Today I will dive into my favorite writer- Ernest Hemingway. By analyzing Hemingway and his basic themes, ideas and writing style we can see how his work has influenced the idea of a “modern American man.”
The Hemingway Hero
The Hemingway hero is always a man. A man who learns through his experience to confront the reality of his death. By coming to terms with the fact that we are all going to die the hero is able to confront himself.
Hemingway’s heroes always find themselves in a contest that has them facing death. It’s usually by using the “hero journey” of Homer, as seen in the Odyssey, that the hero comes to this conclusion.
The ultimate human adventure of the Hemingway hero is war. Papa was obsessed with war and death. It is a subject he uses as his narrative vehicle over and over again in all of his major works.
Hemingway’s heroes learn to live by something literary scholars call the “Hemingway Code.” The hero must establish his own values by facing life courageously and by acting honestly. The primary motivation of the hero is courage.
The hero never turns away from reality or towards abstract ideals such as religion or politics. He finds it within himself to act without the distractions of outside influences such as love. He is able to do this by accepting the reality of his death.
The way the hero defines this is through action. By acting and not wallowing in his feelings the hero is choosing to take part in reality. He leaves all the intellectual pondering to weaker and lesser men. By doing this he can choose “to make of himself what he will.”
The Modern Hero
The modern action hero has been defined by this rule. Think of John Wayne and Rambo. They are heroes who speak little, make no plans and let their actions speak for themselves.
This is an example of the modern American male to grow up thinking he needs to never talk about his feelings. To act out when he feels frustrated and to worry about the consequences of actions later.
It’s fun to watch Tony Soprano punch out an annoying co-worker because he is a mob boss. How awesome is to watch John Rambo kill godless Commies with only a bow and arrow (more on this later)?
For all this we have Hemingway to thank. Whether the device is a gunfight A Farewell To Arms), bull fight (Death in the Afternoon), using a load of dynamite (For Whom the Bell Tolls) or a fishing pole (The Old Man and the Sea) we see the hero define himself.
The ritual of facing death allows the hero to rely on himself and overcome fear. Fear of the greatest uncontrollable of all time- death.
I better close this one out. I wanted to make this one a short introduction before we get into his writing style and how we all have Hemingway to thank for defining how we see manhood, lol.
John Boyd was a brilliant man of contrasts and one of the most influential military theorists of the 20th century. He was an Air Force fighter pilot who changed the way every air force flies and fights.
His pursuit of the intellectual side of war became the basis for the Marine Corps ‘Warfighting Manual.’ He was an arrogant, stubborn, and brilliant man who was shelved until he was called out of retirement to help plan Desert Storm. He had substantial influence on the ultimate “left hook” design of the invasion plan (Coram, 2002).
The Fighter Pilot
After a brief stint in the Army, Boyd joined the Air Force. He became a fighter pilot. He flew 20 combat missions in F-86s at the tail end of the Korean War.
He was selected to become one of the first instructors at the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis, Air Force Base in Nevada. This is the Air Force version of the US Navy’s “Top Gun.”
Boyd was much a great stick-and-rudder man. He was a thinking fighter pilot. Boyd was the first man to codify the elusive and mysterious ways of air-to-air combat (Coram, 2002). He developed and wrote the “Aerial Attack Study,” a document that become the bible of air combat.
Later, after it was declassified, it became the basis for aerial combat for air forces around the world. It was a huge intellectual contribution to the US Air Force. Heady stuff for a junior officer.
A young captain designed the dogfight tactics that were used at Fighter Weapons School. He earned the nickname “40-Second Boyd.
It was a standing bet he could maneuver from a position of disadvantage (challenger on his tail) to advantage (positions reversed) in 40 seconds — or pay the challenger 40 dollars (Spinney, 1997).
By the late 1950’s he was considered one of the best U.S. fighter pilots in the Air Force. The man who, in simulated air-to-air combat, defeated every challenger in less than forty seconds (Coram, 2002). Boyd was “… a this maddening mix of eccentricity, intellect, creativity, and moral courage — a mix that did not fit into neat compartments,” (Spinney, 1997).
The Warrior Scientist
He personified the romantic image of a fighter jock. A tall, lanky man who wildly gestured while he talked. He was a loud and irrepressible, in-your-face type of guy.
He smoked long, thin stogies. While blowing smoke in your face, he shouted and sprayed saliva at you in a head-on attack. He felt no shame in doing this two inches, nose-to-nose with you while telling about his theories.
But 40-Second Boyd’s flamboyant exterior hid a razor-sharp intellect. Not everyone was a fan of the gregarious strategist.
He was about to blossom into a warrior-scientist.
Energy–maneuverability theory is a model of aircraft performance. It is useful in describing an aircraft’s performance as the total of kinetic and potential energies or aircraft specific energy.
The quantitative model (thrust, drag, and weight) of flight characteristics says that a faster a plane flies the more it will survive a dogfight. A plane may fly excellent, but a good fighter plane most also think fast.
This theory brought about improvements in the requirements for the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters. It was a physical theory that forever altered the way fighter planes were designed (Coram, 2002).
He devoured books. He marked them up, cross-correlating information in the front with information in the back, seeking out contradictions with every turn of the page, gleefully tearing each author’s argument to pieces (Spinney, 1997).
How Boyd is best remembered as an influential military theorist. He developed a theory of military strategy that has been adopted throughout the world and even applied to business models for maximizing efficiency (Coram, 2002).
Boyd thought that any conflict could be viewed as a duel wherein each adversary observes (O) his opponent’s actions, orients (O) himself to the unfolding situation, decides (D) on the most appropriate response or countermove, then acts (A) (Spinney, 1997). OODA Loop was a bold way of looking at warfighting.
Boyd’s theory of operating inside an adversary’s decision cycle -or OODA loop- and its relationship to conflict was a bold new conception. His strategic aim was to isolate his adversary – physically, mentally, and morally – from his external environment by destroying his view of the world: his orientation (Spinney, 1997).
The key to appreciating the power of Boyd’s ideas is to understand why the orientation function is the door through which a competitor can penetrate his opponent’s decision cycle.
