It was hot as hell out on the wrought iron balcony of my third story room at the Old Town Villa Guest House on Ursulines Street in the French Quarter.  The year was 1975, and the month was August, and the radio said it was 90, but with the humidity it felt 95 to 100 degrees and for some reason the heat felt good.  I had been there for a week, holed up in a room the size of a large walk-in closet.  Ursulines Street squealed with the sounds of the dignified southern peel-out crowd burning rubber in the hot night air…screaming queens in ratted hair and ratty dresses strutting their stuff in high heels…black guys with processed hair stoop-sitting and passing cold malt duck, which was purple in color and I imagined in effect.  The buildings over which I looked had steep peaked slate roofs and dormer windows and wrought iron balconies just like the one outside my room.  They were built in the mid 1800’s, and from the outside, they looked like the crumbling ruins of a civilization dead and gone, but they were hammered together on frames of cypress and they would probably last two or three hundred years more.

The Qwaahtah, as it was called by locals, was jammed with places where you could eat red beans and rice and sausage for a buck; a Dixie beer was 50 cents (35 cents at lunch), and a regular drink, say a Pimm’s Cup # 1 topped with a splash of 7-Up and a slice of cucumber could be had for a dollar.  If I closed my eyes, I could imagine that I was in back in Beirut before the civil war, palms jutting between the rooftops, giant live oaks filling courtyards with cooling shade, pavement bright white ablaze in the sun, doorways hooded with overhanging ironwork balconies leading to long passageways taking you back there to dark places behind the walls.

There was virtually no telephone service there at the Old Town Villa, so it had been impossible to reach me during the week I had spent there.  I needed that kind of forced isolation every once in awhile back then.  Over the past few years, the urge to hole-up somewhere and be quiet for a week or so, preferably in a foreign country – which the French Quarter may as well have been for all intents and purposes – had come over me about once or twice a year.  It was a luxury, and by the summer of 1975, it was one I could afford.  Occasionally people in New York City were willing to pay me to go off by myself and sit still and drink gin and tonics and think.  It had been my habit to take a portion of the expense advance for such assignments, if they could be called that, and buy cocaine.  That time was no different.  I arrived in New Orleans with enough of the stuff to rot my mucous membranes for the better part of a month, but after only about a week, I ran out.

Previously, this unfortunate change of circumstances would have caused a great flurry of activity and an intense search for the ratty little character who could turn me on to some skinny creep with shifty bloodshot eyes eager to relieve an out-of-towner of too much money for too little coke.  This transaction would keep alive a process which had its roots back in the 60’s, when getting high and staying high was an end in itself, so the deep thoughts and clear visions and the magnificent feel of pacing my closet-sized castle on Ursulines Street would be kept alive for maybe a week longer.  Yet gradually over the past couple of years I had begun to welcome the idea of running out of dope. This, I had come to realize, was probably a clumsy metaphor for something just slightly profound like growing up.

There was in those days within my small circle of like-minded friends an obsession with figuring out when the 60’s really ended and the 70’s actually began. You may have had such a discussion yourself, back when things like that really mattered.  Like, the ‘60s didn’t really begin until the free speech movement at Berkeley, or was it the civil rights movement in the South, or was it the first peace march and the introduction of marijuana beyond the narrow confines of jazz musician hipsterdom, or was it the summer of love and the onslaught of acid?  The argument could go on forever, and the same with its corollary, that the ‘70s didn’t really begin until the end of the war in Vietnam, or was it the women’s movement, or was it Watergate, or was it the “personal growth” movement?

My New York writer friends and I were sitting in the Prince Street boite Raoul’s one night throwing this important subject around the table when all of a sudden I felt like running screaming from the room.  I didn’t know what came over me.  One minute I was sitting there like any other dufus 20-something year old New Yorker playing circular navel-gaze between rapid-fire trips through the kitchen to the restroom for the express purpose of snorting cocaine, and the next I was struck dumb by the futility of it all.  I had spent the previous week running around New York nailing down magazine assignments so I could go out on the road and careen around the country writing stories so I could earn money with which to buy more cocaine so I could buy more time to run around and get more magazine assignments so I could go out on the road and earn more money with which to buy more cocaine.  There was within that closed system all the logic of the economy which spawned the self-indulgent market for the drug in the first place, including the inevitable result of indulgence which was default.  It felt very much like I was about to default that night at Raoul’s, so I conjured up an lame reason to excuse myself from the table and lumbered my way back up Sullivan Street to my loft.  The time had come, I knew instinctively, for a trip to the Jerome Bar in Aspen Colorado.

Not many people of my acquaintance knew of the healing powers of the Jerome Bar, but I did.  I was told about them by a friend who on the occasion of losing his wife of nine years, flew immediately from L.A. to Aspen and threw himself on the mercy of a bar tab tendered by Michael Solheim, who was at that time proprietor of the Jerome Bar.  So I spent one more cranked up day running around town securing a couple more magazine assignments, packed up my 1968 Dodge camper van and pointed its blunt nose West.  The last time I had spent a week recovering at the spa of the Jerome Bar had been about a year ago.  I knew the way by heart, I still had some cocaine left, and I made it out there in two days.

And now, seated at a table in the front window of the bar at the Jerome, the spa was working its wonders on me.  The side of Ajax mountain, visible above the rooftops of the town, was ablaze with gold and yellow aspens, a forest fire of color in the hot sun, scrub oaks, burnt-orange and red adding their heat.  A terrible eczematic rash had broken out on the soft insides of my elbows and the backs of my hands. I could feels the poisons of the previous months literally evaporating from my skin. I had turned into a Rocky Mountain leper.  And who did I see walking toward the bar down the street but one of my oldest friends, Cherry Jensen.  We were school kids together in Oberammergau, Germany in the mid-1950s.  She was an Air Force brat and her family lived right below us in an apartment building on the post. We used to put on our ski boots every morning and ski from our building’s front door to the school down the hill and stack our skis against the wall outside.  We would change from our ski boots into regular shoes, and later when school let out, change back into our ski boots and ski through the village of Oberammergau to the ski area on the mountainside just beyond, ski until the place closed at dusk, and ski home in the dark.  It was a magical time, one we both remembered fondly.

And now here she was in Aspen.  She had lived there for about ten years, alternately waitressing and skiing and traveling the globe, climbing mountains, hiking in Tibet, rafting down previously unexplored rivers in Africa, working as a boatswoman on the wooden boats down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  Every time she put $1500 together, she would split, but now she was back in Aspen to pick up where she had left off in the Spring.  She was gorgeous – blonde hair, rosy-tanned cheeks, elegantly muscled body in a t-shirt with a day-pack on her back, moving through town like an antelope on her way to a spring.  I spied her through the window and waved.  She came in, we embraced…it had been about a year since we had seen each other…and she took one look at me and said let’s hike up to the Conundrum hot springs tomorrow.

