My Nuclear Family: A Coming-of-Age in America's Twenty-first-Century Military

Overview

The unsentimental education of an idealistic, brilliant American naval officer.

It begins in 2001. Christopher Brownfield is a naïve young midshipman. His heroes at the time: Oliver North and John McCain.

In My Nuclear Family, Brownfield writes about how he loved the navy for its “rigidity and its clarity in separating right from wrong”; how he cut his teeth there on the principles of energy and violence, strategy and thermodynamics, on war ...

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Overview

The unsentimental education of an idealistic, brilliant American naval officer.

It begins in 2001. Christopher Brownfield is a naïve young midshipman. His heroes at the time: Oliver North and John McCain.

In My Nuclear Family, Brownfield writes about how he loved the navy for its “rigidity and its clarity in separating right from wrong”; how he cut his teeth there on the principles of energy and violence, strategy and thermodynamics, on war doctrine and weapons systems. The question was never if he was capable of killing; it was simply about methods and rationales.

He writes about his years serving on a nuclear submarine, with its hundred-ton back-up battery—the first hybrid vehicle capable of sustaining its environment and mission independent of oil.

We see Lieutenant Brownfield making his way, receiving his advanced nuclear supervisory certification from the departments of defense and energy, and, after years of training to become a nuclear submariner, being able to supervise an entire reactor plant aboard a nuclear warship.

He writes about his ship’s secret missions in the global war on terror and how he begins to experience his own eroding faith in the entire operation . . .

He describes his decision to leave the navy to attend graduate school at Yale, as his colleagues in the submarine force are faced with a new morbid reality—an involuntary lottery for service in Iraq. And how, for the sake of his country, his naval forefathers, and his mother (who believed in cleaning up after one’s own messes), Brownfield is determined to do something good in the name of the United States.

With one foot in the door at Yale, Brownfield jumps on the hand grenade and volunteers to fill a one-year tour of duty in Baghdad, working in the strategic headquarters, reporting to the top general on matters of oil and electricity.

Brownfield, a submariner in the sands of the desert, writes about how he finds himself better equipped to handle the energy problem than his much more senior colleagues, many of whom had no prior experience in energy or management. With the arrival in Iraq of General Petraeus, and with policy changes and an overhaul in strategy, Brownfield is put center stage in the unit, supervising the colonel who was his former superior in rank; briefing cabinet ministers, ambassadors, and generals, who endorse his groundbreaking plans for energy efficiency, development, and counterinsurgency . . .

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Now a graduate student, the author of this brash memoir of dysfunction in the armed forces began as a lieutenant on the nuclear submarine USS Hartford, where military professionalism was tarnished by systematic cheating on the nuclear-propulsion exam and high blundering when senior officers ran the ship aground. Then came a stint in the pre-surge Green Zone trying to reconstruct Iraq's electricity system in a unit whose officers spent their time downloading pirated movies or angling for consulting gigs. Tasked with the daily briefing on the collapsing grid-- blackouts proliferated as insurgents wrecked power lines, killed repair workers, and kidnapped officials--Brownfield seethed as his efforts to address problems bogged down in military bureaucracy. Brownfield was one obstreperous lieutenant: he crashes a party with Ahmed Chalabi and the American ambassador, sounds off to a visiting senator, and tweaks generals to their faces. He similarly overreaches with his incoherent analysis of the Iraq War as a war for oil and a vague call for a global energy regime of "sustainable interdependence." Still, Brownfield's stimulating, disabused tale of corruption, incompetence, and careerism in uniform is a useful--sometimes explosive--corrective to hagiographic accounts of America's militarized approach to nation building. Photos. (Sept. 24)
From the Publisher

"Entertaining . . . [written with] a cocky, star-spangled, wide-angle feel, as if a subversive young novelist had decided to rewrite a Tom Clancy thriller after first piloting some nuclear submarines as a gonzo practice drill . . . hard to put down because of its rolling, seriocomic thunder and because of all the carnage, satiric and otherwise. . . A book that’s going to rattle some cages."
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"A stimulating, disabused tale of corruption, incompetence, and careerism in uniform. A sometimes explosive, corrective to hagiographic accounts of America’s militarized approach to nation building."
Publishers Weekly

"Witty, insightful, scathing, appalling and inspiring—a must-read book on the Iraq war."
Kirkus (starred)

Dwight Garner
…not the best book written by an insider about America's post-9/11 military, but it's certainly the most entertaining. It's got a cocky, star-spangled, wide-angle feel, as if a subversive young novelist had decided to rewrite a Tom Clancy thriller after first piloting some nuclear submarines as a gonzo practice drill…Here's the real reason that My Nuclear Family is hard to put down, though: Because of its rolling, seriocomic thunder and because of all the carnage, satiric and otherwise, Mr. Brownfield is willing to strew about. This is a book that's going to rattle some cages.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307271693
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/21/2010
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Brownfield was born in Michigan and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He has a master’s degree in international energy policy and international economics from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a master’s degree in engineering management from Old Dominion University. Brownfield has also been a visiting scholar on nuclear policy with the Hertog Global Strategy Initiative at Columbia University. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
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Read an Excerpt

1

In the Belly of the Beast

"Awoooooogaaa! Awoooooogaaa! Dive! Dive!"