In short, the key to victory is to be able to create situations where you can make appropriate decisions quicker than your opponent. The faster you can make decisions you achieve victory.
Boyd was also known at different points of his career as “The Mad Major” for the intensity of his passions. Also known as “Genghis John” for his confrontational style of interpersonal discussion (Coram, 2002).
Not everyone was a fan of the brilliant officer. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force.
He never attempted to publish his work, but assembled all his research into a 13-hour briefing called a “Discourse on Winning and Losing.” He gave the briefing to enlisted men and generals, congressmen, newspaper reporters, scientists, futurists, academics, anyone who would listen (Spinney, 1997).
Boyd is credited for largely developing the strategy for the invasion of Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991. In 1981, Boyd had presented his briefing, Patterns of Conflict, to Dick Cheney, then a member of the United States House of Representatives (Coram, 2002).
By 1990 Boyd had moved to Florida because of declining health, but Cheney (then the Secretary of Defense in the George H. W. Bush administration) called him back to work on the plans for Operation Desert Storm (Coram, 2002).
The Marine Corps revere Colonel Boyd. The Air Force and Army gave him little credit due to his brash demeanor and challenge of authority – the Marines, however, erected a statue of him at the Marine Corps Research Center in Quantico, VA (Fritz, 2014) .
His strategy was credited for the ingenious “left-hook” campaign that decisively won the Iraq Invasion in the 1991 Gulf War. Two divisions of Marines raided behind Iraqi lines and prevailed while Saddam’s army searched forward for a massive Army invasion they had been programmed to expect (Fritz, 2014).
Commandant of the Marine Corps General Charles C. Krulak is quoted as saying, “The Iraqi army collapsed morally and intellectually under the onslaught of American and Coalition forces. John Boyd was an architect of that victory as surely as if he’d commanded a fighter wing or a maneuver division in the desert,” (Coram, 2002).
To build a new paradigm you have to destroy the existing one. Boyd’s legacy is disputed because of his confrontational personality than his contribution.
Colonel Boyd wanted “to do” something for America and the Air Force, and chose to make sacrifices, endured much abuse, and repeatedly jeopardized his career with that goal in mind.
He purposely chose “to do” something, rather than “to be” somebody, which he defined as one who gives up his integrity to get ahead in the system. This insight is one that applies not only to the military, but to any organization.
It is the fundamental choice that everyone has to make, and hearing of his successes against the system has encouraged others to follow his example, if only in some small measure.
He taught military leaders to Fingerspitzengefühl- a German term, literally meaning “finger tips feeling.” It means intuitive flair or instinct, as used in English as a loanword.
In military terminology, it is used for the stated ability of some military commanders, such as Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel, as the ability to maintain, with accuracy and attention to detail, an ever-changing operational and tactical situation by maintaining a mental map of the battlefield.
The idiom is intended to evoke a military commander who is in intimate communication with the battlefield. It seems like he has a feel for the pulse of battle, a fingertip on each critical point. By “having a feel for combat” a commander can make quick, decisive choices to win a battle.
“…you have to make a decision: to be or to do,” said Colonel John Richard Boyd.
Coram, R. (2002). Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. New York : Hatchette Book Group .
Fritz, M. (2014, March 30). Innovation Excellence. Retrieved from What’s in Your OODA Loop?: http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2014/03/30/whats-in-your-ooda-loop/
Spinney, F. C. (1997). “Genghis John”. Newport, RI: U. S. Naval Institute.
Just finished a book called, “What It Is Like To Go To War” by Karl Marlantes. Marlantes is a former Marine who served as an Infantry Rifle Platoon Commander in Vietnam in 1968-69. His brutally honest book is a must read for anyone trying to understand veterans and the price of, both psychologically and physically, about war.
It is a valiant effort to explain and make peace with war’s awesome consequences for human beings. It is a debunking of anything about the glory of warfare. It is a noble and intelligent conversation between the author, a highly decorated, former Marine officer and Vietnam Veteran, and the reader, an unknowing public. It grapples with the myth, the history, and the spirituality of war.
It is a beautifully written book that elevates the cultural conversation on the role of the military in today’s world. It is an emotional and honest primer for all Americans at war and the national psyche. It is our own peril that we ignore this book.
It explores what a combat veteran thinks and feels. Marlantes is a master at exploring the psyche of the combat veteran and translating it into words so that civilians can understand.
Marlantes talks about what is like to return from war. How veterans wrestle with demons of what they saw and did. There is conflicting feelings of guilt and pride. There is a constant vibration back and forth between these mixed feelings. The pendulum causes there to be diverse emotions.
Today’s wars have placed an enormous burden on a small portion of the population. There are now more than two million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is a divide between the warrior and society he represents. A “code of silence” gets in the way with the warrior and his loved ones. Both are trying to be kind by avoiding talking about horrendous experiences.
This adds to the sense of alienation for the veteran that he has done something horrific. With killing or witnessing a death, there are many levels of feelings: sadness, pride, relief that you are alive, and guilt because you are still alive while your brothers died.
The Mindset of the young (read: inexperienced) Warrior
The young warrior goes into combat with all his confidence. He has faith in his weapons, and his training. He is willing to sacrifice his individual self for the good of others. There is a shared identity.
The idea of, “I can be killed, but WE cannot.” By facing danger together we will survive the crucible of combat. There is another feeling. The thought of letting down your buddies is a fate worse than death.
The warrior is immersed in a culture where words like honor, sacrifice, duty causes young soldiers to be conditioned to sacrifice their humanity by killing and sometimes dying. In this same culture old warriors are venerated.
Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. He was friends with Freud.
Jung believed that people have “a shadow,” or an unconscious dark side of one’s personality. The shadow is what allows moral men to carry out the deeds of war. He wrote that the shadow must be confronted and integrated in order for the veteran to take responsibility for all sides of ourselves. This will effect positive change.
PTSD is an ongoing counterpart to war. It is important for us to study the history of PTSD treatment and learn from its lessons.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a rewiring of the brain. It is a collection of memories and feelings. Our mind is trying to reconcile coming to terms with a cocktail of emotions. Exhilaration, grief, anger and sometimes joy.