I had heard a lot about the hot springs around the bar at the Jerome in conversations which usually consisted of, you’ve got to get up to the hot springs, man, to which I would invariably reply, yeah the scene up there sounds incredible.  The stumbling blocks to getting myself up to the hot springs so far had included my deteriorated physical and mental condition and my natural aversion to the idea of walking 12 miles uphill from around 9,000 feet to 12,500 in order to arrive there.

Yeah, let’s hike up there, I found myself saying.  I had no equipment, no hiking boots, only a down vest and a sleeping bag.  So I put together some amateurish round-trip two day supplies – home made fried chicken, salt and pepper, extra set of clothes, a knife, six cans of Coors and a fifth of Henry McKenna in a special plastic jug which I picked up from a local mountaineering store, along with a day pack to put it all in.  I thought stupidly that I would come up with some way to put the cost of the supplies on some magazine’s expense account tab.  There was a brief moment there when I actually thought of putting about a grand worth of pure mica cocaine on the magazine tab, which you could get in Aspen if you knew the right people, and I did.  Then as suddenly as the thought occurred to me it left.  The logical thing to do was get with Cherry and head for the hot springs, said to have life-regenerating powers, which I certainly was in need of.

The next morning, I met Cherry at her apartment.  I looked like a backpacking fool, in a hunting cap and skiing shades.  Cherry looked like she belonged there, in Austrian hiking boots and jeans and a loose-fitting shirt.  Off we went driving up one of the valleys outside of Aspen on a wooded dirt road in Cherry’s little Datsun.  Finally a big meadow appeared and we parked.  On went the packs, Cherry’s larger and heavier than mine, and with a last glance around at the edge of civilization we hiked.

The uphill slopes began immediately – short steep ones; longer gradual grades followed by quick dips and then another steep slope, never a flat stretch.  There was a fire in my legs, pulling, straining in the thighs up through the lower back to the trapezoids yielding soreness across the shoulders, tightening in the lungs and a numbing sense of futility that the steep slopes would never end that you’d never get there.  On the rare occasions you had to walk down a small slope, the knees were pounded, hip sockets beaten until you actually looked forward to going back up again.  We walked, walked, walked until finally you entered a kind of Zen of the mountain, that you’re really up there with the elk and the grouse, crossing a creek once, twice, three times within a mile, gazing down into pools of trout.  And you walked on, past the beaver lodges stately as twig mansions in the middle of small ponds at 10,000…10,500…11,000 feet.

Up there, things really started to change.  The light crashed through softly blowing aspens landing on the grass like droplets of clear water.  Of course I was babbling away, telling tall stories about covering Bebe Rebozo and his part in Watergate, what an asshole Evel Knievel was, and Cherry listened and threw back her blonde head laughing at the folly of talking and talking and talking in a place where the only really important sound was all around us in the wind and he trees.  As we went higher, I fell into her natural silence, her easy awareness of everything around her.  I felt a lightening of my senses.  The creek, once a docile trout stream, now fell steeply over mossy rocks booming into deep pools.

This was the third extended hike Cherry had taken in as many weeks.  The week before, she went up and over a nearby pass to Crested Butte and back to Aspen again, a three day hike…by herself.  Pack up and split.  Sleep with the moon; walk with the sun.  Now she was up there not alone but with me, walking along, thumbs hooked through her pack straps, balancing across 50 foot logs crossing the stream.  Suddenly, I was right there with her in the middle of her world where the biggest worry of the day became how far below the springs we should stop for firewood because the springs are so far up there, they were above the tree line.

We stopped to rest and discussed the matter of firewood for a moment and decided we’d better gather some right then.  She took off her pack and began gathering and breaking up sticks as big around as your calf.  Collecting together a pile with some kindling, she untied her pack-flap and strapped the wood across her pack.  I did the same with mine, we put our packs on and started up again.  With the firewood across her back, she looked like either a dead bush or a miniature blonde elk.

We ended up on a flat ledge just at the top of a hundred foot waterfall and unpacked, laying out our sleeping pads and sleeping bags and getting a fire ready to light when we returned from the springs later that evening.  With that done, we walked further up the trail and finally across a low marshy slope we could see the hot springs – three indigo pools set in white scree smack dead the center of a bowl formed by a ridge and mountain peak another 2,000 feet above us.  Cherry was standing in front of me, taking in the view of the springs, legs together, just staring.  There was an aura about her, a stillness in the air behind her that was easy to slide into, comfortable.  Even though we had been friends since childhood, we were never very much alike.  I was talky, moody, impatient, restless, insistent.  Cherry was quiet, level headed, also restless with the military brat’s need to keep moving, but she took her time, liked to go with the flow as we said back then.  I had been in command of men in the Army, and what Cherry had commanded was her own body, moving it through space and time gracefully, gently, quietly and very, very prettily.

Walking with her up to the hot springs that day I discovered there was spot-weld between the extremes of our experiences, an intersection of highways through the weirdness.  What we had in common was a drive to take risks along with the constant possibility of failure.  I had been a complete failure as an Army officer, a disgrace to West Point and to my family.  When push came to shove back then, I had been somewhere else, lacking not the skills of leadership, but belief, faith that what I was doing in the Army was right.  The failure was way down deep inside me, and I learned a few things about myself in the process.  It was no mistake then, and it’s no mistake today, that I am a writer, responsible to no one but me, leading as Norman Mailer once said, an army of words across a keyboard.

For Cherry, risk-taking was skiing the backside of Bell Mountain above Aspen, totally illegal and out of bounds, cutting through powder, shooting through trees where no one else has skied, feeling the snow splashing up high on your legs, zip around this tree, play chicken with that one.  She broke a leg back there the year before and had to drag herself several hundred yards through deep powder to reach a trail that was covered by the ski patrol.  On their last patrol down the mountain before dark, two ski patrolmen found her and strapped her to a toboggan and took her down the mountain.  If she hadn’t reached the trail and they hadn’t spotted her, she would have frozen to death overnight.

Cherry turned to me:  what do you think? She asked.  The blue pools of the hot springs were like shimmering beads of sweat on the forehead of the mountain in the late afternoon sun.

You told me it would be like this, but I didn’t believe you, I said.

Cherry was a believer, a dreamer, a pure one like we all were back in the ‘60s, believing that if we all did our own thing and took responsibility for ourselves, it would somehow turn out okay.  She lived out her dreams in unique, practical ways – hiking in the high boonies; ski-touring a wilderness area for two weeks camping out in the snow; running white water on the Colorado River or the Snake River, any water that was fast and brown and mean; hiking alone to the base camp on Everest.  She did some of those things for the first time ever; she was the first licensed boatswoman in the Grand Canyon, and certainly the first woman to hike alone to the 17,000 foot high base camp on Everest.

