America’s First Clash with Iran: The Tanker War, 1987-88 is Lee Allen Zatarain’s well-researched and detailed account of the United States’ brief Persian Gulf conflict in the late eighties with Iran. It is a gritty, tactical, blow-by-blow account of the Marines, soldiers, and sailors involved in the conflict.
Style – 6.00
While America’s First Clash with Iran includes some details about the United States’ regional strategy at the time, it focuses primarily on the men involved in fighting the conflict. The book provides a unique window on the chaos inherent in any operational environment and the difficulties of making decisions under the “fog of war.” While the book’s style can be dry at times, for the most part, it provides a very straightforward account of a little known episode in American history. I rate the book’s factual, straightforward style a 6.0 out of ten.
Structure – 7.50
The author organizes the book chronologically. However, because some events occurred in different parts of the Gulf during the same days, it is sometimes difficult to keep track of events. While this does not happen often, it makes the timeline seem confusing when it does. Because of this organization, the book receives a rating of 7.5 out ten for structure.
Substance – 10.00
America’s First Clash with Iran seems to be one of the most comprehensive and well-researched accounts of this little known conflict. For anyone curious about American phase of the so-called Tanker War, this book is a must-read.
The book focuses on the tactical-level decision-making and actions of crews on individual ships. For instance, it effectively evokes the suspense of a naval captain of confronting the prospect of incoming Silkworm anti-ship missiles sinking his ship. It also reiterates the superiority of military management techniques in chaotic environments.
The book also provides a detailed account of the events that led to the tragic episode of the USS Vincennes and the accidental shoot-down of Iran Air Flight 655 resulting in two-hundred ninety civilian deaths. In doing so, it provides an intriguing account of how the psychological effects of stress and aggression can cloud effective decision-making.
Sentiment – 6.00
The book’s numerous illustrations of the frantic and uncertain “fog of war,” and how the military’s management system effectively and efficiently confronts these events, is a must-read for any civilian manager. The fact is that the military does this better than anyone I have seen in the civilian sector. Civilian managers, therefore, can learn a lot from reading this book. Because it reminded me of the military’s superior management and decision-making processes, it made me feel a bit nostalgic about my previous military experiences. However, the author’s writing still makes it difficult to put oneself in the place of many of the conflict’s participants without having spent any time on a naval warship myself. Therefore, I rate the book’s sentiment a 6.00 out of ten.
Significance – 4.00
Unless the United States starts bombing Iran’s nuclear program tomorrow, this book was a small blip on the radar screen when it comes to its significance in the broader context of American history. While the book was intriguing, it only rates 4.00 out of ten in terms of significance.
Overall Rating – 7.15
The book’s overall rating is 7.15 out of ten, after assigning the appropriate weights to each item. The book is an interesting read if you are interested in very detailed tactical accounts of what transpired in the Gulf. If you are more of a big-picture person, you should steer away from this book.