to become trapped in the midst of this meat-grinder) are quoted at some length and their world is also brought to life.
He then jumps almost directly to the strategic bombing offensive, describing in some detail the life and work of everyone from Curtis Lemay to Paul Tibbet (who dropped the A-bomb, from a plane named after his mom). Some things were completely new to me, for example, the fact that while there are hundreds of islands in the Pacific, the ones with airfields that have runways facing the wind the right way are not that common, and this prosaic fact had a lot to do with what islands got chosen for conquest. Again, the experience is also described from the (frequently horrifying) Japanese end, using Japanese sources.
He argues that the experience of these operations (especially the extraordinary Japanese willingness to fight to the last man, with even the women and children jumping off cliffs in Saipan, rather than surrender) was a major (or THE major) cause of the gradual slide towards total war; with its expectation that America may have to kill every Japanese solider and most Japanese civilians before they accept defeat (if at all). He thinks this experience led directly to the complete indifference (and later, even active desire) towards high civilian casualties that reached its climax in the firebombings of Tokyo and the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This argument is not going to convince everyone and is likely overdone (pre-existing racism, technology, human nature; all played a role), though it is hard to deny that it must have played SOME role in the way the conduct of the war proceeded.
There is a persistent effort to justify every American action and to proudly and aggressively use rather "old fashioned" memes of American exceptionalism and greatness. This may turn some readers off (it will no doubt turn others on as well).
The book does not end with the Japanese surrender, like most such books do. It describes the mechanics of the surrender and its aftermath in a good deal of detail, which really adds to the value of the book. This section includes such interesting nuggets as the fact that the Japanese authorities themselves set up (or helped to set up) whorehouses to service the occupation troops, in the (correct) belief that this would reduce the chances of general rape and molestation of Japanese women. As you may expect by now, Hornfischer wants to present this whole exercise as yet another example of American greatness, but as you may also expect, not everyone will agree with the spin he puts on the story. Anyway, this is a section of the book that I found really useful, since most war histories tend to end with the emperor emerging from his divine status to inform his people that the war is over, with very little said about the aftermath.
Biggest omission: the battle of Leyte Gulf, passed over in 2 pages, literally. (though the same author has written a famous account of the heroics of the destroyers and destroyer escorts of Taffy 3, so I guess he wants you to buy that other book). MacArthur's entire effort takes place off stage and is rarely mentioned. The Chinese war is not mentioned (except in relation to strategic bombing). The allies play no role at all in events. Okinawa and Iwo Jima are passed over perfunctorily. And last but not the least, the attention to detail and depth of analysis is limited to just two (admittedly big) topics: the Marianas and the strategic bombing campaign. This is NOT a book that gives you the overall picture, with everything assessed as a whole, with facts and figures about the money spent, the numbers of everything used and wasted, the trade-offs involved and so on. The author has some organizing principle in his head, but it is not clear that this is the best way to do it.
He highlights many personalities (this is a big book), but the man who gets more credit and praise than anyone else in this book is Admiral Spruance. He is the biggest and brightest hero in this book. He surely deserves a lot of credit, but the praise can get a bit too fulsome (in a book which is also not shy about declaring every other American a great hero of some sort).
In short, worth reading, but there are gaps, and there are arguments you may want to have with the author. And yes, if you are "woke" beyond a certain point then you will not be able to stand the "America, of thee I sing" tone.

Bill Moore
04-24-2017, 07:20 AM

Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life
by Amy E. Herman

I have to assume the great reviews this book received on Amazon were by people who no previous exposure to art classes or training on how to observe (a basic skill for Infantry Scouts, Snipers, trackers, etc.). I was tempted to give the book a 2 stars (out of five), but toward the end of the book her chapter on how view things objectively, and a trick for dealing with our subjective perceptions (just the facts sir) I found useful. So now 2.5 stars. I think everyone will find something useful in this book. One of the biggest negatives for me was that many of her examples were weak, and a couple that I was aware of (such as a fratricide in Afghanistan) were incorrectly described.

Despite that, it is a good review of the different types of blindness such as: in unintentional, intentional, familiarity, change blindness, etc. Some of the exercises were a good reminder of why human based sources should always be regarded with some degree of suspicion.

04-26-2017, 03:13 AM
Cixin Liu's trilogy is making news in the science fiction world. My reviews

The Three Body Problem (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1829010993?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1)

The Dark Forest (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1905371076?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1)

Death's End (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1967546118?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1)

Backwards Observer
05-01-2017, 06:53 AM
The True Flag by Stephen Kinzer

Freak Show by Robert Bogdan


Bill Moore
05-14-2017, 03:57 AM
Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel
by Tom Wainwright


After reading this book, I feel fully qualified to run a drug cartel now. O.K., maybe not, but a fascinating read nonetheless that provides great insights not only into the cartel business from production to distribution, but provides great analysis based on economics on why are expensive drug war (globally, not limited to the U.S.) is failing miserably.

I would love to see this type of analysis conducted for COIN, and instead of listening to the same old tired theories being repeated, actually pull the data and analyze it objectively. It provides a very different, as it did for this study of cartels.

Not surprising, he explains how the DEA's focus for marijuana and cocaine coming from Mexico missed the shift to Meth and now Heroin. His point was the drug market changes frequently based on fads, yet law enforcement has been slow to adapt. He also points out that the crackdown on illegal immigration under Obama (yes its true) on the U.S. southern border, resulted in the Cartels moving into the human trafficking business and professionalizing it. It is a major paradigm shift from the coyotes leading people across the Arizona desert on a high risk crossing. Instead, the cartels move them to holding areas where they get three meals a day, medical care, and access to an internet caf so they can stay in contact with their families. The agreed upon prize to move them into the U.S. (roughly $1,500.00) comes with a guarantee. The traffickers will conduct as many attempts as required to get them into the U.S.

His analysis on the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado was interesting. As one law enforcement explained, there is nothing stopping people from buying it legally, and then driving across the border and selling it illegally. You're average Joe Blow is creating a new gray market. They did a cost analysis on how this will impact the cartels who still move marijuana and the cartels will be less competitive in most places outside of Texas (even more so that more states have legalized it). However, if the legalization trend continues, there is no reason Mexico won't grow it legally at a cheaper price and put the U.S. growers out of business eventually. Darn NAFTA.

