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This week, we're excited to share a Longreads Member Exclusive from Thomas E. Ricks
, whose new book is The Generals
, published by The Penguin Press
. Chapter 21, "The End of a War, the End of an Army," details how the U.S. military and its leadership faltered in the final years of the Vietnam War:
"Often in warfare, it is the first year of fighting that seasons forces, which become more effective as those who survive gain skill, good leaders rise to the top, and units become more cohesive over time. Counterintuitively, as the Vietnam War progressed, the American frontline force weakened. In 1966, remembered Paul Gorman, the battalion he commanded had fourteen senior sergeants who had been in the unit for more than ten years, all of them trained by a legendary sergeant major who had landed at Normandy with the Big Red One. By contrast, he said, five years later, when he was commanding a brigade in the 101st Airborne, good sergeants who could provide the backbone of units, especially by maintaining standards and enforcing discipline, were hard to find. "I didn't have the NCOs [non-commissioned officers]. The NCOs were gone." By 1969, draftees made up 88 percent of the infantry riflemen in Vietnam. Another 10 percent was made up of first term volunteers, meaning that the fighting force was almost entirely inexperienced and often led by novice first term NCOs and officers. In one company in 1970, of two hundred men, only three—the captain, one platoon sergeant, and one squad leader—had been in the Army for more than two years. In addition, because of the rotation policy, units not only arrived green but stayed that way. "After only two months in Vietnam, I had more experience than half the men in Vietnam," recalled one sergeant. There were plenty of career soldiers in Vietnam, but they disproportionately served at higher headquarters, not in line units doing the fighting."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 28, 2012
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5533 words)
This week we're proud to share a Longreads Member pick from Nate Silver
's new book The Signal and the Noise
, published by The Penguin Press
. Chapter 1, "A Catastrophic Failure of Prediction," comes recommended by Janet Paskin
, editor of Businessweek.com
, who writes:
"Could there be a more appropriate hero for our time than Nate Silver? We can quantify and track and poll and log almost everything—and so we usually do, even if we're not sure how to make sense of it all. But Silver is—or at least, he can tell you exactly how likely it is that he's right.
"His nerd-god omniscience during the 2012 election cycle made him a blast to watch, read and retweet. He was consistent, and he was right, and it made a lot of people think a little differently about the relentlessness of our political pageantry and punditry.
"Here, in the first chapter of his new book, he revisits the housing crash, and the failure of the ratings agencies to spot it. It's not new criticism. Even so, the prediction game is Silver's strength, and he makes the whole thing feel outrageous again. He takes to task the errors in the rating agencies' models and in their psychology. There are charts, graphs, and 101 footnotes, and in the end, it's reassuring: If Silver thinks we can avoid making the same mistakes again—well, even a skeptic like me wouldn't bet against him. After all, he knows the odds better than I do."
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PUBLISHED: Sept. 1, 2012
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9052 words)