Weekend Reading: Memorial Day Edition

May 22, 2015

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted share a passage from a War on the Rocks article we published last year. Even as a publication largely focused on warfare, it’s easy to forget that behind our analysis, commentary, and criticisms of war strategy are the fallen who offered their lives for a greater cause. Managing editor John Amble reminded us of this when he wrote:

Memorial Day is a blank canvas, ours to commemorate in whatever way we see fit.  Old men might tell stories about their buddies to children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren.  Young vets might send around emails to recall stories about ‘that one time’ that a certain friend did something great or funny or crazy before he was gone.  Some will visit cemeteries, others will spend some time alone, and still others will take a moment amid a chaotic and happy day with family or friends to remember what today is.  It doesn’t matter how we do it.  It’s just important that we do it.

Here is the National Parks Service’s list of forts, battlefields, military parks, monuments, and memorials that you can visit and honor the U.S.’s fallen military personnel this weekend.

Now, your weekend reading list.

The truth about the bourbon empire. “Whiskey marketers and food writers love to remind readers that Congress, in all its awesome authority, has declared bourbon a unique part of America’s heritage—giving Congress credit for a much fonder attitude toward bourbon than was ever actually the case. Eventually, the myth was converted into reality simply because it had been repeated enough times. … The real story behind the how bourbon became ‘America’s native spirit’ is far less romantic. Bourbon’s roots are uniquely American—but primarily in the sense that it was cutthroat capitalism that earned the spirit its modern reputation.” — Reid Mitenbuler, writing for Slate, dispels some myths behind the American bourbon legacy.

A guy we’d like to party with. “Sorge eventually joined the Red Army’s military intelligence unit and then went about building up his Nazi bona fides in Berlin, becoming a member of the fascist party. A notoriously heavy drinker, he abstained from alcohol while in Nazi beer halls to ensure that he wouldn’t give himself away with a slip of the tongue. Rather than making himself conspicuous, Sorge’s discipline won him the trust of Nazi sources. ‘That was the bravest thing I ever did. Never will I be able to drink enough to make up for this time,’ he supposedly told Hede Massing, an Austrian actress turned Soviet agent who later defected and moved to America.” — The Washington Post has a great story about Richard Sorge, an alcoholic, womanizing German double agent who turned the tide of World War II by secretly working for the Soviets.

It’s 2015, and we still haven’t figured out Africa. “The United States has paid an enormous price to its credibility in Africa for its readiness to preach about democracy with states that are deemed relatively insignificant, while making little public fuss on the subject with long-favored authoritarians and deeply corrupt petro-states like Angola and Equatorial Guinea. Meanwhile, it has utterly failed to understand Africa in terms of its immense upsides, as a place of tremendous opportunities. In economic matters, Washington has made little effort to compete with China and other outside powers in Africa — something that most Africans would greatly welcome and which would be beneficial to all.” — At Foreign Policy, Howard French explains why Obama’s nomination of Gayle Smith to be the next administrator of USAID demonstrates that Washington is devoid of people who have a clue about Africa.

The world’s riskiest cities. Research compiled by global risk analytics company Verisk Maplecroft offers a look at the cities most likely to be hit by a terrorist attack. According to the research, 64 cities were found to be at “extreme risk”, the majority located in the Middle East (27), and Asia (19).

Buzzkill. “All told, while lasers, or ‘directed energy weapons,’ offer the tantalizing possibility of being game changers, they will not likely be ready for prime time anytime soon. Like a mirage, battlefield lasers are always just over the horizon. If the history of military lasers is any guide, caution is warranted.” — Subrata Ghoshroy, a research associate at MIT writing for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, says the Navy’s new laser weapon isn’t as impressive as you think.

The weekly listicle. “America’s military has long been a pioneering force in battlefield technology and research and development, but that doesn’t mean every experiment has been a success. Many otherwise ingenious ideas were derailed by poor planning or timing, while others were simply too bizarre to be taken seriously. From an Old West camel corps to nuke-carrying train cars, learn the stories behind seven armed forces programs that didn’t go according to plan.” — The History Channel has a list of seven unusual experiments conducted by the U.S. military.

Get real on the “anti-China” discourse. “Discourse matters, which is why I find it troubling that a number of intelligent and thoughtful Asia watchers would perpetuate narratives about Sino-U.S. relations that allows China to engage in more assertive behavior unchecked, while even the mere discussion of the United States taking steps to induce restraint in a more assertive China are framed as provocative.  That’s analytically dishonest.” — Van Jackson, writing for The Diplomat, on a recent trend by policy thinkers toward an anti-Chinese discourse, and why this train of thought is misguided.

Want more? Patrick Cronin, for WOTR, argues that U.S. needs to decide whether and how to draw the line on certain types of bad behavior in terms of China’s actions in the South China Sea. CIMSEC’s Scott Cheney-Peters recommends that the U.S. not honor any of China’s South China Seas sovereignty claims until it explains the basis for its infamous nine-dash line claim. Get down to the nitty gritty and read this tactical look at mil-mil partnerships in the Asia-Pacific at Real Clear Defense.

The terrorism conversation we aren’t having. “In Washington, there is an agreed-upon, bipartisan understanding that under no circumstances will officials or politicians acknowledge, or even explore, the concept that foreign policy activities might play a role in compelling U.S. residents, who would not otherwise consider terrorism, to plot and attempt attacks. …  whereas there are constant hearings and debates—even White House summits—about how to “counter violent extremism,” there is rarely any consideration of which U.S. foreign policy activities might themselves be precursors to U.S. terrorism.” — The Council for Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko questions why American actions abroad are never considered when debating what motivate lone-wolf terrorism within U.S. borders.

In case you missed it.


Lauren Katzenberg is an editor at War on the Rocks. She is also the managing editor of Task & Purpose, a news and culture publication covering veterans and military affairs. Follow her on Twitter @lkatzenberg.

If you have an article you think should be included in the weekend reading list, shoot it over to lauren.katzenberg@warontherocks.com.

Image: Lance Cpl. Martin Egnash, U.S. Marine Corps