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Military History Wishful War

A Prussian general considering his next war once said, famously, that no plan survives contact with the enemy. That is because war, far from being merely an event, is a process, a dynamic phenomenon; it never obliges those foolish enough to think they can command the unfolding of history. That is also why when statesmen plan war, idées fixes are so dangerous.

The Lost Girls mull things over in a calm moment.
 
2006_6_25
Military History Wishful War

A Prussian general considering his next war once said, famously, that no plan survives contact with the enemy. That is because war, far from being merely an event, is a process, a dynamic phenomenon; it never obliges those foolish enough to think they can command the unfolding of history. That is also why when statesmen plan war, idées fixes are so dangerous. The greatest statesmen have always understood this. As for the less talented, once war has defeated their dreams, they are left only with salvaging their miscalculations.

Michael Gordon and Gen. Bernard Trainor’s book Cobra II is a case study of how a nation’s grand strategy can be corrupted by wishful thinking and the consequences of its collision with reality. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, long-nurtured neoconservative ambitions to transform Iraq into a democratic beach-head in the Middle East quickly overtook strategic calculations. When clear thinking was imperative, American politicians instead promoted a war against Iraq as the best defense against terrorism. All too pliable generals, thoroughly intimidated by their Secretary of Defense, obliged by concocting a breathtakingly simplistic campaign whose design was judged less by its military expertise than by how well it matched their superiors’ illusions.

Much of this we know already. Cobra II ’s contribution lies in explaining what happened as these illusions collided with the realities of war. The authors’ long experience, military knowledge, and wide access to official sources distinguish Cobra II from the many other instant histories of this war. Here the reader is in the steady hands of experts. One leaves the book wishing our strategists had listened to them instead of to their own voices.— Roger Spiller

Novel L.A.’s Scariest Product

Michael Tolkin is one of the most remarkable figures in—what exactly? In American film? Fiction? As a writer and director he has made two smart low-budget films, The Rapture (1991) and The New Age (1998), that put a deft finger on the jittery pulse of late-twentieth-century America. As a commercial screenwriter he added fresh layers to otherwise familiar sci-fi and horror material ( Deep Impact [1998] and Dawn of the Dead [2004], the latter uncredited).

Unlike every other Hollywood screenwriter who always wanted to find time for that serious novel, Tolkin has written several, most notably The Player (1988), Among the Dead (1993), and this year The Return of the Player . It’s obvious that like most directors, what Tolkin really wants to do is just write fiction. In his latest, Tolkin adds a new dimension to the L.A. novel, an intriguing genre of American literature derived from such diverse visionaries as John Fante, Raymond Chandler, and Nathanael West. Griffin Mill, the film producer protagonist of The Player , realizing he will never eat lunch in this town again, finds his true calling: politics. Unlike the current governor of California, he will someday be eligible to run for President; the possibilities are more terrifying than those of any of the films Tolkin has worked on.— Allen Barra

Graphic Novel Hard-core Victorian

In Lost Girls , the author of From Hell and V for Vendetta unites the heroines of three of the most popular works of children’s fiction and re-imagines their surreal adventures as experiences of sexual awakening.

It is May 1913, a time of rapid change. Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is about to make its debut. The First World War is not far off. Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy—of Alice in Wonderland , Peter Pan , and The Wizard of Oz , respectively —now adults, are drawn to the same hotel in Austria. There they will meet and relate their erotic adventures to one another.