When you first get into combat your brain learns to associate loud noises with people trying to kill you. You have adrenaline episodes that shoot through your body. You become “hyper vigilant.”
This flight or fight reaction rewires the brain to think differently. When you return home this chemical reaction is mapped in your brain. You are both physically and emotionally different.
Effects of war
For Marlantes, he wanted a medal to prove to his dad, a World War II vet, that he was man enough to carry on the family name. There was expectation of manhood.
There is the mystical quality about killing. War violates every value we have in the Judeo-Christian culture we are born into. But in sharing this emotional burden there is brotherhood.
This brotherhood is a key to understanding why men “want to go back.”
When you look at religious mystics, they have four things that they strive to do. One is they are always aware of their mortality. Don Juan says death is always over your shoulder. Soldiers feel the same thing.
Second, they’re always in the present moment. In combat, there is no thought about the future or the past. You are completely focused, completely in the terrible present moment.
The third thing that mystics do is they overcome their own sense of ego in terms of seeing that they have to move beyond that for the good of others.
In combat, time after time after time, you see people sacrificing their lives or their limbs to help their friends. It’s the same thing.
And then the fourth thing is that almost all of these mystics are part of a group. They’re in a convent or a monastery. They’re part of the Sangha, if they’re Buddhist. They’re a part of the Umma if they’re Muslim. They’re part of a larger group.
This sense of identity is strong. While deployed the soldiers are told they are, “brave and loyal.” This all enforces the identity of sacrificing for your nation. It gives you a powerful sense of identity. You, as a soldier, are living up to the highest ideals of your profession.
Heady and powerful stuff for a 19 or 20 year old kid. This is the first adult experience out of high school. They don’t have the life experience yet to process the experience of what they are seeing or doing.
This is why a delayed reaction of PTSD happens 10 to 20 years down the line. It takes a while to have the life experience to process what happened.
The very nature of the experience of combat violates our Judeo-Christian culture. Young people make perfect soldiers. They are impressionable and strong. Judgment and foresight don’t develop until you are in your 20’s.
Our current wars have placed an enormous burden on a small portion of the population. In World War II an average grunt saw about 40 days of combat in a two year tour. There was a frontline and a rear area to rest in.
In this war, as in Vietnam, you are always on alert. Soldiers are always exposed to random acts of violence. This causes returning veterans to be on alert when they get home.
The Wars define the Veteran
During this war the sense of victory is ambiguous. How do you know you are making progress or winning? The endstate is not defined and there is no sense of closure. Think about Desert Storm only 20 years ago.
The good guys won that one. It was all said and done in less than 100 hours of fighting. If you are a veteran of a “popular” or “winning” war you are a hero.
The army of any nation has a social contract with the society it protects. When you, the vet, feels that no one cares about what you did this can add to the isolation of all the other feelings you are having.
A soldier who comes home feels alienated and not appreciated by the society he defended. Veterans feel, as did Vietnam Veterans did, that their sacrifice was for nothing and no one really cared.
Compound this with the young age of the veteran can really add a large burden. What veterans need is recognition and honor for their service. It helps to mend the wounds to your psyche and your soul.
This amazing book explores all these issues.
Marlantes, K. (2011). What It Is Like to Go to War . New York : Atlantic Monthly Press.
Last year I attended the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans at Purdue University, I met some incredible people. One of those I met was my friend Juan. An immigrant from Venezuela who came to the United States at 19 not knowing a word of English.
He learned flawless English, went to Law School at Ohio State and served in the US Army as a Staff Judge Advocate. Besides a harrowing tour in Iraq, he was responsible for setting up a program that instructed almost all the countries of Latin and South America about military law. He is an incredible guy.
Every day we would talk about issues, national security, running a small business and the beauty and tragedy of the American justice system. It was like hanging out with the Stephen Hawking of Liberal Arts. He has a brilliant mind.
He gave me an awesome movie that changed the way I looked at the one of my favorite subjects- The Vietnam War.
The Fog of War
‘The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara’ is a 2003 Errol Morris documentary. Using interviews with Robert McNamara and archival footage, it is a personal account and intimate dialog all it once.
McNamara explains the process of examining the experiences of his long and controversial period as the United States Secretary of Defense. The film talks about periods of his personal and public life.
McNamara‘s family was Irish and he grew up in California. McNamara went to the University of California in Berkeley. He graduated in 1937 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics with minors in mathematics and philosophy. He then attended Harvard Business School and earned an MBA in 1939.
He taught analytical approaches used in business to officers of the United States Army Air Forces (USSAF). He joined the USAAF as a captain in early 1943, serving most of World War II with its Office of Statistical Control. One major responsibility was the analysis of U.S. bombers’ efficiency and effectiveness.
After the war, McNamara was one of the “Whiz Kids” who helped rebuild Ford Motor Company after World War II. He briefly served as Ford’s President before becoming Secretary of Defense under President Kennedy.
He was the longest serving Secretary of Defense at over seven years under both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
He was a key adviser to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1963.
McNamara was a prime architect of the Vietnam War. He repeatedly overruled the Joint Chief of Staff on strategic matters.
During Kennedy’s administration, McNamara supported the President’s decision to increase American involvement in Vietnam.
Under President Johnson, he began to suspect that American aims in the growing war were futile. He urged the President and his advisors to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict. Under pressure to win the war before withdrawal, Johnson asked McNamara to step down in 1967.
McNamara later published his memoir entitled ‘In Retrospect,’ in which he reflects on American foreign policy mistakes in Vietnam. “We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why,” McNamara, writing in his 1995 memoir.
McNamara is an interesting case study of leadership. A man who tried to use business paradigms on an unpopular war.
He was an eyewitness to some of the seminal events in contemporary American history. He was the leader of the most powerful military force during one of America’s most violate periods.
He gave out ten lessons on what he learned from being up-close and personal with two Presidents as a Secretary of Defense. His experience and insider perspective can teach us a lot.