He covered the drug trade in New Zealand, somewhat surprising to me, but a local music star Matt Bowden in NZ established a multimillion dollar business producing synthetic drugs for legal highs, always changing the formula to stay one step ahead of the law (until he couldn't). The author points out that relative safe drugs became more dangerous over time because they safer ones were outlawed. Interesting point, considering in other countries, certain drugs like ecstasy that were relatively safe, but the crack down on it, pushed the crowd into more dangerous drugs (supply and demand).

He didn't take easy on the cartels, he provided good coverage on the violence and what drives it and what tends to bring it down. At the end of the book he cited four mistakes we are making in the war on drugs:

1. The obsession with supply: He points out that the demand for drugs is inelastic, so even if we force the price of drugs up that will simply result in more money for the cartels. The producers get paid pennies anyway and that won't change. Obviously his point is to focus on demand, but we all know that is easier said than done.

2. Saving money early on and paying for it later: Back to point one, we are cutting costs by reducing funding for prevention programs, but increasing funds for law enforcement. Our bloated prison system is very expensive (even more so that we privatized much of it). He claims we're spending enough on fighting drugs, but we're spending it on the wrong things.

3. Acting nationally against a global business: I found his comments on target in this area. The richest countries are funding the UN's efforts to eradicate the crops in poor countries, so the rich countries are happy with the way the war is being fought even though it isn't making a difference. The drugs are not valuable at the production end, they're not valuable until they're a finished product ready for distribution, but we don't focus on that. Instead we're burning bridges with countries and their citizens in multiple developing nations to protect our citizens from their own bad habits?

He does point out this is changing, because the lines between producer and consumer are blurring, as developing countries with larger middle classes are now consuming drugs at an increasing pace.

4. Confusing prohibition with control: He uses the term balloon squeezing and herding cockroaches to capture the futility of trying enforce prohibition. He suggests that the legalization of marijuana so far appears to be mostly positive compared to trying to enforce prohibition, which is a very expensive and ineffective effort. What about harder drugs, he doesn't claim to have an answer, but points out that England, Switzerland and other European countries have already legalized heroin in a very limited way. Some doctors have permission to prescribe heroin free of charge to addicts. The idea is addicts are gradually able to wean themselves off, and since it is free the government has reduced the number of robberies they committed by 90%.

I think you'll enjoy the book.

Backwards Observer
05-14-2017, 11:36 AM
Bear by Robert Greenfield

The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things by Bruce Sterling


Backwards Observer
05-22-2017, 03:35 AM
The Enigma of Reason by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber

The Lunatics of Terra by John Sladek


Backwards Observer
06-15-2017, 10:30 PM
Endless Enemies by Jonathan Kwitny

Bad Moon Rising by Thomas M. Disch (editor)


06-16-2017, 04:14 AM
I just finished "The Silk Roads; a new history of the world" by Peter Frankopan.

My review is at Brownpundits.com (http://www.brownpundits.com/2017/06/14/book-review-the-silk-roads/)

This is a frustrating, though still useful, book. Historian Peter Frankopan's title claims this is "a new history of the world". He then proposes that what the world needs is to reorient its focus from Europe to "the silk roads", vaguely defined by him as "the region between East and West.. from the Eastern shores of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to the Himalayas". This almost certainly reflects the fact that the core of this region happens to his particular area of interest (Turkey, Persia, Central Asia and Russia) as a historian. Having made this decision, he has to force the rest of the story to keep coming back to this region, to somehow keep his argument afloat. My recurring thought on reading this book was that all this is unnecessary. He could have written a history of the region without pretending that this was the REAL history of the world, and it would have worked fine. Or he could have attempted a history of the world and not bothered with this tendentious framing. But he insists on doing both, and it causes endless (and needless) irritation.
In general, the account of recent events (the book ends with the recent American disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan) is too superficial to satisfy anyone who is genuinely interested in any particular theater of conflict, and too trite and formulaic to be categorized as a groundbreaking universal history. The last chapter is a good example of the irritating way he mixes occasional good insights with his need to fit everything into his original "silk roads as center of the world" thesis. He also has a tendency to rather pompously assert "the West needs to give up its current disastrous focus on X and step back and adopt the correct way of looking at things"; which is irritating because X is usually a straw man and the "correct way" is mostly a rewording of his unproven "center of the world" thesis.

My last point is bit hard to convey, but I will try: Frankopan displays absolutely no awareness of the fact that he himself is part and parcel of the institutions and society which he repeatedly dismisses as painfully naive and incompetent. #One gets the feeling that the author really believes that he and Oxford will be just fine, since they are somehow above the fray. As an (artificial) vantage point from which to write the book, this is not a bad idea, but when reading the book one gets the distinct impression that this is not just a strategic (and justifiable) vantage point, it is a thought that has really never crossed his mind. My point is this: a universal history is ultimately a reflection of the wisdom, insight, discernment and, yes, character, of the author. He is picking and choosing what few things to present out of a gigantic mass of materials, and#he decides how to frame it; and Peter Frankopan does not impress me in this regard. And being impressive in this regard does not always mean one has to agree with the author's conclusions. Christopher Beckwith (author of "Empire of the Silk Roads") may have many opinions I do not share, but he commands respect by his impressive and careful scholarship and his deeply thought out positions. In short, what he says has weight, even if I do not agree with his conclusion. Peter Frankopan does not match that standard. He may have access to more facts, but he is no Gibbon, and that knocks this book down a peg.

Still, the book is not without its redeeming features. He has read widely and there are genuine insights and nuggets of interesting information scattered throughout the book, making it worth your while. You would be well advised to suspend judgement about the frame in which he has chosen to frame them, and you should keep in the back of your mind the fact that all his minor facts are not necessarily correct.
Still, worth a read.

