Aside from a few blips of relative peace during the Clinton years, the United States has been continuously involved in global conflicts since the CIA-run proxy wars that began in the early 1980s. Forthcoming books delve into these clashes, following the Marines in Fallujah during the Iraq War, examining the aftermath of fighting in Somalia in the 1990s, and revealing the multiple dimensions of the war between ISIS and coalition forces. The publishers PW spoke with emphasized how these titles reflect the changes in the types of wars the U.S. fights and the ways that it fights them.
In the weeks after 9/11, unmanned Predator drones began conducting their first armed missions. Alec Bierbauer, an agent with the CIA who helped develop the Predator program, and retired Air Force colonel Mark Cooter, who previously operated drones for surveillance purposes, chronicle the risks they took and the rules they broke to meet the project’s deadline with Never Mind, We’ll Do It Ourselves (Skyhorse, Sept.).
“Mark’s history with the developmental system went back several years to his work in the Balkans, and Alec learned about the concept while desperately searching for technologies to use against America’s targets without unnecessarily risking American lives,” says Jon Arlan, editor at Skyhorse. “What the book tells us about modern warfare is quite literally a paradigm shift. We’re moving into an era in which we will no longer lose a flight crew when a plane gets shot down.”
But not all of the country’s enemies can be targeted with bombs. Robert Spalding, a retired Air Force brigadier general and former National Security Council official, argues that the U.S. should regard cyberattacks from China as its greatest threat. He made headlines in 2018 when his NSC memo outlining concerns about cyber warfare within the forthcoming global 5G network was leaked. In Stealth War (Portfolio, Oct.), he outlines the inroads he believes China has already made in a fight to unseat the U.S. from its position in the world.
Propaganda and disinformation have been tools of war for centuries, but according to former State Department undersecretary Richard Stengel, the rise of social media has made disinformation a formidable enemy of democracy. In Information Wars (Atlantic Monthly, Oct.), Stengel tracks how disinformation from Russia came to affect the U.S. presidential election in 2016. He also draws on his time in the Obama administration to show how Russia used propaganda in its annexing of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, and he identifies how ISIS spread disinformation on social media in order to recruit fighters. In the book’s “final, strongest section,” PW’s review said, Stengel “introduces ways to reduce the impact of disinformation and propaganda, including real-time disclosure of who’s paying for political ads, and more transparent sourcing in news reporting.”
Beneath the pervasive threats of cyber war and propaganda, the military continues its vigilance on dangers such as biological weapons. With Inside the Hot Zone (Potomac, Jan. 2020), retired Army colonel Mark G. Kortepeter recounts his experience at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases as a “biodefender,” a term he uses to describe members of a team responsible for planning for attacks from anthrax, Ebola, and other germ agents.
On the Battlefield
Amid new types of warfare, the military continues to put boots on the ground and pilots into the air. New books show what it means to be on the front lines today.
In Lucian Read’s introduction to All of Which I Saw (Schiffer Military History, Sept.), the journalist and Emmy-winning cinematographer writes, “At twenty-nine years old—a photojournalist with a single camera and no assignment—I rode and then walked into [Fallujah].” His book of photos captures the four years he spent embedded with Marines through various battles, long stretches at sea crossing the Pacific to the Persian Gulf, and their homecomings.
When Mike Giglio, former national security correspondent for BuzzFeed, reported on the U.S. mission to destroy ISIS, he was embedded not with American troops but with Kurdish fighters and Iraqi Special Forces. His debut, Shatter the Nations (PublicAffairs, Oct.), draws on the years he spent covering multiple sides of the conflict.
Clive Priddle, publisher at PublicAffairs and Giglio’s editor, says that Giglio’s reporting on the range of motivations for those who supported or fought ISIS will give readers “some very different perspectives from the generation of books that reported from the U.S. war in Iraq—it’s not about evil vs. good.” Giglio also dispels “the fiction of being a neutral observer,” Priddle says, when he writes about “being in one of those improvised armored vehicles feeding machine gun bullets to the gunner in the turret.”
Danish national Joanna Palani, a daughter of Iranian Kurds who immigrated to Denmark when she was three years old, left Europe at 21 and traveled to the front lines of the war with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. She joined the Kurdish women’s militia group YPJ, became a sniper, and helped repel the siege at Kobanî. Her forthcoming memoir, Freedom Fighter (Atlantic, Sept.), describes why she was motivated to return to the Middle East to defend democracy and women’s rights in Kurdistan, as well as the consequences of her actions, which included her arrest in Denmark for breaking a travel ban.
Caroline Johnson, an American, also fought ISIS, but with the support of her country. Jet Girl (St. Martin’s, Nov.) charts her path to flying F/A-18 Hornet bombing campaigns as the weapons systems officer, or “wizzo”; navigating a male-dominated field; undergoing intense training exercises; and becoming the first woman officer of the U.S. Navy to target ISIS in Iraq.
The War at Home
Retired Delta Force member Tom Satterly—known for his role in the Battle of Mogadishu, as depicted in Black Hawk Down—identifies the adversary he and many other soldiers have faced when they return home: PTSD. In writing the memoir All Secure (Center Street, Nov.), he fulfills a “mission as a civilian to give back to fellow veterans,” says Center Street editorial director Kate Hartson. The book details the struggles with suicidal depression and substance abuse that led to two broken marriages before he was able to channel his pain into a foundation, also called All Secure, which supports special forces veterans suffering from PTSD and provides access to treatment.
Another forthcoming Center Street title, The Knock at the Door (Nov.), by Ryan Manion, Heather Kelly, and Amy Looney Heffernan, offers testimonies from the three women on what it means to lose a loved one to war. The authors learned to cope through their work with the Travis Manion Foundation, named for Ryan Manion’s brother, a Marine who died in the Iraq War. Keith Urbahn, the book’s agent and a founding partner at Javelin, says that the women discovered “newfound purpose with their book while honoring and remembering the sacrifices of their loved ones.”
YouTube personality and five-tour Army Ranger Mat Best found a different path toward reckoning with the aftermath of war, offering support to fellow veterans via unrepentant humor. In Thank You for My Service (Bantam, Aug.), he revels in larger-than-life tales of combat and civilian life, sharing the grisly details of up-close explosions, such as the time he waved a severed arm in front of his team and offered sexual favors with it.
Best built his platform—now one million subscribers strong—with confidence-boosting videos for veterans, many of them NSFW. “My goal was to speak to people like me,” he writes, who “were grateful for the chance to serve.” He also writes that he has been “fighting an addiction to war,” adding, “My needle was a gun, and I was shooting into the first vein I could find.”
In addition to his YouTube channel, Best has plunged into entrepreneurship since leaving the service, lending his brand to military-themed coffee, booze, and apparel companies that employ fellow veterans—a 21st-century response to the modern face of warfare.