I have never been to war but have always been fascinated by history, specifically our world’s long track record of epic conflict. While on holiday over the Christmas break I had the opportunity to read What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes.

It is VERY different than anything I have ever read before with the author opening up in a way that few do, uncovering every deep and ugly thought and emotion of the impact that war had on him as a young man (specifically – Vietnam). He also make far reaching observations on the state of society that I found captivating, and disturbing. This one in particular, on evil:

Evil is very ordinary. We don’t have to look far to see its causes. It’s the little things, such as being as tired and not inspecting the mortar tripod closely enough, or not recycling the plastic or letting kids eat junk food that abuses their health because parents’ working or social life is more important that preparing a decent meal at home…. Cruelty is as mundane and common as cruelty in child rearing.

Many will find this a very uncomfortable read (I did). There is nothing glorious about war or the savagery of humanity and Marlantes does not shirk from the dark, even his own dark side. In the end, I would agree with this recommendation that all young people who sign up for a warrior’s job should read this book (or one’s like it). It makes one think broadly, well beyond the bravado and glory stories of a hill taken.

A book that makes me think, well past the day that the last page was read.



I have been on a bit of a reading push over the last 6 weeks, catching up on magazines and reading 7 books. I am half way through Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, a fictional book on the Vietnam war. The highly rated book reminds me of the movie Platoon, it is certainly full of despair and young men dying. There are a host of interesting leadership situations to contemplate through the book and on Sunday night I was struck by this passage:

“It used to be if you were out in the bush operating independently like we are, no one would second-guess the skipper. They didn’t have the radio power back then. Now they do, and the —- brass think they’re out on patrol. And now the smallest units are run by the colonels and generals, hell, right up to the president. Colonel and above used to be the level where people dealt with all the political shit like congressmen on junkets, television, reporters, you name it. But now those guys are running the show right down to this ——- river canyon and we’re in the politics too. And the better the radios, the worse it’s going to get. The politics is going to come right down to the company level, and people like Fitch and Scar are going to be culled out and people like you will take over.”

An interesting point. So far from the line, calling the shots and reducing autonomy of the front line leaders. One has to wonder what is lost in this new chain of command. I woke up the next morning (yesterday) to this headline, ‘Obama, aides watched and waited during bin Laden swoop’:

Brennan would not say exactly how Obama and his top advisors were able to follow Sunday’s 40-minute Navy SEAL operation unfolding in real time — but the suspicion was that some kind of sophisticated communications technology was available to them.

"We were able to monitor the situation in real time," was all he would say.

A decision like this had to be made at the highest levels due to the significant political risks. But, beyond a extraordinary situation, one has to wonder whether the technology improves leadership effectiveness or erodes it through micro-management? I lean toward erosion.