PS: for a really good book about the Silk Roads, one that will teach you new things and genuinely make you think new thoughts, check out Christopher Beckwith's "Empires of the Silk Road". Razib Khan has an excellent review.# (http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2009/09/whos-barbarian-now-empires-of-silk-road.php)

06-18-2017, 08:34 AM
One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Team, by Chris Fussell


Very good book.

Practical, applicable followup to the McChrystal "Team of Teams" book.

In a nutshell, it promotes a hybrid org that mixes solid line bureaucratic pyramids with the dotted lines of network clouds.

Bob's World
06-22-2017, 07:02 AM
Confession, I've found it increasingly difficult to make it through books seeking to explain extremism to me. But I picked up "The Ugly American" on a whim during my last trip to the library, and tore through it with great speed and enjoyment!

Two main thoughts:

1. The damning assessment of US approach to foreign service is as true today as it was in the 1950s setting of this tale of Southeast Asia.

2. We are as wrongheadedly fixated on Islamist ideology today as we were on Communist ideology then.

A good read and an important message.

Backwards Observer
06-28-2017, 01:29 AM
Flower of the Dragon by Richard Boyle

Army In Anguish by Haynes Johnson and George C. Wilson


Backwards Observer
06-30-2017, 01:50 AM
Infantry In Vietnam by LTC Albert N Garland USA ret (editor)

A Distant Challenge by LTC Albert N Garland USA ret (editor)


Bill Moore
07-16-2017, 09:24 AM
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
by Adam Grant


I was looking for some light and entertaining reading for a recent trip, and I found it in the well researched Originals. While the book does provide insights on what it promises to deliver such as how to push through a new idea, break the status quo, and how to recognize a good idea (something managers are not good at, but through a simple exercise they can improve dramatically), etc., it provides much more than this.

Surprisingly I found insights, even if indirect, for the practice of small wars. One example is his discussion on the narcissism of small differences resulting in a condition known as horizontal hostility. It goes a long way in explaining why Islamic VEOs impose such suffering upon on their own people. Common goals often drive groups apart. It is these fractures that are called horizontal hostility. Even though the groups share a common objective, radical groups often disparage more mainstream groups as impostors and sellouts. The more strongly you identify with an extreme group, the harder you seek to differentiate yourself from more moderate groups that threaten your values.

Then he points out, that even when groups care about different causes, they often find affinity when they use the same methods of engagement. This may explain why terrorist groups exchanged terrorism tradecraft with other groups that were not ideologically aligned over the years.

There was another section that spoke at some length on how to mobilize a resistance movement. For example, people prefer to challenge state sponsored oppression / terror as a group. Instead of facing the terror of standing out as lone resister, people were able to see themselves as members of a group based on seeing symbols in many locations that indicates others feel the same way. It’s easier for wan to be rebels to rebel when it feels like an act of conformity. The book provides several examples.

The author does have a website where he addresses some of these topics.


Bill Moore
09-12-2017, 07:39 AM
Silence Was a Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages
Stuart A. Herrington

This book is basically the author’s memoir of his experiences as an advisor to the Phoenix Program in Vietnam (after the Tet Offensive). In some respects his story supports my impressions of the war. More importantly though, his story is a narrative that those who have worked as advisor from the Cold War through the War on Terror will readily identify with. As a reluctant warrior, he gave it his all to win his war in the villages, and in the end provided his insights on why that would never be enough. In my view, his reflections apply equally to our conflicts today.

The book’s preface frames the general U.S. view going into Vietnam. Similar to Iraq, we initially entered with great confidence and self-assurance. JFK
s "bear any burden speech," set the national mood at the time. This was amplified by the Green Beret motto, De Oppresso Liber, which symbolized the challenge of the sixties and our involvement in Vietnam. This mood helps propel us to endeavor to protect the “freedom” of the South Vietnamese and disprove Mao’s maxim that all “political power flows from the barrel of a gun.” While the author focused his story on his experiences at the village level as an advisor to the Phoenix Program, it provided a unique optic to the larger picture in post Tet Vietnam.

The author’s description of the Phoenix program parallels our current operational concepts tied to: interagency and intelligence fusion, the find, fix, finish, analyze methodology; and village stability operations. Conceptually it all made sense, but due to cultural realities and the sand running out of the hour glass it was bound to fail when the locals started questioning the willingness of the U.S. to continue their support. This book provides a professional education on conducting effective intelligence operations to identify and neutralize adversary shadow government structures. It indirectly addresses effective practices to counter propaganda also.

The Vietnamese people in the villages for the most part were indifferent to the governments in the North and the South. They made decisions based on pragmatic realities and generally sided with whatever side they thought was winning at the time. Most villagers had no use for communism, but they also despised their own government due to its corruption. No one should buy into the myth that corruption doesn’t matter in COIN and FID, it can be the decisive factor. The government of South Vietnam did itself no favors.

In the last chapter, the author reflected on why he thought we couldn’t win. Ranging from the loss of political will to sustain the effort, corrupt local governance, etc. Yet, he notes that when we pulled out of Vietnam the South Vietnamese military had very high morale based on their recent heroic efforts that defeated 13 North Vietnam divisions that conducted the Easter Offensive. They were in fact a proven and highly effective fighting force. However, they still needed U.S. support (material and air support) to stave off a large conventional invasion from the North that was supported by the USSR. It is sad to think we could have perhaps won if we honored the commitment we made to the Vietnamese people. What a different world it would be today if we didn't go through 10 plus years staring at our belly buttons and reflecting after the war.

Cultural differences were significant, the Americans and Vietnamese lived in two very different worlds in so many ways it was remarkable they were able to do anything together. It was worse when the advisor couldn't speak Vietnamese and had to rely on interpreters. Very few of the terps could effectively translate what the advisor what said. This is no different than our current experience in the Middle East.

Also like today, the Phoenix advisors attempted to force different Vietnamese intelligence, military, and police units share information with one another to root out the VC infrastructure. The Vietnamese were not inclined to support this due to distrust, ego, etc. Finally, since the Americans anticipated the Vietnamese military would have its hands tied after the Paris Peace Accord was signed, they tried to transfer the Phoenix program from the military to the national police. As expected, this proved to be a major failure due to the high level of corruption in the national police. In the end, our forces and Vietnamese allies had numerous tactical successes, but victory is not measured by tactical successes alone. Everyone will draw their own conclusions after reading this book, and whether you agree with mine is secondary from what you will learn reading this book.

