Entry 90: A Friend’s Success

Editor’s Note: This is the 90th installment in Van Jackson’s daily writing journal, “Nuke Your Darlings,” which tracks his six-month battle to write a new book on North Korea. Will he meet his deadline?

I naively thought I was going to finish the full first draft today. I wrote close to 900 words in an all-out sprint to try and finalize this last chapter, but it wasn’t quite enough…and I had to forsake a lot of other important things today to do it. Still did two media interviews and had two meetings at work, but there was a lot of other stuff on the to-do list. The 100-meter targets are quickly becoming 5-meter targets.

I do like how the end of the book is shaping up though. The final chapter may prove to be the most valuable for people looking for the “So, what?” Perhaps because of my experience, I find it a lot easier to write analytical, policy-relevant theory stuff than I do pure history, though I think I get more satisfaction out of the latter.

This entire book project has been the embodiment of the Eisenhower adage that plans are useless but planning is indispensable. At every point—especially in the beginning—I had an outline for how the book was supposed to go. My basic argument hasn’t changed, but spending more time with evidence forced me to continuously revise and rearrange the narrative and my chapter-by-chapter prose as I went along.

A buddy of mine from my Pentagon days published a book on autonomous weapons that appears to be doing extremely well. Very sexy topic, and he was the ideal guy to write it. I have book envy. I’ve lost touch with virtually all of my friends from high school and my earliest days in the military. Maybe that makes sense because we were all such different people back then. But I’ve tried to stay in touch with the friends I made toward the end of my military service and while I was working as a Pentagon civilian. My buddy’s from that milieu.

Virtually everything they say about “the swamp” is untrue. 90 percent of the people I worked with in the Pentagon were thoughtful, savvy, and had a West Wing (the show) spirit about the work we did. So many of us have gone on to do huge things; some have become A-list policy celebrities and film directors, others CEOs, and still others members of congress. It was like being at the RAND Corporation in the 1950s. I’m none of those things of course, but the fact others have become those things speaks to the caliber of person that was working in OSD when I was lucky enough to pass through. So I guess I’m ultimately not surprised that my buddy is fast becoming the biggest name in robots and war. I gotta do my best to keep up!


Van Jackson is a senior editor at War on the Rocks and an associate editor of the Texas National Security Review. He is also a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington, and the Defence & Strategy Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies.