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Archive for the ‘fortus in arduis’ Category

519kk0oCmBL._SL1000_With two sons in the 101st Airborne’s Screaming Eagles and a rusty unplugged tow hitch, it was only a matter of time before I snagged this aesthetically clean, black-and-gray, plastic hitch plug insert. It’s made of a lightweight but sturdy plastic and does not fit snugly in a way that will keep all water out of your hitch. It’s an ornament rather than a sealing plug. But that’s as advertised, so no complaint.

I love the optics and the price seems reasonable for a relatively low-volume product.

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In a political era when scandalously few of the United States’ political leaders have beenshaped by military service, this b51K4gjfgdKLook provides a fascinating look at a formative moment in the career of HR McMaster, who as this reviewer sets pen to paper serves as the country’s National Security Advisor.
The brief survey of an armored battle that takes pride of place in a world that sees few such large-scale engagements of tanks tells as well the satisfying story of the U.S. Military’s improbable feat of transformation from post-Vietnam malaise through to the disciplined, strategically minded force that destroyed Saddam Hussein’s forces in the First Gulf War (1990-91).

Guardia’s Fires of Babylon chronicles the U.S. Army’s pivot from an anti-Soviet blocking mission that had lost its relevance by the time the Berlin Wall crumbled to a highly fluid challenge from operating positions in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and eventually Iraq itself. It was commanders like McMaster (a Captain at the time of 73 Easting) who brought the discipline and savvy that produced overwhelming military success against an Iraqi force that was judged to be capable of kicking butt on the battlefield. In the end, only one butt got kicked in an epic slaughter that could have led to the removal of Saddam but for the political considerations that led the first President Bush to pull up short. (more…)

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Rarely do I sit down to review a book feeling so conflicted about the thing.

Dillard Johnson’s page-turner puts me in that place. On the one hand, I appreciate the insight into battle as American soldiers have experienced it in Iraq. Carnivore shines light on the extensive planning, the battle tactics, and oscillating adrenaline rush and sheer terror of battle. Because one of my own sons commanded the men in a Bradley Fighting Machine and both have commanded scout platoons, I found that the author’s depiction of armored tactics with the Bradley and the Abrams tank in close coordination made for a fascinating read. This, for me, is where Johnson’s work holds value.61e2tlp4dl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

But there are negatives …

The first one is the nature of Johnson’s claims for his own performance, which has generated bitter resentment on the part of fellow soldiers who believe Johnson has penned an egotistical and inaccurate version of one man’s role in a decidedly team effort. The first-person singular is very frequent in Johnson’s account, not to the point that he does not credit his buddies, but to the extreme that one wonders if the credit is enough. One senses that the author’s better and lesser angels are fighting it out, with the latter winning more often than it should. Despite Dillard’s obvious appreciation of his fellow soldiers, they are pushed to the margins of his record. Arguably, the picture of the fight in Iraq that results is rendered inaccurate by this singular focus.

The second negative is that Dillard’s rhetoric about killing astonishing numbers of Iraqis runs deeply casual. Any prettiness on this front is a first casualty of war—always a flawed and terrible thing—as it should be. On the other hand, ‘Carnivore’ from time to time seems less the moniker given to Johnson’s Bradley than a chosen nickname for the man commanding it.

I find it hard to criticize an American soldier who has left home and family to fight, even more so because I write as the father of two Army officers and the step-father of two long-serving enlisted men. I’m grateful for Dillard Johnson’s service. I’m glad I’ve read the book he’s written about it. I just wish he’d shaped his story into a different one.

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To read Peter FitzSimon’s Gallipoli is to realize how great an evening it would be to have the man in front of a crackling fire in your living room, telling a good tale.

For it is the telling of a tale that FitzSimon promises us, a tale of how Australia ‘became a nation’ in the wrenching experiencing of bleeding for the British Empire on the hills of the Turkish coast.

519n8gv6zalFitzSimons puts a lot of himself in this story, not always a promising approach for a history writer. Yet this manages to illuminate rather than obscure the Gallipoli narrative. The author’s full-disclosure explanation of how his own understanding of the battle has changed gives the non-Australian reader a glimpse into the various ways in which that antiopodean nation itself has moved through various stages of engagement with one of its defining moments.

There is little to nothing good to say about a battle of this ferocity, one that concluded with surviving Anzac forces withdrawing to the sea under cover of darkness. But one can at least tell the awful story well. FitzSimons manages to write in—to speak in, for the reader can almost hear his voice—Australian, not a generic academic English.

The result is winsome, savage, feisty (for what is an Australian without a little feist?), and accessible. One emerges from reading this book made wiser not only about the flawed execution of what might otherwise have represented a victorious thrust by the Allied forces into the belly of the Turkish ‘sick man of Europe’, but also more intelligent about how Australian soldiers fought for the mother country’s Empire but died for Australia.

FitzSimons recognizes that many have told the Gallipoli story before him. His contribution is to write, one hundred years on, for Australians and friends of Australians like this reader, several generations hence, when a bit of cool reflection can both enrich and temper our understanding of the passions, ambitions, stupidities, and grit that produced Gallipoli.

