Jeff Stein

  • The Worst Years of Our Lives

    I'm so pissed off after reading these books I can hardly type. But my ire begins with baseball—and the same is true for Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq.

    Been to a game lately? Try to grab just a few hours of peace and fun, and what do you get? A toxic brew of manufactured religious piety and tin-hat patriotism, served up in force-feedings of "God Bless America" and coercive "salutes" to "wounded warriors" bused in for a game.

    Bacevich, a West Point graduate who now writes perceptive, bristling essays and books from his perch at Boston University, puts his finger

  • Fatal Vision

    One dark night in South Vietnam in mid-1969, I stopped for a beer at the rickety shack that served as an officers’ club for the First Marine Division, based a few miles outside of Da Nang, on the central coast. I had just delivered an intelligence report warning of an enemy rocket attack on the city.

    I found myself sitting next to a guy with a war-weary, thousand-yard stare. He turned out to be a navy doctor assigned to one of those medical teams that (along with other “hearts and minds” civic projects) were supposed to bring the locals over to our side. He started telling me about days spent

  • Mordant Combat

    Back in the mid-1990s a marine public-information officer took me into a secret watering hole at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, that served as a private clubhouse for snipers. There was, however, one key condition: Nothing I saw and heard there could be used in a piece I was then writing for the Washington Post Magazine.

    And for good reason, it turned out: The barroom walls featured white-on-black Nazi SS insignia and other Wehrmacht photos and regalia. The marine shooters clearly identified—privately, anyway—with the marksmen of the world’s most infamous killing machine, rather than with

  • A Low Dishonest Decade

    “WHEN I TAKE ACTION,” President Bush heh-heh’d after the 9/11 attacks, “I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive.”

    Well, by God, he was half right. Under Bush’s leadership, the United States was decisive—but ten years after the devastating Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the American response hasn’t exactly been a case study in efficient counterterrorism strategy. By the time Osama bin Laden was cut down in May 2011, the global war on terror had cost more than $3 trillion, with no end of

  • Beyond the Hero Syndrome


    With apologies to the authors of the Old Testament, the popular myths of war heroes could well have started with the sacking of Troy, as recorded by Homer circa 850 BC. But in the telling of the Greek poets, heroes weren’t exactly winners. The higher they went, the deeper they fell. However, sometime between then and the mid-twentieth century, the tragedy that clung like a gray ghost to military heroes in the Western tradition withered away. Today there’s hardly an ironic note, much less a tragic one, to be found in accounts of the so-called war on terror.

    Counterinsurgency does not lend

  • A Sorry Rendition

    His name may not ring a bell, but John Kiriakou was the CIA guy who surfaced on television during the furor over waterboarding to declare that, sure, it was torture, but it worked like magic on Al Qaeda kingpin Abu Zubaydah. According to Kiriakou, a long-time veteran of the agency’s intelligence-analysis and operations directorates, Abu Zubaydah cracked after only one application of the face cloth and water. “From that day on, he answered every question,” Kiriakou told ABC-TV’s Brian Ross in an exclusive interview on December 10, 2007. “The threat information he provided disrupted a number of

  • Tristes Tropiques

    When one dreams of an island paradise, Diego Garcia probably isn’t in the picture. Unless, of course, you’re from Diego Garcia, and your family members were among the nearly two thousand people forced off that and neighboring islands a thousand miles south of India between 1968 and 1973 so Americans could pave it and put up a military base. For the Chagossians, as they are called, Diego Garcia was paradise then, replete with azure waters, white sand beaches, swaying coconut trees, and hurricane-free tropical weather, not to mention decent homes and plentiful food. And then the inhabitants were


    Liberals tend to view the Patriot Act, which expanded the boundaries of permissible police and domestic intelligence activities, with a degree of hysteria. If they think the Bush era ushered in a police state, they would do well to read Andrew Meier’s The Lost Spy, which, in the course of unearthing one of the unlikelier sagas in the annals of US-Soviet espionage, is a masterful rendering of the government’s repression of left-wing political ferment during World War I. That era’s brutal crackdowns on dissent—combined with the onset of the Great Depression—would prompt thousands of Americans to