Yet even by that afternoon at the hot springs she was on her way to becoming an anachronism, because the things she did for real were at that moment being transformed into mass-market products and were being sold by people who turned the Rocky Mountains into symbols for “freedom” and “nature.”  Back then, John Denver and Robert Redford came to mind as people who were marketing woodsiness and mountainness to the masses.  Today, there are entire industries and malls filled with the stuff.  The great outdoors has been transformed into McLuhan’s global village, and the language has taken on a new tense – future anachronistic to describe things that are over almost before they get started.  Maybe the ‘60s ended about the time it was no longer possible to be the only student in the dorm with the first album by Van Morrison and “Them;” to be the only freak in your small town; to have been one of the 400,000 at Woodstock.  Even by that time, everyone had been to at least one Woodstock, everyone owned a pair of hiking boots (albeit not Austrian-made), and almost everyone had climbed Everest.

But on that Fall afternoon high above Aspen, Colorado, we hiked up to the Conundrum hot springs because that night was a full moon, and we wanted to lie stark naked in the hot springs and watch…no, feel the full moon come up over the mountains.  So we undressed quickly before it got any colder – the temperature would plunge from around 70 to below freezing in a matter of minutes – and we jumped in.  The water was around 105 degrees, a luscious hot caress of bubbly sulfurous fingers, five feet deep with rock ledges under the water to sit on with just your head above water.  Soon three guys who had hiked over from Crested Butte were in the water along with a couple of hippies who had been camped out up there for about a week.  The seven of us settled in to await the moon, whiskey, reefer passing around the pool, the chill air filling our lungs, taking turns sitting next to a PVC pipe that carried the hot water down the slope from a higher pool, a natural Jacuzzi on a mountaintop.  A couple of hours went by, then little by little the mountainsides around us were lit up by the moon, still out of sight.  Then the light began moving down the mountainsides and it was about 100 yards away from us moving much faster, then 50 then 25 and suddenly the springs were awash in bright light, our naked bodies visible below the surface, the moon now proud and full and as white as the snow on the peaks above us.

We were speechless, overcome, paddling and splashing around the pool like a bunch of otters, grinning then yelling, screaming at the moon and the mountains.  A gigantic jolt from the sky.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had wings.  I could fly.  I’d been to the mountain and the mountain was a beautiful woman from a childhood 20 years ago and hot mineral water and moonlight and bare skin and pure joy.

A few more sips of whiskey, a few more tokes and we were out of the water into the 20 degree air, dried off and dressed and down to our camp.  We started the fire and heated up my fried chicken and cooked some pasta and sat there eating warmed by the fire listening to the waterfall crash into rocks a hundred feet below us.  Off with the clothes, into a deep sleep naked in the night warm in our down bags.  The next morning we made oatmeal and coffee and headed back up to the springs for a last daylight dip, dried off and dressed and headed off down the trail.

We hardly talked at all, just tramped along pounding the dirt, taking in the colors and wind and the constant burble of little rapids and falls along the stream.  My head was as empty and clear as a water glass.  I had always thought that turning it off and letting it flow was a bunch of hippie space cadet psychic burn-out stuff.  But hauling myself up and down that mountain crazily behind Cherry, watching her tanned muscles flicker and click in the sun, the whole thing looked different to me now.  Down at the bottom we loaded back into her Datsun and drove back into Aspen and it was over…but it wasn’t.  Something was nibbling at me so softly I could barely feel it, but I knew it was there, whatever it was.

Cherry and I hung around Aspen for a couple of days and one morning we jumped into my Dodge van and drove to San Francisco the long way, looping through every canyon and twisty stretch of road we could find on the map, stopping at night in little roadside pull-offs, making camp fires, sitting around sipping wine or whiskey or maybe a little of both, watching the stars wander by overhead.  We were gone a couple of weeks but then she had to be back in Aspen to pick up her waitress job where she had left off in the Spring and I was due back in New York to turn in the stories I had written along the way.  I had a feeling as I drove east out of Aspen headed across the passes that had become familiar to me ever since the Conundrum hot springs. I was re-charged without feeling manic and quiet without being depressed.

It was a feeling I had been chasing for the past few years, and I had managed to capture it   in hotel rooms in Tel Aviv and Beirut, in motels in Kansas and Illinois and even a room on Ursulines Street in New Orleans.  I came to think of it as the Cherry Jensen feeling, a sense of stillness in the air behind her as she walked steadily up and down the mountain.  Toward the end of that trip, I came to think of it as the time when for me the ‘60s ended and the ‘70s began.  Yet even as quiet and satisfied as I was right then, I somehow still lacked a center and wondered what if anything still counted?

Well, getting high still counted, but somehow it didn’t feel as necessary as it had before.  Chasing experience around the country and the world still counted, but I had come to realize that even the rawest most exciting events in the world had a beginning, middle, and an end.  Rock and roll still counted, but it didn’t seem as much of an elemental part of my life as it had been only a few years before.  Living fast and loose and being hip, man still counted but at what cost?  I remember crossing the George Washington Bridge and turning south toward the Village and thinking I was glad to be back in New York but I knew I had left a little piece of me out there on the road, along the creek on the mountain, next to a campfire with my head resting in Cherry Jensen’s lap.

I turned left on West 10th Street off West Street and drove a couple of blocks and there was Allen Ginsberg bouncing along the sidewalk, a big grin on his face and a bundle of pages under his arm.  I waved to him and he waved back.  Hi Lucian, he called out cheerfully.

I was home.

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  1. Mark

     /  November 16, 2012

    Read your “Phony Hero” NYT op-ed. Not that my 2 cents are worth that much but here they are for your stern gaze :

    [Note: This was originally written as a NYT comment and is, therefore, truncated to ~1500 characters. You may thank me later on that brevity count.]

    Agree on Macarthur/Patton & the-guy-suckered-into a Breach of the type caused by super-mole Robert Hanssen.

    Recall: Hanssen was the subject of the 2007 flick “Breach”, an accurate roman a clef re his role as the most destructive double-agent in US history. Much has NOT been discussed about Hanssen. His membership in the hyper-evil Vatican-approved cult, Opus Dei, segues into his 1st-day top security clearance from fellow ODer FBI Dir. Louis Freeh, handing Hanssen full access of which he took full advantage; several KGB ops went offline, ops who likely would have given a more certain heads-up to 9/11 (Hanssen was “caught”, pleaded out 7/6/01, avoiding a hat-tip trial).

    In the present trian … eh, pentagon of the director of CI (running the Pakistani secret war as well as the longest war in US history; i.e., the turf war over narco-paradiso: the Golden Crescent); the email-happy general of the Afghan theater of the absurd; Paula & Jill and the FBI guy who’s too sexy for his shirt: The fall-out isn’t so sanguine. Per the NYT: The C.I.A. is suddenly without a permanent director at a time of urgent intelligence challenges in Syria, Iran, Libya and beyond. The leader of the American-led effort to prevent a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is distracted.

    Just in time for Slaughterhouse Gaza, Next. Just in time to save Bibi from a fate worse than Romney’s.

    Doesn’t appear to be a trifle, but treason. Needs investigation from that angle … fast, much faster than w/Hanssen.

