If you give damn about what most Americans care about these days above all else--the Iraq War--then get a hold of Cobra II: The Inside Story of The Invasion and Occupation of Iraq.
I wouldn't normally provide free advertising but I found this an exceptional and well researched book. Not only is it intellectually stimulating (and often depressing) it is also viscerally exciting.
The first third of the book substantially corrobarates Woodward's "Plan Of Attack" regarding Rumsfeld's influence and relationship with General Tommy Franks and how the invasion was concieved and prosecuted. Personally I learned little more than I already knew about the reasons and planning of the Iraq invasion which is covered in the first third of the book so that aspectof it can be read as a prologue for those of us who have been paying attention.
What particulary struck me about the book was its representation of the experiences of the Army 3rd Infantry Division. the Marines and the Special Forces as depicted by personal testimony and official record woven into a narrative by the authors.
For all the high tech-gadgetry that promised so much, the testimony in this book suggests it didn't live up to it's hype. And as for Frank's and Rumsfeld's planning, those schemes were not as solid as they represented either. Indeed my impression from this book, which in its narrative it does not explicitly iterate , is that that the best laid plans of mice and men are often thwarted--yet it is the men on the gorind who have to carry out the plans who make the plan succeed, not the planners themselves.
The descriptions of combat are uttely clinical with no drama added. Yet in the cold prose the pain and chaos of warfare is stark and disturbing. As much as this book is a critique of the politicians that chose to conduct the war and upper miltary echolons who enabled it, it is also a testament to those who were given no choice but to conduct it, to fight it and to die or be injured in it.
Beyond the exemplay research of the authors what impressed me most was the actions of the soldiers as they were described--mostly importantly the frequent conflict they experienced in trying to balance the orders they were given with the realiteies on the grounf, their own respective perceptions, knowledge and experience and the demands of their superiors, the mission and the "cause".
COBRA II is not a diatribe with a political bent. It is as honest an account as you will find of the Iraq war. And as comprehensive as it is, it is not comprehensive enough.
Nonetheless it provides an exceptional insight into why and how this war was conducted. Given such a contemporsary example
I would urge every reader of this book to then delve into the political and military histories of past wars and then compare--I'd suggest you will find the similarites with seemingly ancient conflicts shockingly familiar.
War is war, it is bloody and cruel no matter the century in which it occurs. But what truly distinguishes one war from another is not so much the military victories but the aftermath. And the aftermath and thus ultimate victory is not determined by the will and might of the military, but that of the politicians.
Sadly this book makes it clear that no great public cause served this war, only the fantasies of delusional power-players, politicians and generals alike, egoists of the highest order who paid lip service to the root of their power, the will of the people.
Certainly a majority of the US agreed to war against Iraq by a slim margin, and of that majority there was a belief in the the leaders pronouncemnts of legitmacy for the cause and the competence of those on high and in charge.
So much for that.
For a dose of reality and a real perspective read Cobra II, and compare to "Plan Of Attack", amongst other available books. It illuminates in it's own right, and will help illuminate other perspectives of your choice.