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Book report: "Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts" by Robert Kaplan
Old 12-26-2007, 11:23 PM   #1
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Book report: "Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts" by Robert Kaplan

Been a while since I wrote a book report, but this is one of my top 10 military books. It's worth your time if you don't know anyone in the military, if you want to understand how the missions get accomplished, or if you're wondering what's happened since you left active duty. Anyone contemplating a military career, or their parents, would be well served to read Kaplan's opinions about their future.

Robert Kaplan is a more academic version of Tom Clancy. A writer & professor, he manages to embed himself in military units and learn their opinions of the military's strategies and its future. He's no cheerleader-- he's very widely traveled and he has an extensive background in history, cultures, & politics. He isn't judging right or wrong but he doesn't hesitate to point out optimistic & stupid.

His first book, "Imperial Grunts", claims that America has embarked (for whatever reason) on a strategy of roaming the world to protect the homeland. This worked well for the Roman empire until they reached farther than their resources could support, and he claims that empires find imperialism "necessary" as they begin their declines. That's just his opinion, and he's not a fan of politics or big military institutions. He doesn't forecast catastrophe so much as point out where imperialism has taken other countries.

These books aren't about politics or national foreign policy, and I'd appreciate it if a few of you posters would refrain from using this post as a platform for discussing those subjects. These books are about the grunts and how they're dealing with those subjects. For those of you seeing this post in political terms, you don't merit an opinion on Kaplan's views until you've read at least one of the books.

I enjoy reading about the people and their skills. I think "Imperial Grunts", which he spent mainly with the special forces, awarded him "good guy" credibility with the rank & file while also giving him a lot of extra material. He spends "Hog Pilots" with the Navy, especially the surface & submarine forces, and the Air Force. Oddly enough his chosen AF embeds are the A-10 "Warthog" and the B-2 bomber pilots. No F/A-18 or F-16 jocks here.

By the time you finish either book, you'll wish that the flag officers and the policy-makers would spend more time listening to the grunts. You'll also be a fan of "engagement", and you'll see America's Iraq future in the examples set by our bases & operations in Japan, Germany, Okinawa, Korea, and dozens of other countries.

He describes submariners as "Tattooed geeks-- the most driven men I have ever known." He nailed us.


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Old 12-27-2007, 12:45 AM   #2
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I read Imperial Grunts. I thought it was an excellent book. Kaplan understands what many non-military people or especially anti-military don't- that mid level officers and many non-coms are very intelligent, well educated as well as well trained dedicated hard workers who take as a matter of course a level of effort that many of us would have trouble with.

He clearly likes these guys and even more important respects them. I have met quite a few Special Forces guys, and former non-com spec-ops guys who are now contractors all around the world. They all blow me away with the level of sophistication and broad gauge knowledge that they bring to their jobs. Not to mention resourcefulness and courage.

Another interesting aspect is the Army history that he works into the book, like the historical importance of the middle part of the country to the Army.

When I have worked through a few more of the books on my table I will read this one about the Navy.

I appreciate the report Nords.


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Old 12-27-2007, 02:42 AM   #3
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I've read Kaplan's articles in various publication, the Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, and National Review (I think) but didn't know he wrote books about modern military affairs.

I'm working my way through a lot of books, but I'll put it on my list.
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Old 12-27-2007, 05:43 AM   #4
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Thanks Nords - your posts are appreciated
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Old 12-27-2007, 03:03 PM   #5
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Kaplan was a must read in 2001 or so as well for one of his political-military analysis books - can't remember the title, but it was a quick rad - not everyone agrees with his premise (not my boss, who happened to have a PhD in poli-sci), but easy to read nonetheless - I'll add him to the list...the long list - I'm still one of those working grunts who also happens to work part-time as a mid-level officer type - I only hope to be as well-rounded and intelligent as haha mentions.
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