A VERY SPECIAL EDITION OF READING WITH XIPHOS: THE PROFESSION BY STEVEN PRESSFIELD

profession
Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”          George Orwell

Corollary observation by Xiphos: What the hell is the problem with getting paid beau coup dinero for letting people do that?

Before I begin the actual review portion of this article I have to make some statements for the record so you understand where I am coming from in the meat and potatoes part of the review. First, I am big Steven Pressfield fan. I have reviewed a number of his works on WOTM including, Gates of Fire, The Afghan Campaign and Killing Rommel. Dude usually gets it right so keep that in mind for later.

Secondly, I have no real problem (more on my exact complaint further on) with Private Military Contractors (hence forth referred to as “PMCs”). They do a lot of good work like stopping wars in Africa and keeping the peace in Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia. They also are technological and tactical idea factories. By this time next year I’ll probably be working for one. Further, I should have been working for one since 2007 if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m a stupid ass and choked on dopey pride and useless obstinacy that the scumbag Navy shouldn’t shitcan me and other injured Marines for being injured. I would have had a cushy and a very well paying recruitment/vetting job while I recuperated. Along with the job I would have also received a substantial combat signing bonus even though I wouldn’t have been able to deploy for a year. In short

I • AM • AN • IDIOT

Lastly, I have taken business, accounting (though Pillows is the acknowledged pro in this department) and economic courses plus I have read a lot in all three areas so keep that in mind for later on, it figures into my analysis of the book.

Okay everybody good to go? Questions? No? Good. Let’s light the fires and kick the tires on this bitch.

MCMAP1insignia
The Profession is set 20 years in the future and deals with PMCs working for a company called Force Insertion, the largest private military corporation in the world. In this future, the world is going crazy. A radiological weapon was deployed at the Port of Long Beach in California (To be honest I wouldn’t know how you could tell. That dump looks like it was nuked years ago and it’s full of mutant looking motherfuckers. To be fair though that is LA in general.) The third Iran-Iraq war just ended and Iran is already getting antsy and with China’s backing, they are making moves. Russia and the Turks are on the verge of going to war in the Caspian basin and Saudi Arabia managed to quell a major rebellion. Because of the fierce maelstrom engulfing the world, FI is beloved by Multinationals for securing oilfields, installations and employees all over the world. According to the book Force Insertion “employs powerful, cutting-edge mercenary armies to control global chaos and protect their riches.” Force Insertion are to the Merc world what Siemens, Halliburton or that huge Chinese multinational are to corporations. What that means is FI is top of the food chain and entirely diversified. They have ground troops, armor, artillery, fixed and rotary wing assets and Naval sections. FI also has even larger support sections like technology, economics, engineers, intelligence, teachers, translators and medical staffs, etc. The contractors are drawn from all over the world.

FI was built by disgraced former Marine Lt. General James Salter who is one of the main characters in the book. Salter is a strategic, tactical and political genius and has that rare leadership gift of getting his fighters to follow him to the gates of hell and beyond. Salter’s gifts have led him to winning wars and peace. Unfortunately he also pulled a MacArthur and rattled the nuclear saber with China and let a massacre by local tribes “happen” in East Africa. For those actions Salter was stripped of command, lost his rank and was kicked out of the Marine Corps. Salter is an amalgamation of many people from history including but not limited to Caesar, Hannibal, MacArthur, Patton, Themistocles and others. I believe though the true basis for this character is Marine Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, the current commander of US Central Command.

Gen Mattis ltrMattis, who should have been the commandant of the Marine Corps and not the fly boy we have now, got fucked over by former Commandant Hagee (on whose name I spit. Welcome to the club, now you know how we felt getting fucked by that scumbag) The reason he got screwed was for this true and accurate statement he made “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.” (Before everybody gets their panties in a knot and starts to ride side saddle on their high horse, go read the entire quote in context and others he made. The man is quite intelligent and understands the world quite well.) The reason I think the character of Salter is based on Mattis is due to the letter he sent to the tribal leaders in the 1st MARDIV AO in Iraq after the invasion in 2003. It’s one of the greatest letters written by a war leader ever and shows just how much Mattis understands the mentality of Tribal people (and by extension Salter). This is what he sent, “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.” Most listened and the ones in Fallujah that didn’t learned, much to their detriment, that Mattis keeps his word. You don’t mess with the warrior monk.