Robert S. McNamara’s Ten Lessons
Lesson 1- The Human Race will not eliminate war in this century, but we can reduce the brutality of war- the level of killing- by adhering to the principles of a “Just War,” in particular to the principle of “proportionality.”
Lesson 2- The indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.
Lesson 3- We are the most powerful nation in the world- economically, politically, and militarily- and we are likely to remain so in the decades ahead. But we are not omniscient.
If we cannot persuade other nations with similar interests and similar values of the merits of our proposed use of that power, we should not proceed unilaterally except in the unlikely requirement to defend directly the continental US. Alaska and Hawaii.
Lesson 4- Moral principles are often ambiguous guides to foreign and defense policy, but surely we can agree that we should establish as a major goal of US foreign policy and, indeed, of foreign policies across the globe: the avoidance in this last century of carnage- 160 million dead- caused by conflict in the 20th century.
Lesson 5- We, the richest nation in the world, have failed in our responsibility to our poor and to the disadvantaged in the world to help them advance their welfare in the most fundamental of terms of nutrition, literacy, health and employment.
Lesson 6- Corporate executives must recognize there is no contradiction between a soft heart and a hard head. Of course, they have responsibilities to stockholders, but they also have a responsibility to their employees, their customers and to society as a whole.
Lesson 7- President Kennedy believed “the primary responsibility” of a president- is to keep a nation out of war, if at all possible.
Lesson 8- War is a blunt instrument by which to settle disputes between or within nations, and economic sanctions are rarely effective. Therefore, we should build a system of jurisprudence based on the International Court- that the US has refused to support- which would hold individuals responsible for crimes against humanity.
Lesson 9- If we are to deal effectively with terrorists across the globe, we must develop a sense of empathy- I don’t mean “sympathy” but rather “understanding”- to counter attacks on the Western World.
Lesson 10- One of the greatest dangers we face today is the risk that terrorists will obtain access to weapons of mass destructions as a result of the breakdown of the Non-Proliferation Regime. We in the US are contributing to that breakdown.
Antoine-Henri, Baron Jomini (6 March 1779 – 24 March 1869), a Swiss officer who served as a general in the French and later in the Russian army. He was one of the most celebrated writers on the Napoleonic art of war.
His influence is just as large Clausewitz. All the senior generals of the American Civil War, who had attended West Point, knew about Jomini and his ideas.
Jomini was born into an “old Swiss family” of Italian descent. As a young man in 1796 he went to work in Paris.
In 1798, He returned to Switzerland to become a business man. In 1802, he began writing on military subjects. His first book on military theory: Traité des grandes operations militaires (Treatise on Major Military Operations) was a success.
Michel Ney, one of Napoleon’s top generals, read the book in 1803 and subsidized its publication. In 1804, he joined the French Army and fought at Austerlitz, and in the Prussian and Peninsula campaigns.
He took part in the 1812 invasion of Russia. He joined the Russian army in late 1813, and stayed until 1828.
He produced 27 volumes of work before his death in 1869.
The principle of war called “maneuver” comes directly from Jomini. He listed four rules for strategy and started each rule with the word “maneuver”:
Maneuver to bring the major part of your forces to bear upon the enemy’s decisive area and communication without endangering your own forces.
Maneuver to bring your major forces against only part of your enemy’s force.
Maneuver to bring your major forces to bear upon the decisive area of the battlefield or the enemy’s lines.
Maneuver to bring your mass to bear swiftly and decisively upon the enemy.
Chess and Checkers
Jomini viewed the battlefield like a chess game. If you can control three sides of the box (the battlefield) you will maneuver your enemy into submission.
A knock down shooting match in wars of attrition like the American Civil War or World War I was like a checkers game. The ideas is that you blast away until you eliminate the enemy, there is not much maneuver. In checkers you kill everyone off.
In chess a good player using maneuver can control the three sides of the box can win without killing off his own or opponents’ pieces. Clearly, chess is a smarter and better way to fight.
Units were seen as pieces to be moved with their actions planned in advanced and placed on the board so that each movement can be predicted well ahead of the next move.
The battlefield was a big chess board where the mission was to push the enemy to a fixed position and continue to apply pressure. This was done in hopes of winning the battle without having to fight. A war to end all wars, like Sherman’s march to the sea.
He recommended ignoring minor objectives in favor of applying massive force at one point to break the enemy. That point could be geographical – a river or a road- or it could be related to the specific maneuver of the enemy.
The decisive point can be political- a capital, such as Baghdad- or it could be a supply area, that if captured can critically damage the enemy’s ability to fight.
Jomini’s methods were aimed at quick, conclusive results.
The final victory of the American Revolutionary Army at Yorktown illustrates Jomini’s maneuver concept. George Washington did have to kill off the British Army General Cornwallis’ army in a frontal attack.
Cornwallis had to surrender. Like the checkmate in chess, Washington’s army and the French fleet controlled all sides of the box. With nowhere to go the British had to surrender.
Jomini’s military writings are frequently analyzed. He took a didactic, prescriptive approach, reflected in a detailed vocabulary of geometric terms such as bases, strategic lines, and key points.
He saw warfare almost as an intellectual systemic approach. His operational prescription was fundamentally simple: put superior combat power at the decisive point.
In Jomini’s day warfare was linear. National armies applied linear tactics to create the greatest volley of fire in a given area. Jomini was not concerned with guerilla warfare like Napoleon faced in the Peninsular War (1808-1814).
Similarities in military ideas to Clausewitz
Both Clausewitz and Jomini had many of the same themes. Their ideas stem from three sources. First to common historical interests in the campaigns of Frederick the Great. Second, their long, personal experiences in the Napoleonic Wars. Third, they read each other’s books.
Integration of Clausewitz and Jomini into American military thought took place after the War of 1812. The establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY in 1802 and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD in 1845 helped to institutionalize the professional training of military leaders, much like the Germans.
The adoption of Clausewitz and Jomini theory by the American Army led to the nine principles of war.
Jomini’s concepts are an early longhand version of the US Army’s principles of war. They appeared for decades in FM 100-5, Operations. (The formulation based on single words- mass, offensive, security – J. F. C. Fuller first used in the 1920s.) They appear today in ADRP 3-0, Unified Land Operations. The expectation is for US Army planners and operators to know them and use them.
