Monday, October 8, 2018

Kathleen J. McInnis

Kathleen J. McInnis is a U.S. national security policy geek by trade, who happens to be moonlighting as a novelist. Or maybe it's the other way around?

Her new novel is The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon.

Recently I asked McInnis about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m going to begin this with a caveat: I am a national security analyst by trade, with a PhD in War Studies. So the vast majority of my writing so far has been nonfiction and analytic prose, which is definitely reflected in my reading. Yet in recent years, as the United States and the world have woken up to an era of geostrategic complexity that we’re only at the beginning of wrapping our brains around, I’ve turned to fiction and story to help me understand the world in a different, non-methodologically bound way. That’s one of the big reasons that I wrote The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon: to better understand and explain the often-wacky way we do national security. In other words, I’m trying to channel both the creative and analytic parts of my mind to figure out where we are as a country, and what we might do about it. And have fun while doing so.

To that end, what am I reading now? The proposal to establish a Space Force is pretty hot right now, and I’m trying to understand its historical antecedents. The last major Department of Defense (DoD) reorganization was just over 30 years ago, with the Goldwater-Nichols Act (1986) and the subsequent Nunn-Cohen amendment (1987). I’m once again digging into Victory on the Potomac by Jim Locher to understand why they felt they needed to reform DoD and why did it the way they did to see if it can shed any light on Space Force proposals.

I’m also reading John Lewis Gaddis’ On Grand Strategy. In it, he creates dialogues across history between key writers and philosophers to help illuminate different, enduring aspects of strategy and statecraft. It’s a wonderfully fresh and creative approach to a subject that has – rather strangely, in my view – become pretty dry and dusty over the years. Speaking of creativity, I’m once again thumbing through Charles Hill’s Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft and World Order. It’s an amazing book that uses great works of art and fiction from Shakespeare to Austen to Dickens as a prism to illuminate different aspects of strategy and statecraft.

The Heart of War is written from the perspective of a young woman entering the world of national security. So it’s been interesting to compare the experiences that Wendy Sherman shares in Not for the Faint of Heart with those of my own, those of the protagonist Dr. Heather Reilly, and those of other women that I know from the national security world. Her memoir juxtaposes her experience negotiating the Iran deal with other formative experiences in her life, urging readers – particularly women – to find their authenticity in what they do. It’s an inspiring read.

Finally, in terms of fiction, as I think through how to best tackle the next chapter of Heather’s story, I’m turning to some other book series that I think worked pretty well to see how they pulled it off. Even though The Heart of War is in a totally different genre, I have a soft spot for sci-fi and fantasy, so John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series scratches the itch for me in a lot of ways: it has likeable characters, it constantly keeps you guessing, and has amazing dialogue that keeps you engaged throughout. He also has a way of building worlds and scenes that make you feel like you’re there; it’s remarkable craftsmanship.
Visit Kathleen J. McInnis's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Heart of War.

The Page 69 Test: The Heart of War.

--Marshal Zeringue