Brotherhood of Arms

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Given the enormous military expenditures of the United States, citizens should better understand the defense industry. This readable, lucid, well-organized book provides a splendid view of General Dynamics, the country’s most far-reaching and controversial contractor.

The book is well-documented, indexed, and has a useful chronology and a glossary to explain acronyms such as JCMPO, TERCOM, or GOCO.

Three chapters trace the history of Electric Boat and Convair Aircraft, the major components of the company, and show how the diverse parts were merged into the whole that is General Dynamics. The bulk of the volume deals with current weapon programs--tanks, aircraft, and submarines--and the cost-overrun problems that have surrounded them. The F-16 fighter, M-1 tank, and the cruise missile are clearly explained to the nonspecialist reader, both in terms of their technology and the politico-military decisions that created them.

Nicely covered is the controversy over P. Takis Veliotis, who headed the Electric Boat Division during the growing problems with the nuclear attack submarines. The battles that he and other General Dynamics officials waged with Congress and the navy were monumental. These conflicts were widely reported on the CBS network’s “60 Minutes” and in the newsmagazines, but Goodwin covers the subject with much greater understanding and depth.

While Goodwin is no great fan of Admiral Hyman Rickover, he has no axes to grind and gives the reader a fair and balanced picture. He does not believe, in the end, that the defense industry is inept or malevolent, nor is it deserving of blanket condemnation. It is big and can be self-serving and inefficient, but the same can be said of Congress and the military services, who often place their own parochial interests above the national interest. The defense industry, Goodwin believes, functions with greater integrity than is commonly believed by the American public. As to the problems, there are many players that deserve their share of the blame.