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Posts Tagged ‘Niccolò Machiavelli’

[Another LONG post…  You’ve been warned!  (LoL)    —    KMAB]
The Third World War:  August 1985  (1978©)   —   book review
This review is for the fictional portrayal (as a “future history”) of a “realistic” invasion of NATO allied European countries by the Warsaw Pact in August of 1985.  The book was “written” primarily (et al) by (Ret.) British General John W. Hackett in consultation with a number of experts gathered to discuss how such an invasion might occur, what might lead up to it and what might be the end-of-war results.  The “advisors” were listed as:  John Barraclough (Air Chief Marshal), Kenneth Hunt (Brigadier), Ian McGeoch (Vice-Admiral), Norman Macrae (a deputy editor at “The Economist“), John Strawson (Major-General), and, Bernard Burrows (British Diplomatic Service).
The book was a best-seller in England back in 1978.  It was published in the U.S. in early 1979 as a hardback and then released as a paperback in 1980.  I initially read the paperback version.  I believe it was shortly after I was released from the Active Reserves, but my memory isn’t that precise anymore.  In any case, this review is of a re-reading of the book after my reading of “2034: A Novel of the Next World War” earlier this year.  (review here:  A Novel War).  The author of that book, (ret) Admiral James Stavridis, cited this book as a primary inspiration for his work.  This prompted my re-interest in the original…
During my (almost) two years in the Reserves I was assigned to a unit which tested and evaluated the readiness of National Guard units from California, Arizona and New Mexico.  The officers would establish “war-game” scenarios for the Guard officers and I (as an NCO) would embed with the line units to evaluate actual field performance.  We were artillery evaluators, so I watched Guard batteries fire cannons / howitzers, but I gained an understanding of scenario development and large scale tactical war-gaming.  This led to a post-service interest in military style board games which carried on for most of the ’80s.  I lost interest when gaming shifted to computers and became “mostly” shoot-em-up’s instead of (IMHO) about strategy.
Basically, the plot of this book is the leaders of the USSR feel their position as a superpower is being threatened by political and economic factors which are worsening (for them).  They feel there has been a significant / progressive decrease in NATO’s readiness over the last decade and this may be their last / best opportunity to remove a potential military threat (NATO) and further subjugate the buffer countries of Eastern Europe who are members of the Warsaw Pact.  The plan is a crushing invasion of Western Europe (West Germany and the low-lands) which leaves the USSR in command up to the border of France.  The invasion fails because in the years between the book’s publishing (1978) and the date of the “future-history” event (August 1985), Europe (specifically Great Britain) comes to its senses and reverses the general military decline of the late ’60s to ’70s.  The NATO forces are able to slow the advance of invasion (without the use of tactical nuclear weapons) and allows reinforcements to arrive from the U.S. just in the nick of time.
In a striking foreboding of the current (2022) invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the invasion portrayed fails because of (in no particular order of importance):
1)  an inability to dominate the air despite superior numerical assets;
2)  a failure of logistics (fuel and ammunition) by the Warsaw Pact, (it is believed the invasion will take less than two weeks AND there will not be enough time for the U.S. to resupply NATO forces);
3)  resistance by the native forces (in this case, the West German army / reserves) is surprisingly effective;  and,
4)  the centralized command and control characteristic of authoritarian political systems, does not promote the flexibility / initiative of junior officers (and NCOs) to seize military opportunities when they arise, so opportunities for significant breakouts are lost.
When the war quickly (the “war” lasts weeks) devolves into a war of attrition, failure is viewed as inevitable and hard-liners in the Politburo decide to consolidate their gains for future armistice negotiations by the use of a limited (against only one city) nuclear strike.  The result, however, is not fear and negotiation, but instead, fury and retaliation via a similar limited nuclear strike by Great Britain and the U.S. against a Russian city;  (and like falling dominoes) the Warsaw Pact allies turn on the USSR to avoid nuclear annihilation;  the Soviet military / security services stage a coup, over-throw the hardliners, and cease further combat;  the non-Russian border states (the “-stans”) declare independence from the USSR;  and, the rest of the world struggles with the effects of a new world order.  The “war” is barely a month old before it is over.  Because the book is written as a “recent” history of past events, it does not attempt to forecast / describe long term results of the war except to relate the world has to deal with unaccounted for Soviet nuclear weapons / warheads and large stocks of conventional weapons scattered around the global (mainly Africa).