  2. Richard

     /  November 16, 2012

    I want to echo Mark. I just read yr Times op ed and I as a fellow, if far less successful writer, gotta say, I read you in the VV 40 years ago and (defying the David Byrne doctrine) you’re still making sense!

  3. NYT op ed very provocative. I wonder how much the “image” really means? Far too much, I expect.

  4. peter van dyk

     /  November 17, 2012

    thanks for two enjoyable reads … i like yourself have never felt comfortable with the most recent military brass … having grown up with vietnam, i always had the utmost respect for the grunt infantry fighters, the mikal sullivan’s of the world, the pat tillman’s.
    as for the second read, what a magical transition 60’s to … the magical west prior to MLM … it was a very beautiful myth, dream, illusion while it lasted.
    thanks again.

  5. Patrick

     /  November 17, 2012

    Thanks so much for your piece in the New York Times, effectively hoisting Petraeus on his own petard and linking Petraeus’s gross conceit with the heinous failure of our elite military leaders ever since WWII. Since these elites and their sycophantic politicians always hide behind the soldiers they send to die, it’s very hard to penetrate the delusional bubble generated by their lies and the complicity of the mainstream media. You have succeeded!

    • Thanks, Patrick. Not so hard to peer behind the curtain when you were raised in a culture where there was no curtain. Men like my grandfather were who they appeared to be…not only to the public, but to their children and grandchildren, warts and all. But I’ll accept your compliment all the same.

  6. Mr. Truscott,

    In reading the Prologue to your book/blog, I fell in love with your friend Cherry Jensen. She reminds me of my redheaded friend from high school, Lucy, and in my imagination, as I read your Prologue, Cherry began to stand in for Lucy.

    Lucy and I met in 1960, our senior year in high school, when we were in a school play together. As you say of Cherry, Lucy “was a believer, a dreamer, a pure one like we all were back in the ‘60s, believing that if we all did our own thing and took responsibility for ourselves, it would somehow turn out okay.” Because of Lucy, the ’60s for me started when we began to hang out together in our senior year..

    Here’s just one example of the kinds of things we did. Like me, she was an introvert, an intellectual nerd, good at math, and exhibited other traits that eventually led to her becoming a successful engineer. We were bored with school, and frequently skipped classes together.

    We once took off for two weeks, didn’t ask or tell anybody, just got in my car and drove from San Antonio to Galveston, where we spent most nights camping on the beach, drinking beer when we could earn enough money doing odd jobs, taking long walks in the moonlight, sometimes pointing my car toward the Gulf with the headlights on and swimming out to where we could no longer see them. Once, I lost my car keys in the sand, and she hot wired my 1950 Chevy with a bobby pin. Since the car had no radio, for entertainment, some nights I’d recite some of Keats’ poems from memory. During the day, we’d go to the public library, brush our teeth and clean up in the restroom, and then read until hunger sent us off in search of a meal. like once we went to the local Catholic church where the priest gave us each a ticket good for a meal at a cheap eatery.

    When we finally went back to school, the vice principle told us we were juvenile delinquents. Thereafter, our fun names for each other became JD1 (her) and JD2 (me).

    Thanks for putting your book on line. I’m going to love reading it.

    • That’s it, man. That’s it, and that’s all there is. All I wish for my kids, who by the way are 6, 11, and 18 just starting college, is that they have even one experience in their lives like you and I had. Just one. That’ll be enough in these years of staring into little glowing screens and flicking them with their thumbs. Just one trip to the hot springs. Just one drive up Route 17 North (keep reading the other chapters, you’ll get the reference).
      Thanks for your comment. It means one hell of a lot. It’s why I’m putting this thing online before I even sell it as a book. I want the feedback I’m getting from folks like you. So thanks again.

      • I should also have noted how much I needed to read your NY TImes article on Petraeus. I’ve felt uneasy about him for years, but never dug deeply enough to see why. Your piece nails it. I’ve posted a link to it on Facebook, and trying to temp some of my right wing FB friends, I used this soft sell: “Another point of view–Definitely worth a look.” So far, I (really you) have gotten several “likes,” including from one of my very conservative former students (In my retirement, I’m teaching at our local university).

        When I was on the NY Times site, one thing that caused me to click on the link to your article was your name and my admiring memory of reading “Dress Gray” about the time it was published.

  7. Can I join in here on the chorus of praise for your NYT piece?

    I’m old enough (62) to have early on had a boss, old Egypt hand during WWII, who picked up your “Full Dress Gray” book in the library we both worked in at the time (mid 70’s) and said, “His grandfather was a hell of a General. Should be a pretty good book.” He was right. It was.

    Haven’t thought about you since then…but finally, after seeing so much nonsense in the press (e.g., Petraeus is America’s greatest general”) well, what you had to say is so much what people need to ehar and think about.

    Between your piece and Thomas Rick’s new book maybe more of us will begin to realize we really need to reform the upper reaches of our military command.

    • Thanks for your comment. I feel like I’ve opened some kind of floodgate, like everyone suspected there was only some goofy guy behind the curtain pulling levers, as in “Alice In Wonderland,” and now here’s the evidence that was exactly what was going on. Keep reading my blob/book. You’ll find more stuff redolent of the Petraeus piece as we go along…

      • M S

         /  November 17, 2012

        Opening up floodgates means you’ve become responsible for directing the flood to do some appropriate damage.

  8. greg

     /  November 17, 2012

    looking forward to seeing what you did with that interview with general patraeus from 2003.

  9. Annie Jacobsen

     /  November 17, 2012

    I enjoyed your NYT piece on the General very much.
    —Annie Jacobsen, journalist & author.

  10. It is in the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” that Dorothy’s little dog, Toto, pulls aside a curtain to reveal that the awesome “wizard” is really a little man frantically pulling levers to create an illusion of power. However, all too often our foolish use of military power, and the puffed up image of some of our top military leaders, does remind one of “Alice in Wonderland.”

    I hope all perceive this note as just friendly effort at fact checking, from one who all too often needs such service himself. LOL

  11. Your Times piece was a breath of fresh air among all the flotsam articles extolling Petraeus as some kind of military genius. I’m retired military and met and served with a few like Petraeus, officers interested only in their own successes and the hell with the rest of us. In my view you’ve shown Petraeus for what he is: a self-aggrandizing phony. Incidentally, your description of some of our World War II generals was spot on. I have great admiration and respect for most of them.

  12. Bill Conway

     /  November 17, 2012

    Hi Lucian:
    Let’s hope that your fine “generals” piece goes wide and gets more attention than the sleaze now diverting the minds of pundits and pols.

    You mention obliquely the politicization of the battlefield as a cause of 40+ years of losses. You asked Petreus to recite his orders and got but a vague response. He wasn’t just being evasive. He was marching to a political drummer. Sure, weak generalship contributed to our dismal record in dozens of invasions. Far too often, though, obtainable victory was witheld by constraining rules of engagement concocted by politicians and their satraps in the diplomatic core. If they coulda ‘let ’em have it’, we woulda won.