Mike in Hilo
09-13-2017, 07:18 AM

Herrington's book is an outstanding memoir of what it meant to be an adviser at the time, and your review captures the essence. I was on the CORDS team in the adjacent province, Tay Ninh, at the same time, and I concur in your conclusions. Hau Nghia, also the setting of Bergerud's The Dynamics of Defeat, was a difficult province, with its rubber plantation workers among the earliest (1946) groups to be organized as Viet Minh cannon fodder. I might point out that Phoenix in Hau Nghia Province, as throughout the Region, was largely a failed enterprise. This is confirmed in the Hau Nghia monthly province reports (available on-line), Phoenix input to which is assuredly Herrington's, in which the writer justifiably, bitterly complains about Phoenix being a revolving door, with apprehended VCI routinely given ridiculously light sentences.

You may want to read Herrington's' second VN book, Peace With Honor?, which takes the reader through to the unfortunate 1975 end. I cannot forget my Vietnamese counterparts asking me in those last months, "We don't need your material assistance, we need US tactical air support; will we get it?" It gave me no pleasure to tell them that was out of the question.


Backwards Observer
09-15-2017, 03:20 AM
The Hidden History of the Korean War by I.F. Stone

Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone


Backwards Observer
09-27-2017, 07:55 AM
In a Time of Torment 1961-1967 by I.F. Stone

Polemics and Prophecies 1967-1970 by I.F. Stone


Bill Moore
10-01-2017, 12:03 AM
The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia
by James Bradley


The “mirage” he refers to in his book is the perception the U.S. public had of China based on a 1930s American propaganda pamphlet that described China as a great nation that loved America and embraced Christianity. I can’t recall reading another book in recent times that was so well written, yet so very simplistic and dishonest overall. This book certainly is not authoritative history, rather it’s simply a diatribe about how the U.S. “needlessly” got involved in three wars in East Asia.
The mirage argument has some merit, but he gives it far more weight than it deserves. Bradley argues this “mirage” shaped U.S. policy to such an extent it led us needlessly into WW2, the Korea War, and Vietnam. To be fair, the author presents some interesting facts on our early diplomatic history with China, and power of lobbies on U.S. foreign policy in East Asia. However, as a whole the book is almost completely void of the broader historical context that shaped strategic decision making.
He implies we should have supported or acquiesced to Japanese aggression in China and elsewhere in East Asia. He claims our oil embargo against Japan as his justification for his claim our war against Japan was unnecessary. No doubt, the oil embargo accelerated Japan’s time line to aggress beyond Northeast Asia, Japan already had plans to take over the Dutch Indies to secure raw materials to sustain their war effort in China. Bradley does not discuss agreements made between Japan and German in the 1930s, then culminating with the Tripartite Pact in 1940. Bradley only focuses on East Asia, but assuming he believes our intervention in Europe in WWII (yes finally actualized after the attack on Pearl Habor) was just, doing so would have prompted Japan to declare war on the U.S. The underlying argument I’m making is war with Japan was going to happen regardless.
Throughout the book, Bradley expresses his support of Mao, as though he was more legitimate than Chiang. A historian would have pointed out that both leaders were deeply flawed. Oddly enough, the left still embraces Mao in the West, while Maoism is largely rejected in China today. After the Civil War Mao killed 45 million of his own people to establish his “legitimacy.” In contrast, Chiang’s Taiwan, while initially a dictatorship was much more successful, and eventually blossomed into a prosperous democracy. The argument that Mao was a nationalist more than a communist has been refuted by history, even the Soviets found his methods excessive.
Bradley claimed the Flying Tigers were insignificant and only conducted one raid of note, and that the investment in logistics to sustain this outfit was simply based on the influence of the China lobby in Washington, D.C. and not for sound military purposes. I have no expertise on the Flying Tigers, but the historical summaries I looked up recently provide an alternative view. Historical accounts state that the Flying Tigers destroyed 2,355 Japanese planes and compared to the loss of 127 American planes. Supposedly this record was never beaten? Maybe they haven’t have a decisive strategic impact, but it certainly contributed to Japan’s culmination.
Bradley leverages the same tired arguments regarding the U.S. involvement in Vietnam War. In his view Ho Chi Minh wasn’t really a communist and wanted to be friends with the U.S. Our involvement in the Vietnam War was complicated and arguably our strategy was deeply flawed. All U.S. Presidents during that time period admitted we couldn’t win without an effective government in the Republic of Vietnam. While true, that doesn’t mean Ho or his successor were any better. Strategically, they were much better at indoctrinating their people and mobilizing them in pursuit of a dream that rapidly dissipated once the communists won. After winning, Le Duan said he would turn Vietnam a bastion of Stalinism. Contrary to the legitimacy claim based on nationalism, he forced his people into collective communes that went strongly against the grain of Vietnamese culture. Like all communist economic theories, it failed, people starved and revolted. The Vietnam government was forced to make reforms in the mid-80s. Another so-called legitimate leader and his legacy bite the dust.
Today Bradley argues China is not an aggressive country, and that we simply misunderstand them. I suspect we do misunderstand them, and not everything China is bad, but many nations in East Asia think China is increasingly aggressive based on China’s behavior, not a propaganda booklet. In the end, I think Bradley is either naïve or a fraud, what he is not is a historian.

10-02-2017, 03:46 PM
A well produced paperback (358 pgs) from UK-based Helion & Company:http://www.helion.co.uk/bandit-mentality-hunting-insurgents-in-the-rhodesian-bush-war-a-memoir.html

This is a refreshingly honest account by a New Zealander who volunteered to serve in Rhodesia’s British South African Police Support Unit, as the insurgency gained momentum 1976-1980. The Support Unit was the still largely civilian police’s para-military unit (1200 strong), with black African other ranks & NCOs and officered by regular, white police officers and those whites doing National Service.