That was what I heard in my head every time we dove the USS Hartford below the waves. I pretended to hear that sound with a sense of wistful nostalgia as I surveyed the seascape through my periscope, cherishing every last second of sunlight before the optics dipped below the water and we descended into the utter darkness of the ocean. The real sound of the Hartford's diving alarm, however, was no cause for nostalgia. Rather than the unmistakable tone of World War II Klaxons, the Hartford's aural signal to "take her down" more closely resembled a wounded chicken. "Baawwkk! Baawwkk! Dive! Dive!" was the sonic reality in this modern marvel of engineering. And so it came to pass that I settled for driving a nuclear warship that executed its primary design feature with the undignified sound of common poultry. It was this sound that first clued me in to the fact that life on a submarine is decidedly not what it used to be.

"Smith! Put your balls away! How many times do I have to tell you to keep your dick in your pants while you're on watch?" I yelled across my small elevated desk from the stool where I sat, supervising the men who controlled our ship's nuclear reactor.

"But, sir, it's hot in here...and besides, you know you like it," replied Petty Officer Smith, the overweight, smelly, and highly intelligent sailor who knew exactly how far he could push it before getting fired (and liked to prove so on a regular basis). The fat-ass winked at me.

"Whether I like it or not is iiii-fucking-rrrelevant! Stow your cock! End of discussion," I growled, slamming the heavy Reactor Plant Manual I was reading down on the metal desk. I said "End of discussion," but my rant was just getting started.

The Maneuvering Area, as it is formally known, is a room the size of a walk-in closet where more than five hundred gauges, meters, indicator lights, switches, and every other bell and whistle imaginable reside. It is the principal location from which three highly trained nuclear operators and one supervisor keep constant watch over the most important parameters of the ship's nuclear reactor plant. The late Hyman G. Rickover, Father of the Nuclear Navy, to whom The Simpsons' Montgomery Burns bears a remarkable resemblance, believed that the Maneuvering Area was sacred. The Reactor Plant Manuals use the word "inviolate" to describe Rickover's expectation of formality within Maneuvering's boundaries. And yet this was a typical day in Maneuvering, when a watch-stander, tired and hot, decided to unzip his trousers and brandish his genitals. Let's get something else out in the open--none of us actually enjoyed Smith's awkward testicular presence, but it was unusually hot in there and we couldn't really blame him for wanting to air out. Somewhere in nuclear heaven, Rickover was beginning to vomit.

"Listen up, fuckers." I continued my rant, annoyed.

"I used to be a fucking gentleman before you pricks corrupted me!"

The ghost of John Paul Jones was nowhere to be seen.

"Did you say you were fucking gentlemen?" interrupted Jenkins, another petty officer (and petty wit), who never missed an opportunity to make someone else look stupid.

"No, shit-scrap!" I shouted, eliciting chuckles (any novel permutation of basic vulgarity was enough to make them giggle). I was still annoyed, but they'd found the chink in my armor. With my momentum fizzling, I recommenced my rant. "As I was saying, I used to be a gentleman, and I'll be god-damned if I let you knuckleheads wag your dicks around in Maneuvering on my watch! Let's have some fucking professionalism!" I breathed deeply while dismounting my soapbox, but the bastards had done me in. I choked back a laugh but was unable to conceal my smile. The troops spotted my break in character and howled with delight. Smith zipped up his pants, sheepishly admitting defeat.

"Does it get any lower than this?"

"Technically, sir, we can go down another four hundred feet."

"Shut up, Jenkins."

"Aye, aye, sir."

The first time a sailor wagged his testicles before me as I knelt to read an instrument gauge, I completely lost control. It quite literally flew in the face of every example of professionalism that the Naval Academy had trained me to uphold. I was so angry by the overt harassment and the indignity of stumbling face-first point- blank into another man's balls that I threatened to have the pervert taken to captain's mast, the navy's version of a court-martial at sea. While morally and legally correct in that course of action, I know in hindsight that it was the wrong way to handle things aboard a real submarine.

When the hatch of a submarine shuts, the vessel becomes its own little universe, with a very different set of rules. Bollocks to Einstein-the modern submarine redefines relativity. In that universe one should never admit one's weaknesses. Aboard a submarine, to reveal that a particular thing irritates you is to invite repeat occurrences of that irritant ad infinitum. It was a mixed-up maxim, a Kantian kerfuffle that promised, through the miracle of socialized military medicine, to make our lives nasty, brutish, and long. For example, when our ship's executive officer (XO) divulged that he was "somewhat of a homophobe," our fellow officers responded by taping pictures from gay porn magazines onto the ceiling above his stateroom bunk. The first time he lay down to read and looked up at the pictures, he ran screaming through the door in his skivvies. The man's public display of hairy near-nakedness opened the field for more comments-nothing was off limits, except the captain himself. Days later at sea, several members of the "all-balls" crew sent the man anonymous love notes and signed pictures of shirtless male models posing on sports cars, all graced with loverly terms of endearment and XOXOXs. One envelope was even sealed with a lipstick kiss. I don't know which man brought the lipstick aboard, and it's probably better for some questions to remain unasked.

