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Posts Tagged ‘U.S. MARINE CORPS’

HEROES: NOT WHAT THEY USED TO BE

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 21, 2017 at 12:20 am

Steven Pressfield is the bestselling author of several novels on ancient Greece.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

In Gates of Fire (1998) he celebrated the immortal battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held at bay a vastly superior Persian army for three days.

In Tides of War (2000) he re-fought the ancient world’s 25-year version of the Cold War between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta.

n The Virtues of War (2004) he chronicled the military career of Alexander the Great–through the eyes of the conqueror himself.

And in The Afghan Campaign (2006) he accompanied Alexander’s army as it waged a vicious, three-year counterinsurgency war against native Afghans.

Besides being an amateur historian of armed conflict, Pressfield is a former Marine. His novel, Gates of Fire, has been adopted by the Marine Corps as required reading.

So Pressfield knows something about the art–and horrors–of war. And about the decline of heroism in the modern age.

Consider the events of November 9, 2012.

On that date, General David Petraeus suddenly resigned his position as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He had held this just slightly more than a year.

The reason: The revelation of–and his admission to–an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, the woman who had written an admiring biography of him called All In.

Ironically, this happened to be the same day that “Skyfall”–the latest James Bond film–opened nationwide.

Since Bond made his first onscreen appearance in 1962’s “Dr. No,” England’s most famous spy has bedded countless women.  And has become internationally famous as the ultimate ladykiller.

But real-life doesn’t quite work the same way.

What is permitted–and even celebrated–in a fictional spy is not treated the same way in the real world of espionage.

Prior to this, Petraeus had been the golden boy of the American Army–the best-known and most revered general since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

David  Petraeus

The man who

  • had given 37 years of his life to protecting the nation;
  • had rewritten the book on how to fight counterinsurgency wars;
  • had turned around the stagnated war in Iraq;
  • had presided over the winding down of the war in Afghanistan.

As President Barack Obama put it:

“General Petraeus had an extraordinary career.  He served this country with great distinction in Iraq, in Afghanistan and as head of the CIA.

“I want to emphasize that from my perspective, at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service.  We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done.

“And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”

It’s why Pressfield candidly admits he prefers the ancient world to the present:

“If I’m pressed to really think about the question, I would answer that what appeals to me about the ancient world as opposed to the modern is that the ancient world was pre-Christian, pre-Freudian, pre-Marxist, pre-consumerist, pre-reductivist.

“It was grander, it was nobler, it was simpler. You didn’t have the notion of turn-the-other-cheek. You had Oedipus but you didn’t have the Oedipus complex. It was political but it was not politically correct.”

To illustrate what he meant, Pressfield cited this passage from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, on how ancient-world politics took on its own tone of McCarthyism:  

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member.  

To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward. Any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character. Ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.

As if speaking on the scandal involving David Petraeus, Pressfield states:

“Our age has been denatured. The heroic has been bled out of it.

“The callings of the past––he profession of arms, the priesthood, the medical and legal professions, politics, the arts, journalism, education, even motherhood and fatherhood–every one has been sullied and degraded by scandal after scandal.

“We’re hard up for heroes these days, and even harder up for conceiving ourselves in that light. That’s why I’m drawn to the ancient world. It’s truer, in my view, to how we really are.

“The ancient world has not been reductified and deconstructed as ours has; it has not been robbed of all dignity. They had heroes then. There was such a thing, truly, as the Heroic Age. Men like Achilles and Leonidas really did exist.

“There was such a thing, truly, as heroic leadership. Alexander the Great did not command via satellite or remote control.  He rode into battle at the head of his Companion cavalry; he was the first to strike the foe.”

Today, generals command armies while stationed thousands of miles from the front. And they face more danger from heart attacks than enemy bullets.  