Ryan is an extraordinary leader who lives the values of being an “Airborne Ranger.” An amazing athlete- He beat General Petraeus’ time on the Army 10 miler by more than 3 minutes.
The outside world sees a quiet, almost shy figure, who expresses his strongest feelings, especially on professional matters, in writing. Underneath his hushed tones he is one of the boldest spirits I have ever known.
From Ryan, I learned in situations of moral ambiguity, good intentions and heartfelt wishes are not enough. The great dividing line between words and results is courageous action.
He showed me great warriors, are also humanitarians, and that without courage, compassion falters, and that without compassion, courage has no direction. I have known many West Point Graduates but never one who exemplified “Duty, Honor, Country” as this quiet Nebraskan who loves his family and country above all else.
He would make me renounce every bad thing I ever said about West Pointers. Ryan taught me many lessons in being a good leader. Here are just a few.
July 2000, Camp Casey, Korea
My first job out of college was as an Infantry Platoon Leader in Korea. I was assigned to one of two mechanized infantry battalions at Camp Casey.
Camp Casey sits 12 miles from the North Korean border and 25 miles from Seoul, the capital of South Korea. No one ever said it, but we all knew we were a speed bump for the North Korean horde if they came south.
We had outdated equipment that constantly broke down. All our soldiers were on their tail of their enlistments and just wanted to go home. You could look forward to a freezing cold winter and stifling summer heat where all we did was train. It was a dream assignment to learn how to lead men.
We had a die-in-place mission should the “hostilities” ever resume. The order was simple. If alerted, just climb aboard your Bradley Fighting Vehicle and point it north. There were three rules: 1. March to the sounds of the guns. 2. Kill everyone that didn’t look like you. 3. Hold out as long as you can and hope you survive until help arrives (not very likely). It added a sense of realism to all our training.
I had been at Camp Casey for a month by July. In a place with 20% turn over every 30 days, in a month you were an “old guy.” One year tours and the urgency of the mission meant things happened fast. It was essential to find a “buddy” to show you the ropes.
Ryan moved into the small room next to mine. I volunteered to be his tour guide. It would be a friendship that would last a lifetime.
Ryan always reminded me of the actor Jim Caviezel. With his blue eyes, high cheekbones and quiet demeanor, he was every inch a Nebraskan. He was quiet without being a bore, ambitious without taking either himself or his job too seriously and unassuming without being dull.
Ryan had a quiet reserve. His hallmark was his Midwest values of honesty and sincerity. He was the type of leader that his subordinates would attempt any mission for. They would charge ahead regardless of the situation or fears. They would do it because he was there with them.
Ryan lacked the fake macho, loudness that marked many of our peers. He had the tough masculinity of a man who defined himself by his deeds. He was unlike anyone else coming straight out of Ranger School.
Beanpole thin, with a slow drawl and awkward mannerisms, you initially couldn’t imagine him as an infantry platoon leader. But his openness, emotional complexity, intelligence, and authenticity made him the perfect small unit leader.
He would coax out of his men some of the most unforgettable performances of military excellence I would ever see.
He inspired them by his personal and physical example to follow him.
Ryan R’s secret identity name follows the alliteration rule of Marvel Comics characters like Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Scott Summers, Reed Richards, Matt Murdock, etc. With a first name as his last name he couldn’t help but stand out.
Ryan was raised in Nebraska City, Nebraska. He grew up across the street from the John Brown’s Cave tourist attraction. A hollowed-out hole beneath an old cabin that represented a place where escaping slaves may or may not have hidden. “It was the biggest lure in four counties,” he once told me over some beers in Seoul.
It was here among the conservative, friendly folk in Otoe County, Nebraska Ryan learned to see the real value in life. He attended West Point and become an Infantry Officer. In the two years we served together, I had never met a man who embodied the motto of: “Duty, Honor, Country” more than Ryan.
Ryan had been in the battalion for a month when he quickly became the favorite of the enlisted men. He would spend extra time working out with soldiers that needed help. He stayed after hours helping his NCOs study for exams.
He stunned his grunts when he took up the M240B machine gun on an all-night patrol, a job usually given to the newest recruit. He would check his men for exhaustion and made sure they ate. He was the first one in the motor pool and the last one to leave.
He always a quick story about a friend or acquaintance to illustrate a point. All Ryan ever had to say, “I knew this fella once…” and everyone within earshot would smile. He told the story without being preachy.
Ryan is a Midwestern boy who steeped himself in military history so he knew his trade. He lived by a personal code of honor that required him to step forward and take the lead on almost every situation.
In Ryan’s example, there is a simple truth. That’s what real leaders do; they lead. Ryan showed us that real leaders get assailed with doubts, real fears, and insecurities.
His examples show us that military medals are usually earned the hard way. That professionals who are component and compassionate win battles, by doing whatever has to be done.
That in the end, when men die in battles, there is no splendor, no trumpets sounded for glory, just young men swallowing hard, and stepping up to the plate again to do the right thing. The way the Nebraskan Ryan Roberts would get the job in Iraq, in Korea and in several places around the globe.
Ryan is serving his third tour in Korea. He is going to hate that wrote all this stuff about him.
During the Cold War there were two places that were the “hottest” places on earth. First was the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. The second was the Fulda Gap (the Gap) between West and East Germany.
Up to the fall of communism in 1991 both places where the front line in a Cold War that could go hot any minute. Tensions were constant due to the nearby presence of communist forces. An overwhelming number of the communist horde was just a few miles away just waiting to invade the west.
The Cold War
Being in the American Army in from the late 1940s to the early 1990s the entire focus was on defeating communism. America and Russia fought a number of proxy wars- Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan- but never a “hot” war.
The stakes of nuclear Armageddon were too high. Better to fight a smaller war with only a few thousand men than another world war.
At the end of World War II with Germany and Japan defeated the world was a different place. The uneasy alliance with the Soviet Union came to an end. In a few short years, both countries had nuclear weapons. Conditions seemed grim.
