Following is a review of Doug Macgregor's new book Warrior's Rage. The review describes Doug as one of the "most gifted armored commanders" produced by the US Army.
Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting. Douglas Macgregor. Naval Institute Press. 288 pages; maps; diagrams; black-and-white photographs; index; $29.95.
By MG Daniel P. Bolger
Remember Desert Storm? Few Americans do. It was that “other” war with Iraq, the one that wrapped up neatly in six weeks. After a daily diet of impressively precise air-strike footage and a hundred-hour blitzkrieg across southern Iraq and Kuwait that outran the enemy and most of the news cameras, America declared victory. A broad coalition had been formed, Kuwait had been liberated, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was humiliated and the ghosts of Vietnam were exorcised. So it seemed for a few shining weeks in the spring of 1991, when Americans again fell in love with their seemingly invincible Army.
They still love us, but the marriage has gone through some very rough times of late. The honeymoon of the armored pursuit has given way to the daily plodding of kicked-in doors and ugly aftermath of roadside bombs. We have seen plenty of fighting in Iraq since the lightning campaign of 1991. With the exception of a few episodes in March 2003, it has been anything but armored combat, and anything but rapid or decisive. Talking today of war in Iraq, the average American may conjure up images of courage, remorse or frustration—but certainly not the lethal clash of tank on tank.
In Warrior’s Rage, Douglas Macgregor reminds us of what happened in that first American war with Iraq. It was not all about airpower, nor the ennui epitomized in Anthony Swofford’s well-crafted and well-praised book Jarhead. In February 1991, a number of Americans charged into battle in a style that would have befitted George Patton himself; Macgregor was one of them.
Warrior’s Rage is the inside story of an American armored cavalry squadron at war. Macgregor has done his homework—he both sets the stage and delivers the promised show in this stirring account of the Gulf War’s major armored fight along the grid reference known as 73 Easting. Macgregor draws us into the world of the 2nd Squadron (Cougar Squadron), 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Today most serving American officers and NCOs have been in many firefights, but that was not so in February 1991. In addition to explaining how a squadron organizes, trains and fights, Macgregor must also account for what happens when soldiers of all ranks first “see the elephant.”
And see it they did, in the gloaming of the afternoon of February 26, 1991. Leading the entire VII Corps, Macgregor and his Cougars advanced right into the Tawalkana Mechanized Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard. The resulting armored contest pitted American cavalry troopers in their M1 Abrams tanks and M3 Bradley cavalry fighting vehicles against T72 tanks, BMP fighting vehicles and MT-LB personnel carriers manned by Iraqi veterans of the grinding war with Iran. In poor light, blowing dust, and the fog and friction of combat, Macgregor and his men smashed their foe.
But victory did not come easily, nor cheaply. America’s splendid hundred hour war was the usual butchery at the business end. That’s where Macgregor and his Cougars lived and died. It is that immediacy and intensity of close combat that Warrior’s Rage evokes. Macgregor depicts war as it is experienced and fought, not with neat arrows on a well-drawn map, but with seared flesh, grit, blood, dirt and pain. Exhaustion, confusion, fear and death define the world of Cougar Squadron; Macgregor describes every bit of it. Yet he also grants us a glimpse into how soldiers deal with such grim realities—leadership, discipline, training and humor surely help. Warrior’s Rage includes all of those as well.
A book like Warrior’s Rage would normally be on the reading list of every fighting battalion in our Army. Some will hesitate at that, though, because there is a strong subtext to Macgregor’s account. It’s a truism of war that although good units are composed of team players, most soldiers know well that when you close that hatch, few have much good to say for “those bastards back at platoon.” That is a normal part of a soldier’s point of view. The dangers of combat only serve to amplify this tendency. Macgregor does not spare us his opinions about his superiors. He castigates America’s generals as a group— and often by name—for what he sees as their timidity in finishing the job in 1991. By implication, and in many cases by bald statement, a reader of Warrior’s Rage would not be surprised that these generals’ chosen successors have fumbled around in the current war as well.
That may turn off some readers, but I would encourage those offended to hang in there. Believe it or not, such things get said about most leaders in the Army—maybe even Macgregor. As soldiers, we have learned after a lot of failed operations at the National Training Center—let alone on the ground in theater—to be brutal on ourselves, to ask the hard questions and to own up to mistakes. Our Army judges by results more than by form or style. The ability to adapt under fire is the key to winning. Macgregor’s Cougars did it at 73 Easting, but it all starts with having the guts to accept criticism.
Macgregor himself offers the best explanation for why his harsh tone still makes Warrior’s Rage well worth the read. At one point, describing a particularly headstrong cavalry troop commander (now a serving general officer), Macgregor approvingly quotes Werner Binder, a German officer who fought on the Eastern Front in World War II: “Your best commander is always your most difficult subordinate. He always asks hard questions and offers new ways to do things, because he thinks. He may be quick-tempered and occasionally insubordinate, but if you have one like this, give him the freedom to do what he thinks is right whenever possible.” Macgregor did just that, and the outcome was a signal victory. I think Binder’s advice may be good for anyone who reads Warrior’s Rage. The author of Breaking the Phalanx and Transformation Under Fire has never been a shrinking violet—Macgregor was always a most difficult subordinate. But he’s also one of the smartest and most gifted armored commanders our Army has produced. Warrior’s Rage is just the latest fine contribution from a veteran cavalryman who will no doubt stay in the fight for the Army he loves.
MG Daniel P. Bolger is the commander of Multi-National Division-Baghdad
and the 1st Cavalry Division.