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At West Point, McChrystal wrote fiction

Rolling Stone magazine was a guilty pleasure of my college years and several years to follow, even if it appeared increasingly incongruous in my mail drop alongside The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, and the New York Review of Books.  At some point in my thirties, I realized I was beginning to resemble the aging would-be hipster husband in the famous Donald Barthelme short story whose wife complained that he was too self-absorbed to realize the magazine wasn't "aimed at him." 
By the time P.J. O'Rourke replaced William Greider as the principal political contributor during the Clinton era, I'd stopped reading the magazine altogether.  So I was as surprised as anyone by Michael Hastings' The Runaway General, certainly the only piece of American journalism in recent memory to single handedly force the President of the United States to order a change in command structure in this nation's primary theater of military operations.
We won't join in the speculation on precisely what General Stanley A. McChrystal, former commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan was thinking when he permitted Hastings full access to his staff and movements, his ruminations, expressed misgivings, and exasperation with Obama administration officials and policy makers and their impositions on his conduct of the war, all of it parsed in expletive-laced, military vernacular and completely on the record.   Nor will we speculate on what McChrystal's dismissal means to the future of American involvement in Afghanistan or in the region.
The one thing that did leap out at us in Hastings' piece was this curious passage in his profile material on how McChrystal's background and education taught him "how to thrive in a rigid, top-down environment while thumbing his nose at authority every chance he got."  At West Point, amid many disciplinary actions and demerits, and while acquiring the reputation as a "highly-intelligent badass"  McChrystal's least insubordinate passion was for writing and editing: 
McChrystal wound up ranking 298 out of a class of 855, a serious underachievement for a man widely regarded as brilliant. His most compelling work was extracurricular: As managing editor of The Pointer, the West Point literary magazine, McChrystal wrote seven short stories that eerily foreshadow many of the issues he would confront in his career. In one tale, a fictional officer complains about the difficulty of training foreign troops to fight; in another, a 19-year-old soldier kills a boy he mistakes for a terrorist. In "Brinkman's Note," a piece of suspense fiction, the unnamed narrator appears to be trying to stop a plot to assassinate the president. It turns out, however, that the narrator himself is the assassin, and he's able to infiltrate the White House: "The President strode in smiling. From the right coat pocket of the raincoat I carried, I slowly drew forth my 32-caliber pistol. In Brinkman's failure, I had succeeded."
On Monday we learned that McChrystal will retire from the Army sometime later this year.  I rather suspect that a memoir is forthcoming--indeed it would be surprising if some leading agent and publisher weren't already negotiating a deal--but the larger question for the next phase for General McChrystal's future is whether when he makes his inevitable return as a fiction writer will it be as a writer of Tom Clancy-like techno-thrillers or terse Hemingwayesque tales of male adventurism as a search for an authentic self.
In a related story, Simon & Schuster has re-released a special e-book edition of Truman Fires MacArthur, an excerpt of historian David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize winning biography Truman (1993) the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday.  The move was widely hailed in the book industry as an example of how publishers could utilize e-book technology to make their backlist titles--in this case, another historical account of a President relieving a high-profile but "maverick" general of his command--available on a timely basis as they relate to breaking news stories.
--R.D. Pohl


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