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William McRaven

The Art of Warfare

William McRaven: I had an opportunity at Naval Postgraduate School to do some thinking about special operations. And more importantly, I had an opportunity to travel to Europe and interview some of the great special operators of World War II and also kind of post-World War II. Most of them were still alive. They were in their 70s -- early 70s to early 80s -- and the folks I interviewed were still very sharp and remembered the missions they went on as though they were yesterday. So having an opportunity to sit down with these phenomenal officers and enlisted who had been part of some of the great operations in special operations history was just incredibly educational for me. But I remember as I was interviewing Herr Witzig, who was a German officer, about the raid on Eben-Emael, which was a very famous German raid into Belgium that secured a very difficult fort with a small number of folks. But in the course of my questioning for him, he said, "Well, you are developing a theory here, yes?" And at the time I was actually just trying to cull out the principles of special operations, much like the broader principles of war. But when he touched on the idea that you were developing a theory, I thought, "I think he is on to something." So I went back and really spent about another six to eight months to figure out how do I take the principles and turn them into a real theory about why special operations succeed. Not just the principles, but why do they succeed, how can you -- not analytically, but kind of intellectually -- take a look at a special operation ahead of time and say, "Look, are we going to achieve this thing I call 'relative superiority' in a timely enough manner and long enough to be able to accomplish the mission?" So it was a wonderful, passionate effort on my part to just kind of find this out. And fortunately, the book got a lot of traction with some of the younger officers, and I'm pleased to see that it got such a wide read.
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William McRaven

The Art of Warfare

There is this perception that -- it's not to say we in the special operations community don't have a swagger. You have to have a swagger, you have to be confident. But when you sit down to do a mission, you have got to do the detail planning. You have to do the detail rehearsals. You have to be physically fit and mentally prepared. And that doesn't happen by accident. That happens through very difficult training and appropriate preparation. So anybody's belief that you can go do a complicated special operation in a cavalier manner has never been in the business. To be a really good special operator, you've got to care about the details.
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William McRaven

The Art of Warfare

William McRaven: The young men that join the SEALs or the Army Green Berets or the Rangers, there is a sense of adventure about them and there is a sense of confidence about them. Ninety-nine percent of the people that come through training have played in some sort of sport. So we had, in my class I had a lot of swimmers and rugby players and water polo players and football players. And so you have a level of confidence, you have a level of a sense of adventure. So you come into a situation like that and there is -- and of course when you're young you're a little bit cocky. You tell yourself, "There's nothing I can't do. I am the best at what I'm doing." So you challenge yourself, and I think it's true of any endeavor. So I'm not sure that there was this great strength of character. I think it was, fortunately, being young. You come in probably a little bit overconfident, but you also come in physically strong. And you have gone through a process in high school or other places to really build up your, again, your skill set, your sense of adventure, your sense of character that allows you to get through training.
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W.S. Merwin

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry

So I had to listen to all of these morning services, and I was allowed to do drawings and things, and then do what I wanted with a little pad and pencil. And I was fascinated by two things. One of them was the language of the King James version of the Bible -- which was different from the language that we spoke -- the language of the psalms. There was a whole lot of the Bible that I got to know by heart without even thinking about it, and the language of the hymns: "the spacious firmament on high" and "the blue ethereal sky." I didn't know what half of the words meant, thought it was wonderful, you know. It's funny, the way it rhymed, and so I wanted to write that. And my mother read to us, which is very important. She read Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses and she read Tennyson, "The Brook," and a lot of poems like that. And that's wonderful when parents read -- not just stories -- but poems to their children, because the language of poetry is different from the language of prose, and children pick up that language. And if they can pick it up very early, it's really very, very important. They are likely to always love it if they do. I suspect that they really naturally do.
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W.S. Merwin

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry

I must have read Robinson Crusoe four or five times and Swiss Family Robinson and Treasure Island, all of Stevenson. A book called Ship's Monkey about a ship off to Borneo, and books about American Indians. I really taught myself to read because there was a book about Indians with pictures, a lot of pictures of Indians, and it was a children's book, but it had a text at the bottom of each page and I couldn't read the text. So I asked word by word what the words were until I could read the book about the Indians because I wanted to live in a place like the place they lived in, in the woods. So that taught -- it was two things, I mean learning to read, because of a fascination with people who didn't read and write, that's sort of interesting. And realizing that early that I really wanted to live not in a city, but in the forest.
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James Michener

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novelist

And, I am certainly not a stylist in English language, using arcane words and very fanciful construction and so on. There is a great deal I can't do but Boy, I can tell a story. I can get a person, with moderate interest in what I am writing about, and if she or he will stay with me for the first one hundred pages, which are very difficult, and I make them difficult, he will be hooked. He will want to know what's happening on the next story and the next story and the next. That I have. And that's a wonderful gift. That's storytelling. And I prize it. I try to keep it cleaned up. I try to keep it on focus. I am wretched when I fail and feel and sense of terrible defeat.
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James Michener

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novelist

I believe throughout history, through all of history, way back to the most early days of the human race, when people gathered around the fireplace at night, they wanted to remember what had happened and reflect upon the big events of that day and reassess values and maybe get new dedication to the next day. Well, I'm one of the guys who sat around the fireplace and did the talking.
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