SOI_bootslogoThe story in The Profession is told through former Marine Gilbert “Gent” Gentilhomme who was a protégé of Salter’s in the Marines. Gent, as he is known, is one hell of an operator. Tough, ballsy, smart, quick thinking and cares about his men. He’s very loyal to his men and his commander and that loyalty really screws him. Salter asks him to do a favor (for considerable financial remuneration) and deliver a briefcase to a former First Lady of the United States who is stag Hunting in Scotland. From there Gent and his team get caught up in a brutal game of political intrigue (and fights) which the end goal is for Salter to become the President of the United States. Gent has to fight against his own instincts for loyalty in order to stop Salter from achieving his objective and extracting revenge on those that had wronged him. Yes I’m being deliberately vague here. There would be a lot ruined if I went into detail and plan on reading the book.

So by now I figure everybody is wondering, is it a good book? I’ll go ahead and answer that right now. Unfortunately, I’m sad to say, overall no, it isn’t. It’s really a tale of two halves and below I’ll go into why.

THE GOOD: This will be a short section. Like all of Pressfield’s works, it is exhaustively researched. The tactics, history, politics and technology are all up to snuff. The action scenes are well written, cogent and plausible. Pressfield, for a guy who’s never been in a fight (he was a Marine in the 60s but was never in combat as far as I know), understands the most inviolate rule of combat which is, war is like fire, it goes where it wants and consumes everything in it’s path. Pressfield also has an innate sense for combat geography which nearly all authors lack.

Pressfield’s true gift though is he completely understands the internal complexities that make men want to test their mettle in war. Pressfield can hear and comprehend the cry of the warrior like almost no other civilian author (and many servicemen for that matter) I have ever known of. Pressfield recognizes that the kid on patrol, probing for contact in Helman province, nervously wiping his hand on his utilities to get a better grip on the hand guard of his M4 carbine is no different from the Spartan in the phalanx, with his shield held at high port nervously gripping his the shaft of his spear as the Spartans advance in battalion front to carve up their foes. Technology, tactics and objectives have changed but the warrior is eternal and unbowed by time.Fighting men come from an unbroken line of brothers that stretches from the dawn of time to the unfathomable future where time ends. Pressfield understands this and gets it right in all his books.

Lastly, it was good to see that Pressfield kept his writing preference of using a mentor/mentee situation as the core of the story. The relationship between Gent and Salter is the cement that binds the story together. Without the father/son relationship between Salter and Gent being as strong as it was, the choices both characters make wouldn’t have nearly the same impact. Gent’s pain at what he experiences at the hands of Salter because of his affection for him is palpable.

Honor
THE BAD: Before starting this section you might want to use the head, make a delicious sandwich and get a beverage of your choice. This might be long.

First, the story is very choppy. Usually Pressfield’s words flow like fine Irish Whiskey on a cool October night. In The Profession he breaks up the story with long ultra detailed descriptions of weapons, vehicles, technology, tactics, politics and anything else that strikes his fancy. I think the problem here is that he is working outside his usual history bubble. In The Profession, Pressfield is working in the future with modern weapons and technology, essentially he is in the Tom Clancy “techno” thriller land and I don’t think he’s that comfortable there yet. The other choice he made was to jump around time wise and a few of the trips to the past didn’t add much to the story and ruined the flow of the narrative.

Secondly, the characters, the ones outside of Gent, Gent’s team and Salter, weren’t so much characters but wish fulfillment. Absolutely everybody you meet in the book is hyper accomplished.For example, Gent’s beautiful ex-wife has a bucket load of degrees from high speed institutions, she’s a famous war correspondent who goes into war zones basically alone, hosts a highly successful TV show on the Fox/BBC Network and almost won the Pulitzer Prize twice. Another example of this is in the first five pages of the book, you meet a former DEVGRU member who is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business. There are DOZENS of other examples like this in the book. What you never see though are the regular schmoes that actually keep the world spinning and I found that to be odd.

Third, technology and exploding populations. The story takes place 20 years from now and the world is in complete turmoil, in a constant state of warfare and populations explode nearly doubling? Nope. No way am I buying that one. Much of the tech they are using is only a dream right now. The lag time from development to use would put it years past two decades from now. That really bugged me.

Fourth, Force Insertion. The way Force Insertion was created is beyond improbable. In less than a decade FI gobbled up almost every contractor business that exists? FI are some super duper Carl Icahn mothers I guess. I think it would be nearly impossible to buy almost 200 individual private military corporations (the approximate number today) based all around the world in such a short period of time. Then there is the issue of being able to integrate so many individual ways of operating into one huge viable corporation. Further, Pressfield didn’t take into consideration the nature of the people that create and run Private Military Corporations. They like being “the man”. Yes I know most of these businesses are now run by guys with degrees from the London School of Economics or Harvard MBAs but like the operators they replaced, the nerds like to be “shadowy” mystery men that pull the strings. Even though military types aren’t the CEO, COO, CFO or presidents much anymore they still dominate the board of directors and because their Maslow needs have been more than met, “respect” becomes paramount. Getting bought out means no more scared, fear fueled screeds in Mother Jones, The New York Slimes or The Economist. For money and “cred”, those corporations would fight tooth and nail against a corporate raid and reject ridiculous buy out money.

