Every Man a Tiger, Tom Clancy & Chuck Horner (ret.)

Putnam, 1999, 564 pages, C$39.99 hc, ISBN 0-399-14493-5

Tom Clancy may or may not have written any part of this book (it’s getting hard to tell with the spin-offs, sequels, computer games, recurring allegations of ghostwriting and substantial dip in quality), but his name certainly figures large on the cover. This second tome in the so-called “Command” series ends up combining the mass-market appeal of the Clancy brand with a detailed military study, once again bringing a highly specialized account to wider audiences. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the first volume, Into the Storm (by Clancy and Fred Franks) but if the second volume it still not quite perfect, it’s a great deal more interesting than its predecessor.

Part of this appeal is Horner himself, a retired fighter/bomber pilot with plenty of tales to tell. From training to a difficult tour of duty in Vietnam to the dark era of the American armed forces to its rebirth through the eighties and its ultimate success during the Gulf War, Franks makes a sympathetic hero. His stories give a good idea of the life of a pilot during that time, and also serve as a key to understand the transformation of the US Air Force from Vietnam to Kuwait.

This mini-biography takes nearly the first third of the book, and it’s essential in setting up what follows. The Gulf War, in some respects, was the first computerized war. In this case, however, the important things are not the computers, but the things now made possible through them. Coordinated sorties. Inter-forces communications. Precision bombing. Instantaneous battlefield monitoring. Lightning-fast supply lines. Unbelievable logistical feats. The Gulf War was also unprecedented in that air power effectively filled the role of ground forces in “plinking” the opposing land army, reducing their ability to fight well before the army got in action.

The bulk of Every Man a Tiger offers a description of the Gulf War from Horner’s point of view as one of the allied commanders, with an obvious emphasis on air power. Gulf War buffs will relish the level of detail offered here, from logistical issues to anecdotes and step-per-step progress of the air campaign. Horner isn’t shy at telling what worked and what didn’t: He particularly singles out the search-and-rescue operations as deficient during the air campaign, and lucidly explains the reasons for this problem.

Through it all, Horner comes across as a model soldier, a man who’s aware of the painful necessity of war, and the need for multilateral cooperation. His sense of humour comes through clearly, and so does his understanding of the constraints in which he operated. There are poignant passages in the book in which he professes his admiration for Arab culture and explains the sacrifices made by the American military forces to include as many allies as possible in their decision process. While it has become fashionable, in these days of the Bush administration, for non-Americans to decry the military might of the United States, it’s easy to forget that the real issue here is the political leadership and not the military forces. Men like Chuck Horner only represent a most admirable professionalism, and professionalism is exactly what we need from them.

In fact, one of the unexpected treats of Every Man a Tiger is the meticulous description of the political decision-making behind the American intervention in Saudi Arabia and, eventually Kuwait. Horner was lucky enough to be a fly on the wall during some of the crucial top-level meetings, and it’s fascinating to see the ways in which military power is approved, and then how the military itself arranges to deliver this power. (It’s also somewhat unremarkable to notice many of the names which would later star in Gulf War II: Iraq Invasion. Hello Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz…)

All in all, while this second volume can’t escape a certain trivial dreariness, it’s a somewhat better effort than the frequently-dull Into the Storm. Horner benefits from a bird’s eye perspective on the Gulf War (literally) and this perspective, coupled with a good flow of anecdotes and personal recollections, make this one of the best books yet written on that particular conflict.

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