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On Point

The Book List: Adding Depth to the Headlines


by Austin Bay
December 12, 2006

Foreign policy, national security, military history and technology-related books published in 2006 jam this year's Christmas book column. Each volume uniquely addresses current issues and events.

Carnes Lord's "Losing Hearts and Minds" (Praeger Security International) is one of 2006's more salient and disturbing books. Unfortunately, it has attracted little discussion outside the Pentagon and State Department.

Lord, a professor of strategy at the Naval War College, understands that the War on Terror is an ideological struggle, pitting democracy against tyranny and terror. Carnes argues that the United States and the West have not successfully engaged the ideas inspiring Islamist-led terrorism.

It is indeed a tough subject -- the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group barely touched on the terror war's ideological dimensions. Carnes notes how the media and Hollywood frequently compromise American "soft power" (moral, political and information persuasion). His suggestions for improving the "selling" of democracy include a revived and revamped U.S. Information Agency.

Max Boot's "War Made New" (Gotham Books) considers four "revolutions in warfare," from the late 15th century to the 21st. Boot begins with the "French blitzkrieg" of 1494, the French invasion of Italy. He analyzes the gunpowder revolution, and the effects of the first and second industrial revolutions on warfare, and concludes with the information revolution. His chapter on the battle of Koniggratz (1866) is particularly fine.

Glenn Reynolds' "An Army of Davids" (Nelson Current) has become one of the bibles of the digital media revolution. Its antecedent is Howard Rheingold's influential "Smart Mobs" (2003). Reynolds' subtitle aptly summarizes the book: "How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government and Other Goliaths."

Reynolds teaches constitutional law at the University of Tennessee law school. One of his many striking arguments: "Societies that encourage open communication, quick thinking, decentralization and broad dispersal of skills -- along with a sense of individual responsibility -- have an enormous structural advantage as opposed to societies that don't, an advantage that increases in a world of high technology and unconventional war."

Columbia University Press has two new books that should be on every Pentagon reading list. Fred Ikle's "Annihilation From Within" analyzes the threat of mass terror from within a nation-state -- disturbing, mega-casualty scenarios that lead to the political hijacking of democracy. "Insurgents, Terrorists and Militias," by Richard H. Shultz Jr. and Andrea J. Dew, examines Somalia, Chechnya, Afghanistan (Soviet and U.S.), and Iraq as case studies in the clash of "warriors against soldiers." The authors argue for an improved anthropology-based analysis of a society's warmaking capabilities. In many ways, "Insurgents" advocates "reinventing" a classical approach to war analysis (one Ibn Khaldun and John of Plano Carpino would understand).

"Blog of War" (Simon and Schuster), edited by Matt Burden, collects emails, blog posts and dispatches from soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Burden, a former U.S. Army major, dedicates the book to friends killed in action. The book is raw, gripping and, like most collections, uneven. It is also dirt honest, with the suffering, dying, laughs and pain unvarnished. (Full disclosure: Burden includes a short vignette I wrote about Baghdad's riskiest freeway.)

"Londonistan" (Encounter Books), by London Daily Mail columnist Melanie Philips, is an eloquent warning of the dangers of "multicultural paralysis" and appeasing what Philips calls "clerical fascism." She sees Islamist demands for special cultural privileges as a threat to British democracy and documents the rise of anti-Semitism.

For the serious student of World War II, "GI Ingenuity: Improvisation, Technology and Winning World War Two" (Praeger Security International), by James Jay Carafano, is a devotee's study of American combat adaptation and creativity. GIs in Iraq continue the tradition.

How to manage "coalition warfare" is a 21st century issue. Richard Dinardo's "Germany and the Axis Powers" (University of Kansas) is an informed lesson in "how not to" run a coalition. Dinardo, who teaches for the U.S. Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., exposes the Nazis' extraordinary organizational ineptitude.

Finally, there's a book that's not quite a book, but a good read and a stocking-stuffer. Michael Totten's pamphlet "Everything Could Explode at Any Moment" (Pamphleteer Press) chronicles Totten's Lebanon war coverage, from December 2005 through August 2006. The pamphlet -- in the tradition of the American Revolution's Tom Paine -- has re-emerged.

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