Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Books: On World Affairs & American Politics

In this look at new books on current events, there is a new book about the United States' place on the world stage, Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine, by General David Petraeus and Andrew Roberts, and and two books from rising stars in U.S. politics, God Calls Us To Do Hard Things: Lessons from the Alabama Wiregrass, by Katie Boyd Britt and Not My First Rodeo: Lessons from the Heartland, by Kristi Noem.

Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine

By General David Petraeus and Andrew Roberts

Harper; hardcover, 544 pages; $40.00

General David Petraeus is a retired United States Army general. He served for 37 years in the US Army, building up in his time in uniform to six consecutive commands as a general officer, five of which were in combat, including Command of Force in Afghanistan and or Iraq during the Surge. He followed that up by serving as Director of the CIA and has held academic appointments at six universities and is currently a Senior Fellow and Lecturer at Yale. He is also a Partner in a major investment firm and chairs that firm's Global Institute.

Andrew Roberts is a biographer and historian who is a fellow at the Royal Societies of Literature and the Royal Historical Society, and a Trustee of the International Churchill Society. His books include the New York Times bestsellers Churchill: Walking With Destiny and Napoleon: A Life, and his most recent book is The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III.

Petraeus and Roberts have collaborated on the engrossing new book, Conflict, which is an examination of war since 1945. It is both a sweeping history of the evolution of warfare up to Putin's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and a deep analysis of what we need to learn from the past in order to navigate a world stage that is becoming more perilous. 

The interesting thing about the authors is that they each bring different perspectives and areas of expertise, from a battlefield commander and a historian, in order to show how critical mistakes have been repeated time and again. The challenge, for both political leaders and those in the battlefield, is to learn how to adapt to various new weapons systems, theories, and strategies. 

The conflicts that are examined are the Arab-Israeli wars, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the two Gulf Wars, the Balkan wars in the former Yugoslavia, both the Soviet and Coalition wars in Afghanistan, and guerilla conflicts in Africa and South America.

The book builds up to a look at Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, which, to Petraeus and Roberts, is another case study in the tragic results when leaders refuse to learn from history. They also give a primer on modern warfare with crucial knowledge on how to fight wars today and in the future.

In this excerpt, Petraeus and Roberts lay out how war has evolved in the last eighty years, "Strategic concepts have evolved faster since the Second World War than at any comparable period in history. A commander in that war as essentially using the same structures - corps, divisions, regiments, battalions - that Napoleon had employed in the early nineteenth century (albeit with the addition of much greater mobility, artillery and other indirect fire and airpower). Since then, however, welfare has evolved at a dizzying pace, particularly over the past two decades, and this book delineates how and why crucial changes have taken place - as well as the dramatic developments we can expect in the coming decades...

In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we recognized that there was very little literature that places that struggle n its military history context, despite the avalanche of often excellent works on its political, economic, and geostrategic contexts. In a world that has expensively and painstakingly developed precision weaponry and smart bombs, the Russians deliberately chose to revert to a brutal, Second World War - and, in parts of the Donbas, First World War - style of fighting. With military strategy and tactics evolving hugely since 1945, where each conflict teaches lessons for the next in multfarious ways that we show in the following chapters, what can explain Russia's decision to fight a throwback war reminiscent of the Great Patriotic War - only this time with Russia as the aggressor rather than the victim?

Russia won untarnishable glory in 1945 for having provided the oceans of blood necessary to rid the world of the evil of Nazism. For every five soldiers killed fighting Nazi Germany on the battlefields of the Second World War, four died on the Eastern Front. Yet since 1945, Russia has been drawing down on its credit for that great service to humanity, and never more so than in President Putin's unprovoked, reckless, and unbelievably vicious invasion of Ukraine. By showing how warfare has evolved in different climes and with different weaponry and political situations over the decades since the death of Adolf Hitler, we hope to highlight just how strangely regressive is the present Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Warfare evolves; it does not ossify. Yet it is clearly also capable of being suddenly and shockingly thrown into reverse."

God Calls Us to Do Hard Things: Lessons from the Alabama Wiregrass

By Katie Boyd Britt

Twelve; hardcover, 288 pages; $30.00; available today, Tuesday, November 7th

Katie Britt is the United States Senator from Alabama, having been elected last fall to succeed Richard Shelby, whom she served as chief of staff from 2016 to 2018. She previously served as president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama from 2018 to 2021.

In God Calls Us to Do Hard Things, Britt tells her life story, from working in her parents' hardware store, to finding her path at the University of Alabama, where she married the captain of the football team, Wesley Britt, who went on to play for the New England Patriots; to an extremely close call with a tornado on April 27, 2011, that destroyed her house, and raising two children, Ridgeway and Bennet. She gives candid advice on how to overcome personal challenges, appreciate blessed moments, make our lives more fulfilling, and keep an unshakeable faith in God, family, and country.

Throughout her life, she has overcome setbacks, defied expectations, and shocked the political establishment on her path to becoming the youngest woman in the U.S. Senate. The hard-earned lessons and common-sense advice she has gained from experience contribute to Britt's worldview, starting with focusing on what you can control, being unafraid to fail, while also taking criticism and tough love; breaking past the limits we place on ourselves, being a change agent and not a title holder, and sweating the small stuff of details and process.

This book is a way to get to know someone who is a rising star in Republican politics, a story of a determined young woman who decided to enter the arena and make her mark in a time when politics feels so toxic and broken.

