- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com.
A reader writes from one of our formerly rebellious southern states:
I have consumed a fair number of 1st-hand (usually company/platoon level) accounts of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combat (currently reading Outlaw Platoon). While reading your post today on the Vietnam war, I had a thought/question — are you aware of any papers, articles, or books that research the ground combat experiences in each of these conflicts, and seek to specifically compare and contrast the experiences of small unit leaders (lieutenants and captains)?
I would love to see the results of solid research of selected first-hand accounts (like Outlaw Platoon and Platoon Leader: A Memoir of Command in Combat) to see what was similar, what was different, what were the unique challenges in each conflict, what worked in one conflict that did not work it others, what worked in all three conflicts, etc. I can imagine that this research would not only be extremely interesting reading, but could also benefit our young commanders in the field today, and those who will be in the field in the future.
I think reading all the memoirs of platoon and company command or enlisted service during the three wars, and then looking for commonalities and differences, would make a fine master’s or even doctoral dissertation for someone.
I’ve mentioned in the past that one of the striking things to me about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has been that the accounts by enlisted soldiers and younger officers have been much better than those by generals. And more intellectually and morally serious — just line up the books by Fick, Exum, Bellavia and Mullaney against those by Franks, Sanchez, Bremer, Rumsfeld and Feith.
By contrast, I can think of five good books by generals about Vietnam: Those by Bruce Palmer, Dave Richard Palmer, Ray Peers, Douglas Kinnard and (cheating a bit, since even though he is now a general he wrote it as a captain) Herbert R. McMaster.