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Y

ou know that saying that, to a child with a hammer,


all the world looks like a nail? General Tony Zinni,
USArmy (Ret.) has convinced me that, to a man whos
spent his whole adult life in the military, all the world
looks like a war or something best solved by war. I
had hoped to find a vision for solving the problems of
the world without resort to arms.
What the book offers instead of that vision is a de-
tailed memoir and justification of Gen. Zinnis role in
USAmericas military ventures from Vietnam through
Afghanistan. He is directly critical of George W. Bushs
administration and flat-out accuses Vice President
Cheney of proceeding with the invasion of Iraq on a
false basis because there was no question of present
weapons of mass destruction. Zinni is also highly crit-
ical of President Obamas policies and performance,
though he seems to know no more than I do about how
decisions have actually been made in the Obama White
House. He settles for taking news reports as presenting
the whole story.
I hope the book as published includes an index, be-
cause for someone who doesnt regularly follow mili-
tary history, the names and places can get badly
tangled. Gen. Zinni names many other military figures,
usually with a summary of their backgrounds and al-
most always with information about when Zinni
worked with him and what he thought of him (always
him). He blatantly idolizes Gen. George Marshall.
Zinni does speak several times about the need to
win the hearts and minds, and then some, of the peo-
ple in whose countries we fight. He speaks movingly of
getting to know Vietnamese villagers when he was a
lieutenant advisor to their nations Marine corps. But
he gives no anecdotes of what he learned from them.
He does quote Mao Zedong as giving the greatest im-
portance in waging war to the people, and he assumes
that Ho Chi Minh agreed and acted strategically on that
knowledge.
By contrast, Zinni says he hoped the US forces
would win the peoples courage, commitment, and ha-
tred of the enemy. The enemy? That would be the other
Vietnamese, the people with whom they shared what
Zinni calls a nation dominated by first the French, then
the Japanese, then the French again, ending in the
French Indo-China War and the division of the coun-
try. Having some experience with how Koreans feel
about the division of their country, I very much doubt
that enmity was the primary attitude of South Viet-
namese toward North Vietnamese. Yet this seems to
have not been part of what General Zinni learned from
so deep in their culture.
Again, after putting a human face on the US mili-
tary in the Persian Gulf as combat commander for
the whole region Zinni says he thinks he knew how
the locals felt. He blames the European powers for
screwing up the region after World War I, leaving the
US as the cop on the block.
He speaks more clearly of the culture of US Military
commanders and how it is disrupted when presidents
are elected and appoint their own National Security
Advisers, chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Sec-
retaries of Defense. And thats not to mention the trou-
ble caused by diplomats. But while John Kerry, with
his military background, is portrayed sympathetically
around the Russian seizure of Crimea, and Madeleine
Albright is given a chapter epigraph and a brief men-
tion in the text immediately following, Hillary Clinton
is mentioned only once, and that in company with Sec-
retary of Defense Robert Gates, at least in the Advance
Review Copy of the book. How could a whole six?-year
bksreads
Before
the First Shots are Fired
Gen. Tony Zinni and Tony Koltz
Palgrave Macmillan,* Sept. 2014
Book Reviews by
Barbara Kellam-Scott
September 6, 2014
*This review is based on one of 25 Advance Reader
Copies provided by the publisher through the Early Re-
viewer program at LibraryThing.com. No other consider-
ation was provided by the publisher or author to the
reviewer. The review contains many direct quotes to cap-
tur the authors style, but they are not indicated because
they are not verified as appearing in the final edition.
service as the nations top diplomat be left out? Im
afraid it appears to me that its because shes a woman
with no military experience and perhaps without the
admiration for the military that Zinni demands. Or
maybe he just never met her.
Clearly, General Zinni thinks the military could do
much better without such oversight, or with politicians
who listened better to the military. And he speaks even
worse of journalists resisting proper information and
wanting to get too close to the action.
The real gap in General Zinnis cast of characters,
though, is the boots on the ground. They do get a
paragraph early in the book, where Gen. Zinni com-
plains about how easy the troops have it in foreign de-
ployments today, returning from battle to bases he
compares to US shopping malls. And he seems to
blame the speed with which they jet home from combat
for the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorders. He
never mentions being wounded, being ambushed, see-
ing carnage. He does contend that a commander in
chief who has never been shot at lacks a visceral under-
standing of the decisions he has to make about war, but
he doesnt tell us how his own experience of being shot
at may have colored his command decisions.
Only in his closing chapters does he even mention
the burden on people separated from their families.
Zinni gives a few pages consideration to the way Na-
tional Guard and Reserve troops were used in Iraq and
Afghanistan. (He disapproves.) But he values them
most for their greater maturity and higher education
that the regular troops. He quotes his son celebrating
a surgeon called up in 2007 to the rank of corporal. The
mechanical engineer with Shell Oil was an officer, and
apparently more useful because of his connections.
There is a brief moment in chapter two, in the con-
text of the invasion of Iraq, when Zinni toys with ques-
tioning why its so easy to respond with military force.
He criticizes politicians and generals who never
met an intervention they didnt like. But he acknowl-
edges that having the most powerful military in the
world is its own temptation to use it.
That second chapter may be the best part of the
book. In it, General Zinni (or perhaps Mr. Koltz) takes
us back to the founding of our nation as inwardly fo-
cused. But the distances that separated us from other
powerful nations were greater then, and we had no
need of their colonial ambitions, what with a whole
continent before us. But after just a couple of para-
graphs, and with no mention of our own use of
weapons of mass destruction, Zinni is celebrating our
rebuilding the societies of our WWII enemies. Hope
gets another cameo in chapter five, as a criticism of
militarized foreign policy. Yet General Zinni contends
that a high level of strategic thinking has been absent
from US political thinking and planning since the end
of the Cold War.
What has certainly been lacking in that time is what
Gen. Zinni calls an existential threat, but he doesnt
seem to have noticed. He includes a dramatic section
on the battle of the narrative as a new dimension to
war. But his treatment of information technologies and
shaping of opinion, especially in the decade since he
retired, is the weakest portion of the book, settling for
generalizations. No, the section on cyberwar, separated
off into the next chapter, is even more vague.
The difference he misses is how few of the chal-
lenges in the world in the 21st century are from nations
that can understand the potential of nuclear deterrents
or air and sea dominance, or can form alliances and
civil partnerships and share in global goals. He ad-
dresses the issue in chapter three, as one of context that
we cannot know. And late in the book, describing the
new battlefield, he pays lip service to enemy move-
ments and gangs that dont play by the rules taught in
military academies. He says they are less interested in
geography and advancing lines, but then he argues for
more attention to geography and advancing lines.
What disappoints me most about the book is that
General Zinni seems to accept that there will always
come a crisis, and a time in each crisis, when resolu-
tion will depend on shots being fired, and fired by US-
Americas military. And because of that certainty, we
will be required to maintain the largest, most powerful
military force on the planet. General Zinni spent his
finest years as a combat commander, even when
there was no identified war going on. And he is quite
clear that he knows how to fight future wars, and con-
struct future pauses in war and geographical shifts in
where the war is, more efficiently and effectively than
weve done it at least since
the good war of the
1940s. I was really hoping
he might have seen an en-
tirely different way for the
world to run.
Before the First Shots Are Fired 2
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