The Bear Went Over the Mountain is a prime example of the experiences that military officers are subjected to when they are at war. In this case, the military officers of Russia were engaged in counterinsurgency measures against the mujahideen in Afghanistan. While the book is in itself simple and direct, it is also laden with undertones of military officer qualities and attributes that are vital to the effective performance of the entire military outfit waging war against the enemy. One of the core qualities outlined throughout the different experiences captured in the book is duty. All through the different essays, a keen sense of duty is reflected not only among the soldiers, but also among their leaders regardless of the ranks. In essence, this book is a wonderful guide that not only underscores the importance of duty through the collective of experiences from various military rank officers, but also highlights how duty forms a core part of successful military operations.
All through the book, a number of issues are addressed. Some of these range from active preparation to the utilization of fundamental concepts of military warfare such as surprise. These are highly effective in ensuring that there is a clear and consistent flow of the message that is being provided by the book. The authors of the book work well to categorize the various vignettes into six core chapters based on the kind of operation that is being conducted (Grau, 2010). These chapters represent the various stories and experiences of different army officers. However, they are keen to provide a collective sense of the role that duty plays at all times. Throughout the book, the accounts do well to reiterate the sense of duty that the soldiers and more so their leaders had before they embarked on their mission. This is reflected in how they prepared for the mission and how they conducted themselves during the mission (Grau, 2010). At the same time, it should be noted that the accounts of military leaders always seem to embody their sense of responsibility and duty not only to their superiors, but also to their juniors. This is a wonderful demonstration of exactly how military leaders are required to conduct themselves, especially during times of war.
It should also be noted that there is a great sense of duty reflected in the way in which the topics are categorically defined. The experiences of the military officers in Afghanistan were varied in nature and design (Grau, 2010). Nonetheless, the authors of the book manage to condense the content into six chapters that outline the duty that the Russian military had insofar as their invasion of Afghanistan is concerned. For instance, the first chapter is titled ‘Blocking and Destroying Guerrilla Forces,’ which in itself is a very convenient title. Upon their invasion of Afghanistan, the Russian military had to combat a spirited and driven mujahideen force that relied heavily on Guerrilla warfare tactics (Grau, 2010). As such, it was important for the military officers to understand that combating this form of warfare was not only a necessity, but also a duty. As such, the categorization of the vignettes are a representation of the basic tasks that every military officer and leader has a duty to uphold (Grau, 2010). The titles essentially remind every reader that as a military leader and officer, one has a sense of duty to ensure that the tasks outlined as core chapters are performed during warfare. This reinforces the sense of duty that officers and leaders have towards their cause and purpose behind warfare.
One of the most interesting, though shallow, aspects of this book are the situational analysis of the different vignettes outlined in the book. The vignettes are presented from a first-hand account perspective and the maps work well to enable the reader fully comprehend the situation in Afghanistan as it unfolded. Although they were often shallow, they never failed to remind the reader of the sense of duty to one’s colleagues, superiors, juniors, and country that all military officers should have (Grau, 2010). Perhaps this was based on the kind of training that the Russian officers had received, but it was nonetheless important to cementing the core message of the book. In addition to the analysis provided by the vignettes, the commentary provided by The Frunze Military Academy and Lester Grau consistently works well to underscore the importance of strong leadership and a sense of duty (Grau, 2010). This is reflected particularly in the way that they approach tactical mistakes or blunders made during some of the operations captured in the vignettes (Grau, 2010). Rather than point them out simply as mistakes that have occurred, the commentators address them as blunders that should have been avoided because committing them was essentially against the duties of the soldiers and their leaders. This kind of approach is extremely powerful. First off, it reminds the reader that essentially every tactical blunder can be avoided by proper planning and deep consideration of the circumstances. Secondly, it reiterates the fact that such planning, consideration, and scrupulous application of military warfare doctrine is in fact a duty that all officers and their leaders must embody (Grau, 2010). This kind of approach solidifies and underscores the importance placed on duty, and reminds all counterinsurgency students that they should remember such duties whenever they find themselves in similar positions.
