Opinion: Read ‘Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War’ | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: Read ‘Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War’

Ken Johnson
Free Press Opinion Columnist
"Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," by Robert M. Gates.
Submitted photo |

I’d like to recommend a new non-fiction book to all serious readers, book clubs and every politician in America.

It is called “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” by Robert M. Gates regarding his experiences as Secretary of Defense under both Bush and Obama. from 2006 to 2011.

He shares pages and pages of detail about our endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about politics today, and the resulting nearly dysfunctional country.

If you’re frustrated by all the yelling, finger-pointing, inane blogs and false facts coming out of Washington and everywhere else, this is a must read.


“While American politics has always been shrill, partisan, and ugly business going back to the Founding Fathers, we have rarely been so polarized and so unable to execute even the basic function of government, much less tackle the most difficult and divisive problems facing the country.

“I believe that is due to the incessant scorched-earth battling between Congress and the president (I saw it under both Bush and Obama) but even more so to the weakening of the moderate center of both parties in Congress.

“Now the party that wins typically seeks to impose its agenda on the other side by brute political force.”


Gates’ long years of service to his country included a stint in the Air Force, then the CIA, and decades at the National Security Council. In Washington he worked for six presidents and was delighted with his role as president of Texas A&M University with its 65,000 students on campus.

You can read for yourself how, when asked by President George Bush to help the nation and the troops, stuck in two wars that were going poorly, he answered “Yes” to yet another call to duty.

You’ll also find a very thoughtful and solid analysis in this even-handed but unsparing narrative of how our country has lost its way over the past 40 years.

His experiences with the administrations, the Pentagon, and with Congress are laid down in specific detail. His observations are cuttingly accurate as he shares his views of how our government grid-locked, aided and abetted by years of erosion of our whole society.

And he details the inside story of both wars, including Washington, the military commanders and the troops on the ground (plus the inside story of the successful Bin Laden raid).

He also focuses our how the “age of information” has changed us.

“There have been vast changes in the composition and role of the news media over the decades.

“When I first entered government nearly 48 years ago, three television networks and a handful of newspaper dominated coverage and, to a considerable degree, filtered the most extreme and vitriolic points of view.

“Today, with hundreds of cable channels, blogs, and other electronic media, too often the professional integrity and long-established standards and practices of journalists are diluted or ignored. Every point of view — including the most extreme — has a ready vehicle for rapid dissemination.

“The more vitriolic the opinion, the more attention it gets.”

His views about our “three working days a week” Congress include a warning.

“I was more or less continuously outraged by the parochial self-interest of all but a very few members of Congress. Any defense facility or contract in their district or state, no matter how superfluous or wasteful, was sacrosanct.

“Behavior that was simply frustrating tome in 2009-10 will seriously impair our national security; failure to cut or close unneeded programs and facilities will drain precious dollars from the troops and our war-fighting capabilities.”

Read this book. You’ll be glad you did. I guarantee it.

Our library has 11 copies of this book with three more on order. Barnes and Noble has an inventory, too.

Columnist Ken Johnson is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.

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