But just as the XO had erred in admitting his fear of homosexual behavior, it was my mistake to admit that the sight of another man's penis in close proximity to my face was...well, odious.

"You should have just grabbed it," my colleague Jake opined after my first encounter. Jake was always the pragmatist.

"Or pretended that you liked it or something-that would have freaked him out. Now every enlisted man on the ship knows that you can't abide cock."

I thought about it for a second and agreed that Jake's tactic of carpe scrotum was indeed a better alternative than threatening the sailor with penal action. A thorough hand-washing would've been required, of course.

"Think about it, Chris," he continued. "If you had simply grabbed his sack and dragged him around the ship like a fleshy little puppet, nobody would have ever fucked with you again-you would have been a god."

Jake was right. I could have been a god. We paused for a moment, lamenting the lost opportunity for ultimate respect, albeit respect bounded in the nutshell of that horribly finite space. And so it came to pass that instead of being a god among the sailors of the Hartford, I writhed within my mortal coil, a prick supervisor, irritated by the sight of other men's schlongs. From that point forward, in accordance with standard submarine practice, I saw, unwillingly, more schlong than any other officer aboard the ship.

 

Please recall that this is a family story. It's true that I've seen more of certain tiny things than I'd ever hoped for in life, but every family has its quirks. I don't recall my less gentlemanly shipmates with any particular fondness, but I can no more divest myself of their underwater antics than disown my brothers. The experience was all part of growing up in that strange watery world. Welcome to my home.

The modern nuclear submarine is the most extreme machine on the face of the planet. By comparison, space shuttles and fighter jets and even armored tanks are fragile and basic. The vacuum of space is nothing compared to the cold, crushing pressure of the deep. The thrust of an afterburner is nothing compared to the silent force of atomic engines. It is a well-known fact that a nuclear submarine is capable of traversing the depths of the oceans to strike practically anywhere with lethal precision. It is far less well known that the nuclear submarine can create and maintain its own atmosphere. Now, at the dawning of the third millennium, it is strangely novel to recall that the nuclear submarine-equipped with a hundred-ton backup battery- was the first hybrid vehicle that could sustain its environment and mission independent of oil.

Energy has always sharpened the cutting edge of violence, especially in the world's navies. In the first millennium, Greek Fire swept the Byzantine navy toward stunning victories. At the beginning of industrial modernity, Roosevelt's Great White Fleet circumnavigated the globe on coal. But the greatest shift in the forces of violence that energy brought to the world came in the discovery of oil. More than any other source of power in history, oil-the most efficient, mobile, and useful energy source-empowered nations to seek and maintain control. It was a legendary American admiral, Alfred Thayer Mahan, who coined the term "Middle East" in his monumental geo-strategic book, The Influence of Seapower upon History. But it was the British who learned seven years later the influence of oil upon empire.

By dint of capitalist zeal, a British prospector unearthed the massive oil reserves in "petroliferous" Persia. Like an explosive gusher of crude, the discovery of oil propelled the ancient homeland of the Zoroastrians (who worshipped burning oil seepages) to the forefront of the twentieth century's greatest power struggle. American captains of industry like John D. Rockefeller had been building empires of capitalism for thirty years, and the British saw Iran as a strategic step toward controlling their own massive energy supplies. The grand secret was out: with oil came wealth and power.

By 1913 Winston Churchill, at the helm of the Royal Navy, changed the course of his empire with the historic decision to shift the British fleet from coal to oil. At the time Churchill feared the rising power of Germany. It was this fear that finally convinced him to agree with the founder of Shell Oil that change was necessary-even before a steady oil supply could be secured. The switch to oil gave Her Majesty's fleet a fighting edge, making Britain's ships more fuel- efficient and faster than the steamships fired by coal. The switch was more than tactical-it was a matter of evolution or extinction.

Ironically, Churchill's move encountered considerable resistance at home. Sheffield had plenty of coal, but nary a drop of oil. Thus Britain faced the choice of forgoing a reliable supply of coal and basing its naval supremacy upon a single, enormous question mark. Conservative parliamentarians and admirals argued against foreign oil in favor of energy independence. To these men, homeland security meant keeping coal alive as a reliable and profitable source of energy. The switch to oil flew in the face of conventional wisdom by necessitating an unprecedented level of global interdependence. Yet even more critically, Churchill's progressive switch to an oil-based navy encountered tremendous resistance at home because it required the Britons to embrace a changing world.

Despite the resistance that Churchill faced in moving his country forward, the Great War had a way of forcing Britain to grow up. As Daniel Yergin explained in his history of oil, "Many would look back upon those spring and early summer days of 1914 as the dusk of an era, the end of a childhood." By the end of World War I, the strategic importance of oil had proven itself beyond all doubts. The mechanization of militaries and the introduction of the Tank (a secretive project that got its code name from its liquid-fuel tank), broke the hopeless stalemate of trench warfare. For England, oil had been crowned the new king. And for the soon-to-be prime minister, Churchill, the thirst for oil was all too clear: "Mastery itself was the prize of the venture."

