The Commanders, by Bob Woodward; Hazardous Duty, by John K. Singlaub
Why should these two books be read together? One reason has to do with their subject matter. Retired Major General John Singlaub describes nearly 50 years’ involvement in America’s wars, much of it at high levels, while Bob Woodward describes how top U.S. officials made their decisions regarding the last two of America’s wars: Panama in 1989 and Iraq in 1991. Yet the two authors and, generally, the people they describe speak starkly different languages. It is as if once upon a time the tribe to which Singlaub belongs had conducted American statecraft according to its ways, while now it runs by the rites of Woodward’s tribe. Hence another reason for reading the two books together: this clash of cultures is worth pondering.
Bob Woodward, a fixture in Washington and of the Washington Post since his “insider” stories helped bring down Richard Nixon in 1974, has been routinely accused of using phantom sources for his reportage and of putting too-specific words into his subjects’ mouths. But no one disputes that Woodward is an accurate painter of Washington portraits. A reviewer of The Commanders in the New York Times rightly reproached Woodward with being no more than “a camera”—one might better say, a tape recorder. He himself goes no deeper into the events in Panama and the Gulf than do the people whose words and thoughts he reports.
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