Morning Consult interviews Brent Scowcroft Center Nonresident Senior Fellow August Cole on his new book Ghost Fleet coauthored with Peter Singer: 

Ask the same questions on a K Street corner and the wonks would line up to answer it – because the future is uncertain, and the global security schema is changing, and policymakers do want to hear ideas. The difference between a white paper and a novel, Cole said, is that while a white paper can tell you what your adversary might do, a novel can put you in your adversary’s boots.

“It can put you into the character,” Cole said. “That’s red-teaming in the most authentic way possible.” (For those unfamiliar with military jargon, red-teaming means assessing your plans from the enemy’s perspective).


Ultimately, Cole said, ideas can provoke, but there’s a difference between discussing warships as weapons platforms and putting readers in the steel-toed boots of a Navy officer who left his wife and children in San Francisco. There’s a difference between discussing the lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan and the lessons you learn by stepping inside the rotted fatigues of a Marine officer as she leads her insurgent cell against Chinese occupiers.

“The way you make a story memorable is you create characters that people care about,” Cole said. “Technology plays a big role in ‘Ghost Fleet,’ but it’s not the entire story.”


For Cole, “Ghost Fleet” is an accomplishment both professionally and personally. He had always wanted to write a novel, he said, and while he was traveling to Liberia – on assignment with the Wall Street Journal, under the influence of Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Alex Berenson’s spy thrillers – he decided to give it a shot. He quit his job at the newspaper and wrote “Ghost Fleet” between 5 and 7 each morning while his newborn daughter was still asleep.


Four years ago, Cole said, when he and Singer decided to write what would become “Ghost Fleet,” they worried readers wouldn’t believe them. Cole had just left his defense reporting gig at the Wall Street Journal, and he was all too aware of the possible future that approached – one in which America’s weapons were vulnerable to threats it wasn’t yet taking seriously.

Read the full article here.

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