And commanding American generals is Donald Trump, a five-times draft-dodger who equates avoiding sexually-transmitted diseases with surviving the Vietnam war: “It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”

SOLDIERING IN AFGHANISTAN: THEN AND NOW

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 25, 2015 at 3:26 pm

In “Excalibur,” director John Boorman’s brilliant 1981 telling of the King Arthur legends, Merlin warns Arthur’s knights–and us: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Not so Steven Pressfield, who repeatedly holds up the past as a mirror to our present.  Case in point: His 2006 novel, The Afghan Campaign.

By 2006, Americans had been fighting in Afghanistan for five years.  And today, almost ten years into the same war, there remains no clear end in sight–to our victory or withdrawal.

Pressfield’s novel, although set 2,000 years into the past, has much to teach us about what are soldiers are facing today in that same alien, unforgiving land.

Matthias, a young Greek seeking  glory and opportunity, joins the army of Alexander the Great. But the Persian Empire has fallen, and the days of conventional, set-piece battles–where you can easily tell friend from foe–are over.

Alexander next plans to conquer India, but first he must pacify its gateway–Afghanistan. Here that the Macedonians meet a new–and deadly–kind of enemy.

“Here the foe does not meet us in pitched battle,” warns Alexander. “Even when we defeat him, he will no accept our dominion. He comes back again and again. He hates us with a passion whose depth is exceeded only by his patience and his capacity for suffering.”

Related image

Alexander the Great

Matthias learns this early.  In his first raid on an Afghan village, he’s ordered to execute a helpless prisoner.  When he hesitates, he’s brutalized until he strikes out with his sword–and botches the job.

But, soon, exposed to an unending series of atrocities–committed by himself and his comrades, as  well as the enemy–he finds himself transformed.

And he hates it.  He agonizes over the gap between the ideals he embraced when he became a soldier–and the brutalities that have drained him of everything but a grim determination to survive at any cost.

Pressfield, a former Marine himself, repeatedly contrasts how civilians see war as a kind of “glorious” child’s-play with how soldiers actually experience it.

Related image

Steven Pressfield

He creates an extraordinary exchange between Costas, an ancient-world version of a CNN war correspondent, and Lucas, a soldier whose morality is outraged at how Costas and his ilk routinely prettify  the indescribable.

And we know the truth of this exchange immediately. For we know there are doubtless brutalities  inflicted by our troops on the enemy–and atrocities inflicted by the enemy upon them–that never make  the headlines, let alone the TV cameras.

We also know that, decades  from now, thousands of our former soldiers will carry horrific memories to their graves. These memories will remain sealed from public view, allowing their fellow but unblooded Americans to sleep peacefully, unaware of  the terrible price that others have paid on their behalf.

Like the Macedonians (who call themselves “Macks”), our own soldiers find themselves serving in an all-but-forgotten land among a populace whose values could not be more alien from our own if they came from Mars.

Instincitvely, they turn to one another–not only for physical security but to preserve their last vestiges of humanity. As the war-weary veteran, Lucas, advises:

“Never tell anyone except your mates. Only you don’t need to tell them. They know. They know you.  Better than a man knows his wife, better than he knows himself. They’re bound to you and you to them, like wolves  in  a  pack. It’s not you and them. You are them. The unit is indivisible. One dies, we all die.”

Put conversely: One lives, we all live.

Pressfield has reached into the past to reveal fundamental truths about the present that most of us could probably not accept if contained in a modern-day memoir.

These truths take on an immediate poignancy owing to our own current war in Afghanistan.  But they will remain just as relevant decades from now, when our now-young soldiers are old and retired.

This book has been described as a sequel to Pressfield’s The Virtues of War: A  Novel  of Alexander the Great, which appeared in 2004. But it isn’t.

Virtues showcased the brilliant and luminous (if increasingly dark and explosive) personality of Alexander the Great, whose Bush-like, good-vs.-evil rhetoric inspired men to hurl themselves into countless battles on his behalf.

But Afghan thrusts us directly into the flesh-and-blood realities created by that rhetoric: The horrors of men traumatized by an often unseen but always menacing enemy, and the horrors they must inflict in return if they are to survive in a hostile and alien world.

