- 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.
I recently read an advance copy of Adrian Bonenberger’s Afghan Post, which is scheduled to be published in January. It is worth reading. He takes about 50 pages to get up a head of steam, but he is a skilled writer, with an interesting story to tell as he goes from being a weenie English major at Yale (yeah, I was too, but I didn’t sit in the Elizabethan Club browsing old issues of Punch, and I never affected the British phraseology that pimples the younger Bonenberger’s prose in the first part of this book).
The real theme of the book, I think, is that Bonenberger was more comfortable, more real, in the Army, even in Ranger school, than he was at Yale. Being an Airborne Ranger meant a lot to him. (“Feels like New Haven — or, the way New Haven should’ve been — with something more substantial beneath it all.”)
Yet ultimately he decided to leave the Army. He’s not a “good soldier,” in the occasionally pejorative sense of that word. He is thoughtful, observant, skeptical: “No matter how much the Generals, Colonels and Lieutenant-Colonels would like the soldiers to believe it’s the civilians’ or politicians’ fault for not supporting the military better, if the buck stops somewhere it should stop with them.”
He’s also bothered by how much black Special Operations, he calls “a professional cadre of assassins,” have become the cultural heart of the U.S. military. He worries, as Andrew Bacevich does, that we have set up a perpetual machine in the belief that “without these assassins, we wouldn’t be safe, that the only way to deal with the bad terrorist men was to keep murdering them. Not until they go away, because they’ll never ‘go away.'”
The scariest line in the book comes near the end: “That was my job, after all, to believe in the mission, to keep it going even when common sense and experience was giving me other information.” I am not sure I agree with that job definition. What can a captain do? He can tell the truth to his chain of command.
His political conclusion, written in 2008 in Afghanistan: “What our Republic needs is less empire, and more responsible citizenry.” Hard to argue with that.