After World War I, England's need for foreign oil was obvious, though as Yergin explains, "explicitly pronouncing Mesopotamia as a war aim would seem too old-fashionably imperialistic." Thus British Foreign Secretary Balfour succinctly explained the required evolution of imperialism: "I do not care under which system we keep the oil, but I am quite clear that it is all-important for us that this oil should be available."

For the next several decades, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later British Petroleum) exploited the unsophisticated Iranians with the legalistic power of oil concessions, becoming one of the most profitable companies in the history of the world while driving the Royal Navy at full speed ahead.

For America, World War II began and ended over the pivotal forces of oil. It was not the temptation of power but the fear of dwindling energy supplies and the American oil embargo that spurred the Japanese to strike at Pearl Harbor before seizing the oil fields of Borneo. It was not the bravery of the Allied forces but the critical shortage of gas that stopped the tanks of Nazi Field Marshall Rommel literally in their tracks; the Desert Fox died of thirst for oil.

For postwar America, energy security meant engaging the Middle East in developing its oil. The war's last secretary of the navy and America's first secretary of defense, James Forrestal, led a concerted effort to shift American dependencies to Middle Eastern oil, effectively putting an end to America's energy independence. While the major oil companies faced antitrust lawsuits at home, the U.S. government gave them carte blanche to collude in Saudia Arabia, ushering forth the greatest oil discoveries in history and an era of unmitigated consumption.

While profits of multinational oil companies soared and the coffers of petrol states began to fill, the people of the Middle East slowly awakened to the reality that they'd been bought and sold by the West. The spark of nationalism was fanned into flame in Tehran when a brilliant secular lawyer, educated in France, surprised the world by having the audacity to stand up to the British. Mohammed Mossadegh vowed to rid his homeland of the exploitive British concessionaires and restore what he believed to be the birthright of all Iranians. Nationalizing the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1951 and reclaiming Iran's oil for its own people was an earthquake that sent a tidal wave of nationalistic self-determination around the globe. England was too weakened by war to break its addiction to foreign oil; the ravages had been enormous. Without Iranian oil at her disposal, the last remnants of the British Empire were doomed to collapse.

A plot was formed.

Churchill, desperate to salvage his country's strength, implored President Truman to help overthrow Mossadegh and reinstate the Shah of Iran. Truman rejected the proposal flatly; to replace an elected leader of a democratic country with a monarch was insultingly backward for a world that was supposed to have been "made safe for democracy" by the terrible sacrifices of two world wars. Truman, however, did not remain president for long. When Eisenhower took office, Churchill found his ally for the plot against Mossadegh, overthrowing the elected leader in a secret CIA-led coup.

Ironically, Eisenhower supported the coup not because he wanted Iranian oil but because he feared that the nuclear-armed Soviets would engulf Iran if the West did not intervene. At the onset of the nuclear age, the paradigm of energy and violence had split into two. For energy, Oil was still King, but for warfare, the Atom had been crowned Emperor.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note

Introduction 3

1 In the Belly of the Beast 11

2 Nuclear Family Life 25

3 Damn the Torpedoes!!! 37

4 Crush Depth 50

5 Gunboat Diplomats 62

6 Surfacing 73

7 Fish Out of Water 81

8 The Process We Do 92

9 The E-Team 107

10 Ramadan Soiree 121

11 Black Gold 138

12 Learning to Fly 151

13 Flying Solo 165

14 Non Sibi Sed Petraeus 182

15 The Precipitous Pullout 197

16 McCainery, Chicanery 212

17 Lukewarm Fusion 224

18 A Thousand Points of Light 241

19 The Night of Fire 253

20 Afterword 269

Appendix A Selected Letters and Correspondence from Iraq 281

Appendix B Post-Hearing Questions for the Record Submitted to Major General Ronald L. Johnson from Senator Barack Obama 285

Acknowledgments 295

Notes 297

Bibliography 301

Index 305

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First Chapter

My Nuclear Family

A Coming-of-Age in America's Twenty-first-Century Military
By Christopher Brownfield

Knopf

Copyright © 2010 Christopher Brownfield
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307271693

1

In the Belly of the Beast

"Awoooooogaaa! Awoooooogaaa! Dive! Dive!"

That was what I heard in my head every time we dove the USS Hartford below the waves. I pretended to hear that sound with a sense of wistful nostalgia as I surveyed the seascape through my periscope, cherishing every last second of sunlight before the optics dipped below the water and we descended into the utter darkness of the ocean. The real sound of the Hartford's diving alarm, however, was no cause for nostalgia. Rather than the unmistakable tone of World War II Klaxons, the Hartford's aural signal to "take her down" more closely resembled a wounded chicken. "Baawwkk! Baawwkk! Dive! Dive!" was the sonic reality in this modern marvel of engineering. And so it came to pass that I settled for driving a nuclear warship that executed its primary design feature with the undignified sound of common poultry. It was this sound that first clued me in to the fact that life on a submarine is decidedly not what it used to be.

"Smith! Put your balls away! How many times do I have to tell you to keep your dick in your pants while you're on watch?" I yelled across my small elevated desk from the stool where I sat, supervising the men who controlled our ship's nuclear reactor.

"But, sir, it's hot in here...and besides, you know you like it," replied Petty Officer Smith, the overweight, smelly, and highly intelligent sailor who knew exactly how far he could push it before getting fired (and liked to prove so on a regular basis). The fat-ass winked at me.