HEROES: REAL AND FICTIONAL

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 22, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Steven Pressfield is the bestselling author of several novels on ancient Greece.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

In Gates of Fire (1998) he celebrated the immortal battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held at bay a vastly superior Persian army for three days.

In Tides of War (2000) he re-fought the ancient world’s 25-year version of the Cold War between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta.

In The Virtues of War (2004) he chronicled the military career of Alexander the Great–through the eyes of the conqueror himself.

And in The Afghan Campaign (2006) he accompanied Alexander’s army as it waged a vicious, three-year counterinsurgency war against native Afghans.

Besides being an amateur historian of armed conflict, Pressfield is a former Marine.  His novel, Gates of Fire, has been adopted by the Marine Corps as required reading.

So Pressfield knows something about the art–and horrors–of war.  And about the decline of heroism in the modern age.

Consider the events of November 9, 2012.

On that date, General David Petraeus suddenly resigned his position as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  He had held this just slightly more than a year.

The reason: The revelation of–and his admission to–an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, the woman who had written an admiring biography of him called All In.

Ironically, this happened to be the same day that “Skyfall”–the latest James Bond film–opened nationwide.

Since Bond made his first onscreen appearance in 1962’s “Dr. No,” England’s most famous spy has bedded countless women.  And has become internationally famous as the ultimate ladykiller.

It seems that real-life doesn’t quite work the same way.

What is permitted–and even celebrated–in a fictional spy is not treated the same way in the real world of espionage.

Prior to this, Petraeus had been the golde            n boy of the American Army–the best-known and most revered general since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

David  Petraeus

The man who

  • had given 37 years of his life to protecting the nation;
  • had rewritten the book on how to fight counterinsurgency wars;
  • had turned around the stagnated war in Iraq;
  • had presided over the winding down of the war in Afghanistan.

As President Barack Obama put it:

“General Petraeus had an extraordinary career.  He served this country with great distinction in Iraq, in Afghanistan and as head of the CIA.

“I want to emphasize that from my perspective, at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service.  We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done.

“And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”

It’s why Pressfield candidly admits he prefers the ancient world to the present:

“If I’m pressed to really think about the question, I would answer that what appeals to me about the ancient world as opposed to the modern is that the ancient world was pre-Christian, pre-Freudian, pre-Marxist, pre-consumerist, pre-reductivist.

“It was grander, it was nobler, it was simpler. You didn’t have the notion of turn-the-other-cheek. You had Oedipus but you didn’t have the Oedipus complex. It was political but it was not politically correct.”

To illustrate what he meant, Pressfield cited this passage from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, on how ancient-world politics took on its own tone of McCarthyism:

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member.

To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward. Any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character.

Ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.

As if speaking on the ongoing scandal involving David Petraeus, Pressfield states:

“Our age has been denatured. The heroic has been bled out of it.

“The callings of the past–the profession of arms, the priesthood, the medical and legal professions, politics, the arts, journalism, education, even motherhood and fatherhood–every one has been sullied and degraded by scandal after scandal.

“We’re hard up for heroes these days, and even harder up for conceiving ourselves in that light. That’s why I’m drawn to the ancient world. It’s truer, in my view, to how we really are.

“The ancient world has not been reductified and deconstructed as ours has; it has not been robbed of all dignity. They had heroes then. There was such a thing, truly, as the Heroic Age. Men like Achilles and Leonidas really did exist.

“There was such a thing, truly, as heroic leadership. Alexander the Great did not command via satellite or remote control; he rode into battle at the head of his Companion cavalry; he was the first to strike the foe.”

Today, generals stationed thousands of miles from the front command armies.  Andthey face more danger from heart attacks than from dying in the heat of battle.

