THOMAS E. Ricks, the author of "The Great Society in Camouflage," in this month's issue, is not an armchair correspondent. In his four years as the Pentagon reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Ricks has lived with the Army, the Navy, and the Marines on four continents. When he took the job, in 1992, the conventional wisdom was that the big story of the coming years would be the American military's post-Cold War downsizing. In fact a bigger story has been the intense pace of U.S. military deployments for peacekeeping and other purposes in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. Ricks found himself on night patrol in the Horn of Africa one week, flying onto aircraft carriers in the Adriatic another, hooking up with Special Forces in the Caribbean a third -- all the while covering the Pentagon's policy developments and bureaucratic wars back home.
Ricks, forty-one, is a 1977 graduate of Yale University; he lived for several years in Afghanistan and Hong Kong before committing himself to a career in journalism. He has worked in various capacities at the Journal since 1982, but his curiosity about the military goes back to a two-year stint (1979 - 1980) as an editor at The Wilson Quarterly, whose editor in chief, Peter Braestrup, had been a Marine during the Korean War and the Saigon bureau chief for The Washington Post before and after the Vietnam War's Tet offensive. "I'd been interested in covering the military ever since I worked for, and argued with, Peter," Ricks says. "The U.S. military today is probably the largest institution in the country that is generally misunderstood. It also provides a useful way to look at the two big social questions in America -- race and class."
How does the U.S. military establishment take shape? How do today's
soldiers get to be the way they are? These are questions that Ricks has
long pursued -- and they lie at the heart of his article. They are also
the focus of his recently completed book, which follows a group of raw
Marine recruits from their arrival in the middle of the night at boot camp
on Parris Island, South Carolina, through their first full year as members
of the United States Marine Corps. How is it, Ricks wanted to know, that
we can have the smartest, most competent soldiers in the world -- and we do
-- at a time when American teenagers are widely seen as flesh-and-blood
reifications of Beavis and Butthead? Ricks's book Making the Corps
will be published next fall by Scribner.
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; December 1996; 77 North Washington Street; Volume 278, No. 6; page 4.