"Whether I like it or not is iiii-fucking-rrrelevant! Stow your cock! End of discussion," I growled, slamming the heavy Reactor Plant Manual I was reading down on the metal desk. I said "End of discussion," but my rant was just getting started.

The Maneuvering Area, as it is formally known, is a room the size of a walk-in closet where more than five hundred gauges, meters, indicator lights, switches, and every other bell and whistle imaginable reside. It is the principal location from which three highly trained nuclear operators and one supervisor keep constant watch over the most important parameters of the ship's nuclear reactor plant. The late Hyman G. Rickover, Father of the Nuclear Navy, to whom The Simpsons' Montgomery Burns bears a remarkable resemblance, believed that the Maneuvering Area was sacred. The Reactor Plant Manuals use the word "inviolate" to describe Rickover's expectation of formality within Maneuvering's boundaries. And yet this was a typical day in Maneuvering, when a watch-stander, tired and hot, decided to unzip his trousers and brandish his genitals. Let's get something else out in the open--none of us actually enjoyed Smith's awkward testicular presence, but it was unusually hot in there and we couldn't really blame him for wanting to air out. Somewhere in nuclear heaven, Rickover was beginning to vomit.

"Listen up, fuckers." I continued my rant, annoyed.

"I used to be a fucking gentleman before you pricks corrupted me!"

The ghost of John Paul Jones was nowhere to be seen.

"Did you say you were fucking gentlemen?" interrupted Jenkins, another petty officer (and petty wit), who never missed an opportunity to make someone else look stupid.

"No, shit-scrap!" I shouted, eliciting chuckles (any novel permutation of basic vulgarity was enough to make them giggle). I was still annoyed, but they'd found the chink in my armor. With my momentum fizzling, I recommenced my rant. "As I was saying, I used to be a gentleman, and I'll be god-damned if I let you knuckleheads wag your dicks around in Maneuvering on my watch! Let's have some fucking professionalism!" I breathed deeply while dismounting my soapbox, but the bastards had done me in. I choked back a laugh but was unable to conceal my smile. The troops spotted my break in character and howled with delight. Smith zipped up his pants, sheepishly admitting defeat.

"Does it get any lower than this?"

"Technically, sir, we can go down another four hundred feet."

"Shut up, Jenkins."

"Aye, aye, sir."

The first time a sailor wagged his testicles before me as I knelt to read an instrument gauge, I completely lost control. It quite literally flew in the face of every example of professionalism that the Naval Academy had trained me to uphold. I was so angry by the overt harassment and the indignity of stumbling face-first point- blank into another man's balls that I threatened to have the pervert taken to captain's mast, the navy's version of a court-martial at sea. While morally and legally correct in that course of action, I know in hindsight that it was the wrong way to handle things aboard a real submarine.

When the hatch of a submarine shuts, the vessel becomes its own little universe, with a very different set of rules. Bollocks to Einstein-the modern submarine redefines relativity. In that universe one should never admit one's weaknesses. Aboard a submarine, to reveal that a particular thing irritates you is to invite repeat occurrences of that irritant ad infinitum. It was a mixed-up maxim, a Kantian kerfuffle that promised, through the miracle of socialized military medicine, to make our lives nasty, brutish, and long. For example, when our ship's executive officer (XO) divulged that he was "somewhat of a homophobe," our fellow officers responded by taping pictures from gay porn magazines onto the ceiling above his stateroom bunk. The first time he lay down to read and looked up at the pictures, he ran screaming through the door in his skivvies. The man's public display of hairy near-nakedness opened the field for more comments-nothing was off limits, except the captain himself. Days later at sea, several members of the "all-balls" crew sent the man anonymous love notes and signed pictures of shirtless male models posing on sports cars, all graced with loverly terms of endearment and XOXOXs. One envelope was even sealed with a lipstick kiss. I don't know which man brought the lipstick aboard, and it's probably better for some questions to remain unasked.

But just as the XO had erred in admitting his fear of homosexual behavior, it was my mistake to admit that the sight of another man's penis in close proximity to my face was...well, odious.

"You should have just grabbed it," my colleague Jake opined after my first encounter. Jake was always the pragmatist.

"Or pretended that you liked it or something-that would have freaked him out. Now every enlisted man on the ship knows that you can't abide cock."

I thought about it for a second and agreed that Jake's tactic of carpe scrotum was indeed a better alternative than threatening the sailor with penal action. A thorough hand-washing would've been required, of course.

"Think about it, Chris," he continued. "If you had simply grabbed his sack and dragged him around the ship like a fleshy little puppet, nobody would have ever fucked with you again-you would have been a god."

Jake was right. I could have been a god. We paused for a moment, lamenting the lost opportunity for ultimate respect, albeit respect bounded in the nutshell of that horribly finite space. And so it came to pass that instead of being a god among the sailors of the Hartford, I writhed within my mortal coil, a prick supervisor, irritated by the sight of other men's schlongs. From that point forward, in accordance with standard submarine practice, I saw, unwillingly, more schlong than any other officer aboard the ship.