THE DOOM OF MEN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 21, 2014 at 12:35 am

In  ”Excalibur,” director John Boorman’s brilliant 1981 telling of the King Arthur legends, Merlin warns Arthur’s knights–and us: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Not so Steven Pressfield, who repeatedly holds up the past as a mirror to our present.  Case in point: His 2006 novel, The Afghan Campaign.

By 2006, Americans had been fighting in Afghanistan for five years.  And today, almost ten years into the same war, there remains no clear end in sight–to our victory or withdrawal.

Pressfield’s novel, although set 2,000 years into the past, has much to teach us about what are soldiers are facing today in that same alien, unforgiving land.

Matthias, a young Greek seeking glory and opportunity, joins the army of Alexander the Great.  But the Persian Empire has fallen, and the days of conventional, set-piece battles–where you can easily tell friend from foe–are over.

Alexander next plans to conquer India, but first he must pacify its gateway–Afghanistan. Here that the Macedonians meet a new–and deadly–kind of enemy.

“Here the foe does not meet us in pitched battle,” warns Alexander. “Even when we defeat him, he will no accept our dominion.

“He comes back again and again. He hates us with a passion whose depth is exceeded only by his patience and his capacity for suffering.”

Matthias learns this early.  In his first raid on an Afghan village, he’s ordered to execute a helpless prisoner.  When he hesitates, he’s brutalized until he strikes out with his sword–and botches the job.

But, soon, exposed to an unending series of atrocities–committed by himself and his comrades,  as  well as the enemy–he finds himself transformed.

And he hates it.  He agonizes over the gap between the ideals he embraced when he became a soldier–and the brutalities that have drained him of everything but a grim determination to survive at any cost.

Pressfield, a former Marine himself, repeatedly contrasts how civilians see war as a kind of “glorious” child’s-play with how soldiers actually experience it.

He creates an extraordinary exchange between Costas, an ancient-world version of a CNN war correspondent, and Lucas, a soldier whose morality is outraged at how Costas and his ilk routinely prettify  the indescribable.

And we know the truth of this exchange immediately. For we know there are doubtless brutalities inflicted by our troops on the enemy–and atrocities inflicted by the enemy upon them–that never make the headlines, let alone the TV cameras.

We also know that, decades  from now, thousands of our former soldiers will carry horrific memories to their graves.

These memories will remain sealed from public view, allowing their fellow but unblooded Americans to sleep peacefully, unaware of  the terrible price that others have paid on their behalf.

Like the Macedonians (who call themselves  ”Macks”), our own soldiers find themselves serving in an all-but-forgotten land among a populace whose values could not be more alien from our own if they came from Mars.

Instincitvely, they turn to one another–not only for physical security but to preserve their last vestiges of humanity. As the war-weary veteran, Lucas, advises:

“Never tell anyone except your mates. Only you don’t need to tell them. They know. They know you.  Better than a man knows his wife, better than he knows himself.

“They’re bound to you and you to them, like wolves  in  a  pack. It’s  not you and them. You are them. The unit is indivisible. One dies, we all die.”

Put conversely: One lives, we all live.

Pressfield has reached into the past to reveal fundamental truths about the present that most of us could probably not accept if contained in a modern-day memoir.

These truths take on an immediate poignancy owing to our own current war in Afghanistan.  But they will remain just as relevant decades from now, when our now-young soldiers are old and retired.

This book has been described as a sequel to Pressfield’s The Virtues of War: A  Novel  of Alexander the Great, which appeared in 2004. But it isn’t.

Virtues showcased the brilliant and luminous (if increasingly dark and explosive) personality of Alexander the Great, whose Bush-like, good-vs.-evil rhetoric inspired men to hurl themselves into countless battles on his behalf.

But Afghan thrusts us directly into the flesh-and-blood realities created by that rhetoric: The horrors of men traumatized by an often unseen but always menacing enemy, and the horrors they must inflict in return if they are to survive in a hostile and alien world.

