Chris Bray

  • Control-Alt-Quagmire

    The customer is always right. In 1961, working to support the government of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, American military officials launched a new effort to understand their task. The organization then known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency—it has since added the word “Defense” to its name, becoming DARPA—decided to fund new programs in social-science research. The agency “needed studies performed that could answer questions that were confounding defense officials at the Pentagon,” Annie Jacobsen writes in her sprawling history of all things DARPA. “Who were these people, the

  • Be Afraid


    Harris is a persistent and incisive chronicler of the American security state, but there’s a revealing tension between the story he tells and the story his publisher has chosen to market. On its back cover, a review copy of Harris’s new book about the “Military-Internet Complex” describes a tale out of Tom Clancy: “A surprising, page-turning account of how the wars of the future are already being fought today.” In this story of sentinels on the watchtower, Harris “explains what the new cybersecurity regime means for all of us, who spend our daily lives bound

  • Command and Control

    A WARRIOR WITHOUT WAR, William Tecumseh Sherman was an ambitious West Point graduate who stood at the periphery while other men went into combat: garrisoned in coastal Florida at the edge of the fighting during the Second Seminole War, sent first to Pittsburgh as a recruiting officer and later to California as an administrator during the war with Mexico.

    The disappointed soldier eventually resigned his commission and turned to business, with mixed results and little happiness. He was a reasonably capable banker for a bit, a bad lawyer for a bit less, and the enthusiastic superintendent of a

  • The Family Business

    John Foster Dulles was a dullard and a prig. “He was driven to find and confront enemies, quick to make moral judgments, and not given to subtlety or doubt,” the former New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer writes in his new biography of the Dulles brothers. In 1957, Foster (as he was familiarly known) gave his sister Eleanor a Christmas present of “several yellow legal pads” and a check. Kinzer quotes the British politician Harold Macmillan, summarizing a meeting with the Eisenhower administration’s dour new secretary of state: “His speech was slow, but it easily kept pace with his thoughts.”

  • Burning Questions

    “At 5,000 feet you could smell the flesh burning.”

    The bomber crews that dropped napalm on Tokyo on the night of March 9, 1945, “gagged and vomited” in the sky over the burning city. The paint on the bottoms of their planes blistered from the heat.

    On the ground, families ran for ponds that “vaporized” and canals that boiled. Those who reached larger bodies of water were often no more fortunate: The fires consumed oxygen, and swimmers suffocated with their heads above water. Steel bridges pulled heat from the air and burned fleeing civilians who grabbed at railings in an attempt to leap into

  • In a Big Country

    The presidential election of 1964 unfolds across a few colorless pages in Joshua B. Freeman’s American Empire, pitting a candidate who embraced “expansive state action” to “improve the quality of life” against a guy who opposed “the expanded functions the state had taken on during the previous three decades.” Circling back later, when the story has moved on to 1966, Freeman notes that some actor in California is still hanging around. Behold the elaborate flatness of this sentence: “Reagan, a one-time New Deal Democrat who over the years had moved to the right, came to national attention as a

  • The Fog of War Writing

    Two new war memoirs, one from a reporter and one from a former army officer, describe close to nothing at all but do so with urgency. Violent images flash by, lives are shattered, the end. You might be inclined to wonder about the difference between observer and participant reports on war, but those distinctions evaporate on the page. Prosecuting strategically senseless war with a muddled premise in an unfamiliar social and political landscape seems to make everyone—even soldiers in the field—into oddly detached observers. In these disjointed accounts, people are just pulling the trigger and