I finished reading Rick Atkinson’s excellent book In the Company of Soldiers, which will be reviewed in Sunday’s New York Times.
The book itself is not as engrossing or as interesting as his Pulitzer Prize winning An Army at Dawn, but it’s a fascinating read, particularly it’s profile of Major General David Petraeus.
For General Petraeus, ambiguity is everywhere, the very essence of command. How do you parse the difference between what can be done and what should be done? Even when Petraeus awards Purple Hearts to some of his wounded troops he lauds them for the fact that they ”walked point for our nation” while they ”performed brilliantly in countless ambiguous situations.”
Atkinson knew Petraeus before the war, and knew he would be, as it were, the very model of a modern major general. For starters, there was the sheer, riveting force of his personality. This West Pointer (class of 1974) is alternately described as ”smart, articulate, and driven” and ”intense, good-humored and driven.” Accidentally shot in the chest during a training exercise in 1991, he nearly died. But his surgeon, Dr. Bill Frist (now the Senate majority leader), operated for over five hours, and a friend remembers how Petraeus cut short his convalescence: ”He said, ‘I am not the norm. I’m ready to get out of here and I’m ready to prove it to you.’ He had them pull the tubes out of his arm. Then he hopped out of bed and did 50 push-ups. They let him go home.”