- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom’s book tour is pretty much over. In the coming weeks I’ll be doing one-off speeches for history buffs and such, but basically I am going home tomorrow.
On Thursday afternoon I spoke to about 900 majors at the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It was a good time, and I felt they appreciated the points I was out to convey-basically a summary of the book, which is that accountability is good for our military leaders because it forces them to be more adaptive. A show of hands indicated that the vast majority of the officers in the audience had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or both. They are good people.
But. But — but at the same time I felt like I was speaking to a lost tribe. These people care, but not, I think, the American public, which thinks the wars are over, and pays more attention to the sex lives of our generals than to the real lives of our soldiers. My talk ended with some banter about whether these majors would rather be led into battle by a moral fellow or by a combat effective adulterer. Guess what? Combat effectiveness wins. But most Americans don’t know what that means.
When I went outside afterward, it was late afternoon here in the late November of eastern Kansas, and the geese and ducks were crowding the flyway south above the wide Missouri. It is, I feel, time for me to do the same: Go home. Last night, as I was walking into my room in the Hoge Barracks at Leavenworth, I overheard a couple of tired-looking officers talking over a beer. "We lost two guys that day," I heard one quietly say. I thought, Yep, just enough to wound him for life, but not enough that no one out there seems to care.
I grow bitter.
Also, why do I feel, as I look at the wise, slow-flowing Missouri, that "Shenandoah" is a war song? It doesn’t say it is in its words, but it sure feels like it to me. I love Bill Frisell’s guitar work, but sometimes he needs a little patience. I used to listen to his versions of "Shenandoah" "Moon River" on a Walkman with scotch-taped headphones every night in Kabul in the cold spring of 2002. Dunno why but it helped me go to sleep. Even now, when I hear the first few notes of either, I feel I am back in my old blue nylon sleeping bag, looking up at the Afghan night sky still hoping I was a few inches below the window glass that would fly my way in any bomb blast. As my wife would say, this music makes my heart sing. Not convinced? Try this.
Meanwhile, I see where onetime Bill Clinton-pal Gennifer Flowers is describing herself as a "motivational speaker." Is this the new euphemism of the age? The only thing she could motivate me to do is run as fast as I could in the opposite direction.