THE DEATH OF HEROES

In History, Politics, Social commentary on November 20, 2012 at 12:10 am

Steven Pressfield is the bestselling author of several novels on ancient Greece.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

In Gates of Fire (1998) he celebrated the immortal battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held at bay a vastly superior Persian army for three days.

In Tides of War (2000) he re-fought the ancient world’s 25-year version of the Cold War between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta.

In The Virtues of War (2004) he chronicled the military career of Alexander the Great–through the eyes of the conqueror himself.

And in The Afghan Campaign (2006) he accompanied Alexander’s army as it waged a vicious, three-year counterinsurgency war against native Afghans.

Besides being an amateur historian of armed conflict, Pressfield is a former Marine.  His novel, Gates of Fire, has been adopted by the Marine Corps as required reading.

So Pressfield knows something about the art–and horrors–of war.  And about the decline of heroism in the modern age.

Consider the events of November 9.

On that date, General David Petraeus suddenly resigned his position as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  He had held this just slightly more than a year.

The reason: The revelation of–and his admission to–an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, the woman who had written an admiring biography of him called All In.

Ironically, this happened to be the same day that “Skyfall”–the latest James Bond film–opened nationwide.

Since Bond made his first onscreen appearance in 1962’s “Dr. No,” England’s most famous spy has bedded countless women.  And has become internationally famous as the ultimate ladykiller.

It seems that real-life doesn’t quite work the same way.

What is permitted–and even celebrated–in a fictional spy is not treated the same way in the real world of espionage.

Prior to this, Petraeus had been the golden boy of the American Army–the best-known and most revered general since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The man who

  • had given 37 years of his life to protecting the nation;
  • had rewritten the book on how to fight counterinsurgency wars;
  • had turned around the stagnated war in Iraq;
  • had presided over the winding down of the war in Afghanistan.

As President Barack Obama put it:

“General Petraeus had an extraordinary career.  He served this country with great distinction in Iraq, in Afghanistan and as head of the CIA.

“I want to emphasize that from my perspective, at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service.  We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done.

“And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”

It’s why Pressfield candidly admits he prefers the ancient world to the present:

“If I’m pressed to really think about the question, I would answer that what appeals to me about the ancient world as opposed to the modern is that the ancient world was pre-Christian, pre-Freudian, pre-Marxist, pre-consumerist, pre-reductivist.

“It was grander, it was nobler, it was simpler. You didn’t have the notion of turn-the-other-cheek. You had Oedipus but you didn’t have the Oedipus complex. It was political but it was not politically correct.”

To illustrate what he meant, Pressfield cited this passage from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, on how ancient-world politics took on its own tone of McCarthyism:

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member.

To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward. Any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character.

Ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.

As if speaking on the ongoing scandal involving David Petraeus, Pressfield states:

“Our age has been denatured. The heroic has been bled out of it.

“The callings of the past–the profession of arms, the priesthood, the medical and legal professions, politics, the arts, journalism, education, even motherhood and fatherhood–every one has been sullied and degraded by scandal after scandal.

“We’re hard up for heroes these days, and even harder up for conceiving ourselves in that light. That’s why I’m drawn to the ancient world. It’s truer, in my view, to how we really are.

“The ancient world has not been reductified and deconstructed as ours has; it has not been robbed of all dignity. They had heroes then. There was such a thing, truly, as the Heroic Age. Men like Achilles and Leonidas really did exist.

“There was such a thing, truly, as heroic leadership. Alexander the Great did not command via satellite or remote control; he rode into battle at the head of his Companion cavalry; he was the first to strike the foe.”

“THE DOOM OF MEN”–FORGETTING THE PAST

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm

In “Excalibur,” director John Boorman’s brilliant 1981 telling of the King Arthur legends, Merlin warns Arthur’s knights–and us: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Not so Steven Pressfield, who repeatedly holds up the past as a mirror to our present.  Case in point: His 2006 novel, The Afghan Campaign.

By 2006, Americans had been fighting in Afghanistan for five years.  And today, almost ten years into the same war, there remains no clear end in sight–to our victory or withdrawal.

