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Everything you might (or might not) always have wanted to know about Tom Ricks, including what he thinks of you

Here the beginning of an interview that CIMSEC recently did with me.

ricksfoto

 

Here the beginning of an interview that CIMSEC recently did with me:

What got you started in journalism and why cover the military?

What got me started in journalism was I was living in Hong Kong and teaching English and English literature. I always expected to be a teacher. And I saw, when I was about twenty-two years old in Hong Kong, the people that were enjoying themselves were journalists — the young American, British, and Chinese journalists. I couldn’t believe that some adult would give them a credit card and just allow them to go around and ask people questions. It seemed like a good gig to me. Also, once I began in journalism, I found that the military really interested me. It was a interesting institution in of itself. You could write about everything from politics to international relations to technology — the basic human stories. And then I found in about 1995 when I was working on what became Making the Corps, it was also a very good way of looking at America; and looking at where our country is by talking to young recruits and so on. So I found out that I really enjoyed covering the military as well.

What were your favorite books of 2015? Your top three? And why?

It’s funny, I don’t really read books as they come out. I read books as they happen to provoke my interest. I think my favorite nonfiction book that I read last year was about the Comanches. It’s called The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hamalainen. In fiction, I really like Elizabeth Strout. I’d read her book Olive Kitteridge, so recently I went back and read an earlier novel of hers called Abide With Me. I read it in particular because it is about winter in Maine, which is six months long, and which I am living through, so her bringing a novelist’s eye to it really intrigued me. So those are sort of the two books that really struck me lately.

One other: I also finally got around to reading The Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr. It’s just a wonderfully written memoir about growing up in Southeast Texas near Port Arthur, near Houston, in the 1960s. Her style reminds me of Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors.

Professionally, oddly enough, the book that has struck me is one that I read twenty years ago and I picked it up again recently. I liked it then — and re-reading it, I loved it. I wrote about it in the blog, it is by Stephen Peter Rosen, and it’s called Winning the Next War. It’s about military innovation, what works and what doesn’t. A lot of it is counter intuitive. Money is not important to innovation, in fact it may hurt it; technology is not that important to innovation; what is really important to innovation is organizational change during peacetime. It really is a very different take, and I find it intriguing because I think it is a crucial issue.

I worry that we have a big late Industrial Age military, which is a problem because we are on the cusp of Information Age. We confuse the ability to throw firepower with the ability to subdue an enemy. In that way today’s U.S. military reminds me of the Royal Navy of 1939. The Royal Navy then was the biggest in the world, it had the most battleships and the ability to throw more firepower, but was almost entirely irrelevant in World War II. They neglected changes; they didn’t understand the submarine; they didn’t understand how to use the aircraft carrier; and they didn’t have enough destroyers. They won the Battle of the Atlantic but that was with us giving them a lot of destroyers and other help, like providing submarine support.

(To read the rest, click here)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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