Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "From Vietnam to 9/11"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "From Vietnam to 9/11"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

John Murtha, Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania, has published his autography. Intertwined with stories of his life are lessons he has learned that should be noted by others. His career in Congress, and before that in the military, allow him to provide us with much useful guidance.

Among the most valuable lessons his book stresses is the importance of obtaining, analyzing, and understanding intelligence. Too many decisions, in defense and politics, result from not comprehending the situation at hand and making poor decisions based on faulty data. He argues, and shows with numerous examples, how faulty intelligence, or ignoring critical facts, often is the difference between success and failure.

Murtha followed in the steps of his father, who served in World War II (and, like much other World War II veterans, maintained an air of silence about their service; a silence which still puzzels his son), by leaving college and ROTC to join the Marines. He rose through the enlisted ranks to become a Major by 1965, at which point he volunteered for combat duty in Viet Nam. In so volunteering, he learned his first lesson about bureaucracy. It took many bureaucratic battles to get into the battle zone; a place so many others were trying to avoid. In Viet Nam, Major Murtha was an intelligence officer assigned to seek guerilla infrastructure and destroy it. It was there where John Murtha received his first lessons in the value of proper intelligence.

Intelligence could calculate where the enemy was hiding, but the enemy base camps could not be located. In leading an expedition that was about to be withdrawn as another failure, it was surmised that the enemy had to be hiding underground. Murtha’s troops pretended to withdraw, after which enemy soldiers were observed emerging from tunnels. A battle ensued and it was discovered that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers had an intricate tunnel system that provided them much advantage over the heavier armed American and South Vietnamese forces.

John Murtha proclaims his Viet Nam experiences left him with two valuable lessons: 1.) obtain knowledge from those who know about a problem, even if they are not at the top of leadership. Often those "in the trenches" know a lot about the situation at hand. 2.) Use your common sense when considering solutions to problems. In particular, troops that train the best for battles have the best chances of achieving their objectives.

As a military leader, Major Murtha was upset about the military’s policy of transferring soldiers to different responsibilities every few months. He noted the constant replacement of personnel was disrupting group cohesiveness which reduced their abilities to function as a unit. Further, the time it took to learn a new function meant that, in a soldier’s 12 month assignment in Viet Nam, he was an effective performer for only 8 or 9 of those months. Murtha insisted the men in his unit were kept together for the rest of their tours.

After serving in Viet Nam, Murtha returned home and was elected to the state House. While he talks only briefly about this service (sort of like the silence World War II veterans had regarding their service), I am certain he learned many valuable life lessons in legislative service. He then was elected to Congress as a Democrat during the Watergate fallout year of 1974, winning by 122 votes in a district which had voted Republican for Congress by 68% in 1972. Arriving in Congress, it was the then powerful Wilbur Mills who provided him two more important keys bits of advice: 1.) choose one area of Congress and become the leading expert on that issue and 2.) always remain true to your word. Murtha has become known as a military affairs expert and as a Representative who tells the truth.

In Congress, John Murtha again saw the importance of proper intelligence. During a Congressional tour of Viet Nam he took in 1978, he found evidence that China was planning an invasion. Upon informing the State Department in Washington of his findings, he was told they did not expect an invasion. Shortly afterwards, when the invasion occurred, he realized that what leaders in Washington understood to be the truth often was not close to what was actually happening.

Years later, when observing Marine troops in Lebanon, he noted a large number of troops were settled in low ground and the soldiers, including guards, were not allowed to have bullets in their guns. He argued for dispersing the troops as they were vulnerable to terrorist attack. Again, his arguments were ignored until a terrorist attack did occur and 241 troops died.

Rep. Murtha served on panels that monitored elections in the Philippines and in Panama. His book deals with the attempts of Ferdinand Marcos and Manuel Noriega to deny the forces of democracy. Fortunately, their efforts to extend power illegitimately were brought to conclusions.

The book discussed various foreign power and military affairs matters that have become the specialization that John Murtha has developed in Congress. His personal insights are enlightening. It is good to see his observations and conclusions available in a book. Readers interested in both Pennsylvania politics and foreign policy will find this book a valuable resource.


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