Archive for the ‘Video’ Category

On national service

January 3, 2011

We interrupt the regularly scheduled broadcast… to bring you this worthwhile (but not exactly related to the mainstay of this blog’s focus) video of Matt Pottinger, formerly a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in China, formerly a U.S. Marine Corps officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, now the Edwin R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations delivering an address to his high school last Veteran’s Day.

Pottinger graduated from the Milton Academy in 1991 and was invited back to speak nearly 20 years later.  It’s funny and a little bit interesting to see the emphasis he puts on how he was less than totally dedicated to his studies while a student there, particularly in light of his subsequent professional success both as a reporter for one of the world’s premier newspapers and as a military officer.

It’s an interesting speech to me on a number of levels – first, it’s clear that his story is not typical.  Rarely in the modern day do you see people leave behind rewarding positions like the one Matt had with the WSJ in Beijing to do selfless things like join the Marine Corps to fight, though Matt’s story is not the only one like this – even more well-known was pro-footballer turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman; and there are many more who are relatively more obscure, like the investment banker from San Francisco I personally know who, like Matt, joined the Corps for a single tour in wartime, but in his case it was as a “conscience-clearing” to justify in his own mind the ridiculous amounts of money he was making (he has since returned to investment banking after four years of honorable service that included a tour in Iraq).  We need more people like Matt and my investment banker friend who are willing to step up and serve their countries.

It is also interesting because of the outsize success that Matt enjoyed during his time in the Corps.  He served only 5 years, but accomplished more during that time than many officers can claim in a whole career.  For instance, he innovated the first Marine Corps female engagement teams (FET) in Afghanistan that took advantage of local perceptions about women that allowed female Marines greater access and trust in the local society than the male Marines they served with.  Unlike the male Marines, the female Marines were seen as OK to enter local households without necessitating revenge in the Pashtun honor society system.  Since the FETs were able to get inside the homes of locals, they could better collect information and also tell the locals about what the coalition forces were trying to accomplish, an information operations (IO) bonanza of the first order. (For more on FETs and IO, this recent piece in The Nation discusses the difficulties the Marines and now the Army are having in sourcing personnel for the FETs and more importantly discusses some of the limitations and problems in their use.  This master’s thesis (PDF) from a student at Marine Corps University discusses the need for improved intelligence support to information operations in the types of fighting and nation-building that the US is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Probably largely on the strength of innovating the FETs he was named the 2009 Marine Corps Intelligence Officer of the Year.  He followed that up by deploying to Afghanistan for a second time, and this time around he co-authored (with two high-level intelligence officials also serving in Afghanistan at the time) an influential critique of American intelligence efforts there.  Entitled Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan (recommended reading here at Facing China about a year ago) that advocated, among other things, establishing positions for officers whose jobs would be not unlike that of a newspaper reporter – traveling widely around Afghanistan to speak face-to-face with people on the ground, then taking the information they gleaned at the tactical level back to the headquarters to fuse it together to provide the “real” picture that was getting lost in all the layers of bureaucracy and in the overdependence on technical intelligence collection (no doubt his background as a reporter in China informed this recommendation).

I think Matt makes a good argument for the importance and value of performing national service of some nature – it by no means has to be in the military.  I wonder if through his appearance at his alma mater Matt was able to convince any young Americans of the significance and virtue of seeking service to the point that they resolve to take action.  Only time will tell.

As he says in the speech, Matt has now completed his service and is back at his first love – writing.  I know I am looking forward to what I am sure will be relevant and insightful contributions from him at CFR.

The video is about 40 minutes long, so if that’s too long, you can at least read the “Cliffs Notes” version of it here, in a news release from the Milton Academy.

Matterhorn

September 22, 2010

Long-time followers of this blog (all two of you) will already know that I like the programs the Pritzker Military Library has from time to time.  Located in Chicago, Illinois, the Library hosts authors of military-related books for talks about their works.  The most recent program I caught featured Matt Gallagher, author of Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War, one of the truest memoirs of the Iraq War I have read. (Side note: go check out Matt’s latest post on his new blog, Kerplunk, about an academic conference he recently attended – good stuff!)  I caught the podcast for that one, but on other previous occasions I have endured the often-painfully early wake-up calls required to watch the streaming video live as the event happens.  This time around, to watch author Karl Marlantes talk about his brilliant novel of the Vietnam War Matterhorn, I won’t have to get up early at all – thanks PML!

