Friday, November 30, 2007

Book Review: George Washington - A Military Life

If you are an American, and learned American history the way it was taught to me, you might be inclined to believe that George Washington chopped down some cherry tree, and then told his father "I Cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree." (which was made up by Washington's first biographer, Parson Weems, who lived only two miles from our home)

Depending on when you went to school, you might have been taught that Washington was a great man or a horrible man for having been a slave owner. Again, depending on when or where you went to school, you might believe that George Washington was an incredible blunderer or a strategic and tactical genius, who was as brilliant as Napoleon and George Patton all at once.

No matter what you learned, it is likely that whatever you learned was a bunch of crap.

For centuries, different people, for different reasons, have portrayed Washington as an unstained demigod, while others have reported him to be either a dummy or a nefarious character who is just shy of Satan. It's a real shame, because the real Washington, the man, is a very interesting character WITHOUT all of the embellishment.

In his book, General George Washington - A Military Life, author Edward Lengel strips away the history as reported by people with agendas. He brings the facts of Washington's life, as they pertain to his military experiences.

Here, we see Washington as a teenager, who longs for a life in the uniformed service of the British Crown. He first tries to emulate his older half-brother, who secures him a place as a Midshipman on a British man of war. He was thwarted in this by his very formidable mother, but his dream of serving the crown in uniform went un-extinguished.

After the Death of his half-brother and his wife, nine years later, Washington inherited Mount Vernon, which became his home for the rest of his life, and embarked on the rest of his military career.

At the age of 21, Washington was appointed adjutant, with the rank of Major, in the Virginia militia, and only a few years later, was appointed to the Colonelcy of the 1st Virginia regiment, as they were raised for service against the French, who were encroaching upon British claims to the Ohio Valley in the area that later became Pittsburgh.

We see Washington at his very best and at his worst throughout the French & Indian wars, and the long period between those years and the period immediately preceding the American Revolution. We see the Washington as the only American born militia officer with enough military experience and combat experience, selected by the Continental Congress to lead the as yet unformed American army against the experienced troops of the British Army.

(Washington, seen here as Colonel of the Virginia militia, circa 1772)

During the book, Lengel isn't afraid to discuss Washington's successes nor is he afraid to skewer sacred cows when he talks about Washington's failings as a General.

After reading this very frank, but very fair assessment of Washington's military career, one can only come to the conclusion that General George Washington, taken warts and all, was indeed the person that James Thomas Flexner deemed as "The Indispensable Man"

Washington was neither genius, nor blunderer. He was a man, a soldier, and a politician. He was a good field commander, a real fighter, and brave in the face of the enemy. He never lost his nerve on the battlefield.

The history of the military art screams that Washington's strategy in general was, unbeknownst to him, absolutely correct in that he didn't often try to do things that were beoynd his resources against a better trained, better armed, and better provisioned army.

He might not have been 12 feet tall, but he was the man of the moment, and was equal to the challencge.

Kudos to Lengel for a great book on such an important figure in our history.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Book Review: Protect and Defend

Have any of you ever read a Vince Flynn novel? If you haven't, you might want to give it a go.

Flynn writes what I like to think of as "romance-novels-for-men"... books with spies, guns, military hardware, and a main character that so many of us wish we could be. In Flynn's seven novels to date, he has had the coolest main character that you can imagine: Mitch Rapp, a dedicated and almighty lethal counter-terrorist operative of the Central Intelligence agency.

Mitch Rapp is a bad dude. (he's even badder than me!). He is a killer, but not just a brute. Mitch Rapp can speak Arabic, Farsi, and some other languages. He is deadly with a machinegu, a sniper rifle, a pistol, knife, or just about anything else, including a soup spoon.

In Flynn's newest novel, Protect and Defend, Iran's secret nuclear facility is destroyed by an undercover Mossad agent and as the flurry of events afterward increase, the Director of the CIa and the Chief of Iranian intelligence decide to meet for some back-channel discussions, in Mosul, Iraq.

Immediately after their meeting, CIA Director (and mentor/friend of Mitch Rapp) Irene Kennedy is kidnapped by an elusive Hezbollah operative. Mitch Rapp swings into action, killing damned-near EVERYbody that gets in his way.

This book is a slam-bang action story in which there is one bombing, one ambush/gun battle in the streets of Mosul, several summary executions, hand to hand combat to the death, a daring rescue, a domestic assassination, interrogations, torture, the beginning of a new romance, and a military stand-off that leads the United States and Iran to the brink of open warfare.

If you like this sort of stuff, read this.

If you are unfamiliar with the genre, read it anyway.

This isn't intellectual stuff, but, by God, it sure is fun!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Product Review: Sequoia Vehicle Survival Kit

Most of you know that I make my living teaching officers and agents about street-level combat survival... Today, I want to talk about survival of a different sort.

Today, I want to talk about survival on the road, trail, or highway.

While it is bad enough to broken down on the side of the road, compound that problem with having your children with you, and being in inclement weather, or all of those things combined and being in a rural area that isn't well-travelled. As anyone who has ever had their car break down knows, these things always happen at the time when we are most ill-prepared to handle it. There is almost always something that we need that we don't have... and it is usually a simple thing.

What would you do if your car went off the road in the snow, and it wasn't likely that anyone was coming to help anytime soon? An ugly position to be in, isn't it.

Well, this product, the Sequoia Vehicle Survival kit, may not have all of the answers, but will certainly help.

Let's start at the beginning: The kit isn't huge, measuring only 15" x 7.5" x 10", and weighing only eight pounds. You might, seeing this, think that there couldn't possibly be a lot to the kit, being so small... but you'd be wrong. Read on!

This kit contains some amazing stuff, that I would have been glad to have around, not only when I was a Boy Scout, but also when I was in the Marines!

First things first... It comes with a roll of toilet paper. Oh yeah, laugh!.... but have you ever been stuck without a roll? bad times, kids, I'm telling you.

The kit also contains emergency food rations that are designed to last two people a full day... which is good, but sort of inaccurate. In a survival situation food for two people can be enough for four people to get by on for four days.

There is a large First aid kit, small water packs (dehydration is an ugly thing), rain ponchos (2), chemical hand warmers, 12 hour light sticks (2), waterproof matches, cleansing wipes, emergency blankets (2), even a deck of playing cards (distraction from boredom is important while waiting for rescue). The kit also contains a notepad and a pen.

Now, lest you think that this kit is all about being comfy while you wait for help... it isn't. There are items in this kit that will help you to help yourself out of a bad situation. Items such as: A 75 foot, braided rope; leather work gloves; a Gerber Multi-Function tool; duct tape, and get this!; a flashlight that contains a radio and a cell phone charger! The radio, flashlight and charger all operate from a hand-cranked generator, so you don't have to worry about running out of juice.

In summation, I would be glad to have this kit in both of our cars (and my test kit is already in the car the Mrs GF drives most of the time), and I can't think of anything that the people at Sequoia might have left out, with the exception of a large shovel.

This kit is the bomb, I'm telling you!

This product review was sponsored by the Parent Bloggers Network, and the Sequoia Survival Company... give them a look, there are kits for your home as well!

Be smart, be safe!