The War After Armageddon – Book Review
The War After Armageddon: A Novel, by Ralph Peters, Forge Book published by Tom Doherty Associates, 2009.
The War After Armageddon has vivid echoes of two classic novels – Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle and George Orwell’s 1984. Both are cautionary tales, as, in fact, is Armageddon.
Reading Ralph Peters’ dark new novel, The War After Armageddon, is, in a way, much like driving by a grisly traffic accident – the view is horrific, but you just can’t look away. Peters’ novel is, indeed, compellingly horrific, the plot driven along by a realism that only a writer with this author’s background, experience and vision can achieve and pass along to the reader in a dramatic narrative. Peters, today’s most insightful strategist when observing in print or in his many TV appearances as guest commentator what is really taking place in the dangerous world around us, has the rare ability to think through and vividly imagine the second-, third-, and even fourth-order effects of policy decisions today’s world leaders are making. The hellish world vision that Peters’ describes in The War After Armageddon may on the surface seem far-fetched; yet, he’s skillfully applied his superb insight as a strategist, experienced intelligence officer, and veteran world traveler to show us what might happen in a world where mankind’s oldest motivators – faith and blood – have succeeded in trumping reason and good will. The road to Hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. The Hell that Peters describes certainly was, at least in the initial well-intentioned decisions that set in motion the chain of events his novel carries through to its chilling conclusion.
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In his Author’s Note at the end of the novel, Peters does warn readers – especially, I think, those of us used to reading or hearing his “spot on” analysis of current events – that the novel’s dark vision of the near future is not necessarily his prediction of what’s going to happen, although it does examine several themes he has written about in his outstanding non-fiction books and articles. He explains: “This is a novel, not a strategic forecast. That said, the plot does engage several of my enduring concerns, most notably the iniquity of fanaticism in the name of any faith; the danger of nuclear proliferation among parties not dependably subject to deterrence; and our military’s reliance on electronics that may prove all too fragile in a major war. Warfare’s superficial manifestations change mightily, but its essence remains flesh and blood.”
Each of those concerns is skillfully interwoven into his plotline; and certainly there’s plenty of “flesh and blood” in Peters’ novel, much of it splattered over the landscape in superbly rendered descriptions of combat. The book’s numerous characters are well-developed and believable, and the situations he places them in are presented in a page-turning narrative that makes the book hard to put down once you’re started it – sorry for resorting to the “hard to put down” cliché, but it is absolutely true in this case.
It would be a supreme disservice to readers to give away too much of Peters’ spell-binding plot in this review, but suffice it to say that the title is meant to be taken literally. Peters includes enough flashbacks to properly set the stage for what’s happening “real time” in the narrative: after Israel has been destroyed by a nuclear attack and Islamic Jihadists have conquered the Middle East, a U. S. military expeditionary force is sent to recapture it. However, in addition to familiar American combat units, like the 1st Cavalry Division, the 1st Infantry Division, and the U. S. Marine Corps, Peters has the expedition being spearheaded by a corps called The Military Order of the Brothers in Christ (MOBIC), a National Guard-like outfit manned by modern-day real Crusaders whose boundless religious fanaticism not only fuels them to re-take the “Holy Land,” but drives them to annihilate every Muslim man, woman and child in the world. Since the folks back home in the good old U.S. of A. already have endured the Jihadi terrorists’ nuclear destruction of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the American public reflects MOBIC’s extreme anti-Muslim fanaticism. U. S. Army soldiers and Marines – Peters’ “flesh and blood” at combat’s sharp end – are caught smack in the middle, facing die-hard Jihadist forces, fellow American religious fanatics who want MOBIC to be the United States’ only military force, and forced to fight “the old fashioned way” when their hi-tech weaponry and communications are knocked out by nuclear explosions’ electromagnetic pulse. Maintaining military professionalism and even basic humanity in the face of unprecedented adversity – and amidst definitely conflicted emotions regarding enemy noncombatants, wars innocent victims – is one of the novel’s compelling themes, superbly examined by Peters. His appropriate dedication seems to sum up Peters’ sentiments in that regard: “To those who solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” In the dark vision that Peters’ portrays in The War After Armageddon, remaining faithful to that solemn oath is a mission that literally tries men’s souls.
Actually, as readers discover in the novel’s opening line, the entire book is written as a memoir, a flashback to the devastating “Holy War” fought to the death by fanatics on both sides. But, to describe in detail the conditions under which this fictional memoir was written would, again, be giving too much away. Readers need to experience this novel as Peters’ riveting story unfolds. Trust me; you’ll thank me for not giving too much away in this review – it would be like revealing the ending of Citizen Kane or The Usual Suspects to someone who hasn’t seen them. The War After Armageddon’s opening line, by the way — “I could be jailed for writing this.” – is a darn good attention getter, so I’ll just leave it at that and let readers discover for themselves what happens in Peters’ story after that great opening line.
To this reviewer, The War After Armageddon has vivid echoes of two classic novels – Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle and George Orwell’s 1984. Both are cautionary tales, as, in fact, is Armageddon. Myrer’s book – a perennial fixture on military service schools’ mandatory reading lists – pits two Army officers, the consummate professional, Sam Damon, against self-serving careerist, Courtney Massengale, in a clash-of-character struggle throughout their unfolding careers. In Armageddon, Peters’ Gary “Flintlock” Harris, like Damon, confronts Simon “Sim” Montfort, who might be described as a “born again” Massengale fueled by seemingly boundless religious fanaticism to the exclusion of any feelings of humanity and justice. And just as Orwell’s 1984 paints a dark future vision of Stalinism run amok, Peters’ Armageddon describes what a United States run by book-burning, thought controlling, fascist religious fanatics might be like – think of it as “1984 plus 40 years.” For this reviewer, the “echoes” in Armageddon of these two classics enhanced the experience of reading Peters’ outstanding new novel.
We give Ralph Peters’ terrific new “must read” novel FIVE STARS, our highest rating.
Reviewer: Jerry D. Morelock, PhD is ARMCHAIR GENERAL magazine Editor in Chief.
About the Author: Ralph Peters is a retired U.S. Army officer and former enlisted man; a bestselling, prize-winning novelist; a controversial strategist and veteran of the intelligence world; a journalist who has covered multiple conflicts and appears frequently in the broadcast media; and a lifelong traveler with experience in more than seventy countries on six continents. He is the author of twenty-three previous books, both fiction and nonfiction.