I first heard of Steven Pressfield through Seth Godin who periodically mentions Pressfield’s book The War of Art. In looking through Pressfield’s work, I decided on The Profession. The back blurb of the novel was excellent:
The year is 2032. The third Iran-Iraq war is over; the 11/11 dirty-bomb attack on the port of Long Beach, California is receding into memory; Saudi Arabia has recently quelled a coup; Russians and Turks are clashing in the Caspian Basin. Everywhere military force is for hire. Oil companies, multinational corporations and banks employ powerful, cutting-edge mercenary armies to control global chaos and protect their riches.
Energy and energy politics has been an interest of mine since I read “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World” by Daniel Yergin. Unlike some other near future authors, Pressfield assumes that oil will continue to be of vital importance in the twenty first century. The fight for oil wealth ultimately founds the backdrop for the stories of mercenaries who start out defending the security interests of their clients only to seize power for themselves.
As a long time science fiction aficionado, I found Pressfield’s speculation on the near future interesting. Pressfield’s future combines highly advanced communications on the one hand and legacy technologies on the other hand. The long legacy of the Cold War, Gulf War and Iraq War are still felt in the novel in the form of old Soviet aircraft, aging firearms and other equipment. The Profession also contains interesting speculations on the future of blogs, media companies and the news media. By mixing the past and speculations on the future, Pressfield creates a believable and unsettling world.
The military and the profession of arms are the starring concepts of The Profession and several of Pressfield’s other novels. The novel paints a complex picture of the military; a community defined by its own language, training and traditions. Pressfield also does well in getting inside the mind of a mercenary. In both the novel and our world, few people start their careers as mercenaries – most start in traditional armed forces and later transition to mercenaries for one reason or another. The prospect of a highly successful and capable figure like the novel’s General Salter becoming a mercenary is disquieting. After reading the novel, one thinks about civilian oversight and control of the armed forces in a different light.
The future of the American republic is the final theme I will consider. The novel has a pessimistic perspective on the question. General Salter serves as the novel’s Julius Caesar whose actions change the republic beyond all recognition. In suggesting martial law and suspension of constitutional government, the novel reaffirms that old expression, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Democracy does not preserve itself – it needs constant reinforcement and support to thrive.
For my next book, I will be returning to the world of biography. I will be reading “Churchill: A Biography” by Martin Gilbert. I have been looking forward to reading the book for some time. The book is over nine hundred pages in length so it may take some time before I complete it.