Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Books I Read:
Imperial Grunts
Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts
by Robert D. Kaplan

I'm always fascinated by Robert Kaplan's insight and analysis. His observations, styled in the genre of travel writing, provide detail both focused and also big-picture. Over the last 5+ years, Kaplan has embedded himself with the major service branches of the US Military, traveling with the various services to areas of the globe both in and out of the headlines.

The breadth of US military involvement around the globe is astounding, and Kaplan serves as tour guide. For instance, while building up of the Iraqi army gets the most attention in the global press, Kaplan joins US military training missions to countries such as Mongolia, Niger, Mali, Algeria, Colombia, and Nepal where small teams of US Army Special Ops and US Marines team up with their host country counterparts for training exercises, the aim of which is to develop deeper country-to-country contact. Aside from these contacts, Kaplan journeys to other parts of the globe where the US is developing small-footprint military basing rights in such countries as Djibouti, Kenya, and Thailand. Add to this the longer reach aspects of US military might, such as the key strategic military launching points from isolated island bases such as Guam and Diego Garcia, not to mention the movable military platforms of aircraft carriers, submarine fleets, long-range strategic bombers.

Given this global reach, Kaplan does not shy away from the notion that what America has built, and what it endeavors to manage, is a vast empire tasked to maintain American influence in the globe, hold near-peers in check, defeat asymetric rogue threats, and provide the global security armiture necessary for a stable globalized economy interconnected nations depend on.

These books provide a vital glimpse into aspects of America typically bypassed by the global mainstream media elite. For instance, Kaplan offers interesting insight into such topics as:
- how the history of the indian wars continues to inform and resonate with today's soldier
- how Alaska may be the most valuable piece of real estate for the US military
- how PACOM may be for the Pacific Rim what NATO is for Europe
- that a divide grows between US military culture (as formed by its soldiery and their families) and US civilian culture (as formed by media and culture/academic elites)
- that narratives of heroism grow increasingly out-of-print, furthering the disconnect between the warrior culture of the military and a more cynical civilian culture
- that while battling terrorism occupies the US military in the near term, the long term challenge is managing the rise of India and China

These books contain far too much than can be written so briefly here. Kaplan vividly portrays the people he meets, not to mention the locations and weapons systems he encounters. These books are both entertaining and thought provoking and constitute vital reading for anyone interested in knowing the shape of the American future to come.


At 9:05 PM, Anonymous gringoinrio said...

Kaplan's fundamentally misleading and essentialist book _Balkan Ghosts_ was instrumental in shaping Bill Clinton's view of the Yugoslav crisis in the mid-'90s. I haven't read these but I hope he's gotten a little more responsible over the last decade.

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Granite said...

Was the responsibility with Kaplan or with Clinton?


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