 

Please recall that this is a family story. It's true that I've seen more of certain tiny things than I'd ever hoped for in life, but every family has its quirks. I don't recall my less gentlemanly shipmates with any particular fondness, but I can no more divest myself of their underwater antics than disown my brothers. The experience was all part of growing up in that strange watery world. Welcome to my home.

The modern nuclear submarine is the most extreme machine on the face of the planet. By comparison, space shuttles and fighter jets and even armored tanks are fragile and basic. The vacuum of space is nothing compared to the cold, crushing pressure of the deep. The thrust of an afterburner is nothing compared to the silent force of atomic engines. It is a well-known fact that a nuclear submarine is capable of traversing the depths of the oceans to strike practically anywhere with lethal precision. It is far less well known that the nuclear submarine can create and maintain its own atmosphere. Now, at the dawning of the third millennium, it is strangely novel to recall that the nuclear submarine-equipped with a hundred-ton backup battery- was the first hybrid vehicle that could sustain its environment and mission independent of oil.

Energy has always sharpened the cutting edge of violence, especially in the world's navies. In the first millennium, Greek Fire swept the Byzantine navy toward stunning victories. At the beginning of industrial modernity, Roosevelt's Great White Fleet circumnavigated the globe on coal. But the greatest shift in the forces of violence that energy brought to the world came in the discovery of oil. More than any other source of power in history, oil-the most efficient, mobile, and useful energy source-empowered nations to seek and maintain control. It was a legendary American admiral, Alfred Thayer Mahan, who coined the term "Middle East" in his monumental geo-strategic book, The Influence of Seapower upon History. But it was the British who learned seven years later the influence of oil upon empire.

By dint of capitalist zeal, a British prospector unearthed the massive oil reserves in "petroliferous" Persia. Like an explosive gusher of crude, the discovery of oil propelled the ancient homeland of the Zoroastrians (who worshipped burning oil seepages) to the forefront of the twentieth century's greatest power struggle. American captains of industry like John D. Rockefeller had been building empires of capitalism for thirty years, and the British saw Iran as a strategic step toward controlling their own massive energy supplies. The grand secret was out: with oil came wealth and power.

By 1913 Winston Churchill, at the helm of the Royal Navy, changed the course of his empire with the historic decision to shift the British fleet from coal to oil. At the time Churchill feared the rising power of Germany. It was this fear that finally convinced him to agree with the founder of Shell Oil that change was necessary-even before a steady oil supply could be secured. The switch to oil gave Her Majesty's fleet a fighting edge, making Britain's ships more fuel- efficient and faster than the steamships fired by coal. The switch was more than tactical-it was a matter of evolution or extinction.

Ironically, Churchill's move encountered considerable resistance at home. Sheffield had plenty of coal, but nary a drop of oil. Thus Britain faced the choice of forgoing a reliable supply of coal and basing its naval supremacy upon a single, enormous question mark. Conservative parliamentarians and admirals argued against foreign oil in favor of energy independence. To these men, homeland security meant keeping coal alive as a reliable and profitable source of energy. The switch to oil flew in the face of conventional wisdom by necessitating an unprecedented level of global interdependence. Yet even more critically, Churchill's progressive switch to an oil-based navy encountered tremendous resistance at home because it required the Britons to embrace a changing world.

Despite the resistance that Churchill faced in moving his country forward, the Great War had a way of forcing Britain to grow up. As Daniel Yergin explained in his history of oil, "Many would look back upon those spring and early summer days of 1914 as the dusk of an era, the end of a childhood." By the end of World War I, the strategic importance of oil had proven itself beyond all doubts. The mechanization of militaries and the introduction of the Tank (a secretive project that got its code name from its liquid-fuel tank), broke the hopeless stalemate of trench warfare. For England, oil had been crowned the new king. And for the soon-to-be prime minister, Churchill, the thirst for oil was all too clear: "Mastery itself was the prize of the venture."

After World War I, England's need for foreign oil was obvious, though as Yergin explains, "explicitly pronouncing Mesopotamia as a war aim would seem too old-fashionably imperialistic." Thus British Foreign Secretary Balfour succinctly explained the required evolution of imperialism: "I do not care under which system we keep the oil, but I am quite clear that it is all-important for us that this oil should be available."

For the next several decades, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later British Petroleum) exploited the unsophisticated Iranians with the legalistic power of oil concessions, becoming one of the most profitable companies in the history of the world while driving the Royal Navy at full speed ahead.

For America, World War II began and ended over the pivotal forces of oil. It was not the temptation of power but the fear of dwindling energy supplies and the American oil embargo that spurred the Japanese to strike at Pearl Harbor before seizing the oil fields of Borneo. It was not the bravery of the Allied forces but the critical shortage of gas that stopped the tanks of Nazi Field Marshall Rommel literally in their tracks; the Desert Fox died of thirst for oil.

For postwar America, energy security meant engaging the Middle East in developing its oil. The war's last secretary of the navy and America's first secretary of defense, James Forrestal, led a concerted effort to shift American dependencies to Middle Eastern oil, effectively putting an end to America's energy independence. While the major oil companies faced antitrust lawsuits at home, the U.S. government gave them carte blanche to collude in Saudia Arabia, ushering forth the greatest oil discoveries in history and an era of unmitigated consumption.

