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Ricks, Thomas E. 1955- (Thomas Edwin Ricks, Tom Ricks)

Ricks, Thomas E. 1955- (Thomas Edwin Ricks, Tom Ricks)

PERSONAL:

Born September 25, 1955, in Beverly, MA; son of David Frank and Anne Ricks; married Mary Catherine Giblin, October 10, 1981. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1977.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Silver Springs, MD. Office—The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071; Wall Street Journal, 1025 Connecticut Ave. NW, Ste. 800, Washington, DC 20036-5419.

CAREER:

Writer, journalist, editor, and educator. Lingnan College, Hong Kong, instructor, 1977-79; Wilson Quarterly, assistant editor, 1979-81; Wall Street Journal, reporter, 1982-85, deputy Miami bureau chief, 1986, reporter, Washington, DC, 1987-89, feature editor, Washington, DC, 1989-92, Pentagon correspondent, 1992-99; Washington Post, military correspondent, 2000—.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Pulitzer Prize for national reporting (as member of Wall Street Journal reporting team) for series of articles on how the U.S. Military might change to meet twenty-first century demands, 2000; Pulitzer Prize for reporting (as member of Washington Post reporting team) for reporting about the beginnings of the U.S. counteroffensive against terrorism; Society of Professional Journalists Award for best feature reporting.

WRITINGS:

Making the Corps, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997. A Soldier's Duty (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 2001.

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Penguin (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including the Atlantic Monthly.

SIDELIGHTS:

Thomas E. Ricks's writes about the American military. In Making the Corps, he documents Marine Corps training platoon No. 3086 from the beginning of boot camp through one year of life in the Marines. The idea for the book evolved from a previous assignment Ricks had as a correspondent in war-torn Somalia. Ricks at that time was so impressed by the loyalty and teamwork of the Marines that he decided to explore these qualities further. According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, during the Somalia assignment he recalled an incident in which a twenty-two-year-old Marine led him safely through a combat area. "Back in Washington," he wrote later, "we wouldn't let a twenty-two-year-old run the copy machine without adult supervision."

Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor stated that Making the Corps is a "revelatory" look into military life for civilians. Ricks describes the alienation that most Marine drill instructors feel from civilian life, and how quickly new recruits who make it through boot camp become separated from their civilian roots. According to Ricks, most Marines feel that the values intrinsic to the success of the Corps—such as loyalty, courage, and discipline—are sadly lacking in American civilian culture. When on leave, many of the recruits from platoon 3086 find themselves removed and disdainful of their former civilian friends. Taylor called the book crucial for "anyone thinking about enlisting or for anyone who thinks about the widening gap between civil and military America."

Ricks writes of the American military in his debut novel, A Soldier's Duty. In this book, a U.S. peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan has turned into a disaster. The commander-in-chief is considered largely incompetent, and many commanders within the military question the role of the U.S. military as peacekeepers in Afghanistan. Some, such as Army chief of staff General John Shillingsworth, continue to adhere to their concept of duty and follow orders, even if they are unpopular. Other military figures seek to establish a more direct influence over military action and U.S. foreign policy. In response to the tragic mission in Afghanistan, a clandestine group of American generals forms an organization called the Sons of Liberty, geared toward reworking American foreign policy. Led by fiery general B.Z. Ames, who also serves as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Sons of Liberty soon becomes blatantly treasonous. Still, they believe their mission is ultimately going to benefit the military and the country. Army majors Cindy Sherman and Bud Lewis, newly assigned to the Pentagon, unravel the growing conspiracy. Meanwhile, as Sherman works on behalf of Shillingsworth and Lewis champions Ames, the two become romantically involved even as they realize they are on opposing sides. "The novel is effective as fiction, but it aims at more than engaging pastime reading," observed Martin L. Cook in Parameters. "Mr. Ricks' real purpose is to raise pointedly the questions of ethical obligation and professionalism of an officer corps frustrated with taskings it often questions, if not outright rejects." Ricks "crafts a taut, stimulating tale of contemporary military dilemmas, public and personal," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Library Journal reviewer Robert Conroy called the novel an "intriguing, thoughtful, and exciting tale of today's U.S. military."

With Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Ricks writes a withering critique of what he sees as the Bush administration's serious military and policy errors in Iraq and Afghanistan. In preparing his book, Ricks had access to more than 37,000 pages of official documents, which he scoured thoroughly for information on the American involvement in Iraq. He also conducted hundreds of interviews and consulted numerous e-mails sent by military personnel serving in the Middle East. With this access to voluminous documentary and primary sources, Ricks thoroughly analyzes the Iraq war from initial run-up to unpopular and so-far ineffectual occupation. He reveals how commanders and war planners deliberately ignored the reality in front of them: that they were not fighting any sort of conventional conflict, but a war against guerillas. He notes how American tactics and strategy were almost guaranteed to collide with Middle Eastern sensibilities, turning Iraqis against the Americans and creating a crucible in which an unending stream of additional insurgents was quickly and easily forged. Ricks also puts the lie to administration claims that critics of the war stepped up with their complaints only after the war had begun, and that their criticism is informed only by hindsight. He demonstrates that at every step in the lead-up to war, "from the pre-war intelligence to American interrogation tactics, wiser men than those in power questioned each facet of the Iraq policy," noted a reviewer in the Economist. "Ricks is most ruthlessly effective when he disrobes the emperor by dissecting the administration's unwaveringly sunshiny outlook," commented Brian C. McNemey in Military Review.

Ricks does not dwell solely on the bad news from Iraq. He notes that "at every step of the way there were bright American officers who recognized what was happening, what was going wrong, and wrote and spoke and pleaded passionately for doing the right thing," noted Joseph Galloway in Washington Monthly. At its heart, however, Fiasco remains a "comprehensive and illuminating portrait of the willful blindness of the Bush administration to Iraqi realities," observed New York Times Book Review critic Jacob Heilbrunn. Ricks "serves up his portrait of that war as a misguided exercise in hubris, incompetence, and folly with a wealth of detail and evidence that is both staggeringly vivid and persuasive," commented Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times.

"With the critique offered in Fiasco, Ricks makes a solid contribution to our sh blatunderstanding" of the Iraq war and the reasons behind it, stated Bing West in the National Review. Ricks's "findings of pervasive high-level ineptitude, based on hundreds of interviews and thousands of pages of documents, will be much h bder for reflexive defenders of the Bush administration to dismiss than the usual farrago of ideologically motivated accusations from political adversaries," observed Max Boot in the Weekly Stand bd. Ricks provides readers with "extraordinary new insight into the plight of ordinary soldiers doing nightmarish jobs," noted FblatRhodes, writing in the Middle East. "As America searches for any joy in the fiasco it has made of Iraq, it can at least be proud of serious and brave reporters like Mr. Ricks," commented the Economist reviewer. A reviewer in Washington Monthly mused, "when journalism professors assign books of great war reporting to their students, we hope Ricks's book will be one of them."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 15, 1997, Gilbert Taylor, review of Making the Corps, p. 368; May 1, 2001, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Soldier's Duty, p. 1668.

Economist, August 19, 2006, "A Litany of Abuse: America and Iraq," review of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, p. 71.

Insight on the News, December 15, 1997, Woody West, review of Making the Corps, p. 36.

Library Journal, May 1, 2001, Robert Conroy, review of A Soldier's Duty, p. 127.

Middle East, November, 2006, FblatRhodes, review of Fiasco, p. 64.

Middle East Policy, winter, 2006, W. Patrick Lang, review of Fiasco, p. 154.

Military Review, September-October, 2006, Brian C. McNemey, review of Fiasco, p. 115.

National Review, September 11, 2006, Bing West, "Iraq: Phase One," review of Fiasco, p. 42.

New York Times, July 25, 2006, Michiko Kakutani, "From Planning to Warfare to Occupation, How Iraq Went Wrong," review of Fiasco, p. E1.

New York Times Book Review, August 13, 2006, Jacob Heilbrunn, "Eyes Wide Shut," review of Fiasco, p. 1, and Dwight Garner, "TBR: Inside the List," review of Fiasco, p. 1; December 3, 2006, "100 Notable Books of the Year," review of Fiasco, p. 14.

Parameters, autumn, 2001, Martin L. Cook, review of A Soldier's Duty, p. 173.

Policy Review, December, 2006, Victor Davis Hanson, "Whose Fiasco?," review of Fiasco, p. 89.

Publishers Weekly, October 6, 1997, review of Making the Corps, p. 65; April 20, 2001, review of A Soldier's Duty, p. 53.

Time, December 25, 2006, Steve Koepp and Mark Thompson, "The Real War," interview with Thomas E. Ricks, p. 158.

Washington Monthly, October, 2006, Joseph Galloway, review of Fiasco, p. 60; March, 2007, review of Fiasco, p. 66.

Weekly Stand bd, August 7, 2006, Max Boot, "Battle for Baghdad: Lessons Learned from the War in Iraq," review of Fiasco.

ONLINE

Frontline Web site,http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ (January 28, 2004), interview with Thomas E. Ricks.

Washington Post Web site,http://projects.washingtonpost.com/ (April 15, 2007), biography of Thomas E. Ricks.

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