Although the vignettes are particularly wonderful at exploring some of the tactical choices made by military leaders and how they affect operations, they are severely deficient when it comes to addressing some of the context within which the vignettes are told (Grau, 2010). This limits the ability of readers to fully understand some of the decisions made and their rationales. However, the commentators appear to have some more information that more clearly presents the context in which the vignettes occur, and perhaps this is the reason why they are successful in highlighting some of the failings and successes of military leaders insofar as their operations and duties are concerned (Grau, 2010). This is important because the context in which situations occur and the circumstances surrounding them are vital to further highlighting the roles and duties of leaders. As opposed to simply commentating on whether a decision was right or wrong insofar as duty is concerned, presenting a holistic picture of the context in which the situation unfolds would have been more effective at reminding readers of the duties that military leaders and officers have should similar situations and contexts occur (Grau, 2010). This would have been extremely effective and arguably much more interesting.
One of the core aspects of this book is that it manages to explore both the positive and negative aspects of the Russian military’s performance with respect to the Afghanistan invasion. This is perhaps because the book was initially intended for use as an internal guide to good and bad military practice. However, it should also be clear that there are plenty of insights to be gained from the evaluations of the vignettes. For instance, the conduction of the ceremonial inspection by the regimental commander before confronting the mujahideen was hailed as tactical blunder because it took away the element of surprise from the subsequent attack (Grau, 2010). This was purposely because the mujahideen could have easily received information of an impending attack (Grau, 2010). In such cases, it becomes clear that although commanders have the duty to ensure that their soldiers are well-equipped and at par with all requisite standards, they also have a duty towards ensuring that the element of surprise is not lost during any attack. This reminds readers of the different duties that military leaders have, and reiterates the fact that good military practice is essentially striking a working balance between all duties that leaders have to accomplish. This is one of the significant ways in which the book underscores the importance of duty in military practice.
This book has a variety of strengths, many of which work well to remind readers of the commitment to duty that military officers are leaders should uphold (Grau, 2010). One of the ways in which this tenet is embodied is through the selection of commentators. The Frunze Military Academy and Lt. Col. Lester Grau are both representations of what true duty and service is. Although one is an institution and the other an individual, they have both been committed and dutiful in their service. They have immensely contributed to successful military operations in a variety of capacities (Grau, 2010). The selection of these two as the commentators is in itself a statement. The Frunze Military Academy is a Russian powerhouse that has significantly contributed to the advancement of Russian military practice. Lt. Col. Lester Grau, on the other hand, is an accomplished and experienced soldier, veteran, and adviser on military affairs. Insofar as the commentators are concerned, they have both served dutifully, and, as such, their advice should be taken seriously by all readers (Grau, 2010). In essence, by selecting commentators with vast military experience and insight, they remind readers of what true duty and service is, and what it can accomplish.
The desire for conflict is one of the core human traits. As such, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is in itself a representation of one of the ways in which conflict is addressed in the world. At the same time, it should be clear that wars, both large and small, will always be fought as long as human beings with ideological, philosophical, and in some cases even religious and racial differences co-exist. However, the underlying factor that should not be overlooked is the fact that in almost all cases warfare is based on some basic principles and values that soldiers are required to embody (Grau, 2010). One of these values is duty. All soldiers have a duty to their superiors, peers, juniors, and country that they must uphold when they are engaged in warfare. Consequently, they should be keen on reading books such as this one. The values, concepts, and insights of military warfare operation contained in this book have significant historical value that cannot be erased. At the same time, this book serves as a stoic reminder of how soldiers and military leaders should react to different situations in different operations, and how their operations should always be based on a sense of duty. This aspect of the book is one of the most historically valuable, and is one that should be greatly emphasized.
This book is an amazing journey into the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the different tactics and operations that the Soviet army conducted. At the same time, it is an excellent representation of the different duties and responsibilities that soldiers and military leaders alike have when they are engaged in warfare. The fact that this book does well to remind readers of the sense of duty that all military officers have is one of the most important aspects of the book, and one that must be taken seriously by every reader and counterinsurgency student.
- Grau, L. (2010). The bear bent over the mountain: Soviet combat tactics in Afghanistan (10th ed.). Military Studies Press.