Looking Back From Ninety

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Never judge a book by its author! I read Fire and Fortitude, the first book in James McManus's massive history of the US Army in the Pacific War, and I didn't like it. He kept sniping at men of the 1940s for their racism, as if he would be so admirably woke if he had grown up in that era. Worse, he scoffed at the soldiers defending the Bataan Peninsula because they smoked cigarettes -- men who had no future but death or a savage captivity. So I was ready to pass on his second volume, only to have Random House send me a review copy without my asking for it. And it's brilliant! Really, it's one of the great combat histories of the Second World War: Island Infernos: The US Army's Pacific War Odyssey, 1944. It's a hefty book, with ten chapters, each a small book about a bloody battle as MacArthur's troops island-hopped from Kwajalin to Leyte. Each is brilliantly told, and I came away with a fresh admiration of American logistics, which the author describes in loving detail: "Within a few months, the two islands housed five Liberty ship docks, eight LST slots, five port jetties, two oil jetties, four drydocks, eight major cranes, 80,000 cubic feet of refrigerated space, 1,130,000 feet of storage area, a four-hundred-bed hospital, and enough quarters to house a garrison of seventy thousand troops," not to mention ice cream and fresh-baked bread. (The Japanese, meanwhile, had to resort to raiding American garbage dumps when they weren't fighting literally to the death.

The academic wokeism is still there, alas. Professor McManus even takes time out to rebuke PFC Ellis Moore for employing the "almost dehumanizing term 'native'" in a letter home. But of course they were natives! I am proud to be a native New Hampshireman and, as instructed by my betters, I now refer to the original settlers of this area as Native Americans. It's really a strain, keeping abreast of the ideology of the day, when a capital letter apparently enobles someone, while lower-case conveys contempt. (You will be happy to know that "locals" is still acceptable, though that will probably be the next word to be canceled.)

Hitler's Fatal Miscalculation: Why Germany Declared War on the United States is a very valuable study but not an easy read. The author, Klaus Schmider, was born in Spain and educated in Germany, but by the time he got his PhD (Johannes Gutenberg University, 2001) he was already a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. This book was apparently written in English but was exhaustively researched in German archives. Oddly, it rather ignores Brendan Simm's magnificent Hitler: A Global Biography, which I lavishly praised here not long ago, and indeed seems to mischaracterize it. ("Brendan Simms has made a compelling argument that Hitler's ideology incorporated a major anti-American slant from its earliest days," though I came away from the earlier book persuaded that Hitler actually admired the "Anglo-Americans." He especially approved American racism and eugenics, and saw the American West as the model for a German East to be created in lands seized from Soviet Russia and settled with "Ayran" stock that might otherwise emigrate to North America, as the Eisenhower family had done.) I especially liked Mr Schmider's references to the German military. When he speaks of the Wehrmacht, he always means the military as a whole, not the German army, and while he doesn't actually use the word "Heer," he regularly throws out terms like Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Center) when referring to the activities of the ground forces. Altogether, Hitler's Fatal Miscalculation is well worth the effort its author demands of the reader.

2034: A Novel of the Next World War is a book that everyone loves except the Amazon readers who actually bought, read, and took the time to review it. (Well, yes, there are a few favorable reviews, along with a huge number of anonymous five-star "ratings," one of the most corruptible innovations in the Amazonian flea market.) The authors are Elliot Ackerman and a retired US Navy four-star, Jim Stavridis, who among other duties served as NATO Supreme Commander from 2009 to 2013. I suppose a novelist can be forgiven anything, but if Mr Stavridis applied the same strategic thinking to NATO as he did to this book, I'm surprised that Putin's "little green men" aren't now threatening Paris instead of Kiev. 2034 is, without doubt, the most preposterous chronicle of military manuver (there's no war to speak of, just a series of tit-for-tat disasters) that I have ever read. I did finish it, almost, which I suppose is a tribute to Mr Ackerman's best-seller skills. But nothing in the story seemed plausible to me. I was mildly amused to find that in the thirty-three years between its publication and the "war," the United States will experience a gender revolution that not only gives us a woman president but a cadre of cigar-smoking female admirals who, no matter how many ships they lose, escape all harm to themselves or their careers. And there's a nice bit toward the end where our Marine Corps aviator, the son and grandson of Marine Corps aviators, manages to nuke Shanghai with an F-35 whose sophisticated avionics have been disabled: the way to score in a cyberwar is by using steampunk navigation!

Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Daniel Ford's books:

Looking Back From Ninety: Depression, War, and the Good Life That Followed 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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