Politicians play general, generals play politics (part 3)

We engage Military.com columnist Jeff Huber in a wide-ranging discussion that begins with his new novel, Bathtub Admirals.

Pitch Bathtub Admirals to prospective readers as if you were trying to interest an agent in representing you.

In the background we see the bizarro world version of historic events: the Cold War, the Tailhook scandal and so on. In some of the promo material I describe the book as a “satire of America’s rise to global dominance,” and at one level it illustrates how the military-centric U.S. policies led to the mess we’re in now, although I cut the book off on the week before 9/11.

Hopefully I portrayed more or less universal personalities and situations. If I worked things right, people who were in the Navy at the time I was will think they know who most of the characters are really supposed to be and they will be wrong.

I worked on the book for quite a long time, and had hoped it would be thought of as the Catch-22 of its generation. It’s mostly really funny and pretty sad in some parts, and a whole lot easier to read than Catch-22. If it sells enough copies, or gets picked up by television or the movies, I’ll finish the sequel that I now call 2020. 2020 would be the 1984 of its generation.

But I won’t have time to write it before the year 2020 if I don’t make some money on Admirals because I’ll have to take a full-time service job at 7-11 or Burger King to pay some bills. In all modesty, I think that would be a tragic waste of my talents, so I ask all your readers to please, please, please buy a copy of Bathtub Admirals at Amazon or at any other online or brick and mortar bookseller.

How’s that for marketing? Pretty pathetic, huh?

No writer can be too proud to beg these days.

Hey, at least I haven’t stooped to kissing Don Imus’s wrinkled old behind yet. Granted, he hasn’t asked me to, and kissing Don’s keister doesn’t do for you what it used to now that he’s on podcast or wherever he went off to. So maybe he hasn’t asked me to kiss his bottom yet because he’s not such a big deal anymore and he’s afraid I’ll turn him down. You think?

The initial caps in Jack Hogan’s name are the same as yours. Were The Great Big Backfire Raid and The Almost Great Big Train Wreck real incidents and did you play a role in them?

I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of people use my initials without my express written permission. There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it. Jack Hogan was the name of the actor who played Private Kirby on the 60s television series Combat starring Vic Morrow as Sergeant Saunders and Rick Jason as Lieutenant Hanley. (Tadadadat, tadat! Tadadadat, dat, dat.) People who worked for me would likely tell you I was far more like Admiral Wild Bill Hitchcock (who I’d really like to play in the movie) than Jack Hogan.

The characters in my book give a lot of the major episodes in their lives names that sound like book or movie titles, which is their way of romanticizing their otherwise often dreary lives by pretending they’re the stars in a movie like Top Gun. The Great Big Backfire Raid is a take off on Catch-22’s Great Big Siege of Bologna.

The supposedly real incident I based it on allegedly happened shortly before my time. The Great Big Backfire Raid is also a spoof of the climax in Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. Admirals itself is also, at one level, a lampoon of all military fiction since Homer.

The Great Big Almost Train Wreck and The Rocky Horror Recovery and The Off His Rocker Rendezvous are taken from incidents I personally witnessed and materially participated in, but incidents like them happen all the time. [All the time? To refresh your memory, The Great Big Almost Train Wreck involved the commander of the lead ship of a carrier group halting his boat without alerting the ships behind. — Ed.]

Are spineless commanding officers like Generals David Petraeus, Tommy Franks, and Richard Myers inevitable in today’s military? Is the best we can hope for an Admiral Fallon, who, after a brief moment of clarity, fades back into the woodwork? Does the military career track inevitably corrupt brass?

When I was studying for my master’s degree in war we called “inevitable” the “I-word.” Studying the history of human wars, it sometimes seems that one logically followed another, and that they were all inevitable. By extension, one can easily conclude that future wars are inevitable, and the Naval War College faculty discouraged that sort of thinking.

Officially, that is. Military academia actually depends on the very assumption that wars are inevitable, and it’s that mindset that fuels cockamamie political movements like neoconservatism.

As to whether the pattern applies to the selection of our generals, I’m afraid it does. Petraeus’s recent promotion to head of CENTCOM pretty much confirms that yes-men generals are the wave of the future. That Petraeus presided on the Army’s latest brigadier (one-star) general board added even further to the momentum.

The signal has been transmitted to the rank and file of the officer corps, and there’s no mistaking the message. Shinseki, Fallon: bad. Petraeus: good. I’m quite dismayed. Things have been moving in this direction for a long time, but I never dreamt they’d get this severe. God help the military if McCain is elected, it will get even worse.

I think it was back in a ’98 Proceedings [the US Naval Institute magazine] piece when I joked that we’d evolved to a point where our politicians play general and our generals play politics. A decade later it’s no joke any more.

Our discussion with Jeff Huber continues tomorrow.

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

4 replies »

  1. No, I didn’t in the next two parts, Brian. But I will ask Jeff to address it in a future post. Thanks for bringing it up.