March Madness WWIII Style: Final Four Part II

Two more blockbuster books squaring off. Winner goes to the championship bracket and the loser goes…..well, back to the bookcase. 😊

Alas Babylon (Blue Region Champion) vs Team Yankee (Gold Region Champion)

Two World War III-themed novels with little in common between them, unlike yesterday’s competitors. The time periods in which these two works were published only serves to widen the contrast even more. Alas Babylon was published in 1959 and fits the bill as an apocalyptic novel with a healthy dose of technothriller DNA. Team Yankee, published in 1987, is a purebred technothriller regarded as a pioneer of the modern day technothriller genre. Differences aside, both novels captured public attention and were quite popular. Alas Babylon highlighted how a hypothetical nuclear World War III would affect the residents of a small Florida town, while Team Yankee focused on the life of a US Army tank-heavy company-sized unit in a largely conventional World War III.

Alas Babylon’s war was a relatively short-lived affair, fought over a period of 1-3 days and engulfing most of the world. The significance of the military aspect in this book is apparent from the first page. Randal Bragg, the main character, is a Korean War veteran. As conditions deteriorate in his town, Bragg unconsciously turns to his training and combat experiences to guide him through unfamiliar situations and sets the tone for his demeanor in the aftermath of the nuclear exchange.

His brother, Mark, is an active-duty USAF O-6 assigned to SAC headquarter in Omaha as an intelligence officer. Through his eyes the readers are given the backstory and explanation of why and how global conditions have deteriorated. The final minutes of peace, as well as the first minutes of the war are also presented via Mark Bragg. This perspective will leave a lasting imprint on the reader. Pat Frank, the author of Alas Babylon, did his homework well. He presented a realistic (for the time period)  war scenario, and the military details in the narrative were unlike anything seen to that point.

In essence, Frank was the Tom Clancy of the late 1950s. The details, from SAC operations to the infighting at the Pentagon between admirals in favor of submarines and those who supported aircraft carriers, was on target. Frank’s descriptions of nuclear attacks and their aftereffects were graphic and authentic. On the downside, the book is not a traditional WWIII read. The post-war period is where the focus is centered. Between the time of Orlando’s destruction and the arrival of USAF rescue personnel roughly twelve months later, the military aspect is minimal.

Team Yankee’s center of gravity is World War III entirely. In the pre-war passages the situation and characters are introduced. The World War III scenario established in Third World War is used by author Harold Coyle as the backdrop once the balloon goes up. However, the prologue is made up of news story excerpts that set the stage for a lead up to war that is quite different from that found in Hackett’s book, a fact that has never been explained to my knowledge.

Team Yankee is an average company-sized unit commanded by Captain Sean Bannon, a relatively average US Army O-3. We watch him and his unit fight the war from start to finish, mainly through the eyes of Bannon, his officers and NCOs. Instead of the big picture, Team Yankee concentrates on a small piece of the battlefield and one unit. The experiences of Bannon and his men move the plot along from the first battle at the border through to the last shots of the war somewhere in East Germany. Readers are treated to a detailed and realistic picture of the team at war. Unit tactics, and weapons effects highlight a vivid look at how a NATO-WP war in Germany could’ve looked in the late 1980s. Coyle uses his own experiences as an armor officer to construct a narrative about men and machines at war. The end result is novel that spent a lengthy amount of time on the NY Times Bestseller List and captured the imaginations of most of its readers. Although it did not have the level of influence on popular culture that Alas Babylon did, Team Yankee has continued to remain relevant even decades after the end of the Cold War. Mostly because soldiers and their wartime experiences always make a good yarn. Yet even beyond the literary world, Team Yankee has been influential and remains popular. Just ask anyone who is into miniature wargaming (Steve, John and a few others, I’m looking at you). This last factor establishes the fact that Team Yankee is still alive and kicking in modern times. Whereas, aside from periodic reprints and occasional talk in the Sci Fi literature world, Alas Babylon has been fairly quiet through the first two decades of the 21st Century.

