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‘The Generals’ gets two thumbs down

‘The Generals’ gets two thumbs down

My book The Generals got its first entirely negative review, from Col. Gian Gentile. Why am I not surprised?

Colonel Gentile, a strategic bombing expert who also was a cavalry squadron commander in Iraq in 2006, concludes that I am both simplistic and dangerous: “In one sense Mr. Ricks is right that the American army has not produced strategic thinkers in its higher ranks. But his simplistic solution is also quite dangerous if the policymakers and others who read it come to believe it is true. America at war with Syria, Iran, Yemen, sure — just relieve a few generals, get the right ones in place, and victory will be assured.”

Then, in a really low blow for a historian, he accuses me of having the mindset of a political scientist: “He undertakes a political science approach to the exploration and analysis of history, developing a template and then compelling the past to conform to that template.”

He also says the book is a regression from the works of John Keegan. Well, if I have to regress from anyone, I’ll take Keegan. I am not as good a baseball player as Derek Jeter, either. 

What I don’t get is that he accuses me of failing to show that relief of generals leads to better results. I don’t know how he can say that, given that I discuss how Africa went better after Fredendall was ousted, Anzio went better after Lucas was booted and Truscott took over, Korea went better after Ridgway went over there and started cleaning house.

Does he think Vietnam would have gone any worse had any generals been relieved for being ineffective? But then Gentile is a big fan of Westmoreland — “Westmoreland, I think, was very efficient, very proper, highly intelligent, a good organizer, a good manager, and I think up to a — and I think a good leader” — and I am not. 

Also, I’d like to file an objection to the way he uses “narrative” like it was some kind of dirty word. Rather, I think it is what makes us human — putting together events to try to make sense of the rushing world of reality. We know other animals use tools, but as far as I know, we are the only animal that uses narrative.