Pressfield’s novel, although set 2,000 years into the past, has much to teach us about what are soldiers are facing today in that same alien, unforgiving land.

Matthias, a young Greek seeking  glory and opportunity, joins the army of Alexander the Great.  But the Persian Empire has fallen, and the days of conventional, set-piece battles–where you can easily tell friend from foe–are over.

Alexander next plans to conquer India, but first he must pacify its gateway–Afghanistan. Here that the Macedonians meet a new–and deadly–kind of enemy.

“Here the foe does not meet us in pitched battle,” warns Alexander. “Even when we defeat him, he will no accept our dominion. He comes back again and again. He hates us with a passion whose depth is exceeded only by his patience and his capacity for suffering.”

Related image

Alexander the Great

Matthias learns this early.  In his first raid on an Afghan village, he’s ordered to execute a helpless prisoner.  When he hesitates, he’s brutalized until he strikes out with his sword–and botches the job.

But, soon, exposed to an unending series of atrocities–committed by himself and his comrades,  as  well as the enemy–he finds himself transformed.

And he hates it.  He agonizes over the gap between the ideals he embraced when he became a soldier–and the brutalities that have drained him of everything but a grim determination to survive at any cost.

Pressfield, a former Marine himself, repeatedly contrasts how civilians see war as a kind of “glorious” child’s-play with how soldiers actually experience it.

Related image

Steven Pressfield

He creates an extraordinary exchange between Costas, an ancient-world version of a CNN war correspondent, and Lucas, a soldier whose morality is outraged at how Costas and his ilk routinely prettify  the indescribable.

And we know the truth of this exchange immediately. For we know there are doubtless brutalities  inflicted by our troops on the enemy–and atrocities inflicted by the enemy upon them–that never make  the headlines, let alone the TV cameras.

We also know that, decades  from now, thousands of our former soldiers will carry horrific memories to their graves. These memories will remain sealed from public view, allowing their fellow but unblooded Americans to sleep peacefully, unaware of  the terrible price that others have paid on their behalf.

Like the Macedonians (who call themselves “Macks”), our own soldiers find themselves serving in an all-but-forgotten land among a populace whose values could not be more alien from our own if they came from Mars.

Instincitvely, they turn to one another–not only for physical security but to preserve their last vestiges of humanity. As the war-weary veteran, Lucas, advises:

“Never tell anyone except your mates. Only you don’t need to tell them. They know. They know you.  Better than a man knows his wife, better than he knows himself. They’re bound to you and you to them, like wolves  in  a  pack. It’s not you and them. You are them. The unit is indivisible. One dies, we all die.”

Put conversely: One lives, we all live.

Pressfield has reached into the past to reveal fundamental truths about the present that most of us could probably not accept if contained in a modern-day memoir.

These truths take on an immediate poignancy owing to our own current war in Afghanistan.  But they will remain just as relevant decades from now, when our now-young soldiers are old and retired.

This book has been described as a sequel to Pressfield’s The Virtues of War: A  Novel  of Alexander the Great, which appeared in 2004. But it isn’t.

Virtues showcased the brilliant and luminous (if increasingly dark and explosive) personality of Alexander the Great, whose Bush-like, good-vs.-evil rhetoric inspired men to hurl themselves into countless battles on his behalf.

But Afghan thrusts us directly into the flesh-and-blood realities created by that rhetoric: The horrors of men traumatized by an often unseen but always menacing enemy, and the horrors they must inflict in return if they are to survive in a hostile and alien world.

FICTION THREATENS TO BECOME REALITY

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on July 7, 2011 at 11:11 am

Steven Pressfield knows history.  He knows it well enough to have written four great historical novels about ancient Greece.