In this excerpt, Britt writes of the tornado and how it led to clarity on the meaning of life: "The spot where I initially suggested we take shelter, what used to be a hallway, was decimated. The wind had violently funneled through it, blowing a door through its hinges and then sweeping up through the roof into the dark expanse above. There is no doubt that we all would have lost our lives if we had not moved.

Thankfully, we only sustained one physical injury from the tornado. At some point in the quick chaos, Wesley had put the mattress down. He said later that he was mentally preparing to catch any falling trees with his bare hands. Instead, he ended up just getting hit in the head by a Bible - one that was not ours. To this day, we do not know whom that Bible belonged to, but one thing was for sure: the good Lord was trying to tell him something. As Wesley will tell you with a chuckle now, the message was received loud and clear.

It was time for us to wake up.

Most of our house was totally destroyed. It was a complete loss. Our two vehicles were demolished. Most of our possessions were gone or unsalvageable. But none of that mattered. 

We had everything we needed. We had our health, our lives. Our loved ones were safe. Our babies were unharmed. And we still had the opportunity to raise them.

We knew that we were blessed.

The tornado that tore through our home killed 64 people in Alabama, including a neighbor and a total of 44 people in the Tuscaloosa area. Our hearts broke for the families of those who were lost that day. That could've been us. By all logic, it should've been us.

We knew the answer to the question, 'How are we still here?'


It was the question, 'Why are we still here?' that we had to answer.

Each and every day since then, we have woken up trying to answer that question through how we live our lives.

I'm here to tell you that every single day is a gift. How we use each day matters. How we use our opportunity at life matters.

Now, I also know that not many people on this planet get the stark type of wake-up call that I did - the type of singular moment that causes reflection on the very meaning of life. I want you to do me a favor as you're reading this. Take a step back and ask yourself the same questions I ask myself daily - 'How am I using my life? What's my purpose?'

I did not arrive at the answer to that second question overnight. In fact, it's the journey to finding your answer that can be the most rewarding.

For me, I came to know that service is my answer. I never imagined what form that would take, and even now, I am unsure what form it may take in the future. I just know that I need to use the time God has given me to do more. With the opportunity to raise my two babies in mind, lifting up the next generation became my purpose.

The way each of us chooses to live our life impacts someome, whether it's ourselves or others. I want to use my time for not just my children, but for children across our great nation - and for their children to come. For girls like my daughter, for boys like my son: I want to preserve the foundational building blocks that have made our country so special and help grow opportunity for their future, so they can use their life to the fullest - and in the most meaningful, rewarding way. I want them not just to live, but to live our their American Dreams.

Not My First Rodeo: Lessons from the Heartland

By Kristi Noem

Twelve; paperback, 288 pages; $19.99

Kristi Noem is the current governor of South Dakota who has taken on a national profile the past few years, as she is discussed about being a possible Vice Presidential nominee to whoever the Republican nominee is in 2024. She was elected governor in 2018 after she served eight years as the U.S. Representative for South Dakota's at-large congressional district starting in 2011.

In her memoir, Not My First Rodeo: Lessons from the Heartland, Noem tells her story of growing up on a ranch, and how a blessed life of true grit led her to lead. She shares many heartfelt lessons on how to make things right in the world, from her childhood on the farm to Congress to the national spotlight she received during the pandemic.

Noem's stories range from lighthearted barnyard battles with feisty cattle and rodeo horses, to the sadness of the untimely death of her larger-than-life father, which led her to make the emotional decision to return and run the farm and ranch with her family. It is all part of how her life has been defined by work, faith, and helping others.

In this excerpt, Noem writes of her father: "'We don't complain about things, Kristi. We fix them.'

These words, so often spoken by my dad, have motivated me to show up for the tough jobs in my life. From cleaning stalls to signing legislation.

Growing up on a farm in South Dakota, there was always plenty that needed fixing. The same is true of our world. God gives us all different talents to work on our own little corner of it. We ought to do so humbly - our society is so hungry for that - but we shouldn't shy away from debate, and we shouldn't settle for an easy way out that leaves the job for someone else later.

That's partly why I got into politics in the first place, not exactly a profession I ever envisioned as a young girl pulling calves on the ranch or competing in rodeos across the state. While politics has been anything but easy, convenient, or pleasant, it was, I believe the right choice. But I will let you be the judge on that one.

I am the first woman to serve as governor of South Dakota. While this is deeply significant to me, I do not believe there are 'women's issues' any more than there are 'men's issues.' There are only issues that affect us all as Americans. There is, however, a woman's perspective on every single issue. That perspective is essential when we as a country make decisions about our freedom, defense, prosperity, health, and the well-being and happiness of our kids.

I've offered that perpsective - whether people asked for it or not - from the barnyard to Congress. Always with conviction. Often alone.

Along the way I've learned a few things. I often tell young people one of the best things they can do is decide to be a teachable person. You can learn something from everyone, even your worst critic...

You'll find some familiar faces here - presidents and politicians. You'll find relatively unknown people who are every ounce as important. But the character on every page is South Dakota. It is my home. It has made me who I am. After a global pandemic and the crisis in American cities, more and more people are discovering the gift of rural life, learning that it's better for their families - and for their souls. Rural communities are at the heart of our American story: they are people taking risks to earn a living off the land. If these memories and stories do nothing more than make you want to come see South Dakota, to be among its honest, hardworking people for a moment or a lifetime, that's good enough for me."

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