Book Review: Never Surrender (2008)

Categories: Book Reviews
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Published on: 2011.03.28

Title: Never Surrender
Author: LTG William G. Boykin (ret.)
Subject: Boykin’s life and political career
Genre: autobiography
Publisher: Hachette Book Group

I knew before I read Boykin’s book that it would have references to religion; my father gave the book to me and had already underlined several passages. What I didn’t realize until I began reading is that it wasn’t so much an autobiography as it was an apologia.

Despite Boykin’s continued references to his name being in the worldwide media, I’d never heard of him. So it felt odd when the book began with how his feelings were hurt by people in high positions of power and how the media had raked him over the coals.

Right off the bat, he begins describing his 2003 interview with Donald Rumsfeld, who was the Secretary of Defense at the time; Boykin was a two-star general hoping to be promoted to three-star. The first several paragraphs felt like name-dropping to me, as Boykin listed Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush, and other higher-ups. That’s okay; I’ve read name-dropping books before.

But on the second page, I began to doubt the author’s credentials, as he painstakingly described the Pentagon. He referred to “E ring” as the inner portion of the building, but then says an office in the E ring had a great view of the Potomac. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. It turns out, E ring is on the outside of the building, but I had to learn that from Wikipedia.

The next few (very short) chapters describe how Boykin was hounded by the media and misquoted, how his operation in Somalia was mis-portrayed in the movie “Black Hawk Down”, and how he was painted as a hater of Islam (and therefore inappropriately in command of forces doing battle in Islamic nations). He was crushed that reporters mistakenly represented him as a Crusader, someone who believed our wars in the Middle East were Christianity v. Islam.

But by his own early admissions, Boykin does seem to think this. One target had bragged publicly that Allah would protect him from the Americans; when Boykin’s men tracked down the target and captured him, Boykin told the man: “You underestimated our God.” To me, someone who was raised as a Christian in the U.S., that statement does sound like Boykin believes the Christian god is on his side and is helping him win a war.

Regardless, after about 20 pages of this confusing rambling about the Pentagon, Black Hawk Down, and media portrayals, Boykin suddenly shifts gears and begins talking about his childhood in rural North Carolina. He takes great care to describe himself as a non-racist Southerner, naming black people that he appreciated as a youngster, and saying his best friend was a black boy named Junior. It reminded me of all the white guys I’ve known who’d get caught telling a racist joke and then explain by saying, “Hey, some of my best friends are black.”

Just a few pages later, Boykin told the story of how he saved a black boy in his school from getting beat up, not long after the school integrated. Again, it sounds like he’s defending himself. I wondered why — of all his high school memories — he picked that one story to relate.

The next two hundred pages were actually very interesting. Boykin describes in detail how Delta Force began, how the first class (including himself) was trained, and how they finally got to see action. This was my Dad’s reason for recommending the book to me: Boykin gave first-hand accounts of several skirmishes that have been on the news in my lifetime, and actually explained them very well while being succinct. I’d heard of Grenada, Somalia, and others, but didn’t feel like I understood them until now.

But every few pages, he mentioned how he would doubt something, or be frustrated by something, and turn to God in prayer. This didn’t bother me; it’s what religious people do. And I’m not reviewing his religion; just his book. The references felt forced, as if they were added in later, and without including transitions.

Another thing that bugged me: I can’t recall a single instance in which Delta Force succeeded in a mission, until you get to the Black Hawk Down story, and even that one felt like a failure. Through two hundred-odd pages of describing one mission after another, Boykin described failure after failure. I began to wonder if Delta is really the crack unit I’ve learned about from movies. I’m sure this wasn’t the author’s intention; he seems very proud of the unit; but it’s what he accomplished with this reader.

Then, near the end, the story shifts back to the media “crucible” described at the beginning of the book. At this point, the description of what happened is a little more clear. It’s possible that the early drafts of the story were written in chronological order, and that some editor suggested moving a few chunks to the front, to make the book more “relevant” to current news stories. Whatever happened, it was a poor decision from a writing standpoint.

All of a sudden, on the next-to-last page, Boykin notes about the media attacks: “It all just stopped.” As he may have noticed from watching TV throughout his life, that’s what happens. Every time. At some point, publishers and editors and reporters just get tired of covering a specific story, especially after they’ve beaten all the juice out of a dead horse. Even if the story is still going on in real life, the coverage will eventually dissipate.

He makes a few illogical points about his reasons for still believing in God, such as, “It was God I prayed to when my men went to war. It was God I cried out to when they returned maimed and bleeding”, and then makes a few logical points about America’s wars in the Middle East and the history of our nation.

Overall, the interesting stories, anecdotes, and information in the bulk of the book were simply not worth it for me. If they’d been culled out into a separate book, I wouldn’t mind reading them again. The beginning and end of the book ruined it for me, as Boykin simply tried too hard to justify his religion and behavior. Who was he trying to convince?

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