by Ralph Peters
Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
New York, 2009
Review by A. J. Barker
It is surprising that those of us who survived the 20th century should still read apocalyptic literature, much less for fun and relaxation. But then, ‘The End of the World as We Know It’ has amused and delighted people since Ur of the Chaldees, and perhaps it was because early monastic life was so boring and austere that the Fathers of the Church tossed Revelations in among the canonical books. (“And now for something completely different…”)
There is nothing so satisfying as visiting imagined havoc, chaos and destruction upon one’s imagined enemies. But it’s best if they are not too imaginary, for as Tolkien demonstrated in Lord of the Rings, the slaying of Orcs is a dreary business (and the same ‘ho hum’ applies to zapping George Lucas’s action figures in white plastic suits.)
No, there’s nothing like whacking the traditional enemy. And what enemy could be more traditional than the one ‘the West’ has been fighting, off and on, for 600 years? The War After Armageddon describes the final battle between Christians and Moslems.
The book begins with U. S. Lt. General ‘Flintlock’ Harris pondering a battle just beyond his horizon. He can’t see what is happening because (as he had so often, and so presciently, predicted) the excessively high tech equipment sold to the U. S. Army by the military-industrial complex, has been rendered useless by electronic jamming. General Harris is a ‘straight-up’ guy, not very imaginative, conservative in his military opinions (hence the nickname) but a thoughtful and competent commander, loyal to the Constitution, and to the Army. Unfortunately, he’s not in charge.
For reasons that may have been made clearer in an earlier book, the world lies bleeding and exhausted. Dozens of major cities, including Teheran, Jerusalem, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, are uninhabitable radioactive sites. The U. S. Army has been also been destroyed, not so much by the enemy as by politicians. A supine Congress, afraid of the evangelical right, has turned most of the military over to an independent entity, The Military Order of Brothers in Christ (MOBIC) under the control of charismatic General Sim Montfort, Harris’s long-time career rival.
Harris’s much smaller command is one of the few remaining constitutional units. He is fighting two wars, an unskillful effort against the politicians and evangelical conspirators who are continually directing him to turn over additional units to Montfort, and a measured and competent fight against the jihadists.
He can see that the remaining Army and Marine forces are being wasted (as are the MOBIC forces) in an effort to seize ‘culturally important’ sites (Megiddo, Damascus, etc.) with no strategic value. He knows that the weak President is under the control of an evangelically tetched Vice-President, but he is a ‘good soldier’. He accepts the validity of orders that come through the chain of command.
The reader aches to see him rebel—to have him ‘take out’ Montfort and restore some common sense and decency—but it’s too late for that, and Harris is no conspirator. He’s inculcated with traditional West Point values (although a graduate of Virginia Military Institute) unwilling to substitute his own judgment for that of his lawful superiors. Besides, no matter that Harris and his men think of the MOBIC forces as ‘pukes’—they remain ‘our own’—better our pukes than the jihadist alternative.
Perhaps not so oddly, the command structure on the ‘jihadi’ side is quite similar—an apocalyptic, end-of-the-worlder, Emir-General Suleiman al-Mahdi is in overall control, and has a more thoughtful professional soldier, Colonel al-Ghazi, as his principal subordinate. Like Harris, al-Ghazi can see where events are trending—but just as loyally, continues to follow orders. And, just as on the ‘Western’ side—the treacherous and hypocritical rule, while the honorable suffer from resignation and apathy, but remain determined to do their best for their own side, if only as a parting gesture.
Perhaps I have already said too much—the reader can guess where this is headed, even before Harris realizes that the MOBIC forces are being drawn into a trap—a trap that only a military historian like Harris might recognize. Beyond Megiddo (the historical Armageddon) lies ‘Kefar Hittim’, anciently known as ‘Hattim’. It was at the ‘Horns of Hattim’ that Saladin scored his greatest victory against the Crusaders.
As overwrought as it is, there is much to be pondered in this book. Peters is a retired intelligence officer, formerly an enlisted man. He has apparently distressed his former military superiors with unsettling strategic opinions, has worked as a journalist, and has written numerous other books. The military ambience, the relationships among enlisted personnel, non-coms and officers, the language, the sense of what has to be done in a given circumstance, etc. will seem strikingly familiar, and totally convincing to anyone who has ever been there—and the mix of admirable, mundane and despicable motivations seems quite plausible.
Since we are determined to read apocalyptic literature—why not go with the good stuff.
I recommend The War After Armageddon.