With communism menacing the world the American Army prepared for another war- this time against godless communism. To the hardcore Cold Warriors the new mission was of monumental importance.
Besides the Soviet Union there was Mao in China and Kim Jong IL in North Korea. These veterans were “pure war fighters” who emphasized everything from readiness to equipment all in the name of the ability to deploy and fight.
From the vantage point of the leaders of the army it was not merely a constant between ideologies but a struggle of epic, even biblical proportions, pitting the forces of light against darkness. The fate of civilization itself seemed to hang in the balance.
The Fulda Gap
As tensions heated up between the two superpowers the army assumed a new, twofold mission. The first was defending the Fulda Gap against a possible Warsaw Pact attack.
The second was conducting day-to-day surveillance of the 385 kilometers of the Iron Curtain dividing East and West Germany.
The Fulda Gap was an area from Belfort to Wissemburg, several open passes running through the hills about 60 miles northeast of Frankfurt. NATO planners pinned this as a likely invasion route into Western Europe for Soviet Bloc forces.
The Soviet Battle Plan
The Soviets learned the hard way about attrition warfare in World War II. They believed lots and lots of soldiers in overwhelming numbers could solve any problem.
Flood the battle space with enough soldiers, and ultimately you will achieve victory.
Service in the Gap
On the American side, serving at “the Gap” was an assignment of special responsibility. Junior leaders destined for high rank were chosen. The standards of performance were high, almost uncompromising. It was the closest thing to war during peace time.
Most days were like the others: preparing for war. Live ammunition, patrolling soldiers were well-disciplined and ready to fight. They were under constant observation. Their gear had to be clean, boots highly polished, uniforms pressed, weapons spotless, and radios fully operational.
They had to show their potential adversaries, they were ready for combat. Operating under constant threat of all-out combat, reaction forces would respond virtually without notice to any contingency along the border.
Once leaving the camp gate their weapons were loaded with live ammo- fully mounted, vehicles were equipped with their wartime stock and the men were ready for war.
Duty at “the Gap” was a shared experience for generations of soldiers who served there. The service was intense, real and typically seen as a life-changing experience for many soldiers.
Back in the 1980’s, forty years after World War II, there were 250,000 US soldiers in West Germany, part of a NATO military force of nearly million personnel, mostly West Germans. Intelligence sources estimated that the Soviets had 1.2 million personnel in neighboring Czechoslovakia and East Germany.
Modern Day Cavalry Mission
Soldiers serving in this front-line area saw it as a modern day frontier where World War III would start. Holding the line was the US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division. The cavalry traditionally served on the frontier, just like the old (American) West.
At a series of remote outposts surrounding the Fulda, the 11th Cavalry soldiers manned observation base keeping a watch into East Germany.
Some outposts were on the frontier dividing West and East Germany and Czechoslovakia. The Americans cautiously watched their Communist opponents about 400 yards away on the other side of a steel-mesh fence and barbed wire.
Soviet troops stayed in the background, with Soviet-made helicopters regularly patrolling the eastern side of the border. The crews would sometimes change out. Sometimes they were Soviets, and sometimes they were East Germans.
The Long-Term Strategy
The Fulda Gap outposts, with surrounding support bases, were among 800 US military installations large and small throughout West Germany. The American troops’ presence there was seen as vital to U.S. foreign policy and NATO during the Cold War.
Hard to believe now looking back when the Soviet threat was most clearly manifested. It charged the entire American Army and NATO in West Germany.
The presence of US soldiers and the high number of NATO troop strength ensured that the alliance could operate as a defensive force and as a preserver of peace in the “hot” Cold War.
Most analysts thought World War III would be fought with nuclear weapons and not maneuver units. A premise that US and other Western military commanders disputed sighting the facing of the Warsaw Pact’s greater numbers of troops and tanks.
The command of military forces in combat is the unlike any other field of endeavor. It has been said that war is the ultimate form of human competition.
A military commander operates in an environment of chaos, chance and uncertainty. It stretches the imagination, taxes the body and tests a commander’s faith.
The commander tries to defeat his enemy in every way possible, both by being fair and foul. The commander is responsible for every factor that deals with mission success or failure- logistics, personnel, training, planning and execution.
His is the ultimate responsibility. In victory they are lauded with praise and in defeat, they are shunned. In an organization that prizes conformity and teamwork war is the ultimate “game.” Failure at any level is rarely tolerated.
The truly great commander is one who attains victory in an unprecedented or unexpected way. He stands out among his peers through his skill on the battlefield through the level of his accomplishments.
In the Spring of 2006 I heard such a leader speak.
Boulder, Colorado- April 14, 2006
On April 14, 2006 I was a new Captain. I had been home from Iraq less than 4 months. I had taken a new job teaching Army ROTC at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I heard about Colonel McCoy while I was in Iraq.
McCoy and members of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment (3/4) helped Iraqi citizens pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein. It would become the most iconic image of the Iraq War.
McCoy spoke at the 58th Annual Conference on World Affairs April14, 2006 at the University of Colorado Boulder in a symposium on leadership. He talked about his experiences leading a Marine Infantry Battalion in Iraq.
His speech and his book would change the way I would view leadership.
Marine Colonel Bryan McCoy
Colonel Bryan McCoy was the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment (3/4) from May 2002 to July 2004. He led his battalion through two combat tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
3/4 was the first Marine unit to enter Baghdad on April 7, 2003. It was the unit that pulled down the Saddam statue in Firdos Square on April 9, 2003. During the second tour 3/4 was a part of Operation Vigilant Resolve in Fallujah in April to May 2004.
McCoy was the subject of a book by embedded reporter John Koopman, ‘McCoy’s Marines: Darkside to Baghdad.’ His most important contribution is a book he wrote called ‘The Passion of Command: The Moral Imperative of Leadership.’
The book is an essay on military leadership. McCoy talks about preparing his battalion for war. When he took command of his battalion it was only seven months after 9/11. He and his men knew they were going to war.
McCoy writes, “The will of the commander is the heart that pumps blood to the sinews of the unit. I deliberately sought to understand where my own internal culminating point was and to harden myself physically and mentally to pushing it back. I began running marathons, than fifty-mile ultra-marathons.”
