I was checking out the “new books” section at the library a few days ago and noticed a book called Thunder Run, by David Zucchino. I’ll admit that the linguistic similarity to “Thunder Road” brought out my Springsteen antennae.
One of the blurbs described the book as the story of the tank battles fought by American soldiers as they took Baghdad. Having seen the Patton movie a month or so ago, I’m now into the tank aspects of military strategy. So, the book went into my take home stack.
Now, I thought that the book was about the drive from Kuwait to Baghdad. I have assumed from the beginning that the strategy and tactics of that campaign would be studied in depth for years and I wanted to get a better understanding of it.
However, that’s not what the book was about! In fact, it was about something far more limited and, ultimately far more interesting than the big campaign. In fact, it opens a window on the future that we all would be well-advised to consider and, in many ways, illustrates some of the ideas you will find on the thought-provoking and essential Global Guerillas blog of John Robb, especially the notion of “swarming.”
Here’s what troubles me. I probably followed the news from the Iraq war to a greater extent than the average person and I’ve read a good number of books and articles on the subject. It befuddles me that I had no idea of how the city of Baghdad was taken until I read this book.
“Thunder run” refers to fast armored strikes conceived of and run during the Vietnam war. In a way, they are like the boat runs a young John Kerry made during his service. You can look at them in a number of ways, but they sure seem like an operation designed to draw unfriendly fire.
If you don’t know the story of the “thunder runs” into Baghdad, you have to read this book. It’s an amazing story that we all should know, in which an insanely small number of US soldiers with a few tanks, Bradleys and Humvees essentially ran a gauntlet into the center of Baghdad and essentially “ended” the early part of the war in a few days.
If you think that they don’t make soldiers like the ones who fought on D-Day, you might change your mind after you read this book. What these soldiers accomplished almost defies description and they turned what could have been a catastropic loss into what appeared, at least according to the news reports I remember and the analysis of the pundits, to be an easy victory. Let me just say that after I read this book, I felt that the level of medals handed out should be upped a notch or two and I wanted to shake the hands and thank each of these soldiers.
If you like reading thrillers, as I do, this book had me reading it from cover to cover in one session, never sure what would happen next, just like a good Robert Ludlum novel. I found Zucchino to be a compelling writer in every sense.
What you see is a combination of strategic brilliance and folly, firepower and restraint, preparation and invention, the real dangers of the siloed branches of our military, and a memorable illustration that the plan is the first casualty of contact with the enemy. What you also see is a good glimpse of the war of the future.
The book raises a lot of questions, to no surprise. The big one for me is: have we geared up to fight the preceding war? Maybe bigger is: what are we doing to show that we’ve learned anything from what has happened so far?
The “insurgents” are exploiting military weaknesses and gaps that you will see in this book and probably will get even better at it. You’ll have a few more of your own (maybe, what do we use helicopters for? or what does it mean to say that “we need more boots on the ground”? or at what point does “swarming” make it possible to overcome superior firepower?).
However, you’ll be struck by the story of this battle and the soldiers who fought it, the clash of two different worlds shown by the defense of Baghdad, the thin and moving line between victory and defeat, and the human stories that deserve a much wider audience.
Trust me, Thunder Run is a book that you want to make room for on your summer reading list.