    As a Platoon Leader in not too many threatening situations, I saw that syndrome in the DR way back in ’66. It seemed that each daily briefing had a new directive on what to do or not shoot. The combat stakes weren’t high there, but the meddling was endless.

    To be sure, practice restraint in populated area incursions. But politically derived limitations either on response to hostile initiatives, on lethality deployed or on the type or nature of targets certainly ties the hands of the generals and continues to create a record of militaristic futility running two generations now.

    I met you in the City the year after you got back from your neato Cherry exploration. You were living in a loft on Houston (I think) and (I also think) Carol Troy was in the picture. I thought you were squared away then; now you’ve really got it.

    Bill Conway.

    • Bill — Many thanks. Petraeus wasn’t just being evasive. He knew he was sitting there talking to someone who actually knew something about what was supposed to be going on over there, and knew if he told me he didn’t really have any legitimate combat order to “take Mosul,” that would tell me all I needed to know about the “war” he was “winning.” The conversation was even worse than depicted, for NYT space reasons. I finally extracted that nod from him after about 5 minutes of back and forth about what his orders had been, and only after I gave him his answers and asked him to nod when I hit the correct one. Bremer and the generals running things down in Baghdad couldn’t have been more clueless. I give and gave Petraeus credit for at least figuring out that dollars were as powerful as bullets in a region of the world that had been throwing out invaders back to and including Alexander and had been at war amongst themselves for more than 4,000 years. An “A” for effort anyway. My next question to him…not in the Times piece…was who gave that order? General Rove? I got a teeny smile out of him was all.
      Would you remind me how we met? My memory isn’t all that wonderful these days. You can send me messages on my facebook page, as well. — Lucian

  13. Mark

     /  November 18, 2012

    Lucian –

    like many here (all, perhaps) I just read your op-ed piece in the NY Times. This, along with “General Failure” in the Atlantic this month, is the beginning of removing the whitewash that has been applied to military leadership.

    The sad truth is that the people who excel in today’s Army are anything but warfighters. This has been true for many years.

    There is a book here, Lucian, should you pursue it; I can very nearly outline it for you –

    1) Today’s Army
    a. Risk Averse Culture
    i. Types of training that leads to (nice, easy, safe, always successful)
    ii. Effects of this on the leader
    iii. Effects of this on the enlisted soldier
    b. Who remains in the Army today?
    i. Best and brightest? Or least employable on civilian side?
    ii. What this will mean for the next war.
    iii. What this meant in Iraq
    2) The Army in Iraq
    a. Not a single failure….at least on paper
    i. Every rotation was always successful
    A. That’s a bunch of shit and we all know it
    B. Where’s the truth anymore?
    I. Who tells it?
    II. Who understands it when it’s told?
    III. Does it even matter (see effect on next war)
    C. Why can’t it be told (career ending, that’s why.)
    ii. So after 8 years of non-stop “success” in Iraq…
    A. Conditions at the time of our leaving
    I. That should pretty much speak for itself as far as actual “success”
    B. Can we admit anything to ourselves yet about our involvement?
    iii. So…what does this mean for Afghanistan?
    3) The Army in Afghanistan
    a. Same people in charge, same bullshit and lies
    i. Strangely enough…every rotation since invasion a success…yet…
    A. Truth on the ground today (See the COL Daniel L. Davis who threw his career away for this part (and has my unending respect))
    B. Truth on the ground before now
    C. Do we actually have reason to believe there’s hope?
    I. Nope. The leadership has no incentive to kick Americans out; the longer we stay, the richer they get.
    II. You can’t force a nation that isn’t culturally ready into democracy.
    b. No real hope for change
    i. There’s no accountability, and every rotation’s a success anyway…and the risky people left or got booted a long time ago…so—–mediocrity and status quo

    4) America asleep
    a. Time to start paying attention again…time for journalists to start doing actual reporting and ignoring this culture of hero worship
    i. Starting with the groundbreaking, revealing new book by Lucian K. Truscott IV

    Sound good? I’ll try to help.


  14. Bruce Meissner

     /  November 18, 2012

    Mr. Truscott-

    I read your op- Ed piece at tonight, and was curious to open and read all that you have written here so far. While I don’t write for a living, I had intended to sit down and write a bit this evening, but you’ve managed to throw that train from the tracks. I thought, at first, that I was getting more HST, and at the end what I’m finding is more Wallace Stegner.

    Really great stuff, and not just the Times piece. I read writing like yours, or Stegner, or Helprin, and it inspires me to curl up in a dark corner, cursing the talent that will never flow my own soul.

    Well done. Looking forward to more of this.

    Bruce Meissner

  15. Karenna

     /  November 18, 2012

    In which recent war has there been an order to take anything. Perhaps you need to redefine what success is in the wars of late and move beyond the historical context of warfare.

    • Well, there was certainly an order to “take Baghdad,” for example. The “taking” of Baghdad was celebrated ad nauseum over and over in coverage of the toppling of Saddam’s statute, and then celebrated once again in early May 2003 when our then “commander in chief” Geo. W. Bush celebrated “mission accomplished.” The problem was, they forgot to take the rest of the country, forgot to force a surrender under any sort of terms much less unconditional, and forgot to collect the arms of the defeated army, and forgot to secure the ammunition depots of the defeated army. Result: heavily armed, well motivated insurgency in an undefeated country we went about occupying with a total force that wasn’t adequate for Baghdad itself. Remember shock and awe? Remember the “electronic battlefield”? When was the last time you heard of that? Neither Iraq or Afghanistan are or were wars under any classical definition of the term. They were, like Vietnam, occupations of undefeated nations. The fact that these “wars,” all three of them, cost the United States loss of lives…in the case of Vietnam, 58,000 of them…and the foreign nations countless numbers of lost lives, doesn’t any more make them wars than the fact that guns were used in all three conflicts. The same guns by both sides, by the way…electronic battlefield be damned. We used the M-16 or variations thereof, the M-240, a variation of the M-60 machine gun, and the M-79 grenade launcher, the 81 mm mortar, the 105 Howitzer. All three nations, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan forces used the AK-47, the RPG, the standard Russian equivalent of our M-60, and largely the hand-held 60 mm mortar. And booby-trapped explosive devices were used in Vietnam, and re-named and re-purposed for Iraq and Afghanistan as IED’s.

  16. Dear Mr. Truscott,

    Thanks for the fine article about Petraeus.
    I do want to add an historical addition.
    Our first “strutting military peacock” was
    Winfield Scott, I think many would say.
    Andrew Jackson had his own version
    of psychopathology but was not so
    visually apparent.

    Ever yours
    Bob Eisenberg

    Bard Prof. & Chairman
    Dept of Molecular Biophysics
    Rush University Medical Center
    Chicago IL 60612

  17. As above

     /  November 18, 2012


    Your Times Op-Ed piece was great, if for no other reason that it has made me aware of your blovel, which I intend to start reading at once.