He was attempting to not only build his endurance, but also to gauge his own shortcomings and build his will. It would sustain him on the march to Baghdad.
On the march up from Kuwait almost every day was a fight. It was the equivalent of completing a marathon every day. Such events tax the body’s parasympathetic response to extreme stress. With doses of adrenaline, fatigue and mental strain the body and mind crash after so many hours.
Learning your limits are important. Especially as the commander, because you need to make clear, rational choices. This is hard to do as stress and fatigue mount.
“When you begin to tally the day-to-day stress of combat, plus living in bulky chemical suits everything seems hard,” he said. Add in the heat, dust, equipment breakdown, mounting casualties and threat of an experienced enemy can all take a major toll, both physically and mentally.
“Just taking a piss is a mighty effort as you climb in and out of your chemical suit,” he said.
After leading his battalion in two tours in Iraq in late 2004, McCoy was appointed to the National War College. He called it “The Armed Forces version of higher education.” While there he and 12 his classmates were in a Small Group and asked to write papers for extra credit.
He started writing about his wartime experience as a form of “combat download.” What started as a 30 page assignment turned into “stream of consciousness.” In a writing blitz he turned out a 90 page book to understand and master the human factor of combat.
McCoy incorporated philosophy, psychology and physiology to get the message across. His primary point in the book is about preparing a combat arms unit for war at the battalion level. All units practice the fundamentals of fire and maneuver.
McCoy and his Command Sergeant Major took it a step further. While training at the USMC Air Ground Combat Center at Twenty-Nine Palms, California, McCoy and his marines would talk about the war.
They developed scenarios where moral ambiguity was a constant.
Questions like: “To shoot or not to shoot the lady who may or may not be wearing an IED vest?” “How much care to provide to a wounded enemy soldier?” “When to question an order?”
They would use cognitive imaging techniques during field training to prepare themselves for the realities of war. During daily Physical Training (PT) exercises they would role-play battle injuries. One marine would be injured, another marine would be performing first-aid, and a third marine would be pulling security and on the radio.
Each training evolution in the field or at PT would have to incorporate four fundamentals of “shoot, move, communicate and heal.”
All PT was done in “battle rattle” so the men could get used to wearing 40 plus pounds of gear. McCoy says, “You never go into combat just wearing t-shirt and shorts.”
The idea was coming was close as to can simulate the emotional and physical side of combat. McCoy says, “Scientifically, you’re building the synapses- bridges that will help them get through this.” His goal was to not only have the win in battle, but to have his Marines return home, “… with their honor clean.”
In ‘The Passion of Command’ McCoy encourages us to imagine a different way of leadership. He uses the word “passion” in the ancient Latin sense. It translates into “suffering for love.” His proposal is that military leaders should do what some Christian denominations see as “servant leadership.”
The end result was as an unconventional training model that produced extraordinary results. In a brutal firefight outside of Al Kut, Iraq his men won a battle, although they were outnumbered and outgunned. McCoy believes the outcome was in direct proportion of his unit’s readiness.
McCoy directed his Marines to become “experts in the application of violence” without sacrificing their humanity. ‘The Passion of Command’ he writes about the essence of war is violence and about the act of killing legitimate human targets without hesitation.
To train his Marines, he instituted meaningful training. He used refined principles seeing his Marines as human beings. Those principles guide him through the book. His story is about leadership and the administration of that moral code that rules the field of battle.
He does all this so his men, and he can live with the things they know they must do to survive both the tour and the remainder of their lives as they live with the aftermath of war.
‘The Passion of Command’ provides inside information into the warrior culture and allows the reader to grasp the complexities when hardening the mind, body and spirit for the rigors of combat. McCoy opens the door and lets the reader into this complex yet simple world. He shows warriors how to toughen their spirit and he gives leaders a practical example to follow.
McCoy, B. (2007). The Passion of Command: The Moral Imperative of Leadership. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Press.
Dawn is coming up here in Radcliff, Kentucky: its 5:45 A.M. I can hear the rumble of the early morning garbage truck outside my window of my house. A few minutes later, in the distance, I can hear the boom of the cannon marking another day beginning at nearby Fort Knox. Otherwise, things are quiet in the pre-dawn of another warm, summer morning.
From my desk, I can see the rooftop of the Patton Museum. It tells the story of the inspirational leader’s mad dash across Western Europe in World War II.
To the right of the museum is the towered rooftop of the fortified vault of the United States Bullion Depository. It looks like a castle with the impression of strength and defiance surrounded by barbed wire fence.
Both are symbols of United States’ fortitude and power. I am surrounded and embraced in the American military-industrial complex even as a civilian.
I have been up all night trying to write my first book. My desk has books scattered across the top. I have organized stacks of files next to the books, more files and books are on the floor between my desks and chair. All are about the same subject: The American Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some of the books tell-all autobiographies from generals all the way down to privates. They give firsthand accounts of the wars at all levels.
Other books are Maoist self-criticisms where the authors note where they were error, and how their experience in either war caused them to stray from their beliefs.
They have all one thing in common- they all seem to have started with “pure” motives, they were eventually “soiled” by their war experience, and now the book acts as a type of confessional for sins committed in the name of service to their country.
Some of them are good and some are cheesy, all are interesting. The books allow for criticism and the questioning of ideology.
Admitting and learning from mistakes is important. It allows you to change course without looking random or unprincipled.
Writing about anything as intimate as war is like writing about a love affair gone wrong, it’s messy and complicated. If the account is honest, it is an educational tool. It allows both the reader and the writer to discuss what happened and what can be done better next time.
It is an open and transparent discussion to share knowledge, admit mistakes and talk about solutions. That is what I am trying to do in the book.
I am about five chapters into the book. The bloody product is the result of about seventy hours of sleepless, foodless nights and high speed editing. It has been a knife fight in a telephone booth. It is the only way I know how to get things done.
I have a self-imposed deadline of six months of trying to get the book done. It is absolute chaos. I am thriving and the book is slowly, painfully coming together. It is a labor of love. A wild mixture of misery and agony, I am loving every moment of it.
I use my office at home like a work-hole. I hold-up in my room until all hours of the night trying to find the perfect description of what it was like to go to war, to love and to have lost, and to come home again.
I have a powerful aversion of doing anything but telling the truth. My computer is a hobbled together Toshiba laptop bought several lifetimes ago before a deployment. It needs a software update, but the Word option is flowing just fine.
Parts of the book come from an assortment of interviews that were dictated into an app on my phone. Big chunks of my material come from my mad collection of books, articles and personal memorabilia of noteworthy things that happened in Afghanistan.
When I get writer’s block I start pacing the room, opening up random books looking for inspiration and drop them on the floor when I am done. I rush back to the computer to enter it into the manuscript before I lose the thought.
It goes straight into a cloud file every 10 minutes, so I don’t lose any of the important facts.
My home office looks like an academic meeting gone bad. I have 5 whiteboards that no one is allowed to touch- not that anyone else would care, lol. The whiteboard sessions help me to get into the weeds on the book and ask, “How and why are you writing this book?”
I thought of writing the book like a military strategy. I developed three lines of effort. One line was research. This included interviews and the checking of facts.
The second line was working on my writing skills. An undertaking of this magnitude deserved a good, solid storyteller to tell this great tale. The last was a systems approach to writing every day. This meant being honest and disciplined in everything I did.
As the sun begins to pop up over the horizon, you can tell we will have a blue sky on a hot, summer day. The lawn needs cutting, it is almost a foot high. The wood on my front porch is wet and mushy from the thunderstorm the night before. Kentucky gets hot summers and cold winters, but only a few inches of snow in December and January. This summer has been hot, muggy and wonderful and miserable all at once.
I better get back to work on the book. I have to edit the last few pages I typed. Huge chunks of it makes very little sense. This is the job in all its misery and glory. Miss you guys.
One of my heroes is a British Army Officer named John Masters. Masters was the fifth generation of his family, and also the last, to serve in India.
Masters was a soldier turned novelist. His lasting memorial is his loving, exuberant memoir of service with the Gurkha Rifles is called ‘Bugles and a Tiger.’ It was written in 1955. It ranks among one of the finest of all warrior narratives.
After distinguished service in Burma in World War II, at 35 years old he moved to the United States and took up writing.
His military career was notably colorful, but his lasting achievement was to preserve for the British experience in India in the mid-20th century in a succession of books. They are an elegy for Britain’s colonial experience in the subcontinent, and for the old Indian army- that was commanded by British Officers.
At the heart of his experience was his service with soldiers from Nepal who he came to love and admire for their toughness as well as bravery.
Masters was born in Calcutta, India and joined the British Army as a 20 year old subaltern (cadet officer) in 1935. He served on and off in the North-West Frontier (modern day Pakistan) until 1939, and commanded a brigade in the Chindit Operation against the Japanese in Burma (same operation as Merrill’s Marauders) all before he was 30.
His dark skin and love for his indigenous soldiers that served with him gave rise to gossip among his enemies that he was not British at all but an Anglo-Indian and possessed of all the social embarrassments of the period, “a touch of the tarbrush,” (Hastings, 2007).
His forefathers and Masters had served through some of Britain’s toughest times. This slander of being of mixed race was almost too much for a man of his proud attitude to bear.
His sympathetic portrayal of his Gurkha soldiers is the basis for the book. He wrote about them:
“As I write these last words, my thoughts return to you who were my comrades, the stubborn and indomitable peasants of Nepal. Once more I hear the laughter with which you greeted every hardship. Once more I see you in your bivouacs or about your fires, on forced march or in the trenches, now shivering with wet and cold, now scorched by a pitiless and burning sun. Uncomplaining you endure hunger and thirst and wounds; and at the last your unwavering lines disappear into the smoke and wrath of battle. Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you,” (Masters, 1956).
Masters Experience in the Northwest Frontier, India (now Pakistan)
Some 75 years ago Masters was a young officer campaigning against the Pashtuns. Masters had some choice words in ‘Bugles and a Tiger’ about fighting the grandfathers and great-grandfathers of today’s Taliban, who are fighting American soldiers on the opposite of the Afghan Border.
The British would often recruit a Pashtun tribe to fight against other Pashtun tribes. A lot of the Afghan reputation for duplicity is probably undeserved. An old Afghan saying is, “A smiling face may belief treachery.” Another proverb about Afghans from India is, “You can rent an Afghan’s loyalty but you can’t buy it.”
In ‘Kim,’ the classic Kipling tale about India, the protagonist Kimball O’Hara tells his Afghan Mentor, Mahabu Ali the horse trader: “Trust a Brahmin before a harlot, a harlot before a snake, and a snake before an Afghan.”
Masters clearly admires the Pashtuns for their endurance and bravery he said of the Pashtuns that they could cover, “… enormous distances at high speed on foot,” Masters wrote. “Each man carried 30 or 40 rounds of ammunition, a water bottle, a bag of raisins, a few disks of unleavened bread, and a lump or two of course sugar … loping ceaselessly on at five miles an hour” for 20 or 35 miles at a time.
Masters has a lot of lessons to teach us about fighting a war in Afghanistan. Almost a century later, and no matter on what side of the Afghan border the Pashtuns fought, they have really never been restrained or defeated.
Most of Master’s other works are historical novels set in India. Using his own family history as an outline most of his works portrays the multi-generational members of the Savage family serving in the British and Indian Armies in India.
‘Bugles and a Tiger’ you get a love letter for the last days of the British Raj in India. It is the culmination of a young man learning how to be an officer on the eve of a world war that everyone knows is coming.
The book details Masters’ time at Sandhurst as a cadet trying to honor his family’s long history of military service. The other half of the book is about his service on India’s northwest frontier on the eve of the Second World War.
‘Bugles and a Tiger’ is among the finest portraits of the profession of arms ever written.
Hastings, M. (2007). Warriors: Portraits from the Battle Field. New York : Vintage Publishing .
Masters, J. (1956). Bugles and a Tiger. New York City: Viking Press.