Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Overdrawn from the Well of Fortitude

Col. Bryan McCoy taking a catnap on "the march up" to Baghdad

I'm finally able and willing to post again. If my experience counts for anything I must be avoiding some difficult and trying task. Maybe more on that later, maybe not. [Note: I started this post on 12/2 so 'later' is now, and that's all I'll say]

I'm really taken by this picture of Col. Bryan McCoy stealing a catnap - arms splayed, flat on his back in the dirt, knees bent and rifle resting across his chest, stealing sleep during a lull in the Marines lightning campaign to Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom (aka Gulf War II). It's borrowed from John Koopman's McCoy's Marines: Darkside to Baghdad (2004) an odd but rewarding memoir of the SF Chronicle reporter's embedding with McCoy's 3rd Battalion/4th Marines. Reading Koopman's book was part of a jag initiated by watching HBO's brilliant Generation Kill. Following on from simultaneous readings of Evan Wright's Generation Kill and Nathanial Fick's One Shot Away: The Making of a Marine Officer
and using various Amazon reviews and references as a guide I ordered several titles from the public library.

Bing West's account of The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the United States Marines
puts the other accounts into a broader narrative and is a good read by itself. West's next title No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah has already been optioned by Hollywood and is set to star Harrison Ford. Its a gritty combat narrative, easily jumping back and forth between the aggressive foot patrols and sustained fire fights, and the political and diplomatic skirmishing between civil and military leaders under the glare of the media and ghosts of the Vietnam. If you're looking for a classic combat memoir sans the 'big picture' I recommend Patrick O'Donnell's We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulderwith the Marines Who Took Fallujah. We Were One is a book where the story overwhelms the story telling but you're left with the rich details of squad level action in close combat in an urban battleground.

But back to Darkside, Col. Bryan McCoy's radio call sign. I'd stumbled upon a short but enticing review of his primer The Passion of Command on the Kings of War blog (War Studies department, Kings College London). It proved difficult to obtain (library, Amazon, Alibris, etc) so I wound up ordering it from the publishers. It was worth the effort.

McCoy outlines his philosophy and technique for training Marines for combat. He introduce me to the concept of the 'well of fortitude' (a reservoir of will) as developed by LtCol David Grossman (On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society) and Col John Allen, reproducing the table Human Factors in Battle that Allen used for his USMC lectures.

The Passion of Command: The Moral Imperative of Leadership
by Colonel Bryan McCoy