Imperial Grunts (Kaplan)

by Robert D. Kaplan

People who know me know that I have a special interest in the US military; in addition to my own service, I have many friends and acquaintances who served, or are serving, and I care deeply about how our military is equipped, trained, organized, and used as an instrument of US policy and power projection.
Kaplan has written a remarkable, and important, book about the US military around the world, but rather than focusing on three- and four-star generals (cf. Atkinson’s biography of David Petraeus, or on the dry details of an individual campaign or battle (cf. The March Up), Kaplan writes about the troops he meets while deployed with the First Marine Division and various Special Forces units. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a war book; it’s a book about the remarkable ways in which individual US military members are forging US policy. My favorite example is probably Tom Wilhelm, one of the US military advisors to Mongolia; Kaplan’s profile of himin the Atlantic was excerpted from the book, but there are many other examples from places like Basilan, Lamu Island (which I’d never heard of), Fallujah, and northern Afghanistan.
Kaplan puts the work done by these “iron grunts” in perspective. The US, he says, has already built an empire; like the last days of the British empire, it’s one focused as much on imperial power projection through the distribution of information, technology, and ideas as on pure military force. Kaplan frequently cites precedent for US engagement in various places from our previous engagement in “small wars” like the US pacification of the Philippines, the settlement of the American West, and the US Marine involvement in Central America at the start of the 20th century. Kaplan puts these in the context of empire building by peoples as disparate as the Ethiopians, the Romans, and the series of Khans.
Kaplan writes with a vigorous style that does an excellent job of conveying the no-baloney straightforwardness of the people he meets and talks to. He is direct and clear, both in his explanations and his opinions. His writing is also suffused with a clear appreciation for the work done, and sacrifices made, by these soldiers and Marines for their country. He does this without shying away from pointing out what America has done wrong in the past, or could improve upon in the future, and that’s part of what makes this such a remarkable book.
If I could give this book six stars, I would; I’m eagerly looking forward to the next volume.

Comments Off on Imperial Grunts (Kaplan)

Filed under Reviews

Comments are closed.