'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Monday, December 28, 2015

It's been a year....

It's been a year since our sweet Courtney finished her journey here on Earth and returned home to God.  In that time our family has undergone many changes, begun new challenges, and generally tried to reorient so much of our lives that was built around the daily care and love for our daughter.

It has not been easy.  For many weeks, Mary or I would wander into Courtney's room at random times in the evening to check on her...except she wasn't there.

We would find little reminders like her wooden spoons still in the silverware drawer or a pair of socks that sunk to the bottom of the sock drawer.  

I found myself randomly saying the words to Fox in Socks or Green Eggs and Ham remembering how much she would giggle when I read them to her.

Of course, I did remember that there would be no more swine flu diapers to change, or no more spinach souffl├ęs sneezed at me and I thought "I won't miss those, for sure."

But Courtney was truly the heart of our home and her presence is missed on a daily basis.

However, life goes on, and I know that's how Courtney would want it.  She was always full of joy and laughter and even in the roughest times would smile for her mom or me..and especially her big brother.

We know she is in a better place, with no more seizures, pain, suffering, or sorrow.  She knows only joy, peace and happiness...as it should be...she was a true prayer warrior here on Earth and continues her prayer service in heaven.

We miss her and love her.

“Day is done, Gone the sun,
From the lake, From the hill,
From the sky.
All is well, Safely rest,
God is nigh.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

This is detailed and exhausting military history.

To call some books a tome does not really do them justice.  This is one of those books.  

David Glantz, a retired Army Colonel who is probably the foremost expert on the Soviet Red Army in the West, has written the first volume of what will probably stand the test of time as the most exhaustive study of this titanic battle ever written.

And I am not just talking about the time it takes to read and truly absorb the truly amazing level of detail Mr. Glantz and his co-author have provided in this book..oh, no, it took me almost 2 years to get through this book, on and off with my other reading efforts as it is truly a labor of love for Mr. Glantz.

Like every book, it has the good, bad, and ugly.

First the good--this book, the first of a four volume trilogy..WHAT, a four volume trilogy yea, you heard me..there is so much going on that it takes four volumes to get through it all.  What Mr. Glantz has accomplished here is the definitive tale of Germany's Operation Blue-the summer 1942 offensive meant to capture the Russian Caucasus oil fields and the city of Stalingrad to bring the Soviet war machine to a halt.  By mining previously unavailable Soviet and German archives, the book offers a truly fresh perspective on this campaign and how the Germans and Soviets fought one of the most titanic battles in history. 

It is nearly incomprehensible to Americans these days to think that nearly 2,000,000 men fought over this city during the course of the entire campaign...that's  almost as big as the current Russian and American armies COMBINED.  

The amount of detail in this book is amazing, and the analysis by Glantz and House is really first rate, it will change how soldiers and historians view those crucial battles and operations that set the stage for the meat grinder of street fighting in Stalingrad.  If you wonder why militaries try to avoid combat in cities, this battle will make you understand.

The bad...well, I have to say I love maps, and this book has plenty of maps...but they are, for the most part unreadable maps.  Glantz has tried to reproduce the actual German operational maps..but they look like really bad photocopies and are practically useless.  For all the awesome work put in this book, a decent cartographer would have been welcome.  The pictures are ok, but they also look like bad photocopies.  The University of Kansas Press...associated with the Army War College---usually produces first rate books...the maps and illustrations in this book were disappointing...hopefully these will be corrected in the succeeding volumes.

The ugly...well, there really isn't any...I mean this book is truly for the SERIOUS grognard, it is not light and fluffy reading...these four volumes weigh in nearly 3000 pages...yup that's right...nearly as many pages as were wasted on Obamacare...and that doesn't even count the end notes and bibliography.  No doubt about it...Glantz is passionate about this subject and no one will produce a study of this battle with his breadth or depth of experience and research...

If you want to learn about the REAL part of World War II...and by that I mean the Eastern Front where the war was really decided, then this is an important book.  Glantz leaves no stone unturned and really sets the stage for the follow-on volumes.

Oh, yea, I am already on volume 2 and it's gonna be epic.  Now the real battle begins...

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Grouchy Historian's Favorite Books of 2015

So another year draws to a close, so in addition to eggnog, tinsel, and useless speeches from a lame duck President, it's time for the best books of the year from my extensive reading list.

This year I actually achieved my goal of 36 books a little early, thanks to a new and extended commute and the wonders of Books on CD....what a wonderful way to read (listen) to fiction.  Haven't really gotten into listening to non-fiction yet...a bit to OCD for that..I like to flip to maps and pictures too much.

I will say this was a particularly tough year to choose..there were so many good books, many of them gloriously sent by my very good comrades at the New York Journal of Books where I had another gratifying year of reviewing some really thoughtful books...some of which I will confess I am still finishing up.  I look forward to another awesome year of their professionalism and enthusiasm for all things bibliophile.

SO, my favorite non-fiction has to be...Ian Toll's two volumes on the Pacific War.  Mr. Toll is rapidly becoming to the Pacific War what Rick Atkinson is to the ETO--the author of the definitive trilogy on the conflict.  Like his counterpart, Mr. Toll has an excellent blend of narrative history, "you were there" stories, and historical analysis to make these really fine volumes.  There is a definite skill to blending the sweeping naval battles with the grinding island assaults and Mr. Toll does this very well...the section on the invasion of Tarawa in the Conquering Tide is nothing sort of magnificent.  He has one more volume in the works covering the final 2 years of the war...I look forward to it very much.

