"My Share of the Task, A Memoir" by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, UPortfolio/Penguin, 452 pages, $29.95; e-book available
Stanley McChrystal reads "The Two Viet-Nams" at age 11, studies the French-Indochina war in high school and goes into the family business (his father is a captain when Stanley is born at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.), entering West Point in 1972.
He is a soldier's soldier, and the dust-jacket text says he writes "without rancor or retribution." But after a couple of chapters, you begin to think, "Tsk," about "Task" and wonder whether a little rancor might rustle up some regalement for readers.
A Rolling Stone gathers no miff
If you're looking for McChrystal's side of the article that abruptly ended the four-star's 34-year service, you won't find the needed context here.
Writer Michael Hastings' side is last year's eye-opening "The Operators." But these 452 pages (including notes and index) say only — in a scant 1½ pages — that "a reporter was periodically interacting with our team" and, eight pages later, that McChrystal is awakened at 2 a.m. and told "the article is out and it's really bad."
The magazine attributes "a number of unacceptable comments to my command team" but the book includes none of the comments. Perhaps the omission reflects McChrystal's taking the high road, but without context you are left on the shoulder of the noble path.
"Regardless of how I judged the story ... responsibility was mine," he says, and you wonder: Responsibility for what, exactly?
Quickly he is "directed to fly back to D.C.," calls "no one for advice" and resigns. His wife tells him, "we've always been happy and we'll always be happy."
A Ranger gains experience
Articles of perceived injustice aside, "Task" crisscrosses Forts Bragg, Benning, Stewart and Lewis, plus Korea, Harvard, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Naval War College and the Pentagon, and offers a dutiful record.
McChrystal is comfortable in his Army combat uniform — the uniform at his retirement ceremony — and the narrative picks up its battle rhythm in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly in the pursuit of al-Qaida's Abu Musab Zarqawi.
And the general addresses other controversies:
• Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "intractability forced the military to be more flexible" in Iraq, "but ... we also experienced a painful period of uncertainty and doubt."
• When Ambassador L. Paul Bremer declares, "We got him! (Saddam Hussein)," McChrystal cringes at such "triumphalism that I knew would not play well with the Iraqi people."
• "The images of arrogant superiority" photographed by Abu Ghraib's U.S. guards sicken him. "I was one of the leaders who lacked experience in detainee custody and exploitation. I had studied history and understood the theory but had never done anything remotely like running a prison. My peers and subordinates were similarly positioned."
J. Ford Huffman is a Military Times book reviewer.