marine-corps-title-inherited
Fifth, using Force Insertion the ROI is nearly nil. Think about it like this, the ability to field the kind of operations FI is capable of, its contracts would have to be in the billions, several billions of dollars. Further, look at where they are operating, predominately in places that are dominated by tribal culture and what do ALL tribal cultures have in common? They all operate under the principle of La Mordida. In most of the world bribes are standard operating procedure. It’s part and parcel of doing business, it’s expected and it would be rude not to bribe somebody to do their job. That is a hard concept for westerners to grasp. So instead of just bribing the locals, for relatively cheap amounts I might add, corporations decide to spend billions or maybe trillions of dollars on FI? I believe that kind of large ongoing expense would put a dent in the old bottom line. I mean correct me if I’m wrong here Pillow but one of the basic tenants of accounting is to take in more money than you pay out, right? If the corporations just made pay offs they could hire much smaller security forces. To me that sounds a lot more fiscally prudent. If the corporations are worried about changing faces in third world countries they shouldn’t, revolutions and religious wars don’t matter. The one thing that survives any ethno/religious/political type revolution, besides cockroaches, is the bureaucracy. The people might change but replacements are ready to step up and will have their hand out. It’s why they have revolutions, to get the pay offs. Religion and ideology exist solely to mask the greed and to exploit the stupid believers. You know who are invariability the first victims of successful revolutions? The “true” revolutionaries. True believers get in the way of doing business and the bureaucracy makes sure to protect itself.

Final Thoughts: The funny thing about writing this is, it has let me clarify my thoughts about the book. My first reaction was a sense of profound disappointment. Pressfield’s previous works are excellent but this one doesn’t pass that high bar. I think the problem I have with the book is that Pressfield is not right for techno thrillers or maybe not right yet is a better way of stating it. He needs to make a choice and go all in on modern works and don’t try to make a hybrid that is reminiscent of his earlier writings. I think choosing the safe road wasn’t the optimal choice for this type of book.

By the way I’m going to change recommendation to a mild thumbs up. I think if you aren’t that close to the material it would be an okay but ultimately an empty book to read. The action scenes are well written and Gents race against Salter and all his might is handled well, but outside of those, the book has some serious faults.

Xiphos

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About Xiphos0311

Sporadic genius but mostly IDGAF.

39 responses to “A VERY SPECIAL EDITION OF READING WITH XIPHOS: THE PROFESSION BY STEVEN PRESSFIELD”

  1. Continentalop says :

    Great review Xi. I haven’t read any of Pressfield’s books yet, been meaning to buy the GATES OF FIRE (anything to erase the memory of 300).

    This book, despite the flaws you mention, sounds pretty good. Sounds kind of like a futuristic version of 7 DAYS IN MAY.

  2. Continentalop says :

    BTW I always loved that Orwell quote.

  3. Jarv says :

    Crikey!

    This is something I actually know quite a bit about from a totally different perspective.

    Back in my freelance days, I wrote the marketing section of a business plan for a group looking to raise venture capital to buy one of these out. It’s an interesting story, this one.

    However, in my experience the COO was an ex paratrooper/ SAS dude.

    The proposed board, as I recall, had two ex military, one CPA, a lawyer (always needed gor venture capital), two ex-military and an ex plod.

    The idea being to exploit a bone-headed piece of UK legislation (SIA act) and run it as a training and operations organization. The training section would be run by ex-plod and primarily concern itself with UK training and bankroll the more speculative operations side. The operations side was potentially far more profitable.

    Anyhow, there was a fuck up and the FD, for some reason that I will never understand, had too much power and effectively refused to sign off on the money needed to secure operational contracts. He basically reduced it to an organisation that trains bouncers. Fucked the whole thing right up meaning the three other guys left.

    As a result, I got quite an insight into these PMC’s- and I have to say: you are exactly correct. One company would NEVER get a monopoly in the way described here.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      The thing with the larger PMC in the last five years or so is that they have become for all intents and purposes corporations like GM or Starbucks. the people running them aren’t SAS, Selous scouts or Green Berets any more. The dashing image of shadowy men that work off of pay phones in Morocco or from shady bar tender cut out in Marseilles have been replaced by HR departments and TPS Reports. The other major change is that these Corporations are hiring more Cops then soldiers now. teaching up police forces from the vicious thugs to marginally competent is huge business.
      The smaller companies still try to act like its the 70’s but increasingly they are becoming more and more corporate. The MBAs have infiltrated and carried the day.