Is this a “good” book?  Is it realistic as a predictor of future conflict (lethality, if not participants)?  Is it entertaining or interesting?  Do I recommend this book?  With the exception of the final question, the answer to all of these is (are):  yes to so-so…
The book is not a “good” novel.  There are no specified individual characters driving the action, so you cannot (as a reader) identify and grow with anyone.  In this sense, although fictional, the book is written with more of an academic or journalistic feel.  It is very much an military style “after-action” report.  If you are comfortable with this writing style, you will enjoy the writing / book.  If you are not, you will not.  I did.  Was the book able to realistically describe combat and the results (devastation) of war?  Yes!  Although, saying this, there was an obvious Western bias of vivid description of the destruction of the British city and virtually nothing about the similar (or much worse) destruction of the Russian city.  (Very much:  “Yeah, we took out one of theirs as payback…”)  Is the book entertaining or interesting?  This is the toughest question because every reader’s tastes varies so much… I was not “entertained”;  but, I did find the book interesting.  I particularly “enjoyed” the parts the authors get terribly wrong, because as a reader I (we) have 40+ years of hind-sight.  There is no China – Japan alliance;  the Shah is no longer in charge of Iran (or, rather, wasn’t in 1985);  South Africa did not fall to external forces;  and, East Germany did not resist consolidation with West Germany after the fall of the USSR.
Final recommendation:  strong recommendation.  I think most veterans (particularly my age group) will find this book relatable.  I think most civilian “military” readers / historians – and quite a few regular historians – will, too.  For political science readers, the “states” interests, goals, and stances will seem Machiavellian / Kissinger-ian (is that a real word?).  Yet, they ring true – even 40 years later.  It is entirely obvious why this book could seem as an inspiration for a future – updated version (a la “2034“), and I believe (I read) this book served as a similar inspiration for several of Tom Clancy’s works which followed.  At any rate, I do remember “enjoying” the initial read from “way-back-when”, and don’t feel the re-read was less so.  My reaction to “2034” was reinforced:  this version is much better than the more recent book.  If you have read “2034“, I recommend you read “WW3:1985” for the comparison value, if nothing else.
Final disclaimer:  I purchased this book at normal / sale price (for an old / used book) and no compensation has been provided to me by anyone for my opinions in this review.
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There is no other way to guard yourself against flattery than by making men understand that telling you the truth will not offend you.
    ―    Niccolò Machiavelli
From:  “The Prince
Every time I look at you I get a fierce desire to be lonesome.
    ―    Oscar Levant
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A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.
      ―      Niccolò Machiavelli
From:  “The Prince
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When evening comes, I return home and go into my study.  On the threshold I strip off my muddy, sweaty, workday clothes, and put on the robes of court and palace, and in this graver dress I enter the antique courts of the ancients and am welcomed by them, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born.  And there I make bold to speak to them and ask the motives of their actions, and they, in their humanity, reply to me.  And for the space of four hours I forget the world, remember no vexation, fear poverty no more, tremble no more at death:  I pass indeed into their world.
     ―    Niccolò Machiavelli
From:  “The Prince
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All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively.  Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth.  Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.
    ―     Niccolò Machiavelli
From:  “The Prince
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There are three classes of intellects:  one which comprehends by itself;  another which appreciates what others comprehend;  and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others;  the first is the most excellent, the second is good, and the third is useless.
    ―     Niccolò Machiavelli
From his book:  “The Prince
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It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system.  For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.
     ―    Niccolò Machiavelli
From:   “The Prince
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A man who is used to acting in one way never changes;  he must come to ruin when the times, in changing, no longer are in harmony with his ways.
    ―    Niccolò Machiavelli
From:  “The Prince
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Today’s post is kind of a tape delay. The first book (“The Great Gatsby“) was finished a couple of weeks ago.  No real reason for the delay, except that I’ve been watching a fair amount of baseball and just haven’t made the time.  The second book (“The Prince“) was finished today.  The first movie (“The Caine Mutiny“) was watched on Saturday afternoon last, while the second (“Iron Man 3“) was watched yesterday.
The Great Gatsby was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925©) and is about a young man trying to find himself in New York in the 1920’s.  The man (Nick Carraway) is from the mid-west and goes east to seek his fortune in the big city.  It should be noted that he is already from a well-off family.  His job is in the city, but his residence is in a wealthy suburb where he meets the title character, a wealthy “business” man named Jay Gatsby.  Anyway, blah, blah, blah, life of extravagance / lost love / more blah, blah, / accident / death, end of story.
