“Monday Musings” are designed to get quick, insightful thoughts based around three questions from those interested in strategy, from the most experienced and lauded, to our newest thinkers/writers.
1 — Who had the greatest impact on you intellectually (whether through writing, mentorship, etc.)?
Dr. Bernard Fall was a French journalist, an author, and the preeminent authority throughout the 1950s and 1960s on the war in Vietnam. He began his work in that country while researching his PhD dissertation at Syracuse in the early 1950s, analyzing the country itself and the utter disaster of his country’s incursion during that time, ending in the debacle at Dien Bien Phu.
From his rigorous field work came the masterpieces of writing on that or any war: Street Without Joy and Hell in a Very Small Place. He went to the field constantly, believing that is the only way to get the story.
As the Americans in the late 1960s fell further and further into the looking glass of their own making, he warned again and again that we were making the same mistakes, in the same order, and for the same reasons that his countrymen had. His warnings were ignored, and he was himself killed while on patrol with the Marines on that same street without joy, Route 1, in February 1967.
Bernard Fall blended a deep and intuitive understanding of military strategy, operations and tactics with a lyrical, gorgeous writing style in two languages.
No one (save his widow, who lives in Washington) knows the definitive story of this remarkable man. Writing that work is my life’s ambition.
2 — What book (fiction, history, or academic) do you think best explains strategy?
A Bright Shining Lie, by Neil Sheehan. Nothing else comes close.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and seventeen years in the writing, this is a masterpiece: emotional, powerful, exquisitely detailed, using the life of one man — John Paul Vann — to show how a country can go so wrong. The strategy (such as it was) of the Vietnam War was one word: more. More men, more money, more blood, more lives. The disaster there is long lamented but ignored, as we spun right down into the same mistakes in Afghanistan.
3 — What do you want your legacy to be?
I want to raise the flag raised by men like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen in World War I, carried by Tim O’Brien and James Webb and Tobias Wolff in Vietnam: truly powerful writing about the most base of human actions. Poetry and prose often carry more weight than does nonfiction; these men prove it.
There has not been a truly powerful book on war written since those Vietnam writers were at their best- with the exception of With The Old Breed, which though written in 1981 is about Eugene Sledge’s experience in World War II. My book Rubicon is my first attempt at picking up that eagle.
Stan Coerr is a civil servant for the Marines and works in the Pentagon. He spent 25 years in both active and reserve units; he flew the Cobra attack helicopter, served in ANGLICO units on both coasts, spent a year in a rifle battalion and went over the border into Iraq as commander of liaison teams with the 1 Royal Irish Battlegroup on the first day of the invasion in 2003. He is from North Carolina, is the father of three boys, and holds degrees from Duke, Harvard and the Naval War College.
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