I read Matterhorn after seeing the high praise heaped upon it from various sources, including James Fallows of The Atlantic.  While I had little doubt that the book would be interesting to me – it’s about Marines and war, a couple of topics near and dear to my heart – I wasn’t as certain that the book would be able to live up to the hype.  Well, it did, and then some.  It’s been a while since I have read a book that I literally didn’t want to put down (especially when considering that some of my academic pursuits of late have included political economy and philosophy), but that’s how Marlantes’ novel was.  Marlantes himself was a Marine who served in Vietnam and started writing the novel soon after his service there ended.  More than 30 years later, the product is worth your attention.  Read the book, and if you haven’t yet, still tune in (or get the podcast) to see him talk about the book on Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 6PM Central (US) time (7AM on Friday morning here in Taiwan – no problem tuning in for me!).  Read on for all the details.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/events/2010/09-23-karl-marlantes.jsp

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pritzker Military Library

610 N. Fairbanks Court, 2nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60611
312-587-0234
Make a reservation

Member reception: 5:00pm
Presentation and Live Webcast: 6:00pm

Books are available for purchase at author events courtesy of The Book Stall at Chestnut Court. Library members receive a 10% discount.
As a young man, returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam, he began writing an epic novel about the war he experienced and the way that combat changes people. More than thirty years later, his work is done.

Matterhorn draws from Karl Marlantes’ experience as an officer with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. The year is 1969, and 2nd Lt. Waino Mellas has been assigned to lead a rifle platoon of forty Marines as their company builds a fire support base in the mountains near the border of Laos. His platoon is full of young men who have been at war for years; Mellas, fresh out of college, is overwhelmed by his responsibilities as a leader and the dense jungle landscape that surrounds them.

As casualties mount, Mellas and his platoon fight through a series of conflicting missions – they are ordered to abandon their newly built base, the ordered to take it back from the North Vietnamese Army, and then ordered to abandon it again. While their commanding officers fight the war from a distance, little aware of how their decisions affect men on the ground, Mellas and his platoon endure sweltering heat, monsoon rains, and a growing sense of futility; they struggle to understand and trust each other, and they forge powerful bonds that will overcome fear, doubt, and loss.

Karl Marlantes was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals for his service in Vietnam. Matterhorn is his first novel. A graduate of Yale and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he lives in rural Washington.

“The Good Soldiers” Author David Finkel at the Pritzker Military Library

April 28, 2010

Pritzker posterOn Wednesday, April 28, 2010, tune in to the Pritzker Military Library to see author David Finkel talk about his outstanding 2009 book about an Army battalion inside Baghdad as a part of “the surge” in 2007.  I wrote about Finkel’s book, The Good Soldiers, here at Facing China back in February after I finished it and I stand by my unqualified recommendation – you should read the book. (See also the short review I wrote at Goodreads.) I am planning to roll out of the sack VERY early tomorrow morning to watch his live webcast that will start at 4AM on Thursday in Taiwan, but like the Craig Mullaney talk I watched a while back, I’m certain it will be worth it.  In my opinion, these two books (Mullaney’s 2008 book The Unforgiving Minute and Finkel’s The Good Soldiers) are the finest accounts of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date. (Currently I am reading another highlytouted Iraq War book, Kaboom, by Matt Gallagher, but it is of a different vein than these two books – clearly the author takes a less serious approach to telling about his experiences, which is comically funny in places and works very well in his book, but makes it qualitatively different from either Mullaney’s or Finkel’s books.) I encourage you to point your chosen web browser to http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/events/2010/04-28-david-finkel.jsp at 3PM Central time (US) to see what the author has to say about this fantastic book and his long embed with the 2-16 Rangers that provided the basis for his reporting in the Washington Post and later the book itself.

I don’t know if it will come up in the talk (my guess would be yes), but one recently popular issue in the media that you can gain insight into by reading The Good Soldiers is the 2007 Apache helicopter shooting of Reuters reporters that WikiLeaks made such a spectacle of in releasing video footage of the event earlier this month.  I haven’t viewed the video footage because once I heard what it was all about, I knew that I already had a good idea of what happened from reading chapter 5 in Finkel’s book. (In conjunction with this, the Washington Post printed an excerpt of the relevant book section earlier this month, which you can read here.)

If you enjoy the live webcast or read the book and enjoy it, I encourage you to “like” David Finkel’s Facebook fan page for the book here.

[Photo: Pritzker Military Library]

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HBO’s “The Pacific” Premieres Tonight in Taiwan (April 3)

April 3, 2010

For those readers in the US, this is not going to seem like anything new – HBO’s miniseries The Pacific premiered a few weeks ago.  But in Taiwan, today’s the day!  There will be a double feature on tonight (episodes one and two), and I plan to see it!

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
In preparation for viewing the series, I took it upon myself to brush up on my World War II Pacific theater history by reading Eugene Sledge’s classic account of Marines taking Peleliu and Okinawa, With The Old Breed.  I wrote a short review of it here.  After reading Sledge’s account of the brutal fighting, I am left wondering to what degree Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are going to be able to capture the experience in this ten-part series.

Since as I mentioned at the outset The Pacific has been out in the US for several weeks, there have been many reviews of the series in the mainstream media and the reviews that I read from this category all seemed to be highly laudatory (NYT, LAT).  Not everyone in the “blogosphere” was drinking the Kool Aid, though.  Historian Eric Hammel, writing on Tom Ricks’s award-winning blog The Best Defense had this to say about it:

Why should I be surprised a “docudrama” like The Pacific is shit? The whole effort behind the docu part is invested in toys such as gunner’s gloves. I long ago boycotted documentary filmmakers who want my brand to legitimize their sorry little TV vignettes. Their objective is entertainment centered on the dramatic visual, not the intellectual, and not quite the historical. If self-professed documentarians can’t get it right because they edit the talking heads to accommodate their thin film libraries, why should self-professed entertainers make a better effort, show greater concern?