      • Jarv says :

        Yup. That was what I saw. Within 12 months all the ex-military had been swept out and it was run by corporate fucks.

        They’re inept though. Last time I checked the fuckers are still using my copy from 5 years ago on their shitty website.

        Good marketing department they hired.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        The Corporate dudes have the upper hand and know how to play the military guys. The experience, training and the life they led imparts in the veterans a certain sense of achievement. Ordinary regular line soldiers and Marines have let’s call “high self esteem” but if you come out of the “Special Operations”(I hate that term) world your self esteem tends to be through the roof and you think you can do anything, including running the business side of things you have no training or experience for. In that situation in steps the MBA with the “I’ll do that icky business stuff so you can focus on the real job of ours” type of slime bag . One day you wake up and find you’ve been replaced by a lumpy nerd.

        The back bone and strength it takes to get through SAS selection, The Q course and survive close quarter combat can leave you with some blind spots that are easily exploited by those without a shred of honor or decency.

      • Jarv says :

        In that situation in steps the MBA with the “I’ll do that icky business stuff so you can focus on the real job of ours” type of slime bag . One day you wake up and find you’ve been replaced by a lumpy nerd.

        Almost exactly what happened

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I think a lot of the problem with, at least with American Contractors that spent time in the Army, Navy or Air Force in the 1990’s is that the corporate mentality took hold in those organizations. They pushed they idea that the Military is really just a corporation whos business is war. They use to push officers and upper enlisted to read books by Jack Welsh of GE and Warren Buffet and things like the 1 minute manager. They paid Field grade Officers to go seminars and get business degrees. All that corporate nonsense eventually filtered down so Junior officers and enlisted started using all the buzz words of business.

        I think all the business ideas made these contractor guys think they werebusinessmen. When the real sharks began circling they were chum in the water.

      • Jarv says :

        Not just the military.

        The rise of the management consultant in the public sector has been frightening.

        Even in mrs jarv’s sector- charities- they’re fucked over by people with “corporate ethos” whatever the fuck that means.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Same thing happened to women I knew years ago in Dago who was the CFO for a big charitable foundation. They brought in some consultants with sterling business pedigrees as consultants. After charging them usury rates for their work they ended up basically looting one part of the foundation endowment. The board of directors, who pushed for the consultants, tried to blame it on her. she kept copious public and private records and threatened to release them all, they backed off,

      • Jarv says :

        Sad really. What gets me is that these fucks have invariably never done the job they are “consulting” on. You go straight from post-grad into a company and then apply the horseshit you learnt (swot analysis being a prime example). Except nobody ever tells them that this shit doesn’t work in the real world.

  4. Jarv says :

    PS: love these big book reviews.

    Also, a handy quote I always keep to hand when thinking about scumbag bureaucrats is this by Kafka, and I’m kicking myself for not using the Czech misery merchant’s line in the BMC review:

    every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.

    He was spot on

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Bureaucrats and bureaucracy never die people and processes change but the the bureaucrats keep coming from some slimy diseased infested swamp that can never be drained. It’s like Hollywood it gives cowardly little men that can’t do things on their own a sense of power and losers with power is a very bad thing.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      The quote is tops.

  5. Continentalop says :

    Going off of what you and Jarv are talking about, I not only laugh at the idea of the military, politicians and educators reading business and management books, but I really laugh at the craze of businessmen reading military strategy books. Talk about arrogant, to compare what you do to war. Sorry, the casualty rate of a corporate takeover isn’t that high.

    (and I really hate the term “Captains of Industry.” As a filmmaker I think I’ll call myself a “General of Culture” so I can be just as pompous.)

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      The weird thing about the management craze is that the Air force had embraced the concept from its start in 48. The navy more or less has always been that way but the Army and Marines had pretty much avoided it probably due to the fact those two organizations actual fought. It wasn’t until like the day after the First Gulf War that the Army went nuts for all of it. It was a lot slower for The Marines but by the time I enlisted it had begun to take hold. Thank christ all that crap got ejected on September 12 2001

      The funny thing is those books are all about management and in the Army and Marine Corps business management principals have nothing to do with leadership. I use to point that out all the time and get yelled at for it. Sure Leaders have to be managers but managers do not have to be leaders and Management principles are incompatible with with military objectives even if they tried to torture the ideas into being worable

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Yeah ITIL is the new craze for the military. About ten years ago I went through a week long course on it.
        Without a doubt it can provide benefits if fully and correctly implemented, But twice now in my civilian career I have seen an ‘urgent’ need to implement ITIL practices, that petered out to cheery picking the easiest and least costly to implement, and then just paying lip service to to the rest.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      General of Culture I like that.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        doesn’t the captain of industry term have more to do with being a “team captain” then military? I always thought that was what they meant. I mean a captain is barely above entry level really if it was military based it should have been something along the lines of a general or admiral of industry.

