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Book Review: The Profession by Steven Pressfield

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The Profession by Steven Pressfield is a fictional book about the projected future of America. The story is told from the perspective of a solider on the ground.

The year is 2032 and Gilbert “Gent” Gentilhomme, a pro­fes­sional solider, com­man­der and mer­ce­nary, is being sent around the world fight­ing for cor­po­ra­tions. Gent’s wife, a hard nosed reporter, allows him to see some of the big pic­ture, but his trust and loy­alty to his com­mend­ing gen­eral is unwavering.

Soon Gent real­izes that fight­ing with­out a flag has its draw­backs as the oil pro­duc­ing regions enforce their dominance.

As an ex-solider who gave much after-the-facts thoughts to his time in uni­form The Pro­fes­sion by Steven Press­field spoke to me on sev­eral lev­els. If you read any of Mr. Pressfield’s books before, you know the amount of research he does, not only on his­tor­i­cal facts but also on an emo­tional level.

The sys­tem in these United States, of hav­ing the head of the mil­i­tary be a civil­ian, is smart because the sol­diers them­selves are loyal to their com­man­ders. How­ever, our Com­man­der in Chief is up high and too divi­sive, for the past sev­eral decades, to gar­ner much loy­alty from mud level troops.

As an ama­teur stu­dent of his­tory I believe that one of the com­mon traits of suc­cess­ful gen­er­als is the abil­ity to con­nect with the troops on some per­sonal level. It is said that when Napoleon was review­ing his sol­diers he could con­nect with them on a very per­sonal level (“didn’t we fight together at …? How is the arm?” Etc.).

From per­sonal expe­ri­ence I also know that com­man­ders who took per­sonal inter­est­ing in me or any of my friends got our almost unwa­ver­ing support.

The hero of this grip­ping story, Gent, feels the same way about his com­mand­ing Gen­eral. Even though Gen­eral Salter fell from grace, he still gar­ners much loy­alty from his troops, views many of them as his sons and leads by example.

Gen­eral Salter is an amal­ga­ma­tion of sev­eral famous gen­er­als who have made their mark on the world, from Julius Cae­sar to Erwin Rom­mel and sev­eral others.

Mr. Press­field envi­sions a future where pri­vate armies for hire roam the world, pro­fes­sional sol­diers real­ize that they could do bet­ter than fight­ing for a cause they don’t believe in, for peo­ple who they don’t like. We see these atti­tudes today, which are promi­nent due to the Inter­net, how­ever I believe they have always been there.

The dimin­ish­ing geo­log­i­cal resources, the ero­sion of the Amer­i­can soci­ety and the fickle world eco­nom­ics, where noth­ing is cer­tain, all play a big role in this novel. The novel shows what Amer­i­can soci­ety is (con­sumerism, to each his own) and what we like to think our val­ues our (truth, free­dom, com­mu­nity) and how the soci­ety and val­ues are chal­lenged by reality.

Par­tic­u­larly poignant was how, when faced with the val­ues we tell our­selves we hold to the high­est degree, we, as a soci­ety, cave in and fall back on the easy and com­fort­able val­ues we tell our­selves we despise.

The book assumes cer­tain clas­si­cal knowl­edge of mil­i­tary his­tory, how­ever it is cer­tainly not a dis­trac­tion or a must in order to enjoy the book. If you’ve read Mr. Pressfield’s pre­vi­ous books you’ll get the references.

While the book cer­tainly isn’t per­fect, it is thought pro­vok­ing and reflec­tive.

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