While profits of multinational oil companies soared and the coffers of petrol states began to fill, the people of the Middle East slowly awakened to the reality that they'd been bought and sold by the West. The spark of nationalism was fanned into flame in Tehran when a brilliant secular lawyer, educated in France, surprised the world by having the audacity to stand up to the British. Mohammed Mossadegh vowed to rid his homeland of the exploitive British concessionaires and restore what he believed to be the birthright of all Iranians. Nationalizing the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1951 and reclaiming Iran's oil for its own people was an earthquake that sent a tidal wave of nationalistic self-determination around the globe. England was too weakened by war to break its addiction to foreign oil; the ravages had been enormous. Without Iranian oil at her disposal, the last remnants of the British Empire were doomed to collapse.

A plot was formed.

Churchill, desperate to salvage his country's strength, implored President Truman to help overthrow Mossadegh and reinstate the Shah of Iran. Truman rejected the proposal flatly; to replace an elected leader of a democratic country with a monarch was insultingly backward for a world that was supposed to have been "made safe for democracy" by the terrible sacrifices of two world wars. Truman, however, did not remain president for long. When Eisenhower took office, Churchill found his ally for the plot against Mossadegh, overthrowing the elected leader in a secret CIA-led coup.

Ironically, Eisenhower supported the coup not because he wanted Iranian oil but because he feared that the nuclear-armed Soviets would engulf Iran if the West did not intervene. At the onset of the nuclear age, the paradigm of energy and violence had split into two. For energy, Oil was still King, but for warfare, the Atom had been crowned Emperor.

Continues...

Excerpted from My Nuclear Family by Christopher Brownfield Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Brownfield. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 22, 2010

    NY Times, you have failed me for the last time...

    Okaaaayyy. Where to start? I've come to respect the outspoken, especially when there are a lot of things that go unsaid that need to be spoken. I'm thinking here is a guy who is trying to do the right thing in an insane world or half-assery. I imagined how my experiences in Iraq conducting street patrols and doing the leg work of what became nation building would be described. We did are part, so did a lot of other units. Sometimes it seemed there were those that were pissing in the wheels of progress, but everyone knew who everyone was. If you walked the streets, you earned the right to criticize. But a lot of good came from it.

    Anyhow, onto the book. The Submarine parts were kinda neat. It's not quite on a par with the Hunt For Red October, but I couldn't really relate to it, since I am not in Navy. But, couldn't get over Mr. Brownfield's superiority complex. However, in fairness, this part's entertaining so it gets itself a star.

    The language is a bit amusing, I'll give it that. Certainly there were some echos of frustration that I can relate to, but I just left Iraq at the begining of 2006, not long before he arrived... There were things that were inconsistant. I still had many of my comrades there, so it was easy to follow up on much of what was going on. When you lose comrades in war, you kind of want to it all to count for something so I take Iraq a bit personally. The more I read on, the more pissed I got... The author does himself no favors by spotlighting errors. That's easy to do. But that foreshadowed anything good that was going on. This book was personally insulting. Military life isn't supposed to be all clean cut. Sometimes you need to miracle some things yourself instead of pointing fingers. That never solved anything. Again, this part was saturate with a lot of arrogance and things that I know were made up. It's bar talk in parts. I heard dozens of stories like this.

    Oh yeah, bye the way: "I never wanted to be a jarhead or Seal or Ranger or Delta Force or Batman or anything else that the local beer-bellied wannabes claimed they were gonna be when they grew up," Thanks, pal.
    The authors's truly the wannabe.

    Rangers Lead The Way

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2010

    Disgrace

    Garbage. Pure, unadulterated BS. For those who have been truly "outside the wire", you would recognize one of these agenda-driven personalities, who arrive in a war zone with one purpose: Get famous. Be the 'sole voice of opposition', the' last beacon of hope' within an unjust war waged by an Evil Empire, they so innocently claim to not know they were a part of. I've met several people, like Brownfield who actually volunteer (in a safe job in the Green zone of course) JUST to write a book. They all pretend to be patriots, but in truth, their opinions were already formed and all that remained was acquiring some time on the ground to somehow create an illusion of legitimacy. They always hyped up what they did, while downplaying others who truly go through hell. This book is a collection of personal attacks, generalizations, assumptions that do nothing to illustrate the ground truth, and still finds someway to brag about himself or justify failures professionally and socially. This book is a disservice to anyone that served in Iraq (both Military and Civilian), further fought, bled or died fighting for something they believed in, whatever it was respectively. War is ugly- That's granted. There are always the good, bad and the ugly. But then you have someone come along and try to twist a bad situation for their own personal gain, then it truly reflects on the type of person they are. I have more respect for the insurgents I fought than this author.

