Wednesday, April 07, 2004
The dangers of quickie books: Rick Atkinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning "An Army at Dawn" set a pretty high standard for the Washington Post reporter. Those of us who were awaiting the second installment of his trilogy will have to wait a little longer, because the Iraq War broke out and he was sent to cover it. The story of the latest war is "In the Company of Soldiers." There's no question that it is a great and worthwhile read. Atkinson gives you a picture of what it was like to be in Iraq and some of the challenges faced by the troops.
The only unfortunate part of Atkinson's book is the fact that his politics make guest appearances periodically. Yes, that liberal media.
The book also contains at least two factual errors.
First, Atkinson repeats the charge (though, unlike many on the left doesn't definitely call it a lie -- but an overstatement) that Vice President Dick Cheney said that Iraq had "reconstituted nuclear weapons." Now, while Cheney did say that -- the record makes it clear that it was a misstatement. In the same "Meet the Press" interview, Cheney made four statements to the effect that there was evidence that Iraq had a "reconstituted nuclear weapons program." It is clear from reading the entire transcript that Cheney didn't believe that Iraq had nuclear weapons -- yet.
Atkinson's second error is more troubling, mainly because such a big deal was made of the mistake in the days following its publication.
Atkinson quotes Lt. Gen. William Wallace as saying "The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we war-gamed against." Unfortunately, that misquote dropped two words that, amid concerns that the military had become bogged down, proved to be very important. The correct quote painted a different picture: "The enemy we're fighting is a bit different from the one we war-gamed against."
It's unfortunate, but understandable, that a slightly botched quote comes out of a war zone -- especially in some of the conditions Atkinson describes. (Atkinson recounts sitting outside in a sandstorm with a big plastic garbage bag covering his head, dictating a story over a satellite phone because he couldn't get a signal inside the tent.) However, you'd think that such a widely publicized error would be corrected when the book came out.
That being said, Atkinson's book is still a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the history of warfare.