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No thanks to Schwarzkopf
on 12 July 2004
This book describes General Fred Franks' life and especially his experiences during Desert Storm, the war in 1991 in the Persian Gulf to kick Iraq out of Kuwait.
To really like this book you need to be a bit of a military fanatic. Fred Franks repeats so many times how wonderful it is to be a soldier, and how great the "warrior ethos" is, that you realize that for him the military is practically a religion.
The thing in this book that I found the most interesting are the descriptions of the magnitude of military might that was fielded during Desert Storm.
The American Army VII Corps (commanded by Gen. Franks) included 146,000 soldiers, 50,000 vehicles (incl. 1,600 tanks) and 800 helicopters. Not only are these numbers huge, but the logistics involved are mind-boggling: the soldiers need food and water, and the vehicles and aircraft burned an incredible 3.2 million gallons of fuel each day. When fighting the VII Corps expended 2,500 tons of ammunition every day.
And VII Corps was only part of the military forces involved. There was another Army corps, there were Marine units, there was the Air Force and the Navy, and forces from quite a few other countries. An amazing marshalling of military forces, and all under the command of General Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf (more about him later).
I found the book interesting, but it does have a lot of problems. It's way too long, mostly due to repetitiveness. With some editing it could have been cut down by at least 30% with no loss of information.
Another problem is that there are no useful maps. There are a lot of small maps, about 1/3 of a page each, but they simply don't show enough detail. Again and again you find the text referring to some town or road or river and they simply aren't on the maps.
Another major problem is the lack of a glossary with definitions for all the military acronyms and abbreviations that are used.
And then we have General Schwarzkopf, who is not thanked in the acknowledgements. Gen. Franks is very careful to thank everyone from his parents to his family to all of his subordinates, and then goes on to thank Colin Powell (then Chairman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff), Dick Cheney (then Sec. of Defense) and President George Bush Sr. But not Gen. Schwarzkopf.
It turns out that Gen. Schwarzkopf wrote an autobiography, "It Doesn't Take a Hero", and in that book he criticized Gen. Franks for the way he commanded VII Corps during Desert Storm.
Gen. Franks uses this book to return the favor. I won't go into extensive details (and Gen. Franks keeps his criticism fairly low-key), but Franks basically claims that Schwarzkopf liked having his butt kissed by his subordinates, was prone to throwing temper tantrums, wasn't competent to understand or command armored (tank) operations and made several tactical errors. In particular, not giving VII Corps more operational room to the north, not using the Air Force to prevent the Iraqi Republican Guards from escaping northwards and declaring "victory" a couple of days prematurely were big mistakes. The result was that Washington decreed a ceasefire and a large portion of the Republican Guards avoided destruction.
I actually found this dispute between Franks and Schwarzkopf to be quite interesting, and it's so very human to want to get back at someone who's done you dirt. So whether Franks or Schwarzkopf is right, the dispute does add flavor to Franks' story.