What motivated him to serve? Simply ‘a selfish love of combat and life with a complete lack of routine…I was hooked on the adrenalin rush…adventure for the sake of adventure’ (Pg.267). Plus the opportunity between six week tours in the bush to drink, party and relax. By 1978 even with his experience no-one bothered to persuade him to stay, so the author left and ended up as an adviser to newly recruited UANC fighters, known as security force auxiliaries.

Little has been written about the ordinary black African role in Rhodesia’s insurgency; I exclude the Selous Scouts who were mainly turned ex-guerrillas. Loyalties were not fixed, the author recounts in the autumn of 1976 a captured guerrilla recruit claimed to be a serving policeman’s wife (Pg.79). Their motives were mixed, paid employment, revenge for some; they were loyal to the Support Unit and the BSAP – who ‘watched over them’ and like the French Foreign Legion ‘gave solid service in return’ (Pg.172).

The stance of the majority, rural African population in the Tribal Trust Lands facing violence from the guerrillas and the Rhodesian security forces was to steadily change. The Africans would claim ignorance of the guerrilla’s presence to actively supporting them. A good illustration at a Rhodesian firepower demonstration from an old African man asking ‘He said that if we are so powerful, why are there so many CTs in the bush? A good question’ (Pg.80).

Counterinsurgency warfare success is based on the security forces protecting the civilians from the insurgents; Rhodesia simply had extremely limited spending power, let alone forces able to live with the rural Africans and protect them (Pg.132). Personally I doubt the white Rhodesian government had the motivation to ever protect "their Africans", an attiude that hardened as the war developed.

This is a book which rightly concentrates on hunting insurgents, although criticisms of the Rhodesian approach abound, for example the lack of any briefing and debriefing (Pg.289). It helps to explain why Rhodesia failed to survive as the numbers of disaffected Africans grew, with so many leaving to join the nationalist guerrillas the security forces could not “hold the line”.

Worth reading, in part for the author's recollections and what can be learnt today. "Holding the line" is an appropriate phrase, yes a negotiated settlement was reached in 1979, but the "line" was simply full of holes and lacked after the Portuguese exit in 1974 strong foundations.

*Copied to Rhodesian COIN thread*.

10-02-2017, 06:47 PM
I recently read a brilliant, new book (272 pgs) by a RUC / PSNI veteran of 'The Troubles': 'Secret Victory: The Intelligence War That Beat the IRA' by William Matchett and available via:http://www.secretvictory.co.uk/ Plus the usual outlets.
It is worthy of a new thread, especially as the US Army adopted the 'Attack the Network' theme - which was taken from Northern Ireland.

As the title suggests this is about the missing dimension of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland 1969-1999. The author served for thirty years, mainly in the police’s intelligence department, the Special Branch and then became a police adviser in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places.

For many, notably politicians, especially Provisional Sinn Fein, The Good Friday Agreement 1998 (which led to a peace settlement in 1999) was a successfully negotiated compromise between the paramilitaries, Ulster political parties, the British and Irish governments. The author argues strongly that was not true: The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) by the early 1990’s ‘had run out of road’ and needed a face-saving exit. Half the IRA was in jail and most of the rest fugitives living in the Irish Republic (pg.8).

The author’s argument is that a rule of law approach endured – and the best weapon in the counter-terrorism armoury was the intelligence war conducted by the Special Branch (SB). Not to neglect the role of the Army, who had primacy over the police for seven years (1969-1976); with 30,000 serving in 1972, dropping to 15,000 in 1998. The police grew from 3,000 to 13,000 in the same period (pg.146) and in 1986 the SB had 640 officers or 5% of the force (pg.206).

The beginning of the end was the PIRA attack on Loughall police station, the PIRA attack was identified – minus many details – and the SAS ambushed them, killing eight hardened killers. PIRA was totally clueless how the SB knew. Attacks would still happen and 85% of mainland attacks were prevented (pg.219).

There is a mass of detail. I would draw attention to him writing 60% of gathered intelligence came from agents (pg. 22), 20% technical, 15% surveillance and 5% routine policing & open sources (pg. 98). Arrests occurred 96% of the time (pg.23) and the specialist uniformed support unit (E4 HMSU) had an impressive record: 99.5% of covert operations confronting armed terrorists resulted in arrests (pg.220). PIRA volunteers knew in a year’s time they would behind bars or dead. The SAS who dominated covert operations along the border between 1986-1992 killed twenty-one of PIRA’s top operators (pg.231) and in 1997 in South Armagh, the heart of ‘bandit country’ a PIRA sniper team were arrested by the SAS and E4 HMSU.

‘Agents were the decisive factor’ and eventually surveillance, armed response and tactical co-ordination were added – a combination that forced PIRA to capitulate (pg.112)

Much has been written on ‘suspect communities’ and today is often applied to Muslim communities in the UK. The author argues what emerged, under PIRA leadership and strategy, were ‘counter-societies’ that harnessed subversion and political militancy to accompany and support terrorism (pg.69-71). The aim was to make Nationalist areas un-policeable and therefore ungovernable.

The criminalization policy, also known as “Ulsterisation”, led to the PIRA recognizing the criminal justice system and having to defend their actions in criminal courts (minus juries) under public scrutiny (pg. 157). Behind the scenes and yet to become public documents were seven reports by senior Security Service authors (pg. 163).

There are chunks of the book which are controversial, the "shoot to kill" episode and the book fades out as peace approached. Perhaps it is too early even today to place more information in the public domain?

Backwards Observer
10-05-2017, 09:21 AM
In The Shadows Of The American Century by Alfred W. McCoy

The Language Of The Third Reich by Victor Klemperer


Backwards Observer
10-24-2017, 08:31 AM
War Commentaries of Caesar by Rex Warner (translator)

Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties by Robert Stone

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/02/Leonard_Nimoy_Presents_Mr._Spock%27s_Music_From_Ou ter_Space_%28Leonard_Nimoy_album_-_cover_art%29.jpg

10-25-2017, 04:38 PM
Cited in part (from Post 47):
A well produced paperback (358 pgs) from UK-based Helion & Company:http://www.helion.co.uk/bandit-mentality-hunting-insurgents-in-the-rhodesian-bush-war-a-memoir.html

This is a refreshingly honest account by a New Zealander who volunteered to serve in Rhodesia’s British South African Police Support Unit, as the insurgency gained momentum 1976-1980.

