Poland's Daughter

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Dragonslayer sounds like the title of a sci-fi romance, but the subtitle sets us straight: The Legend of Erich Ludendorff in the Weimar Republic and Third Reich. It's serious history, rather than a pop-boiler promising the Untold Story of something that Changed the World Forever. The author is Jay Lockenour, who teaches courses on World War One, Nazi Germany, and Blut und Eisen (Blood and Iron) at Temple University. Far from telling us something Untold, he makes a point of citing all previous biographies of Ludendorf, who in August 1914 became the hero of Liège and, a few weeks later on the other side of Europe, the hero of Tannenberg, so that Germany began the First World War with punishing blows on both the Western and the Eastern Front. Nevertheless, it lost the war, to the astonishment of just about every German including Ludendorff, who was the first to advance the "stab in the back" theory so eagerly exploited by an Austrian corporal named Adolf Hitler.

In November 1923, the two men marched together in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch that ended with 18 dead and Hitler in prison, with the leisure to write Mein Kampf. The two men parted company thereafter, in part because Ludendorff thought Hitler's antisemitism too mild, and also didn't pay attention to the other "supranational" forces that were conspiring to keep Germany down, namely the Masons and the Catholic church. (He didn't live to see the Final Solution, however.) "Dragonslayer" is a reference to Germany's first stab in the back, that of Siegfried in the Nibelungenlied, and Mr Lockenour introduces each chapter with a quote from the 12th/13th century epic poem that later inspired Wagner to write The Ring, which in turn became Hitler's favorite opera. By no coincidence, three of Germany's campaigns in the Second World War were named Operation Siegfried, Hagen, and Alberich, each a character from both the poem and the opera.

The last time I reviewed one of Osprey's "Campaign" books, about the US air war against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, I found it tough going. Mark Stille's Malaya & Dutch East Indies 1941-42: Japan's air power shocks the world is likewise a historian's book. The Japanese navy's retractable-gear fighter is introduced as the Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Carrier Fighter Type 0, which is correct but an awful mouthful, and much the same is true for Japan's other navy warplanes. (The army enjoys the more understandable kitai numbers, such as "Ki-43" for the Nakajima Hayabusa.) Once the reader gets over that hurdle, it's mostly easy going. Mr Stille is retired from the US Navy and has written several dozen books for Osprey. The cover of Malaya & Dutch East Indies 1941-42 is adapted from one of Jim Laurier's excellent two-page illustrations, this one showing two Buffalos of RAAF 21 Squadron fleeing from Nakajima Ki-27 "Nates" on the first day of the war. The Australians escaped by diving away, though both were claimed shot down by the overoptimistic Japanese. Mr Laurier also did the maps, which range from  4R4  Šexcellent to bewildering. A major oddity in the text: the Burma air war is never mentioned, though it was an integral part of both the Japanese conquest of Malaya and the British defense of it. There are photos on almost every page, which with their captions are a great addition to the book.

Peter Wetzler's Imperial Japan and Defeat in the Second World War: The Collapse of an Empire is a tough read and an awfully expensive one, but if you can persuade your library to buy a copy, you will find it one of the better studies of how Japan reaped the whirlwind in its half-century to rule Asia. It consists of five lengthy chapters, each of which tackles a contentious subject, starting with one that has obsessed historians since 1945: How much responsibility did Hirohito himself bear for the disaster? Quite a lot, Mr Wexler finds. He's especially hard on Herbert Bix's exculpatory Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan. Then there was Prime Minister Tojo, executed as a war crminal. Mr Wexler makes the case that Tojo wasn't a dictator on the line of Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin, but a man wholly committed to the myth that Japan through its emperor was divinely ordained to dominate Asia and perhaps the world, and who eagerly accepted blame for starting the war so that Hirohito would be spared. But like the emperor, and like most of his colleagues in the Imperial Army and Navy, he shared the guilt for launching a war against a nation superior in every respect except the willingness of its citizens to throw their lives away in a hopeless cause.

I was especially interested in his chapter on the Kamikaze "human bullets," who supposedly volunteered to do just that. Mr Wetzler shows that many of them were forced to sacrifice themselves, and that they didn't accomplish much. Worst of all, he argues, the kamikaze and the "breaking crystal" suicide attacks on land convinced the United States that invading and occupying the home islands would cost the lives of 500,000 American soldiers and sailors, more than doubling the US death toll in the war to date. That calculation alone made Hiroshima and Nagasaki inevitable. Blue skies! — Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford's books:

Cowboy: Interpreter, Soldier, Warlord, and One More Casualty of Our War in Vietnam
The Only War We've Got: Early Days in South Vietnam
Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault & His American Volunteers, 1941-1942
Tales of the Flying Tigers (think of it as a lengthy appendix to the history)
The Lady and the Tigers (Olga Greenlaw) o
Poland's Daughter: How I Learned About Love, War, and Exile
Glen Edwards: Diary of a Bomber Pilot
A Vision So Noble: John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and America's War on Terror
The Country Northward: A Hiker's Journal
The Greater America: An Epic Journey Through a Vibrant New Country (Ralph Paine)
~ ~ ~ ~
Michael's War: A Story of the Irish Republican Army
Remains: A Story of the Flying Tigers
Incident at Muc Wa: A Story of the Vietnam War
The High Country Illuminator: A Tale of Light and Darkness and the Ski Bums of Avalon

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Flying Tigers
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