A century is long enough for a certain empathy with the enemy of one’s forebears to develop in a way that does not trivialize the complex developments that led a country to war on a land whose name they barely knew. FitzSimons ably captures the privilege of this retrospective distance, not least by recording a recent re-encounter of Turkish and Anzac veterans on this very savage and sacred soil, and by resurrecting Mustafa Kemal’s generous words, penned in 1934:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours … you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Has it really been a century?

Peter FitzSimon’s fine and well-researched retelling makes it seem just yesterday.

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One wonders how the course of an epic war takes shape in the remembering mind. It is so easy to move to Normandy and the push across Europe towards Berlin. Yet Normandy and the reconquest of Europe came late in the war and were impossible without the unsung precursors. Like the invasion of Sicily and the hard slog up the Italian boot at a time when it was still possible to underestimate the enemy and, later, convenient to forget places like Anzio and Montecassino.

51kz5col-nl-_sx313_bo1204203200_In The Day of Battle, as elsewhere, Atkinson’s writing is not only fueled by the very best research. It also goes down smoothly as such a tale can.

The struggle that had begun in September 1939 was more than half over; yet if both commanders and commanded intuited that they were nearer the end than the beginning, they also sensed that less than half the butcher’s bill had been paid in a bloodletting that ultimately would claim sixty million lives: one life every three seconds for six years. They also knew that if the Allied powers—led by the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union—now possessed the strategic initiative, the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan still held the real estate, including six thousand miles of European coastline and the entire western littoral of Asia.

Atkinson exegetes the butcher’s bill as few other military historians can.

In the little Pennsylvania town where this reviewer grew up, twenty-two names adorn the WWII memorial in the main cemetery. Two of these fell in Italy. Curiously, both were women: Carrie Sheetz, a nurse whose station was bombed by a rogue German fighter trying to escape pursuing allied planes at Anzio; and and a certain Josephine Strohecker, who perished in Naples.

Atkinson provides a context for understanding such unsought sacrifice on the part of so many citizen soldiers.

This second entry to the Liberation Trilogy is a gift to those who remember the unsung fallen.

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I had often heard of ‘Ernie Pyle’ from people who had been around to read his newspaper columns during ‘The War’ and—more often—from those whose parents had done so. But it was not until a solemn stroll through Honolulu’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific brought me unexpectedly upon Pyle’s gravesite that he became a real human being to me. Ironically, for me he was humanized in his death. It is a sentiment that Pyle might have been expected to appreciate, for he humanized the American fighting man and woman precisely in their deepest extremis.51stormosil-_sx312_bo1204203200_

I immediately ordered this remarkable collection of Pyle’s columns, filed from a very mobile front as it made its way across Europe and towards Berlin.

It took a bit of time for Pyle’s writing to grow on me. His vocabulary, his pacing come—after all—from a different generation’s English. But grow on me it did.

By all accounts a complex man and by some accounts a troubled one, Pyle shines no light in these dispatches on himself. His singular focus is on the American GI and sailor. The title of this compilation might suggest a romantic touch. Yet romance is not what Pyle brought to war, and certainly not to his supremely empathetic picture of the American warrior in an epic conflict that not one of them had invited to interrupt his life.

I am tempted to say that every American school child should be required to read this book.

But that will never happen, and is hardly worth the words.

The good news is that some of us, more often than not those who have slowly grown to appreciate the citizen soldier with all his warts, will pick up and read this extraordinary collection of journalistic snapshots. Some of us will pause quietly at the end of one or more of the book’s 35 chapters. To wonder, perhaps, how we would have performed under similar duress. To honor those who endured. To grieve those who did not.

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From this reviewer’s, anything with the late David Halberstam’s name on it is ipso facto a worthy read. This aching recounting of a war no one saw coming and nearly everybody forgot is no exception.

51zmq1uhxsl-_ac_us436_ql65_In his introduction to The Coldest Winter, the author alludes to the ‘colossal gaffe’ of Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s omission of South Korea when drawing America’s Asian defense perimeter. Sadly, the Korean Conflict was to offer a strong roster of competitors for ‘greatest colossal gaffe’ status. Per Halberstam’s statistics, the chaotic war without the title would claim 33,000 American lives alongside of 415,000 South Koreans and perhaps a million and a half Chinese and North Koreans.

Of the titans who come off badly, flailingly, blindly, Douglas MacArthur holds pride of place in Halberstam’s telling. The Coldest Winter complements other histories of the conflict by shining a light on an enduring tragedy: the intelligence to understand what the Chinese were willing to sacrifice for control of the peninsula was there to see. Military leaders on what would become a frigid field of battle saw it, often, but could not convince their leadership—particularly egotistic, far-away MacArthur—that it was there, right in front of them.

Halberstam is also merciless with the China hands who in his telling held on far too long to vain hopes that Chiang Kai-Shek was something other than a spent force and that an enduring Communist rule over the mainland China was a fact on the ground that would not be bombed or wished out of existence.

This decidedly non-specialist reviewer found Halberstam’s narrative of ‘the early Kim’ fascinating in light of contemporary developments in North Korea’s ‘Hermit Kingdom’.

A cold winter unfailingly causes an ache in the bones. Perhaps none so deep and enduring as the ache David Halberstam recovers for our consideration and our memory in his masterful The Coldest Winter.

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