About John Nagl

John Nagl is a retired Army officer who served in both wars in Iraq and now teaches the modern history of counterinsurgency as the U.S. Naval Academy’s inaugural Minerva Professor. He was for three years president of the Center for a New American Security, where Tom Ricks worked when he was writing The Generals and is a non-resident senior fellow there.

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Book Review: The Generals by Tom Ricks

Book Review: The Generals by Tom Ricks


Thomas E. Ricks, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: Penguin, 2012. 558 pp. $32.95.

When Tom Ricks published Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq in the summer of 2006, the impact was immediate and extraordinary. The book shredded any pretense that the Bush administration knew what it was doing in Iraq and also brought to light myriad failures of the American military establishment in the war. A Naval Academy graduate and a senior U.S. senator told me that he could only read a few pages before having to take a walk around the block to cool down so that he could see straight enough to continue reading. He was not the only reader to react strongly to Fiasco; the book became a number one New York Times bestseller and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Fiasco contributed to a reassessment of military strategy in Iraq and focused attention on the failures of American military leadership in that war. One of the most pointed indictments came from inside the Army when my friend Lt. Col. Paul Yingling published an essay titled “A Failure of Generalship.” Yingling noted the Army’s failures to prepare for the Iraq war and to adapt to its requirements during the course of the conflict; his most damning line noted that “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

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