Thanks to a "lurker", ex-BSAP at the time for this comment:
I concur that the book was a good read, as I could reference places and situations the author mentions.

On the book, the author portrayed a very “Gung Ho” approach to events and I find it strange that he was allowed to get away with a number of things he actually did. I believe there was quite a bit of literary licence used. Initially, contacts and events were as one would expect, but as the book progressed so did the valour and attitudes. It may be me reading between the lines as the author was decorated for bravery.

In the book, he emphasized his position as being one of trust and honesty when dealing with matters, but then at the end he mentioned that he “sold up” his collection of stolen arms to pay for his trip back to New Zealand.

I did however, enjoy the book and would recommend it.

Bill Moore
11-04-2017, 09:36 PM
The Force of Reason
by Oriana Fallaci


It has been awhile since I have read a book written with this much passion. She is a self-described Christian atheist, whose isn't left or right politically, but she viciously attacks the brain dead far left incapable of reason. More to the point she describes what she sees as an existential threat to Europe, the Eurarabia trend, where European culture is rapidly being displaced by Islamic culture, enabled by feeble far left politicians.

I write not for money, I write out of a sense of duty. A duty which is costing my life to dispel the silly and cynical lies dispensed to us like arsenic inside the soup.

Although she has a history of leaning left politically, she rejects the new left (my words), which is incapable of independent thinking and void of logic.

"Though the daughter of secularism, (besides a secularism begotten by liberalism and consequently not consonant with dogmatism), the Left is not laic. Whether it dresses in red or black or pink or green or white or in all the colours of the rainbow, the Left is confessional. Ecclesiastic. Because it derives from an ideology of religious character. That is it appeals to ideology which claims to possess the Truth. . . Like Islam it considers itself sanctified by a God who is the custodian of the Truth. Like Islam it never acknowledges it faults and its errors, it considers itself infallible and never apologizes. Like Islam it demands a world at its own image, a society built on the verses of the Prophet. . . Like Islam it does not accept different opinions and if you think differently it despises you. It denigrates you, it punishes you. Like Islam, in short, it is illiberal."

In sum this book is about resistance to Islamic fascism. She argues Troy is burning in Europe, but she has great faith in America to oppose this evil.

"The war that Islam has declared on the West is not really a military war. It's a cultural war. A war, Tocqueville would say, that instead of our body wants to strike our soul. Our way of life, our philosophy of Life. Our way of thinking, of acting, of loving. Our freedom.
Don't be fooled by their explosives. They are just a strategy. Those death lovers don't us just for the pleasure of killing: they kill us to break our spirit.

The decline of intelligence is the decline of Reason. And everything which now happens in Europe, in Eurabia, is also a decline of Reason. A decline which before being morally wrong is intellectually wrong. Refusing to admit that all Islam is a pond inside which we are drowning, in fact, is against reason. Not defending our territory, our homes, our children, our dignity, our essence, is against Reason.

I enjoyed the passion, the prose, and agree with her message.

The moment you give up your principles, and your values, you are dead, your culture is dead, your civilization is dead. Period. Oriana Fallaci

To learn about this fascinating author who sadly passed away in 2007, the following links to one short story and one of medium length provides some insights to her life.


Oriana Fallaci, Right or Wrong

Her interviews remain studies in speaking truth to power. Interviewing Ayatollah Khomeini, she famously called the chador a “stupid, medieval rag” and took it off, provoking the Ayatollah to leave the room. (It is a testament to her journalistic power that he came back the next day.) She badgered Ariel Sharon about the meaning of the word “terrorist” and accused him of having been one himself. She got Henry Kissinger to compare himself to a cowboy, alone “with his horse and nothing else.” Nixon, De Stefano writes, “was not at all pleased by the cowboy metaphor.”


She Said What She Thought
Mark Steyn December 2006 Issue

One would have been only mildly surprised had her interview with Ayatollah Khomeini followed the same trajectory. After traveling to Qom and cooling her heels for ten days waiting for him to agree to see her, she was ushered—barefoot and wearing a chador—into his presence—and found what she subsequently described as the most handsome old man she’d ever met. In his own way, Khomeini must have dug the crazy Italian chick. The meeting was terminated when she tore off “this stupid medieval rag” and hurled her chador to the floor, but he agreed to finish the interview a day or two later.

Bill Moore
11-04-2017, 10:23 PM
I had a strong interest in peak performance physically and mentally as it relates to being a warrior, but the interest now is more in peak performance for life in general. Over the years the Special Operations community has explored these topics, but disappointedly never really embraced as part of our culture. However, there is interest now in using mediation to address PTSD.

The two most recent books I read are:


Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body


Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

The first book provided some interesting insights on the how scientific research is evolving, how the tests are conducted, the associated bias that is difficult to eliminate, etc. However, it provided less than a chapter in total on how mediation is proven to change your mind, brain, and body. Frankly, there isn't sufficient scientific evidence yet, but according to the authors that is changing based on the large volume of ongoing research.

The second book I enjoyed much more. The author draws parallels in the latest views from the world of psychology and how they align with what Buddhists have discover centuries ago.

The author does a good job of explaining some the key tenants of Buddhism in plain English, such as mindfulness, emptiness, and nirvana. While in plain English, the concepts are not simple and the author doesn't simplify them. If you're interested in the topic, I would recommend this book.

Backwards Observer
11-06-2017, 01:05 AM
Military Misfortunes by Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch

Endless Empire by Alfred W. McCoy, Josep M. Fradera, and Stephen Jacobsen (editors)


11-06-2017, 05:57 PM
Posted at Brownpundits. (http://www.brownpundits.com/2017/10/31/book-review-last-hope-island/)

The history of the Second World War continues to offer up new and fascinating details as archives are opened and dying old men occasionally decide to tell the truth before they die (the latter opportunity is now almost gone, the first is still a work in progress). Lynne Olson does a good job here of bringing to light an aspect of that titanic struggle that deserves its own book length treatment: the European exiles who found shelter in Great Britain (the “Last Hope Island” of the title) and the role they played in the war.

