One Million Steps, by Bing West

I’m a big fan of Bing West’s work, having read several of his earlier books including The Village, which is about the Combined Action Marines during the Vietnam War, and The March Up, which covered the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s march from Kuwait to Baghdad in March of 2003. All of Mr. West’s books are well-written, thoroughly researched, and “good reads,” but this new book, I believe, will go down in American Military History as one of the most important books written about the “long wars” of the 21st Century in the Middle East.

Right up front, I’m impressed that this man has managed to muster the courage, strength and endurance to cover those wars, up close and personal. Bing has “embedded” himself into these fights with the U. S. Marines and soldiers on the “front lines” repeatedly to make sure he gets the true story first hand. Since I know that he fought in Vietnam as a U. S. Marine Infantry Officer back in the late 60’s, I know he must be about my age, and I have to say that for this former U. S. Marine Infantry Officer who fought in Vietnam, I was nearly exhausted by just reading this book. Bing doesn’t just go into the battle space – he lives and patrols with the soldiers and Marines he writes about for long periods of time, and shares the significant risk of death or injury with them every single day.

Mr. West has exceeded the goal of every military historian who focuses on the foot soldier, which is to “tell the story” from the grunt’s point of view. But he has gone well beyond that with this new work by exposing the reader to the horrible truths about the dangerously flawed strategy embraced by our leadership, that of COIN, or Counterinsurgency. Bing bluntly points out the absolute insanity of our leaders’ stubborn adherence to this failed strategy, and how it affects our amazing young Marines in combat as they are put in a seriously disadvantageous position on every patrol they conduct. Our political and military leadership should be doing everything they can to enhance our warfighter’s ability to accomplish their missions, yet they often tie the grunt’s hands behind their backs before sending them into harm’s way. The result is that our young American warfighters are being exposed to unnecessary risk, in a steady, consistent, daily confrontation with death and dismemberment, at the hands of an enemy who have no scruples, who are more than willing to break the rules of warfare, and who do so at every opportunity. Somehow, as Mr. West reports, these outstanding young Americans rise up every day, rushing out toward the sounds of gunfire, to confront the enemy and to defeat them again and again, despite their leaders’ lack of courage and commitment to actually win these wars.

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Tragically, and too often, this unfortunate combination of extraordinary bravery by these grunts, a ghostlike enemy who knows no bounds, and a politically correct and dysfunctional leadership, resulted in terrible loss on the battlefield. The Marine platoon that Mr. West wrote about in this book suffered a higher rate of casualties than any other unit fighting in Afghanistan throughout the war. Over half of those Marines didn’t finish their seven-month tour intact – those who suffered amputations were more fortunate than many, who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for their fellow Marines.

If you want to learn something important, including the truths about our soldiers and Marines fighting the wars in the Middle East, read One Million Steps by Bing West.