  • In Gates of Fire, he re-imagined the immortal last stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. 
  • In Tides of War, he re-fought the Greeks’ 25-year version of the Cold War between Athens and Sparta.
  • In The Virtues of War, he resurrected Alexander the Great as a luminous but murderous military genius.
  • And in The Afghan Campaign, he depicted the first great conflict between the West and Afghanistan, as Alexander sought to brutally “pacify” the country so he could press on to conquer India.

And now, with The Profession, Pressfield has abandoned history altogether for the future.  Or perhaps it’s more accurate to call it a warning about the history that Americans may well face in the near-future.

Pressfield creates his futuristic world out of events now shaping our lives.  In doing so, he reveals more truths about our military and civilian bureaucracies than many Americans might want to learn.

American military and Intelligence agencies are increasingly relying on private–and highly-paid–contractors to meet their needs. The 2003 invasion of Iraq saw more private “soldiers-for-hire” operating there than soldiers from the regular American military.

It was in Iraq that Blackwater became a household word–as much for its wholesale brutality as its effectiveness.

Pressfield slams us forwad into the ultra-violent world of 2032, where   apocalypse hovers around every corner.  The third Iraq-Iran war is over, and Americans are still reeling from the November, 2011 “dirty bomb” attack on Long Beach, California.

America has attained the power of an empire–but has lost the will to put its own sons at risk to defend it.

Instead, it turns to the privately-funded armies of such multi-national corporations as BP and ExxonMobil. And the largest of these mercenary armies is Force Insertion–whose leader is a cashiered United States Marine general named James Salter.

Salter is a combination of two great Pressfield characters. He has the far-seeing strategic genius of the Athenian general, Alcibiades (Tides of War). And he has the charismatic authority of Alexander the Great, who’s worshipped by the soldiers he commands (The Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign).

He is thus a highly attractive character.  It’s easy to see why so many people–soldiers and civilians–want to see him victorious.

But there is a dark purpose behind his every maneuver. Again like Alcibiades, who deserted Athens for Sparta, he’s driven by rage and pride to avenge himself on those he blames for his disgrace and exile.

And he has an audacious plan to make this a reality:  Seize the oilfields of Saudi Arabia–fifty years’ worth of crude–and offer these as a gift to his fellow Americans.  In exchange, he will return home—as an American Caesar/President.

Standing firmly behind him for most of the novel is its narrator, Gilbert “Gent” Gentilhomme. A former Marine-turned-mercenary himself, Gentilhomme seeks a place of honor and purpose in a world he sees as generally lacking both. He sees Salter as a second father and warrior ideal–a courageous, brilliant, true patriot wronged by those in power who despise such qualities.

It is only when Gent comes to realize the terrible danger Salter poses to the Republic that he moves from devoted follower to would-be assassin. At the climax of the novel, he faces off with his longtime hero, in an exchange containing more blunt truths about America today than many readers may want to accept.

“The United States is an empire,” says Salter. “But the American people lack the imperial temperament. We’re not legionnaires, we’re mechanics. In the end the American Dream boils down to what? `I’m getting mine and the hell with you.'”

Salter realizes he is ultimately fighting a losing war to preserve the country he loves.  The ambitious part of him hungers to accept the gift of absolute power his fellow Americans want to gratefully confer on him.

The reflective part of him knows he is, in effect, betraying the very Republic he longs to save–and hopes an assassin’s bullet will spare him this disgrace.

 “The very ascension of someone like me–a mercenary general plucked from the provinces–is history’s sign that the nation has lost its way and is struggling desperately, merely to hang on.”

Most reviews of The Profession have focused on its depiction of futuristic techno-war: Holographic, hand-held phones. Cloaking technology to conceal high-end weaponry from satellite eyes-in-the-sky. Tactical nuclear weapons that are commonly possessed and plausibly used.

Like a Tom Clancy novel, The Profession can be read by those who simply want an exciting page-turner. But, unlike Clancy’s thrillers, this is a book with an urgent warning for its audience: A warning that what we are today threatens to lead us to the edge of an abyss–in which there is no freedom, and from which there is no return.

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