    You’re right – Dave started out as a first-class nerd and may in fact give new meaning to that term. Don’t mean to be cruel to her, but only an insecure wimp would have married Holly.

    On the other hand, at least he didn’t fall for an utter nutcase like Carol Troy. (Insert smiley emoticon here.)

    Tom Benghauser

    PS Did she ever tell you about the time she “interviewed” Wilt the Stilt?

  18. juju

     /  November 18, 2012

    Took the liberty of posting this in the FB Group Friends of Aspen from the 1960’s and 1970s, where the cocaine, Conundrum, Hotel Jerome bar triad was a familiar and beloved pathway, and where your piece is much appreciated. Thanks for the piece on Petraus — to bad Obama was suckered in.

    • Boy would I love to be in on some of the discussions of friends of Aspen. Tell me how to get on the group, and I’ll join. Glad you liked the chapter in the book. Those were incredible days.

      • juju

         /  November 18, 2012

        ack– I meant of course “too” bad — hate typos like that.
        Anyhow, I believe for the FB group you just locate it in the FB search bar and ask to join — “Friends of Aspen from the 1960’s-70’s.” Lots of great photos — for most who were there some of the best days of their lives.

  19. Why did you decide to write your book on a blog? why not self publish? or get published? I just found you on the NYTimes Op-Ed page. Loved your article. I am a no-nothing about the military but Patreaus never did it for me becuz of the outcome in Iraq so when he argued that we should stay in Afghanistan…that did it for me. He was just trying to keep his job. At seems to me that anyone that knows anything about Afghanistan knows it is a hopeless cause.

  20. bj duncan

     /  November 18, 2012

    Really liked both your NYTimes oped and the blovel. Loved the blovel touchbacks to the Village Voice of old. Wish the NYTimes had accepted comments on your piece since I suspect hundreds would have chimed in; not everyone wants to react to Mad Maureen every week.. .Not knowing much about the military, i have many questions but just a couple. What is the point of lionizing generals who haven’t accomplished much by military standards–is it just to extend our national biography of the exceptional nation? Are our presidents who have never served–recently, Clinton, Bush and Obama–more vulnerable to this sort of hagiographic approach? Sort of since there’s never a good war, show me a good man instead?

    • I think all Presidents of late have been intimidated by the generals, and I would include in this both Bushes, Reagan, Obama and Clinton. Being a general has now become a “tenured” position. Once there, nobody can get you out, and your buddies protect you and your career. It’s pretty depressing.

    • bj, I think you are right about presidents who never served in the military being more likely to be impressed or intimidated by generals than those of us who did serve (six years in submarines, ’63-69 here). We lived side by side, often in tight quarters and under trying conditions with officers who would eventually become admirals and generals, and we saw their feet of clay, as well as their strengths, up close and personal. And we know that just because they aer older when they achieve flag rank, they are still just human like the rest of us.

      I really appreciate your post and all the other thought provoking ones here that add to Mr. Turscott’s excellent NY Times article.

      And I like your “Mad Maureen” nickname at least as much as one of the Bush’s “The Cobra” for Ms. Dowd.

  21. Tom Fitzpatrick

     /  November 18, 2012

    The NYTimes piece was a bold piece of writing that settled many questions for me over this sordid affair. Thank you. All my lessons about military culture were given me by a former Special Forces Major in my post-grauate years. He talked at length about the difference between real soldiers and peacocks. He was not willing to concede Vietnam was a debacle where he honorably served three tours but he certainly felt politics had compromised the military. I hope someone brave enough will investigate the circumstances which lead to this compromise of values but it looks like McCain has prevented that with his contrived outrage over Rice. That will occupy Washington over the coming weeks while the real problems will continue to be ignored.

  22. Harry

     /  November 18, 2012

    Your Op Ed in the NYT shows you for the douche bag you are.

    • Go read someone else more to your liking. The Fox website is up, I understand. You should find a lot of opinions you agree with there.

    • Just occured to me, “Harry,” that you’re pretty free with your opinions hiding back there behind your anonymity. How about having an opinion out loud, in the open, for a change?

  23. Wow, great story — I hope you’ll post it on the FB page. My parents moved to Aspen in the 50’s when things were really cheap, and chose between two properties, one of which was where the music school ended up. I grew up on Maroon Creek, below the golf course and Red Butte, looking up at Highlands, my second home. And (mis)spent most of my childhood hanging out with with hippies from the Tyrolean and Cortina and going to bars with at least 3 fake IDs which didn’t fool anyone, but nobody cared. A friend used to babysit Juan Thompson who, I was told, liked to light paper airplanes and throw them from my friend’s house through the neighbor’s window. One of my brother’s girlfriends left him for Hunter, who was also involved with her sister. And so on. Really enjoying your writing — hope you’ll share these stories with the FB folks. Joan

    • I put in to join the Friends of Aspen facebook group but haven’t been accepted yet. Soon as I am, I’ll post that story and a few more. Some good ones. My first Aspen Xmas was ’66. That’s a while ago.

  24. Wolf

     /  November 18, 2012

    Lovely piece in the NYT.
    Pretty brave posturing from someone I somehow know was never in the military.
    Keep on writing ‘hero’
    ~ It is the part of cowardice, not of courage, to go and crouch in a hole under a massive tomb, to avoid the blows of fortune. Montaigne

  25. thom

     /  November 18, 2012

    loved your nytimes’ piece, about time somebody said that, but why do they have to run such obvious commentary only after Petraeus has committed public suicide and therefore is no longer a live round?

    and it was especially good to get this from someone who has been around the man, because all the government suits and public officials only had one move on G.P. They fawned.

    next subject: so what was since Korea has the military been successful at or was worth fighting, dying and spending on?

    I can’t think of any — but then I’m a draft dodger. I was too aware in ’68 to sacrifice my life for the sake of their bs.

  26. Boris Fishman

     /  November 19, 2012

    Sir, I have no problem with what you said in your op-ed but I have every problem imaginable with how you said it. Dime-store psychologizing with zero evidence other than an imperceptible nod (!) a decade ago. (I, too, spent time with David Petraeus and the 101st Airborne in 2003 and came away with very different conclusions.) Your unsupported piece, which nothing in its contents or bio demonstrated your qualification to write, was disgraceful. Petraeus may be calculating, but the cheap, imperious, below-the-belt vitriol you heaped on him? What is your evidence other than your own flawless mind? What war have you fought or, for that matter, studied? Or is your great-grandfather your primary credential? I don’t understand what Times editor (a publication I also write for) let you get away with that piece. It was shameful to read.

    • Gee, Boris, why don’t you use the internet and “google” my name and see what you come up with. It’s too bad Petraeus let you down, huh?