    What a blatant waste of veteran status.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 21, 2010

    Rubbish

    Was going to get this as a gift for someone, a former submariner gone army who served in the Iraq. Of course, I had to read it first. This was god-awful. I think author is trying to get himself into politics. I was hoping for a relevant tale of our cold war-designed Navy's role in today's asymmetric war, and I got this disappointment.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 20, 2010

    Wasted my time and money

    It's hard to read this and not psycho-analyze this former Officer.I never read anything by an author so full of himself. Pass on this one, folks.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 5, 2010

    Re-opening old wounds

    Thanks for degrading a lot of good people's hard-fought sacrifices.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2010

    Damn your torpedo

    I did not much care for this book. The author never misses an opportunity to place the blame on others when things didn't go well or if he had a partial understanding of what was going on around him. But of course, he takes credit for the sky being blue when something goes right. I've met plenty of spotlighters in my service of this great nation. Maybe I should write a book too.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2010

    Short and Sweet review

    Everyone else hit all the points already. This book is made of FAIL and reads like a comic book with some occasional techno-babble. On amazon, Brownfield is trying rebut negative commentary. He's also claiming he has post-traumatic stress. That's pretty amazing for someone who never saw any combat. It's great how people who served with him are calling him out on his claims.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2010

    Gift giving

    This was a birthday present. It was one of those it's the thought the counts awkward moments. Before you buy this book as a gift for someone in the military, know a little bit about what you buy and who you are buying it for. Thanks but no thanks.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 13, 2010

    Job application for Wikileaks? ?

    Has this book seriously been vetted? Someone else rating pointed out this book comes out in time for the elections. To me it looked like the publishing date was aimed at getting it as close as possible to September 11th to inappropriately harness the emotions around it.

    As I was reading, I almost felt disgust that I may have been a part of these problems the author goes into, then I thought wait, "I was there!" Having a unique perspective like being there tends to negate such works as this. There are half-truths wrapped around fantasy and wishful thinking. I would love to counter a lot of 'points' the author made as much of it is from the limitted perspective of a true powerpoint ranger but, that's right; the conflict isn't over! There are still people putting their lives on the line to make way for junk like this that jeopardizes everything everyone has fought for. Glad you stayed in the Green zone the whole time Mr. Brownfield. You would not have lasted in my neighborhood.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 22, 2010

    Interesting in some points, but there's something... Artificial.

    I am really not sure what to make of this. I guess everyone has a different military experience. Is what you make of it. I had a tough time finishing the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 5, 2011

    Over-saturation

    Guys, we get it. This 'War' sucks and everyone has their own personal hell to talk about. There's personal accounts and such, which is all fine given the times, but seriously we need to check fire on a lot of the same old same old. There are great 'war' books to come out over the last decade. This is not one of them. I'm a vet. I've seen some crazy $hit. I am not going to write a book about it. Like a lot of us, we'll spend the better part of the rest of our lives trying to figure what it all meant in our heads; what the hell was the point, what was our role individually, did we do the right thing, did we do the wrong thing, etc. etc. until we're green in the face. Oversimplification, spot-lighting, pointing fingers and making oneself the innocent whistle-blower in the fiasco does nothing to fix the situation or 'edit, undo' the last 8 years. Frankly, I'm tired of these kind of books. As I am writing this review of a book I wish I never read, I'm getting ready to go back... Again. Not because I am inspired by George W. Bush's vision of a magical wonderland that is to be Iraq 2.0, but because sometimes you need to salute the flag and move out. Personally, I want to see this through to the end. I really don't care what is considered right and wrong. The Author clearly didn't belong in Iraq. Whether or not I do is relative, but I do give a $hit.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 22, 2011

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

    We all know this war was was pretty backasswards, but it's even more assward to make the US Embassy to Baghdad 2006 sound like it's Berlin 1945 and we're all huddled around fist on chin at Nuremberg listening in on and how he was the only sane officer with a moral compass trying to do the right thing. Yeah right. Sometimes the author acts like he is Jack Ryan, James Bond with a hint of Stewie Griffin. Defintiely the kind of person that winks at himself anytime he passes a mirror.

    I hated this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2011

    His story, not history

    Why is this crap sold in the PX? I saw this book on the shelf mixed up in the military 'history' section. That's a good one.

    Oh yeah, my review: This book su@ks. Thanks for pi$$ing on everyone's sacrifices, Chris.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2011

    Why isn't the world as smart as me?

    At least that's probably what Leutnant Brownfield thinks. I actually managed to read the whole book. I was that bored. Time made available thanks to the airport gods. Yep. Think I'll be killing myself now.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 4, 2011

    ROFL

    Everyone covered everything already but I thought I would say I really really really thought this book was really [bad]. I would prefer to keep my tone somewhat [professional] however if I were to really describe my problems with this book I would have to get [unprofessional] and my comments would probably be removed by the administrator. I would rather have read Twilight in hindsight. Thank you for taking the time to read my comment.

    Dear adminstrator, can we add a 1-5 scale for [paper-weight] and [book throwing] or shreddrer nom-noms.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2011

    ?

    I made it through only three chapters. What a narcissist. The author is so in love with himself.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 13, 2010

    Sad

    I am going to give a second star for the author having at least gone to Iraq for pity sake.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 9, 2010

    Wave off!

    This is the first book I could not finish reading. I tried to finish it. I really really did. Terrible.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2010

    Nice try

    Note to self: Read reviews before spending money. Curious how this book comes out so close to the election. Did someone have an agenda?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 28, 2010

    Once upon a time...

    This book is enjoyable in some places, if you acknowledge it as fiction.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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