Thoughts on The Profession

I read an early copy of Pressfield’s new book a few weeks ago. Writing a review for a journal , so I held off on putting a review here. Had to put it in a drawer to reflect on it. That’s a good sign – it parallels a lot of my own thinking and work, needed to remove myself to get some clarity on it. Some quick thoughts follow.

It is, of course, well written, fast-paced, and Pressfield’s knowledge of the technicalities of warfare is great (and facilitated by some familiar faces). That, and the way he describes the fragmentation of warfare (and blurring with business) is pretty spot on. The book clearly communicates a deep understanding of the distribution of violence,  depletion of hydrocarbons, ubiquitious advanced technology, and overall does tactically well. Sample:

Tajikistan, as we are beginning to grasp, is not really a country. It’s a criminal narco- fiefdom locked in a death struggle with an Islamo- narco- fiefdom, which will soon become, with the integration of the new “Beautiful Mountain” oil field, a criminal Islamo- petro- fiefdom.

I think it stumbles on the broader picture though.What starts out with every indication of being centered on cheap, ubiquitous violence, fluid borders, and small units, we end up with expensive, privatized, conventional conflict. Sample:

Company- and even battalion- sized formations could be put together with a six- month train- up, with their logistical tail outsourced and the employer fronting the funding in cash. But when the first legions and armatures were put together in 2021—meaning brigade- and division- sized airmobile fighting units—….

Strikes me as incoherent, but of course, your mileage will vary. There’s plenty of grand geopolitics, complete with mentions of nukes, if you’re into that kind of thing. Sample:

Iran’s aim, reports Ms. Caplan, is the establishment of a “Shiite Crescent,” which would extend from western Afghanistan across Iran and southern Iraq to the Arabian peninsula….

Anyway, regardless of which seems more likely to you, Pressfield created a world worth thinking about.  Definitely worth reading.

Aside I. There’s a spattering of passages like this, that are oddly colonial, or misogynistic, and were really distracting from the flow of the book.

The Eastern mind is so tribal, so inured to systems of patronage and blood influence, that it can’t conceive that a venture of this scale could be mounted without the full knowledge and approval of the United States at the highest level.

Our two African Americans, Sgt. Pope and SSgt. Harvey, took it hard. I think they felt ashamed for their people.

Some well- meaning Westerner gave it to them, probably a woman and probably as brave as she is clueless.

It’s odd, because, generally, the protagonist comes off realistic – like a smart, quiet, professional – until he sounds like a neanderthal.

Aside II. Fun snippet:

She blogs and pens op- eds. This one, posted on zenpundit.com, goes instantly viral.

Anyway, more later.


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