    • thom

       /  November 19, 2012

      Boris, baby, I’m wondering if you are a self righteous fuddy duddy or have a valid perspective. And since I’ve never been around G.P., I have to rely on what I’ve read. They say, for a modern general, he was smarter and better educated than most — but then why would he extend unwinnable wars, that was always the disconnect. As Seymour Hersh told me in 2003, “there’s no win there.” On the other hand maybe most of what we do in America is delusional log rolling, and graded on a curve, he wasn’t as terrible or dangerous as others. From what I’ve read, MacArthur, was an ass but also a terrific soldier. And the general most respected, George Marshal, I don’t think any of his higher ups (especially FDR and Truman) thought it was worth risking him in combat.

      Re the preeners and sticklers.

      At the University of Washington we had a coach who would have been a terrific general, named Don James, who was done in by effete reporters over virtually nothing, who then championed a coach with a superficial career in the military, who talked discipline, order, etc. like a humorless preacher, because he could not grasp the essentials like talent, advantages, strategy. His name, I think, was Willingham — & he was chosen for the color of his skin rather than the content of his character. This dunderhead managed to have losing seasons every year and even a perfect losing season the last time he was cashing his two million annual compensation.

      Now he plays golf with an even more repulsive stuffed shirt — Condoleeza.

      To me the worst characteristic of such people, be they Donald Haig, Wastemoremen, Woodrow Wilson or whomever, is their insufferable self righteousness.

      But what also bothers me about this whole affair is that G.P’s fall was not caused by the waste of money, men, time, national priorities but because he became human enough to succumb to the charms of a young woman.

      If adultery had been grounds for military dismissal during World War 2, the Blue Angel, Marlene, would have singlewomanly wiped out most of the Allied command.

  27. David Hall

     /  November 19, 2012

    Nice NYT piece on Petraeus, and better on the political machine that has supported him and others, and even better the link to your blog book, Never spent much time out west, but met a lot of west people in the Keys in the early 70’s–days of coke & roses, etc–after an escape from 5 yrs in NYC playing an overdressed asshole at 40 Wall St (things you do in your early 20’s). Hunter T. going looney at a really scumbag bar in Key West (they deserved it), and perhaps my best meet with Jim Harrison at Louie’s Backyard bar–a writer I really like. Memories & fun; I really should have punched this snotty UVA guy in the face over an argument on Joyce at my Phd orals (Joyce wasn’t a big enough hero for me), but just as well as it took me back to the Appalachian mountains, my first love (before and after 2 wives), and where I love now. Look forward to more of your fun story, Lucien, nice to meet you.. Just noticed the “love” vs “live”…let the ‘love’ stand. .

    • It’s sure nice to hear from someone who “gets it.” You pretty much summed up why I’m writing the book. It’s more than fond memories. It’s a time gone past.

  28. Jim Sweeney

     /  November 19, 2012

    for “frames of Cyprus”, I think you meant “frames of cypress,” unless the frames were made from the island in the Aegean.

    Found your surprising comments about Petraeus very interesting.

  29. Cathie Harrison

     /  November 19, 2012

    Okay, you’ve convinced me in your NYT article that the Emperor has no clothes. (I’m not sure that the WWII generals did either, though.) And kudos to you for your awareness of the family programming that drives you. Most people – myself included – tend to overlook it, along with societal programming, thinking individuality comes for free. I guess I’m curious whether you ever discovered a “center” or, to put it differently, a ‘you’ that exists beyond that collective programming. The title suggests not, but chapter 12 seems mildly hopeful. Enough to keep me reading.

  30. Yr piece on Gen P was right on target, both about he and the generals’ culture of self promotion, but also a commentary on our wasted efforts in useless wars in recent and past years in which Americans were sent to useless and senseless deaths by politicos who were urged on by look good in the shower generals who saw the wasted wars as a means to stroke their own hubris.

  31. I study military history, so it’s great to come to this reading, knowing such a name is related directly to the writer….good goings…

  32. Jerry Querns

     /  November 19, 2012

    Lucian, Just read your blovel and wish there was more. I, too, was an army/airforce brat with military connections running through West Point to my great grandfather. You put into words many common experiences including the continual losses (for me starting with the death in combat of my father in Korea to best friends and girlfriends throughout our formative years due to the consistency of reassignments). But I did not fall for the call to duty and instead opted out at vietnam. I just didn’t realize until I read your piece that I had become so good at leaving. I enjoyed your imagery and was reminded of my introspective mind altering times in the hot springs of the Jemez Mountains in NM, driving the mountains on the way down to frisco, skiing in Switzerland during highschool, ROTC and drill core, and interesting times in NYC at the village. Your perspective of current political conditions are well received. Thanks and carry on. Jerry Q.

  33. I was very interested in your NYT piece and also this chapter of your novel. I’ve become a follower. THANKS for posting it. This may be out of place in a military-minded forum, but I was on the Golden Gate Bridge a month or so ago when a pretty big group of Muslims marched past with signs protesting events in Syria and deriding Obama. Later, I asked the Syrian owner of my local corner store what they expect Obama to do there. He shook his head hopelessly and said we’d make a lot more progress in the Middle East by building hospitals and schools and forgetting about the guns. I agree. These people are hungry. Feed them and the local terrorist organizations will lose power. I’ve read the reason parents send their children to the terrorist-run indoctrination camps/schools is because their children are fed there.

  34. NYT article: good stuff except the de rigueur dissing of bygone war ethic. Isn’t that the very problem with today’s military, i.e., wanting it both ways?

    • I don’t see how I “dissed” the bygone war ethic. Bood in their eyes and military murder on their minds is how wars were won, back when a war was a war and not an occupation of an undefeated nation.

  35. great NY Times story….

  36. blair sabol

     /  November 20, 2012

    one of the best pieces YOU ever wrote!!! So it has come to Generals and Bravo Housewives. The Voice wouldnt even run a story this pathetic.

    • Oh, my god, Blair! Thank you! I’d love to hear what you think of “Dying of a Broken Promise.” You will recognize some of the people in up-coming chapters, such as Lombardi, Ward, Peggy Kerry and others…

  37. j. schott

     /  November 20, 2012

    Mister Truscott:

    Though you and your family certainly have given more of your lives to military matters I must disagree with your thesis about attention to dress as a litmus test for the effectiveness of general officers. Carlo D’Este wrote a compelling argument about George Patton’s unsurpassed warmaking ability. Yet General Patton was at least as concerned about his own appearance as any officer before or since his time. He practiced his facial expressions in the mirror to make his speeches more fierce. While making the transition from Cavalry to Tank Corps Patton even had prototype uniforms for the tankers tailored at his personal expense. He sought to create the elan of the Cavalry in the new tank formations. Patton was also notoriously concerned, as an indicator of discipline, about the appearance of all those who served in his command. He put stock in appearance, but not for its own sake.

    The real difference, it seems to me, between generals then and generals now is the same difference between the general population then and now. During the Second World War both citizens and soldiers were asked and told to do more with less. The ‘Truscott Trot’ is one fine example of how they all did it – more distance in less time with fewer steps.