These exiles did not always come to England because England had stood by them; The Czechs had been sold out; the Poles, while unlikely to survive in any case, received little or no real help against the Nazis; the Norwegian campaign and Britain’s blunders and betrayals in that saga are already relatively well known (Churchill, responsible for some of the biggest blunders, was lucky to survive them and become PM; that he did survive them also proved fortunate for those who opposed Nazism, since blunders and all, he was still crucial to the survival of Britain and even the eventual liberation of Western Europe). Benelux and the French fell mostly to their own weaknesses, but Britain’s interventions were not without their share of blunders, minor betrayals and other embarrassments. This book reveals all these details, and shows how much of what did survive owed to individual initiatives, chance, and the vicissitudes of fate, and not to the brilliant performance of the British establishment. Though to be fair, the lesson here is not that Britain had a bumbling establishment, but rather how much stupidity and muddle-headedness attends any great war, especially before the kinks are worked out.
The role of the Poles in particular is worth highlighting (and tragic, now that we know what happened to that much-abused nation in the years that followed); it is already relatively well known that Polish pilots played an outsize role in the crucial Battle of Britain, but I did not realize how much resistance they faced before being allowed to play that role; what is less well appreciated, even today, is how critical their role was in the decoding of Enigma, far and away the greatest intelligence coup of the war. The role of the French in Enigma is also highlighted, as is the absolutely critical role they played in jump-starting the Western nuclear program.

(side note: i did not know that Marian Rejewski, the great Polish mathematician who first broke Enigma, died in near-obscurity in Soviet controlled Poland, living for 20 years in anonymity to avoid the fate of countless other returning Polish exiles, who were exiled to Siberia or killed outright by the Soviets).

The fact that MI6 was a bumbling, incompetent old boys club led by second-raters is made clear, as is the reason for their extremely exalted reputation (including among their enemies; Hitler was a huge fan); they benefited from (and shamelessly took credit for) the flood of intelligence they were able to get from the intelligence networks of many defeated nations (now headquartered under their supervision in London), first and foremost, the heroic Poles.
Interesting tidbit: Roosevelt talked about handing over the Norwegian port of Narvik to the Soviets after the war. That he was generally shameless (and ill-informed and foolish) about the fate of smaller nations is pretty well known already, and is highlighted in this book; incidentally, the “free world” may have dodged a bullet by having him die in time for the relatively more principled and less megalomaniacal Truman to take over, errors and omissions excepted.
The book follows the general progress of the war to its end, including the liberation of France, the probably avoidable Dutch hunger winter that followed Montgomery’s over-cautious and then over-ambitious blundering, and the much more clouded and frequently cruel liberation that attended the Soviet victory in the East. It ends with an account of the setting up of supranational institutions (starting with the Benelux treaty, then the larger and much more consequential coal and steel pacts, the EEC and finally the EU).

Personally, I would have liked some more facts and figures and a few pages offering the author’s own summary of the lessons learned from each section, but that is just me.
All in all, a very readable, very interesting, fact-packed book about an important but somewhat neglected aspect of the war. It is possible that the weight of Soviet numbers, Russian asabiya and American industry would have led to the same final outcome and all other players (including even Great Britain) were relatively small fry, but it is also possible, even probable, almost certain, that the survival of that Island was critical, and that relatively small contingencies played a big part in that survival. One of those was the arrival on that island of some very determined, courageous and talented refugees from Nazi occupied Europe. This is their story.

By the way, brought to my attention by @cybertosser : some of the Poles ended up in Pakistan. One, Air Commodore Turowicz, played an important role in setting up not just the technical facilities of the Pakistan Air Force, but also our infant space program..

And Seapower: (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2175990658?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1)

This is not really a history of sea power in any strong sense. Stavridis mostly gives a somewhat superficial and cliched review of all the world's oceans (the books is organized ocean by ocean) and ends with some cliched remarks about the importance of sea power and that is about it. If you are interested in a history of sea power, this is not really the book for you.
Still, you will learn some new things (and several good book recommendations; he recommends books about every topic he covers) and it does have some nice anecdotes about his time in the US Navy and its activities around the world in the last 40 years.
Not much meat.

Backwards Observer
11-12-2017, 06:31 AM
Ideal Illusions by James Peck

Everything Is Going According To Plan by Dmitry Orlov


Bill Moore
11-18-2017, 08:33 PM
The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote

by Sharyl Attkisson

from Amazon

Ever wonder how politics turned into a take-no-prisoners blood sport? The New York Times bestselling author of Stonewalled pulls back the curtain on the shady world of opposition research and reveals the dirty tricks those in power use to influence your opinions.

This book was written by someone in the know, and it will be very illuminating for many Americans who haven't been exposed to how our media spins so called news stories and shapes the opinions of Americans (and beyond). However, at the end of the day, the mostly far left media, despite employing a wide span of dirty tricks, failed to stop the successful Presidential bid of Donald Trump. Thankfully many Americans saw past the spin.

While she provides a lot of insight into the dirty tricks the Clintons (both Hillary and Bill) employed over the years, Republicans and others are also exposed.

My interpretation of the book, is Sharyl describes how politics evolved from mostly issues based competition to mostly personal attacks, and issues have taken a back seat. She exposes the millions of dollars spent on opposition party research, and then the elaborate campaigns to ruin the reputation of the candidates running for office. She points out that smear campaigns are driven by passion, money, and ideology. She adds a successful smear is interesting (sex, illegal activity), explainable in a sentence (crooked Hillary), and confirms what people want to believe.

Most importantly, unlike a democracy should work, agendas are set by those who can bring their persuasive arguments before a power broker, and money talks more than anything else in the cesspool of D.C.'s politics. She acknowledges smear campaigns in the U.S. go all way back to our founding fathers, but they have reached a new level. She argues the shift was made possible by 2010 Supreme Court decision in the "Citizens v. Federal Elections Commission. Until this decision, federal law imposed strict limits on how much a person could donate to a political campaign to limit the ability of the wealthy special interest groups to "buy" candidates. This decision eliminated those limits and even allows corporations and unions to give unlimited funds to non-profits to support a particular candidate. This resulted in the emergence of tax-exempt social welfare groups called superPACs.

