American Soldier by Tommy Franks

In my continuing series of “I am not an editor but I play one online” comes a review by a good friend of mine. Jeff Grim was a fellow history graduate student with me at the Ivy League of the MAC (or is that the Poison Ivy League?), Bowling Green State University. In fact we had the same adviser. Jeff is also a veteran of the US Army and an student of the Vietnam War. So it is appropriate that he agreed to review Tommy Franks new book. Please enjoy the review that follows.

Tommy Franks’ autobiography American Soldier is an insightful look into a commanding general’s life as he rose through the ranks of the United States Army. Throughout his career, Franks was a progressive-thinking officer. He challenged the conservative mindset of the Army’s leadership and helped push it into the Twenty-first Century.

Franks did not plan to join the military, but a turn of events changed his mind. He was suspended from the University of Texas for poor grades and decided to join the Army to “get out in the world and do something real.” Following a short time as an enlisted soldier, Franks went through Artillery Officer Candidate School. The book follows Franks’ career from being a second lieutenant in the Mekong Delta in the Vietnam War to being a four star general in command of the United States military’s Central Command.

Clearly, Franks wrote American Soldier to give his account as commander in chief of the Central Command of the United States armed forces during one of the most trying times in American history. Close to two-thirds of the book is on this time period. Under his leadership, American and Coalition armed forces fought two wars – one in Afghanistan and a second in Iraq.

Franks offers not only a window into the world of military planning, but also a fascinating view of domestic and international politics to get a plan into action. He painstakingly unfolds before the reader the planning for the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. During the planning stages for both invasions, Franks practiced shuttle diplomacy by visiting leaders in strategically important countries around Afghanistan and Iraq. His personal relationships with many of those leaders led to their allowing the use of their airspace or territory for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had to contend with not only foreign leaders, but also with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Franks accuses the various service chiefs of constantly meddling in his operational jurisdiction by making unwanted suggestions or trying to elevate their service above the others.

Franks planned an unconventional attack on Iraq that emphasized speed, technology, and joint armed services operations. In his eyes, these three factors would compensate for a smaller attacking force, which he planned on using. According to Franks, many military experts from the Desert Storm era criticized his approach because of his use of these factors. They did not believe a war could be won without a large attacking force of the size used in Desert Storm. Franks believes that the speed of the victory proves that his detractors were wrong.

Franks also attempts to answer the criticisms that the Administration faced during both invasions. First, he tries to prove the link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda by offering evidence that Hussein allowed Al Qaeda groups to train in Iraq. Franks further states that Iraq provided medical care to Abu Musab Zarqawi after he was wounded in fighting in Afghanistan. Second, Franks addresses the criticism of keeping the Fourth Infantry Division off the coast of Turkey for so long. He supports his decision by stating that it proved a good diversion for Iraqi forces in the northern part of the country that thought the Fourth would attack from Turkey and that it could not have taken part in the southern invasion, without delaying the invasion, because of logistical support issues. Finally, Franks addresses Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Several leaders in the region told him that Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and that he would use them against American and Coalition forces. Although no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, Franks has never regretted his role in invading Iraq and removing the Baathists from power knowing that he helped free millions of people from a despotic leader.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).