At the end of the day, that’s enough for Bannon’s tanks and PCs to emerge victorious.

Winner: Team Yankee

14 Replies to “March Madness WWIII Style: Final Four Part II”

  1. I have to agree on this one as well. Team Yankee was actually assigned for a leadership study in my ROTC class one year by the instructors. I read it back in high school when it first came out, in ROTC as a cadet, and then later after being a commissioned armor officer for a few years. Each time I found something a little different to take from the simple story.

    It also helped to humanize Hackett’s WWII which I often found a little too dry to read as teen in the 80’s.

    This of course makes for a difficult match up: RSR versus TY. The funny part to me is that the tanker sections of RSR were actually the weakest part of Clancy’s book. Anyone who has been in an M1 tank would be hard pressed to see how it relates to Clancy’s descriptions in the book.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s pretty interesting, your experiences with Team Yankee and rereads. That’s the mark of a good novel, the reader being able to find something different and new with each read. Also, very interesting that Yankee was assigned for a leadership study.

      Good point about how Team Yankee put a human face on Hackett’s TWW. First time I read TWW was in 1991 and I was only 14. Very dry for me back then too.


        1. Hi Nicolas. Red Army was included in the tournament. Unfortunately, it was eliminated in an earlier round. Great book though.


  2. I read both RSR and TY.

    I read TY only once but it helped launch me into some of the other books of Coyle’s catalog- pretty much all the Scott Dixon stuff (and I enjoyed all of them. Especially “The Ten Thousand”).
    Ironically, I read “Sword Point” first- In Saudi of all places way back in ’91. I am pretty sure I still have that book too.

    RSR… well, lets say my copy is/was pretty well used- so much so that I’m not sure *where* I put it when I packed to move six years ago 🙂 Having been inside/driven an M1 and being friends with tankers while in, I know the complaints very well… but even from the picky DATs I was pals with, their quibbles were minor.

    That said, both books are incredibly strong for various reasons which have been detailed above. RSR spawned a video game and a board game which I enjoyed immensely running either side. (I won with both too, pissing off my DAT buddies) And it was RSR that got me to look at MBT and give it a go…

    (Mike, we need to set up a game of MBT. I have that still-sealed set and willing to break it out. As I have cats, you likely have to host. 🙂 )

    From my perspective as a war gamer and having been involved in the minis industry, RSR kinda helped spawn a push for moderns to start getting played in the clubs around me. TY added to that… followed by other titles like Hunt and a few other books/movies.

    Of the two titles, RSR was the bigger fish in the hobby pond for a while- especially with its tie in to Harpoon (thank you, Larry Bond!!).

    RSR does very well with the Big Picture and with the smaller actions… and the Iceland stuff… though hollywood story in spots, had enough to make it believable. RSR, in what became typical Clancy Fashion, was a bit rah-rah in spots… but in this book, not so much as to tarnish the solid writing he did with the overall tale. (imo, his best books were “Cardinal of the Kremlin” followed by “Clear and Present Danger” and “Hunt for Red October”)

    TY gained some traction with a board game (never played it but reviews are not kind), a mediocre video game, a comic/graphic novel series…. all which served as inspiration (alongside RSR) for gaming out WW3 and defending the Fulda Gap. Finally a miniatures system released in 2015 and that has done very well.

    TY… if memory serves, is just plain solid. Solid action, solid writing and relatable characters…. and now, I have to find my damn copy and read it again.

    As I think on it, I can honestly say both books were an influence on me to learn about tactics/strategy more than just in passing… as were the Dixon books.

    Both are excellent, excellent books. But given this is about Overall WWIII theme tomes… I think RSR takes it in the end. Squeaker to be sure. A 101-99 sort of squeaker…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wasn’t aware of Alas Babylon until these threads, indeed an apple to oranges comparison, both would fit in a narrative of The War, Team Yankee as the start and the middle part, and Alas Babylon as the conclusion, all you need is to leave out the last chapters of Team Yankee and the first ones in Alas Babylon.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: