Book Reviews: August 2003

By Vic Fogle

The General’s War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf
By Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor.

Boston, New York, and London:
Little, Brown and Company,
Back Bay Books, 1995. xv + 551 pp., illus., maps, preface, notes, epilogue, ack., index. USD $18.95 pb (ISBN 0-316-32100-1)
Reviewed by Vic Fogle.

The Persian Gulf War produced battles of great ferocity, take-no-prisoners assaults, slash-and-burn offensives, deadly sniping, and grudging retreats. And that was just among the American military figures and civilians who tried to plan and execute it. What it did to the Iraqis was even worse.

An alternative title might well have been “The Persian Gulf War According to the New York Times.” Michael R. Gordon covered the war as chief defense correspondent for that newspaper, while Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine, served as military correspondent for the Times from 1986 to 1990 and as an ABC war analyst during the Gulf War. The book’s 1995 publication was close enough to the war to have caught the sour taste of frustration over its unsatisfying conclusion, yet long enough afterward so that the Times, by using its not inconsiderable clout, was able to have a number of relevant documents declassified or otherwise made available. This account makes use of numerous official documents and transcripts, interviews with participants, participants’ books, and notes made by attendees at various meetings.

The General’s War is very well written and moves at a relentless pace that propels the action in a largely chronological manner. Somehow the authors manage to describe the various aspects of the ground war while pressing them forward together, so that the reader never loses a sense of the big picture. A narrative device used to good advantage is that of advancing the story through thumbnail vignettes of individual participants who make important contributions of providing the solutions to specific problems. The book’s inclusiveness is enhanced by excellent maps that show the various fronts and assaults as complementary parts of the whole. There is also a fine and necessary index.

Like almost any American military activity of the last forty years, this one had strong ties to the Vietnam War. The narrative begins, appropriately enough, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell, “a politically attuned officer...wielding power and influence beyond that exercised by any previous chairman,” under whom “the chiefs of the four services were relegated to the status of observers who simply provided forces for the conflict.” The hard lessons of Vietnam had convinced Powell that the American public would turn against wars that had ill-defined objectives. According to what became known as the Powell Doctrine, military goals needed to be precisely defined beforehand. If force became necessary, it must be overpowering, decisive, and crushingly applied, with the concluding victory a foregone conclusion. After achievement of the war aims, the military force should be immediately withdrawn, so that it would not be pulled into local politics or governance of conquered territory. Indeed, this view had become part of the shared mindset of most American military leaders. But because it was closely focused upon solely military matters, it caused Powell to argue against deployment of a naval force in the Gulf to indicate American resolve to support Kuwait, and it further caused him to advise against going to war to liberate Kuwait after Saddam’s invasion. And when the ground war was going at full speed, it was Powell who persuaded an indecisive President Bush to announce a cease fire after 100 hours, before the Coalition had achieved its military goals, before the Iraqis had agreed to anything, and even before the desired site picked for the cease fire was in American hands. According to our authors, the military got most of the freedom from civilian involvement that it wanted, but the flip side of the coin was that military tunnel vision came with a heavy diplomatic price. When the war was over, the military was also far from satisfied. Powell “defined American military objectives in terms of what the public was prepared to stand for and the all-but-certain likelihood of success” and considered “the idea of an offensive almost too terrible to contemplate.” “‘Powell,’ Schwarzkopf told his staff one day, ‘is a political genius. But he lacks the stomach for war.’”

There were turf battles that were totally unrelated to the sands of Iraq. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, head of the Army’s Central Command (CENTCOM), a kind of joint task force that had its roots in the former Rapid Deployment Force, was in nominal charge of ejecting Iraqi forces from Kuwait. While he was expected to devise a war plan, he had his hand full first trying to draft a defense of Saudi Arabia, in the days when it appeared the Iraqis might continue on south before the allied buildup was complete, and in dealing with the Saudis. So a small planning group, which came to be known as the Jedi Knights, was set up. In the meantime, each service proposed its own plans and floated them for acceptance, while civilians in the administration and the Pentagon were not shy about communicating their ideas and agendas.

Schwarzkopf attempted to assign roles in the coming offensive to all four of the American military services and other Coalition members, but there was a great deal of bickering about which American service would do what, for each service demanded its own share of anticipated glory. The Air Force thought that they could win the war alone with their high tech weaponry, so that there might be no need for ground attack. The Marines, when they became involved, were outraged that the Army had been planning a ground war for two months without telling them, and they were further angered that the Army’s idea of a Marine operation was essentially a feint to draw off Iraqi forces (“holding the door open for the Army,” as they put it) while the Army got to do the fighting. The Navy, for its part, lacked the Air Force’s stealth planes and argued in favor of a traditional “roll back” campaign in which air superiority would be established in sequential operations. And Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Dugan, who had been in his office for only a couple of months, began talking injudiciously to the press as soon as he was briefed and lost his job immediately.

The authors do not dwell upon it, but there appears to have been a major failure in Coalition intelligence regarding the Iraqi army. Intelligence knew which Iraqi units were present but apparently did not know that the vast majority was seriously understaffed. Moreover, after eight punishing years of war with Iran, which our authors feel Iraq should have won handily, most Iraqi soldiers had had enough fighting.

The war revealed limitations to the Powell Doctrine and demonstrated that we have not outgrown the need for a consideration of political needs and goals. Other lessons were that America’s high tech weapons and all volunteer army were resounding successes, but that much remains to be done in the fields of interservice cooperation and intelligence gathering. Future conflicts in which national survival is not at stake will probably see demands for low casualties on both sides.

According to the authors, the principal failure in the Persian Gulf War was the lack of planning for the aftermath of war and the consequent necessary conditions for its end, so that military goals are complete and can insure the implementation of political ones.

The AK47
By Chris McNab

Copyright 2001.
ISBN 0-7603-1025-4.
Published by:
MBI Publishing Co,
Dept SAR,
P.O. Box 1,
Osceola, WI 54020.
Phone: 1-800-826-6600,
Website: www.motorbooks.com. $17.95 plus $4.00 shipping and handling.
Reviewed by Larry S. Sterett

Interesting enough, this large size hardbound volume was edited and designed in the UK, published in the U.S., and printed in the Slovak Republic. Not too bad for a firearms designed and originally manufactured in the former Soviet Republic. (Recently, Mikhail Kalashnikov, who conceived the AK47 in the 1940’s, while recuperating from wounds, stated he wished he had designed a piece of farm machinery for peaceful use instead. Regardless, the AK47 has become what may be the most influential firearm in the history of small arms.

This volume is relatively slim in thickness, with only five chapters, appendices, and a good index, but large in the amount of information it provides. Chapter 1 is devoted to The Making of the AK47 and the history that led to its development. The Russians were already producing small arms using stamped steel parts, as witnessed by their PPSh41 and PPS43 submachine guns, both chambered for the 7.62x25mm Soviet pistol cartridge. They also had a semiautomatic rifle with detachable ten-round magazine, the SVT40 and an earlier 1938 model, both chambered for the 7.62x54R rifle cartridge. When the Germans introduced their MP43/StG44 rifle chambered for a shortened 8mm cartridge, the 7.92x33mm Kurz, a new era dawned.

The MP43/StG44 rifles, the predecessors of the modern “assault rifles,” and the 7.92mm Kurz cartridge came too late to have much effect on the outcome of the war. Had the MP43/StG44 arrived on the scene earlier, the outcome of the war might have been altered somewhat. The rifle design made maximum use of stamped parts, reducing production time and costs, plus the cartridge had more power than pistol cartridges, but less than rifle cartridges. It filled a niche. The Soviets took due note and the race was on for an arm which was not only as good, but better.

Chapter 2, Design and Development, in three parts, 1948-51, 1951-59 and the AKM. Discussion of the modifications, how to identify Type I, II and III AK47’s, the switch from smooth to ribbed magazines, etc., are well covered.

Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to Usage and Training, and Deployment and Battle. Chapter 5, the longest, covers AK Variants, beginning with the AK74. Other variants in this chapter include the AKS74, AKS74U, Czech LADA, RPK74, Dragunov SVD, Romania’s AIM, Israel’s Galil ARM, and Yugoslavia’s M80. The arms of fourteen countries, from Armenia to Yugoslavia are discussed, and some coverage of sniper rifles, submachine gun and machine guns in addition to the AK47-type rifles.

The appendices consists of tables listing the specifications of twenty different AK47 variants, plus distinctions between the AK47 and the AKM. There is also material devoted to the AN-94 “Abakan” rifle, which may or may not be the AK47/AK74 replacement.

This volume is lavishly illustrated, with full-color and black and white photos. Many of the latter are combat stills, illustration arms in action. Among the full-color illustrations are some AK47 carrying combatants of different nations. There are five two-page color illustrations of various arms, showing them partially sectioned so the firing mechanism is visible.

This isn’t the last word on the AK47, but it provides good basic coverage, and is well illustrated. For a reader wanting general AK47 information or another source for cross-reference it’s handy to have on the shelf.

Secret Soldiers: Special Forces in the War Against Terrorism
By Peter Harclerode

Cassel & Co.
Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, England
Distributed in the US by:
Sterling Publishing
387 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016
Softcover, 620 pgs, 8 pgs B/W photos
First Published 2000
Reprinted 2001
ISBN: 0-304-36379-0
Review by Timothy Kast

Peter Harclerode’s Secret Soldiers is hardcore and full of painful facts. With a length of 620 pages, Secret Soldiers is not a casual read, but with the first three chapters filled with dates, places, names, and acronyms, Harclerode gives you just the facts. He begins by laying the foundations of terrorism by tracing its roots back to the anti-war protesters in American in the 1960s. Terrorism sprang from the chaos and unrest in American universities. This quickly spread to the United Kingdom and Europe. In August 1966, London became the playground for the man who would become the most sought after fugitive in the world, “Carlos the Jackal,” Ilich Ramirez Sanchez. Emboldened by the success of campus radicals in the US, Ramirez began a stretch of terrorist activity that encompassed the Red Brigades, Action Direct, Red Army Faction, Revolutionaire Zellen, and a score of others. These organizations were well-funded guerrilla operations financed by ransoms from kidnappings, bank robbery, extortion and white-collar, high-yield criminal activity. This is a pattern that is still being used today all over the globe.

Chapter Four deals with how specific countries dealt with the progression of terrorism within their borders. Response to terrorist activity was usually met with denial first, and then a sluggish, almost reluctant approach was common for most of the European countries. The formation of GSG-9 (Grenzschutzgruppe-9) in 1972 marked the first singularly aggressive counter-terrorist defense for West Germany. In Britain, the creation of 22 SAS announced that terrorism was here to stay. As the rest of Europe geared up to engage this rising menace, the United States, like a great ponderous beast, awoke to the realization in the late 1970s, to begin forming Delta Force and finally SEAL Team 6 in October 1980 under the guidance of Richard Marcinko.

In further chapters prominent counter-terror operations are covered in detail: Operation Thunderball, Fire-Magic, and Operation Nimrod are well described in precise detail often omitted in the mainstream media. We learn the methods and strategies of terrorist actions on numerous fronts.

Fighting terrorism begins with knowledge, information about the genre; to know the enemy and his ways and means. In Secret Soldiers, Peter Harclerode has done a peerless job of correlating the volumes of research necessary to compile this treatise on terrorism. Highly recommended.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N11 (August 2003)
and was posted online on October 25, 2013


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