Ouch.  So it’s not a documentary, it’s entertainment, got it.  I guess my standards just aren’t as high as someone like Hammel’s.  I fully anticipate having the same reaction to it that Tom Ricks initially did: “hooked instantly.” (He later took on a more critical stance about the series.)  Let’s put it this way: I really enjoyed watching the Hanks/Spielberg/HBO series that preceded and set the standard for this one, Band of Brothers, and when I finished watching that series, I said to myself, what about a series like that for the Pacific theater and the Marines? (Band of Brothers, for those who haven’t seen the series, focuses on U.S. Army soldiers in the European theater of war during WWII – Marines do not play a role.) The series I had hoped for is now here.  As a U.S. Marine, I am naturally going to be partial to something telling “our” story, and I think that the desire by parties involved in making The Pacific to “get… it right” is a noble one.  The Pacific would have to be pretty crappy for me not to like it.  But I don’t think that a series that cost some $200 million and took nearly a year to film is going to be crappy.  If I feel differently after watching tonight’s episodes, I will write about it later.  Otherwise, it’s time for me to make sure my Saturday nights for the next 2 months are clear.

I would be interested to hear what anyone who has already seen one of the first three episodes aired in the US has to say about them.  The comments section awaits your input.

Here are a couple links:

http://www.hbo.com/the-pacific/index.html (US official homepage)

http://www.hboasia.com/pacific/ (HBO Asia official homepage)

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Flashpoint: Guam

December 24, 2009

Tumon Bay, Guam, 2008

I recently came across a PBS video concerning the US military’s pending move of forces stationed in Japan to Guam.  Called “The Marines Are Landing”, it’s a little over 20 minutes long and I think treats the subject fairly evenly.

To briefly explain the situation facing Guam, in 2005 the US and Japan came to an agreement to, among other things, relocate about half of the US Marines stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam.  Certainly strategic issues and force positioning in the Western Pacific for the US were the primary driver for the decision to move the troops, but it’s quite certain that part of the reason for moving the Marines in particular has to be the friction that has existed between the local Okinawan citizens and the Marines for a long time, especially since 1995 onward (in 1995, two Marines and a US Navy Sailor kidnapped and raped an Okinawan girl).  This incident and its aftermath are highlighted in the video.

Guam is now faced with a conundrum: they expect to have the population of their island increased by something like 40% (it is currently less that 200,000) within the next 10 years due to the realignment of US military forces to their island, but their infrastructure is already at the breaking point.  Where the money to pay for required upgrades and improvements and upgrades will come from still seems to be unclear – everyone interviewed in the video seemed to have a different answer, with one common theme – not me / my department.

This video is part of PBS’s “NOW” series of broadcasts dealing with various and sundry current events issues in a “news magazine” style, sort of like “Frontline“‘s little brother.  “The Marines Are Landing” originally aired earlier this month.

The move of US forces to Guam is a timely issue due to US President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan last month (which has now resulted in the new Japanese government waffling about the very basics of the plan itself) and the fact that much of the infrastructure construction that necessarily must precede the actual repositioning of troops and their families is slated to get underway in early 2010.

I find the Guam issue interesting for a couple reasons:

1. The repositioning of a significant portion of the US military’s Japan-based capability to Guam makes a difference in how those forces can be employed, response / employment timelines change, and so forth, altering the strategic balance of the region.

2. A couple of years ago I worked at the largest US Marine Corps headquarters in the Pacific (in Hawaii) and I saw first-hand how much of the daily “battle rhythm” was spent on Guam issues.  This is a huge deal for the US military, and especially for the Marines.  I am quite interested to see what the Guam buildup will end up looking like – will it bear any resemblance to the extensive plans laid down a few years ago?

Watch the video here:

The Marines Are Landing . NOW on PBS.

A couple of other recent Guam buildup-related resources:

– Government Accountability Office report GAO-10-90R (13 November 2009): Defense Infrastructure: Guam Needs Timely Information from DOD to Meet Challenges in Planning and Financing Off-Base Projects and Programs to Support a Larger Military Presence

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS) for Guam and the CNMI Military Relocation – the draft EIS was released on 17 November 2009 and is now available for public comment.  It looks like the US government is planning on holding some public hearings next month on Guam and neighboring islands Saipan and Tinian (Saipan and Tinian are part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands [CNMI]).  If I were a betting man, I would wager that these public hearings are going to be packed-house, “less than relaxed” affairs  – from what I have seen, the people of Guam and its neighboring islands are passionate about the subject and mean to be taken seriously in their concerns about the military buildup.


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