Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Glad I’m not in the Russian army

Policy Review has a rambling essay on military memoirs that I found especially interesting for its discussion, at the end, of a recent memoir of serving in the Russian army. I hadn’t heard of One Soldier’s War in Chechnya, by Arkady Babchenko, but was struck by some of it quoted in the essay: ‘This is ...

YURI TUTOV/AFP/Getty Images
YURI TUTOV/AFP/Getty Images
YURI TUTOV/AFP/Getty Images

Policy Review has a rambling essay on military memoirs that I found especially interesting for its discussion, at the end, of a recent memoir of serving in the Russian army. I hadn't heard of One Soldier's War in Chechnya, by Arkady Babchenko, but was struck by some of it quoted in the essay:

'This is not an army, but a herd drawn from the dregs of the criminal classes, lawless apart from the dictates of the jackals that run it.' In this 'army living by prison camp rules,' the end product is a soldier without a conscience and 'with a coldness inside [him] and a hatred of the whole world, with no past and no future.'"

Meanwhile, here is a roundup of recent U.S. military memoirs. (How can I not like an essay that says in an aside, "Ricks is even more right about that than he realizes?" Of course, he goes on to say that, "Ricks is wrong to think we can rely on ROTC instead of, rather than along with, the academies" -- but alas he misses the point that in advocating closing the military academies and war colleges, I advocated moving to a Sandhurst-like approach, rather than just relying on ROTC. And send colonels to civilian institutions to learn how to think strategically.)

Policy Review has a rambling essay on military memoirs that I found especially interesting for its discussion, at the end, of a recent memoir of serving in the Russian army. I hadn’t heard of One Soldier’s War in Chechnya, by Arkady Babchenko, but was struck by some of it quoted in the essay:

‘This is not an army, but a herd drawn from the dregs of the criminal classes, lawless apart from the dictates of the jackals that run it.’ In this ‘army living by prison camp rules,’ the end product is a soldier without a conscience and ‘with a coldness inside [him] and a hatred of the whole world, with no past and no future.’"

Meanwhile, here is a roundup of recent U.S. military memoirs. (How can I not like an essay that says in an aside, "Ricks is even more right about that than he realizes?" Of course, he goes on to say that, "Ricks is wrong to think we can rely on ROTC instead of, rather than along with, the academies" — but alas he misses the point that in advocating closing the military academies and war colleges, I advocated moving to a Sandhurst-like approach, rather than just relying on ROTC. And send colonels to civilian institutions to learn how to think strategically.)

Speaking of military memoirs, Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for literature yesterday. He isn’t generally known for military writing, but his novel Captain Pantoja and the Special Service is a good farce about an officer assigned to set up a roving brothel for troops isolated in the Amazonian jungle.

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. Twitter: @tomricks1
Tag: Russia

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.