Widely considered a classic and “the great American novel”, the book is mostly read in high school and is now the basis for a soon to be released motion picture.  Actually, this is a remake.  There are four other versions, but one is “lost” (1926) and another is a made for TV (2000), so I’m not sure it really counts.  The most recent is from 1974 and starred Robert Redford as Gatsby.  I’ve never seen that version, so if I’m lucky, it’ll appear on TV soon as a promo for the new release which is due out this coming Friday.  The new version stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as Carraway.
I originally read this novel back in the Army when I hoped to get better educated in some of the “great” pieces of literature.  I escaped it while I was in high school.
Is it great?  No, at least I didn’t think so.  Is it a “classic”?  Yes.  When I first read it, I remember finishing it and thinking “Wow!  That was a great book, but I have no idea what it will mean in my life because there was no basis for common experience.”  Okay, maybe a twenty year old sergeant in the Army didn’t think in those exact words, but that was the gist of my reaction.  Thirty plus years later, if you asked me what it was about, I’d have told you, “rich guys in the ’20’s”.  And that’s it…  So, was it worth reading again?  Only to the extent that it prepares me for watching the new movie.  Would I recommend reading it?  Yes, but with qualifications.  If you are interested in one of the great works of fiction by one of the bohemian writers from the early 20th century – definitely.  If you want to see a “crafted” novel (I’m not sure what that means, but I keep seeing the description in reader reviews) – definitely.  If you’re trying to better understand the American rich of the 1920’s – definitely.  If you’re trying to find a novel which will change your life?  Well, it didn’t do it for me back in the ’70’s and even less so with a second go.  Final recommendation – moderate recommend;  but I’d wait and just go see the movie.  It will cost you less time from your life. (I hope to review the movie next week, so you may want to hold off.)
The Prince” was written by Niccolò Machiavelli (1513).  Any book on politics which survives 400 years is bound to be considered a “classic” and this is (both considered and IS).  There are a multitude of observations about gaining and keeping power in the city / state of the Renaissance Era Italy.  I think, with a bit of careful consideration and some adaptation, many of Machiavelli’s ideas are still valid.  I rather doubt gathering one’s enemies in a room and strangling them, would be considered appropriate in this day and age – even in Italy.  Anyway, I found the book to be extremely interesting and I highly recommend it for its historical value even if not for its application in today’s world.
One negative for this version (Wordsworth Reference [1993©]) is the translation seems to be quite literal from Italian and therefore the language is extremely flowery which makes for difficult reading, but otherwise, it’s a fast read and well worth reading and consideration among the other classics in politics.  And, of course, this means you will now see Machiavellian quotes from time to time.
As mentioned above, I watched “The Caine Mutiny” on Saturday.  I must admit, I’ve seen the movie several times in my lifetime, but I never remember much about it except the roles played by Humphrey Bogart and José Ferrer.  Everyone else is good, too, but these two are great.  If you liked the military courtroom drama of “A Few Good Men” or “The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell“, then I think you’ll like this movie too.  This is a CLASSIC Bogart role and (IMHO) you can’t honestly say you are a Bogart fan unless you’ve watched this movie.  Of course, Bogart’s testimony at the trial is what makes the movie.  This is a must-see movie!!
The second movie I’m reviewing is the recently released “Iron Man 3“.  In full disclosure mode, I must admit that I spent many hours of my childhood reading (and collecting) Marvel Comics, so of course I have a natural bias for ALL Marvel Comic movie adaptations.  Having said that, this is a VERY good movie!  It’s entertaining with a plot, comedy (slap-stick and quips), action (fights and explosions), excellent special effects and once again, Robert Downey, Jr. ROCKS as Tony Stark (the man inside the suit), particularly when he’s NOT inside the suit.
Was the movie accurate to the comics?  No.  Particularly as it relates to the Mandarin (who is Chinese in the comics but British in the movie).  Does it matter?  Nah.  What did (slightly) miff me was that there were no power-rings.  Instead there was a weak terrorist group called “The Ten Rings“.  Really?  Really?  Nah, it didn’t work for me.  Other than that, I thought this was a sound effort, particularly after the “relative” let down (well, I was very let down) of “Iron Man 2“.  Again, is it great cinema:  No.  Is it an entertaining movie:  heck YEAH!  Final recommendation:  Highly recommended!
I can’t wait for the DVD so I can have a marathon viewing!
Oh yeah, in the Disney “Small World” vein:  José Ferrer was in “The Caine Mutiny” and his son (who is a virtual ringer), Miguel José Ferrer, is in “Iron Man 3“.  Daddy was terrific. Son, less so.
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