In my view, this explains why our politicians can't sit down, roll up their sleeves, and negotiate compromised solutions across the aisle. They are bought and paid for, and therefore beholden to those who paid for them. Of course, this is why several individuals and corporations that donated millions of dollars to the Clinton campaign are so upset she lost.

Not only people are smeared, but so are the issues themselves. For example, fake science provides arguments on both sides of the global warming debate. A critical issue now masked in the fog (or smog) of fake science supported by moneyed interests instead of the interest of mankind.

There is some wisdom to the argument of kill all the lawyers, the vast majority of our political elite. Replace them with Engineers and doctors and others who make a living solving problems instead of creating them. I don't know if a deep state actually exists, but I'm convinced there is a deep meta-state consisting of the media and moneyed interest groups that seek to deceive the American people to protect their interests. No doubt a move is afoot to smear the author of this book, but if read it will expose how the system currently operates.

Backwards Observer
11-19-2017, 06:17 AM
Imperial Bandits by Bradley Camp Davis

Evans Carlson, Marine Raider by Duane Schultz


Bill Moore
11-25-2017, 07:19 PM

The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth. By Mark Mazzetti (2014)

This book is a hodgepodge of stories about CIA and JSOC operations, and the associated interagency friction/competition. He spends a lot of time condemning the CIA's use of drones, and in true western reporting fashion focuses the bulk of his comments on so-called collateral damage and very little time on the number of terrorist attacks prevented. The media should hold us accountable, we made numerous tragic errors, but there have also been numerous successes at the tactical level. As the author readily admits, when you're dealing with mostly confidential sources providing information that frequently can't be validated or dual sourced, there will be a degree of error in reporting.

If the author is trying to make an overall point, it is that our national security structure was turned upside down after 9/11. In his view the CIA assumed the role of the military, and military SOF assumed the role of the CIA (intelligence collection). In my view, he overstates this since the CIA has always been involved to various degrees in paramilitary operations and the military has always done intelligence operations. Clearly the type and scale of intelligence operations and paramilitary operations have changed since 9/11 based on the threat.

The book is a quick read, and the inside stories on Yemen and Pakistan probably make the book worth reading with the caveat that it is written with a high degree of bias.

Bill Moore
11-27-2017, 07:55 AM
American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent


This is a simple and fast read, but also a good read that tells an important story about how a Muslim American FBI American penetrated a terrorist network, or terrorist wanttobes, in the U.S. and how the investigation stretched into Canada resulting a combined U.S. and Canadian bust at the end of the investigation.

I assume there are many reasons the FBI approved the release of this book, which details how they conduct these investigations. For one, it tells the American people the good work our law enforcement is conducting to protect the homeland. Second, it demonstrates most American Muslims reject this radical ideology (to include the agent that risked his life and sacrificed his personal life to conduct these investigations and still remain true to his religion). Third, it should sow distrust among Islamists attempting to establish an operational cell in the U.S.

It is a serious story, but the author also includes a lot of humor throughout the book. On the darker side, it does illustrate how full of hate the terrorist are and their unending desire to kill a large number of Americans. It should also be somewhat alarming on well educated these terrorists are.

12-01-2017, 04:46 AM
Posted at Brownpundits. (http://www.brownpundits.com/2017/12/01/review-on-china/)

“On China” is a curious mixture of history, geopolitical analysis and self-serving memoir (concentrating mostly on the last two elements). Kissinger reviews some of the highlights of Chinese history; ancient and medieval China is covered quickly and superficially and the material is pretty much standard issue, but the level of detail increases after greatly from the opium war onwards and the book becomes much more interesting at that point. Kissinger makes the case that the Qing bureaucrats, in dire straits thanks to internal revolts, financial crisis and administrative decay, were not completely clueless or apathetic. Faced with determined, ruthless and far more technologically advanced European powers who had already overcome or overawed other great non-Western empires, Qing diplomats did their best to play European powers against one another and try to use (very limited) breathing space to try some fitful reforms, but the court was too far gone and the situation could not be salvaged, which led to 100 years of defeat, disorder, revolutions, famines and other disasters.

Kissinger, having worked with Zhou and Mao and their successors as partners in a world-altering initiative (US-Chinese rapprochement) keeps all criticisms of the CCP rather muted, while constantly highlighting their achievements and what he (enviously) regards as their diplomatic guile, patience and their special oriental “insight”. Given that any other posture would raise questions about how close Kissinger himself became to them and how much he tried to help them, this is not surprising, but it does make his assessments a bit suspect.
Anyhow, the second half of the book is really an account of “China and I”, with Henry popping in to save Mao from the Soviets (a threat that he, and the CCP as a whole) took very, very seriously), help Deng along as he starts China’s transition to capitalism and economic success and smooth over things when something mildly unpleasant like Tienanmen happens. In all, he made more than 50 trips to China, mostly as private citizen and/or unofficial emissary. This is certainly the most interesting part of the book and is full of insider quotes and anecdotes, including one where the Chairman is generously giving Taiwan a 100 years to come back to the motherland and a fawning Kissinger is telling him “it won’t take that long”. The complete amorality of the calculations of the PRC and Henry Kissinger is most obvious in the support both provided to the Khmer Rouge as they carried out their genocide in Kampuchea; Henry spends many pages explaining why this (and the Chinese “chastisement” of Vietnam in a limited punitive invasion) was necessary to prevent Vietnamese domination of South East Asia. Why that would be a core Chinese aims is easy to understand, but why the US should partner with them in this effort is not obvious, though Henry tries to present it as such. After the war, Deng tells K “if we had driven deeper into Vietnam in our punitive action, it would have been even better”. Kissinger: “it could be”!
The book is worth reading for the anecdotes and historical information. The geopolitical explanations are enlightening in that they show how these minds operate, but whether they operate for our benefit or not is an open question.