Book Review: Before the First Shots are Fired by General Tony Zinni and Tony Koltz

Before the Next Shots are Fired


Before the First Shots are Fired: How America Can Win or Lose Off the Battlefield

by General (Ret) Tony Zinni & Tony Koltz
Palgrave Macmillan Trade, (2014) Hardcover, 256 pages

General (Ret) Tony Zinni utilizes his four decades of military experience to present an overview of the United States military’s failure to move into the 21st century, by not adapting to the changing face of warfare, as well as ignoring the mistakes made in past conflicts.

Zinni uses anecdotes from his many experiences during war and military conflicts (from Vietnam to Somalia and Iraq), including his Command of CentCom to illustrate how our military services have not progressed with the times, mostly due to our political leadership’s myopic world view, and lack of experienced advisers. While he makes many salient points, I cannot help but feel that he is on a finger-pointing mission; he critiques the administrations of every president since Truman, detailing poorly planned decisions that resulted in unforeseen circumstances, particularly in the case of the missing WMD in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. His scathing review of the characters of Vice-President Cheney, and Secretary Donald Rumsfield are unforgiving, displaying a sense of disappointment and outright dislike without filter.

That said, this is an extremely interesting narrative which shows how our military has not learned from past mistakes, and has blindly sought to continue on fighting insurgencies, and landless terrorists as if fighting a defined enemy such as we experienced during the World Wars. General Zinni uses his understanding and vast knowledge of American Military history to make valid points. These points range from our lack of a solid plan for fighting non-traditional battles such as cyber warfare, as well as our inability to win militarily without leaving a decade long civil quagmire in our wake.

It is obvious that General Zinni has little regard for our current military advisers, and that he believes that all Presidents should have a personal and professional understanding of war, using the example of President Eisenhower’s strategic prowess, which was due to his valiant service during WWII. I get the sense that he believes that only a President who has served in the military can be an effective Leader.

General Tony Zinni has produced an insider’s accounting of the leadership, strategic and political wrangling, and short-sighted military planning behind the scenes for the last 4 decades. This information alone is a treasure for military historians interested in the modern era. Zinni makes some astute judgments concerning our recent military snafus, particularly our invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, and the fractured political and civil climate that we left with the Iraqi people. If you can get past the “told you so” attitude, and sour grapes evident in some of Zinni’s statements, you will find exceptional ideas from a highly intelligent military mind, as well as some interesting insight into what goes on behind closed doors during all phases of military engagement.

Above all, Before the First Shots are Fired offers us an overview of where our Political and military leaders have strayed, and how to possibly reign it all in, producing a solid policy that will keep us safe, while freeing us from decades of nation-building madness.


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September 10, 2014 · 11:48 am

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