In this episode, Jason Staples and Erik Rostad discuss book 21 of the 2017 Books of Titans Reading list – Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer.
Listener Comments – submitted by William Anthony
This book is NOT kind to West Point? I don’t agree with that assessment. Damon had been accepted to West Point the following year, didn’t want to wait that long to serve, chose to enlist instead, and regrets not going to the point the rest of his career! Most of the officers in the novel are West Point graduates, and many of them are painted quite favorably by the author. On what evidence do you base such a conclusion?
Once in the army, the novel follows Sad Sam Damon from Pershing’s expedition into Mexico in 1915, to his experiences in World War One, where he wins the medal of honor and receives a battlefield commission. It goes on later to describe the two years he spends as an observer with Chinese guerrillas during the Japanese occupation of the 1930’s, fighting WITH the communists, not AGAINST them! That’s part of the reason he’s accused of being a red sympathizer the rest of the book, you Dummies! This is followed by his experiences as a combat commander with MacArthur’s forces in the Asian theater during World War Two, and finally ends up following Damon into a thinly disguised Vietnam of 1962, when he is called out of retirement to head up a special advisory group. There’s a reason he’s re-activated to take on that mission, though I don’t suppose you clowns have the vaguest idea of why!
In between wars, the novel follows Damon’s life as a career soldier assigned to a variety of posts in the United States and abroad, and his evolving relationship with his main rival of the book, the coldly calculating, sometimes evil, extremely inhumane, Courtney Massengale, who is always one step ahead of Damon in rank and influence. (It’s not about Massengale being a West Point Graduate opposed to Damon not being one–It’s about Massengale being two shades short of being a full fledged psychopath!)
One important theme is developed throughout the novel: That many of America’s greatest military leaders, because they knew first hand all the consequences of war, were in fact PACIFISTS!
Something not mentioned in this review, is that “Once An Eagle” has some of the most graphic descriptions of battle ever put down on paper. There’s absolutely no glory associated with war in this novel. Battles are shown realistically, in All Their HORROR! (A prime example is the grisly description of the character Clay, when he is blown in half by German artillery during the first world war.) Perhaps this is not surprising, seeing as the author was a marine who saw extensive combat in the South Pacific during the Second World War!
BTW, gentlemen, you need to actually read this novel. The company Damon helps out in 1929 is NOT the same company that’s selling scrap metal to Japan in 1941! The company he briefly works for while on military leave, is owned by his wife’s uncle, is based in Erie, Pennsylvania, and makes cardboard shipping containers. The reason he helps at all, is because he wants to prove to his wife that he can make it outside the army, that he isn’t afraid of taking on a civilian job, and that the reason he remains a soldier is because that’s where he feels his talents are most needed. The company selling scrap metal to Japan was based in Oakland, California, and the owner was a friend of Damon’s father-in-law, George Caldwell. Big Difference… HUGE, actually!
Reflecting on it, Anton Myrer wasn’t some great prophet. He was just telling a story, especially in the part of the novel that covers the post world war two years, that incorporated Eishenhower’s “military industrial complex” into the plot. Myrer was hardly a fortune teller. He simply allowed the story to follow the dangers Ike warned about along their logical course.
Finally, I can’t agree with your bizarre conclusion that ALL the problems in the world are because of the United States. Myrer didn’t come close to making that sort of statement, and the fact you guys do, reveals more about your own prejudices rather than anything Anton Myrer wrote in his powerful novel.
(I know it’s an extremely long work of fiction, but I find it hard to believe either one of you actually read it. It sounds to me like the two of you, at best, read cliff notes on the novel. You attribute multiple quotes to the wrong people, don’t seem to truly understand the relationship between Joe Brand and Damon, and have a hard time making simple connections- Such as the fact Joey is the son of Sam’s best friend Ben, who was killed in World War Two because of the direct action of Massengale! The stuff the two of you DON’T KNOW about this book is hilarious! Did the two of you not imagine some of your viewers would be people who actually read and love this novel? My advice is to take this pod cast down, actually read the novel, or at least sit down with someone who HAS, that can steer you through what this book is actually about. Frankly, it’s embarrassing to hear the two of you self-righteously mumbling on for an hour about a work you have only the barest grasp of!)
@Books of Titans Key points you missed? Seems to me you drove right over key points you didn’t even know were there! I know this is harsh, but did either one of you even read the novel? It sounds more like you read cliff notes, and based your hour of mumbling based on that. How could you NOT know Damon fought WITH the communists, not AGAINST them, in China? It’s the prime reason he’s accused of being a red sympathizer the rest of his life. Joey Krisler is the son of Ben, Sam’s best friend from the end of World War One, until he’s killed in the second world war as a direct result of actions taken by Massengale! If there’s any “flaw” in Sam’s character, it’s how he responds to his friend’s killing, not his affair with Joyce! As for his idealism… That’s dead by the end of World War One, mostly because of the reality of battle, as opposed to his original dreams of glory, but also has much to do with his part in the killing of his first best friend, whom he met in boot camp, and served with even before the war. Do you even know who that is? As for your assertion that Sam is a just a kid when he knocks Big Tim Riley down the stairs of the Grand Hotel in Walt Whitman… The whole point of that story is Sam’s ability to listen to his “inner monitor,” and take the appropriate steps at the appropriate time. Sam wasn’t just some innocent little kid. He was already an extraordinary person, first in his high school class, and with enough talent as a baseball player to have qualified as a pro. Just how extraordinary is shown by how he personally walks in on his local congressman, and gets the man to name him as a candidate to West Point the following year! It’s Damon’s own restlessness, and personal sense of destiny, that’s responsible for him not waiting for the appointment, and enlisting as a private! These are all things you couldn’t know unless you actually read the novel. What makes me believe that you didn’t, are some of the quotes you attribute to the wrong people, and many of the connections you fail to make. Sam doesn’t reflect on the smell of battle, wishing to inflict it on Congress. That’s one of his staff officers. A small point, sure, but an important one to people who have actually read the book. Again, I’m sorry if this all sounds harsh, but I’ve read, re-read, and re-read this novel dozens of times over the last forty years. It’s probably my favorite book. Listening to you guys make pompous declarations over a novel you have only the barest grasp on, is like listening to fingernails scratch a blackboard. I don’t expect the truth out of you. If you really did read this novel, your comprehension of it is at a bare minimum. If I was betting money on it, though, I’d say you were working off cliff notes. My advice is simply this… If you’re going to do pod casts like this, make darn sure you know what you’re talking about. No matter how obscure you might think the work is, sure as shooting there will be a viewer out there who read the book you’re covering, and knows it inside and out.
Correction – submitted by Tom McCluskey
Hi, guys, just heard and enjoyed your podcast on Once An Eagle, one of my favorite books. Needed to correct you, however, on a mischaracterization of part of the story. One of you said that Sam was embedded with Chiang’s Kuomintang against Mao’s guerillas. That’s not correct; he was embedded with the guerillas in actions against the Japanese. Important distinction.
- Suggested by General Stanley McChrystal on page 440 in Tools of Titans.
- Author: Anton Myrer
- Books of Titans Book Review
- General Stanley McChrystal interviews on the Tim Ferriss podcast – Episode 1 & Episode 2
- Article – O! The damage ‘Once an Eagle’ has done to my Army — and yes, it is partly my fault