      • Continentalop says :

        I think it actually is an allusion to ship captains, but after the fall of the USSR it seemed to have been co-opted by Wall Street types who wanted to take credit for winning the cold war.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Damn good write-up Xi, as per your usual.
        I tend to avoid contemporary military/action thriller fiction for the simple reason that most of the writers I have come across either don’t ‘get’ the military man/warrior and resort to platitudes, or they simply can not write.

        As I have mentioned on other occasions, i come from a military family.
        My grandfather, father both uncles, me and now my oldest nephew were all in the service.

        Only my younger uncle ‘dishonored’ the family Marine tradition by becoming a swabbie, even though he was a Seal – we still call him a swabbie. More on him later.

        My biggest gripe with contemp. mil fic is that most of the writers always want to classify the man in the service as having a higher and nobler cause. That we are the ‘best and brightest and most honorable and patriotic’ and on and on and even more happy horseshit.

        The truth, as Xi already states, is that a certain sub-set of men want and need to prove themselves against other men in mortal combat.

        Ok, that was too nice.

        Some men just want to kill other motherfuckers.

        That is what a warrior is and does. You can not dress it up any other way.
        A true warrior is not trying to ‘incapacitate’ or wound his foe, he wants to kill him.

        Now, there is a huge distinction between a warrior and a serviceman or woman – and I even include Marines in that.

        Being in the service does not mean you want to kill some motherfucker – any motherfucker, but being a warrior does mean that.

        My uncle – The swabbie seal wanted to kill motherfuckers. After he did his 30 – at the ripe old age of 48 he joined a PMC – and went on killing motherfuckers.

        When you turn warriors into some holier than thou uber boyscout with a machine gun, you whitewash the truth and do the warrior a dis service.

        Humanity has always had warriors, and always will.

        But most people do not really want to think about what that truly entails.

        I guess it makes them sleep better at nights.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        TKD,

        None of Pressfileds books glorify fighting men he shows them as they are, human beings with flaws and strengths, that make a decidedly tough choice for their life. This book especially shows a lot of the down side with being a modern professional soldier like a jacked up body, the need to stay awake for hours so stims are gobbled like candy then the need to crash so sleeping pills are downed. booze to dull the pain from all sorts of minor injuries, ached and pains. Living life in condition one takes it toll all the way around. You get addicted to the stress and danger and regular everyday life becomes a chore and a half.

  6. Xiphos0311 says :

    TKD what did you think of the art I included in this post?

    • Toadkillerdog says :

      They are outstanding Xi.
      The Honor one in particular.
      That illustrates what I try to tell people are the unsung heroic acts performed on a daily basis by our servicemen.
      I watched Battle LA again this weekend, and damned if it aint even better than the first time around.

      Semper Fi brother

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I agree about Battle LA. I picked up on a lot of little things I missed the first time through. What’s his face, Butt Chin’s performance as Nantz popped even more the seconded time out.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        if you search Google pictures under Marine Corps slogans I think, there are a bunch of posters like that honor one.

  7. ThereWolf says :

    Excellent write-up, Xi. You and Jarv are writing some great stuff, not only the reviews but in the comments too.

    I will of course add this book to the list.

  8. tombando says :

    So how is this for us civvies to read xi? It has a dose of inside baseball in it by the looks of things. Good article by the way.

  9. just pillow talk says :

    Yeah, I’ve never read any of Pressfield either, I’ll have to keep him in mind. I just started King Rat, so after that I was thinking of either A Conspiracy of Paper or Blood Oath.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Can’t go wrong with either one of those books. Blood Oath is much simpler and way more straight forward then A Conspiracy of Paper. It might be the thing after reading King Rat.

  10. Droid says :

    Good review, Xi. As with a few others, I’ve not read this guys books, but I’m quite interested in checking out Gates of Fire.

    • Droid says :

      He wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance?

      Xi, what in your estimation would be the best Pressfield book to begin with?

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        yep his first book was Bagger Vance but from what I have read the book and movie have almost nothing in common.

        Gates of Fire is the way to start. It’s a straight forward action book that shows why the Spartans were the way they were. Excellent characters like full Spartinates Dinekes and Polynikes and helots like Xeo(the narrator) and the half Spartan Rooster make for an enjoyable read.

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