    Today we and our generals do not face the hard choices that were common to our forebearers. Nowadays the select few who go out and sit in the mud with their rifles are the only ones hardened up by the heat. It is harder to decide, since I am too old to serve in our nation’s military but do have three children, if that is a good thing or not. Safe to say though that ‘General Petraeus – Genius for War’ will not be written anytime soon.

    Respectfully yours:

    J. Schott

  38. you got me at holed up with gin & tonics and cocaine.. crushing on you i am..

    • There was some shit going on back then, huh? Wait until you read the chapter on Bill Graham — chapter 8. One of my favorite people in the whole world.
      Or chapter three — with an actual tape trascript of a night Hunter and I were running around doing weird shit. Buckle up.

  39. Brian

     /  November 20, 2012

    Good morning. I was up at 5:45 because I stopped drinking 3 months ago and I was reading the digital Times, and somehow, I was led up a mountain with a woman. I have a broken heart, and I thought I was being led to it’s healing. I had read in the Times today about a drug for post-traumatic stress and was hopeful that “Dying Of A Broken Heart” would finish my therapy. It hasn’t, but I haven’t left the house in 8 days, and it was nice to walk forward in my morning dreams, rather than back in despair. I’ll take this as a pre-healing for the next 15 hours; my friend and former teacher from college is 92 and I am about to bring him his first pills and breakfast and explain to him who we are.
    He was a cryptographer in SHAEF and was in all theaters of The War according to his discharge papers. He has a story of an officer who complimented him when my he refused to send a seemingly frivolous message through the SIGABA machine concerning a need for Ovaltine. It wasn’t really Ovaltine.
    I carry his memories for him. I’m 35 years younger and someday I shall climb to hot springs. Thank you for your work, I have been led away for a couple hours by such things as your usage of the word ‘invariably’ which my buddy’s late partner, who was my English teacher, first used in my life. If not for these 2 men, I wouldn’t be nestled in Connecticut, feeding peanuts to named squirrels I pretend to recognize. I call them all ‘Mister Squirrel’.

  40. Brian

     /  November 20, 2012

    (Properly edited for my earlier typos, thank you)

    Good morning. I was up at 5:45 because I stopped drinking 3 months ago and I was reading the digital Times, and somehow, I was led up a mountain with a woman. I have a broken heart, and I thought I was being led to it’s healing. I had read in the Times today about a drug for post-traumatic stress and was hopeful that “Dying Of A Broken Heart” would finish my therapy. It hasn’t, but I haven’t left the house in 8 days, and it was nice to walk forward in my morning dreams, rather than back in despair. I’ll take this as a pre-healing for the next 15 hours; my friend and former teacher from college is 92 and I am about to bring him his first pills and breakfast and explain to him who we are.
    He was a cryptographer with SHAEF and was in all theaters of The War according to his discharge papers. He has a story of an officer who complimented him when he refused to send a seemingly frivolous message through the SIGABA machine concerning a need for Ovaltine. It wasn’t really Ovaltine.
    I carry his memories for him. I’m 35 years younger and someday I shall climb to hot springs. Thank you for your work, I have been led away for a couple hours by such things as your usage of the word ‘invariably’ which my buddy’s late partner, who was my English teacher, first used in my life. If not for these 2 men, I wouldn’t be waiting patiently in Connecticut, feeding peanuts to named squirrels I pretend to recognize. I call them all ‘Mister Squirrel’.

  41. Bob Burns

     /  November 20, 2012

    Mr. Truscott.

    Thanks for your brilliant op/ed piece in the NYT on Petraeus. I’m no military man, by a long shot, but I sensed the same thing in him that you so ably put into words. There was always something inauthentic in that man that I could not put my finger on. Too much brass and too many campaign ribbons (about to summit his shoulder and proceed to the back of his tunic?). Too glib in front of committees.

    Most of all, the obvious wreckage and carnage which are now Iraq and Afghanistan. And here he is, done in by the most common sin if them all.

  42. VikingBezerker

     /  November 20, 2012

    “Truscott is a West Point graduate with a famous name–his grandfather, Lucian Truscott Jr., was a notable general in World War II. Truscott IV, to judge by his preening description of himself, has rather less achievements to his name; he did not last long in the army and has made a career as a freelance writer and screenwriter, often sniping at the military establishment. He is apparently so in thrall to his grandfather and his contemporaries that he seems to think that no modern general can possibly measure up. “Iraq wasn’t a real war at all,” he sneers, which will come as news to the thousands of Americans killed there and the tens of thousands injured.

    Then he attacks Petraeus for supposedly not leading “his own Army to win anything even approximating a victory in either Iraq or Afghanistan,” which rather ignores that Petraeus actually did deliver something close to victory in Iraq under extremely difficult circumstances in 2008–only to have his achievements squandered by the Obama administration. As for Afghanistan, he set the campaign on a course toward success even if he was not given the time–or resources–to see it through to as successful a conclusion as the campaign in Iraq.

    Truscott continues: “It’s not just General Petraeus. The fact is that none of our generals have led us to a victory since men like Patton and my grandfather, Lucian King Truscott Jr., stormed the beaches of North Africa and southern France with blood in their eyes and military murder on their minds.” It seems that Patton and old man Truscott “were nearly psychotic in their drive to kill enemy soldiers and subjugate enemy nations”; they “chewed nails for breakfast, spit tacks at lunch and picked their teeth with their pistol barrels,” while “General Petraeus probably flosses.”

    There is more of this same risible name-calling, including the truly astonishing claim that Petraeus is too concerned with his personal appearance (“never has so much beribboned finery decorated a general’s uniform”)–as if Petraeus were remotely in the same league as Patton who was known for his riding breeches, highly polished helmet, and ivory-handled pistols.

    I search in vain for a serious point here. There is none. Rather this is sheer animus against Petraeus animated by runaway nostalgia for the Greatest Generation, which ignores the fact that most wars before and since World War II could not be ended by marching on the enemy’s capital to demand unconditional surrender. Where, after all, is the capital of the Taliban or al-Qaeda in Iraq? Petraeus and the troops under his command did extremely well in dealing with in dealing with a more diffuse enemy that could not simply be pounded into submission with massive firepower because he did not wear a uniform or control a well-defined territory.

    “Guerrilla war is more intellectual than a bayonet charge,” T.E. Lawrence said. Petraeus was smart enough, dedicated enough, and capable enough to rise to the challenge of understanding and fighting that type of war. In the annals of counterinsurgency he is one of the all-time greats. Now, as payback for a lifetime of service, he gets insulted by sideline spitballers like Lucian Truscott IV.”


  43. Kathleen

     /  November 20, 2012

    LOVED your essay on General Petraeus in the NY Times on November 18. It hasbeen nauseating watching the media toady up to this man, completingly forgetting the duty of the press to critique and investigate, rather than lionize the military establishment. You are the voice of sanity, showing the emperor has NO clothes, even if he dons a heavily metallic uniform.
    What an insult these leaders are to the young men and women who fight, endure injuries, and return home with PTSD – when they return at all.


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