Posted in audio book, book review, history, insurgency, Iraq War, Military

History Book Review-Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice by Lt. Col. John A Nagl

Rating: 9.1 of 10

This wonderful audio book is just shy of eight hours. It took me a day then I listened to it again, believe it or not. It is available through RB Digital. I really enjoyed this book because it covers one of my favorite topics: counterinsurgency. It was a great autobiography of the author and an intimate view inside two of the more recent American wars, both taking place in Iraq: Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. All in all he is one of my favorite authors.

John Nagl is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the US Army, is a graduate of West Point, earned a PhD from Oxford in Counterinsurgency (his thesis was turned into a book), the former president of CNAS (Center for New American Security) and is currently headmaster of the Haverford School in Pennsylvania. He is an excellent writer and has the ability to convey the harsh lessons of insurgency warfare (such as the Vietnam war). He makes the material enjoyable, intriguing and kind of makes you wonder what our top military brass was thinking at times when it came to their approach to military conflict.

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LTC John Nagl and Gen David Petraeus

Being an Army tank commander in Desert Storm and an operations officer with the 1st Infantry Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) he offers an intimate view of two technologically different combat zones. I liked the story from Desert Storm when he was awoke by a rocket barrage and said he thought rockets were going off on his chest.

His experience while stationed near Khalidiyah in OIF demonstrated to him that the days of conventional warfare are virtually over or at least not the case in this conflict. Insurgency warfare is the future of combat, we need to address it and take a new approach to how we conduct our war maneuvers in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. So he was tasked co-authoring the book on counterinsurgency warfare while in the midst of these conflicts. This became FM 3-24: the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manuel, 2006.

I can attest to how poorly OIF was planned and executed. My Quarter Master Company was deployed to Iraq and after a couple months shuffling around country were stationed in Mosul. It felt like there was no plan after the three week long war was over. We were so amped up that we had just won a war in less than a month but nobody knew what the next step was so we just kinda hung out.

The situation was made worse due to the fact that the Iraqi Army, police and most civil servants were fired (termed de-Baathification) by Paul Bremer May 23rd, 2003 bringing chaos to the country over night. This event was the birth of the bloody insurgency that followed when disgruntled Iraqis began attacking coalition forces.

 

Some of what I learned:

  1. Desert storm was the first war of the big five: the Patriot missile system, the M270 MLRS (multiple launch rocket system), the M1 Abrams tank, the AH-64A Apache attack helicopter and the M2 Bradley fighting vehicle.
  2. Wars rarely turn out as envisioned by the ones who start them.
  3. The guerrilla wins by not losing.
  4. The word guerrilla is derived from the Spanish word Guerra for “war”.
  5. In 2003 the population of Baghdad alone was over six million. No wonder the military had issues establishing law and order.

 

Posted in audio book, Bin Laden, book review, history, terrorism

History Book Review-The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and War Against al-Qaeda by Ali H. Soufan

Rating: 8.86 of 10

This audio book is about twenty hours in duration. It took me two and a half days to finish. By far one of my favorite books on the subject of terrorism investigations and the attacks on the World Trade Center. This book is replete with info on the build-up to the attacks of that fateful Tuesday morning and the origin of al-Qaeda. It’s edge of your seat entertaining, well written and overtly insightful.

Ali H. Soufan is a Lebanese born former FBI special agent that is fluent in Arabic. He was the lead investigator into the 2000 USS Cole attack. He is mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (refereed to as Al S). He successfully interviewed some very high value targets (HVT’s) such as Abu Zubaydah and Abu Jindal. He discusses their interrogation and confessions in great detail. These interrogations lead to the identification and arrest of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed (KSM), the mastermind of 9/11. He retired from the FBI in 2005 and is CEO of The Soufan Group. 

skm.jpgKSM on the night of his arrest. Doesn’t look very happy!

He makes it clear he was opposed to the EIT’s (enhanced interrogation techniques a.k.a. sleep deprivation and waterboarding) of detainees that the CIA insisted would break even hard-core fanatics. He is more than critical of the CIA and their mishandling of valuable information regarding the growing and serious threat of Bin Laden. He insists if there was more cooperation between governmental agencies at a minimum two of the nineteen hijackers would not have been allowed into the US and the attacks could have been prevented all together. (I have heard this from a few different sources). We cannot blame anyone for the attacks on the WTC other than bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

I loved his cogent and pragmatic interrogation style especially being a fellow Muslim; he gets right into their head with offerings of tea and politics. He seemingly makes them feel a bit of guilt for their crimes against innocents and fellow Muslims.

Some of what I learned:

  1. Talib (of Taliban) is Arabic for “student” or “one who seeks knowledge”.
  2. The US government uses the Barney song (purple dinosaur) on a loop to deprive detainees of sleep.
  3.  Ali H. Soufan worked with special agent John P. O’Neill. Look him up.
  4. Before 9/11 the FBI had all of eight agents that were fluent in Arabic.
Posted in audio book, book review, particle physics, science

Science Book Review-The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of A New World by Sean Carroll

Rating: 9.35 of 10

I have so much to say about this topic so I’ll keep it short. This audio book is almost eleven hours in duration and it took me two days to finish. I could have concluded it more quickly but I had to take a fair amount of notes, pause and rewind a few parts so I could decipher important material. This is a normal habit of mine; some books more than others.

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at Caltech: in this book he describes the formation and discovery of the standard model of particle physics in easy to understand terms, the formation and cost of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) and how this particle accelerator works. But the focus of the book is on the discovery of the higgs boson in 2012. Made possible by the collaboration of scientists from all over the world working at CERN (European Organization of Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland. This discovery was made by two independent teams: Atlas and CMS. The Higgs has a mass-energy of 125 GeV, no spin and exists in the lab for about a zeptosecond.

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This is my personal favorite author on physics and I highly recommend this book. A superb intro into particle physics, this particular book was my first serious endeavor into elementary particles and I’ve been hooked ever since. I find his books easy to follow, easy to find, entertaining and scientifically stimulating. It’s quite fascinating that particles (including associated antimatter) have actually been observed and quantified in the lab with the exception of gravitons. I really enjoyed learning about the LHC and other particle accelerators in detail. These produce incredible amounts of data that need to be analyzed in detail and only a small fraction of this data is used.

The higgs boson is not your typical boson. The gauge bosons are the force carriers (photons, gluons, W and Z bosons). The Higgs is in a class all by itself (scalar boson). Think of the higgs as more of a field than a particle. This field is unique because it has uniform spatial density. All that means is the higgs has the same value everywhere in space. As opposed to gravity or electromagnetism where the force exerted obeys the inverse square law. Whether a million light years away or here on Earth the field is uniform. Named after Peter Higgs this elementary particle gives mass to subatomic particles via interactions with the higgs field. The higgs field has no effect on mass less particles (photons) and without said field all matter would travel at light speed. We wouldn’t even have the force of gravity.  Aren’t audio books magical.

 

 

peter Peter Higgs (Nobel Laureate 2013 in physics)

Some of what I learned:

  1. Mass is a form of energy. At high enough temperatures mass and energy are interchangeable. Matter is energy at rest.
  2. 95% of the universe is made of dark energy/matter.
  3. When an electron and positron (antimatter) annihilate they give off a pair of gamma rays, which is used in medical devices.
  4. The internet was invented by CERN.
  5. The LHC is powered by electromagnets that need to be kept at 1.9 degrees kelvin, which is colder than space!

 

 

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