Two honorable mentions were 13 Hours which I listened too and was very hard to distinguish from a Tom Clancy novel...it's going to make an awesome movie.  AND...well, let's face it...like I said, West Point can't play football, but they do awesome military history.  Their West Point History of World War II Volume 1 was a truly awesome work, made even better when you consider it's both a hardcover for us Luddites and a very cool interactive book for the twitchy generation of millennials now attending the service academies...which is ironic since the company making the interactive book is run by a Canoe U graduate.

Fiction...well that was a bit tougher, actually.  Ok, I'll admit it.  I picked a Nora Roberts book.  Hey, don't be a H8er..I am a huge fan of her JD Robb series and I blame my significant otter, who always wants to listen to one of these on a long car trip instead of Tom Clancy.  So I picked this from my library on Audio CD on her recommendation and it occupied almost an entire week of commuting.  The lady who reads them is awesome and as usual, Nora can take a pretty basic story like a treasure hunt combined with a murder mystery and hook you in with her usual excellent dialogue, sympathetic characters and awesome secondary players.  Hey, millions of chicks who buy her books can't be wrong, can they?  Literary masterpieces they aren't, but they are fun, engaging, and help you from wanting to run over the nitwit who cuts you off in traffic.  

The runner up was my old pal Harry Turtledove.  His new series (seriously, the guy only writes trilogies or trilogies of trilogies) of alternate history, one of my favorite fictional genres, goes off in an interesting direction--what if Truman had dropped the bomb on China during the Korean War?  In his usual fashion, Turtledove bounces around the globe, telling the story of a nuclear WWIII, but without ballistic missiles or thermonuclear weapons, and how ordinary people might have reacted to dozens of Hiroshimas around the globe.  A little pedestrian, but nonetheless interesting, and of course Turtledove has mastered the cliffhanger to keep you waiting in anticipation for the next book.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Leadership in a time of crisis.

So, it is sad, but not unexpected, that every time another foreign policy debacle occurs on Obama's watch, the immediate action of the loony left is to chant-"It's BUSH'S FAULT!" loudly to all of their fellow traveller poltroons.

I actually recommended in a Facebook post the other day to one of those Obama fans that the title of his presidential memoir should be "Dreams of my Presidency-It's all Bush's Fault."  This, of course is a classic sign of narcissism-refusing to own your mistakes and blaming everyone else for your failures, but is, sadly, par for the course for this Administration and it's shrinking band of defenders.

So, take the current Middle East, now world crisis, which began almost 2 years ago with the sweeping out of the deserts of Syria (not Iraq mind you) of ISIS into northern Iraq, capturing Mosul, Ramadi, Fallujah, Bayji, and most of northern Iraq, stopping only at the gates of Baghdad and the line defended by Iraq's Kurdish population.  This group, deemed the "JV team" by our basketball loving President...who  no doubt will fill out his NCAA brackets no matter how many jihadis are killing people around the world, surpassed Al Qaeda in organization, strength, and most important--Ambition.  Not content to merely kill infidels, these particular evil doers wish to own and occupy territory in the failed states of Syria and Iraq.

Now, loony liberals immediately began the cry "BUSH CREATED ISIS, IT'S BUSH'S FAULT" right on cue...giving lefty pundits plenty to chew on and pontificate, even though most of them have no clue what the difference is between a Sunni and a Shiite and couldn't care less.

But, let's consider the facts. 

  • In 2010, Iraq was a stable, if imperfect country, where the  Sunni Awakening and Surge begun in late 2006 had begun to bear some fruit and create the potential for real political conciliation between Sunni, Shias, and Kurds in Iraq.  Yes the whole occupation was a train wreck..no doubt about that, and it took a major change in policy and strategy to salvage SOME level of victory, but Bush made the hard decision, knowing it would cost him politically.
  • When Obama took office there were a diminishing number of US troops in Iraq, training Iraqi forces, providing some CT capability, and generally providing a US presence to counter-balance Iranian influence and keep Shia politicians behaving themselves.
  • In 2011, after trumpeting how GREAT Iraq was as an Obama foreign policy success (remember ol' Joe on the news shows, you can Google it), Obama yanked all our forces out of Iraq, JUST as Syria was coming apart in a civil war.  This meant the US had NO ability to stop Iranian arms shipments to the Assad regime or help keep the Iraq army intact.  When US troops left, the Shia majority government started backsliding on including Sunnis in the government and military..and started to piss off the Kurds too.
  • In 2011, Syria came apart in a civil war, as did Libya...of course both of these were a result of the so-called "Arab Spring," really more of an Arab convulsing of got nothing left to lose rebellions.  In Syria, the Obama Administration bungled every which way--not taking a Russian overture to oust Assad, not bombing Syria when ACTUAL WMDs were used, and generally ensuring that our only allies would be moderate Sunnis jihadis..in effect we have allied with Al Qaeda against ISIS...how F'up is that?
  • In Libya, this Administration "LED FROM BEHIND" what the hell does that even mean, and what moron would ever say that as a national policy in taking down a dictator with...you guess it...NO PLAN to rebuild the country...in effect this Administration fought a war of choice against a contained regime (remember Qaddafi gave up his WMD in 2004 because he was afraid of that cowboy Bush)..because we wanted to "protect" people...well heck of a job Bammy...Libya is now a basket case as well...
  • AND THEN, there's Yemen.  Probably the BIGGEST and most unknown debacle of this Administration...and that's saying something.  Yemen sits astride very strategic waterways and borders two long time allies-Saudi Arabia (allies in the loosest sense) and Oman.  It is also in the throws of civil war and threatens to draw Iran and Saudi Arabia even deeper into their de facto Cold War.
  • I won't even talk about Afghanistan, because, well, frankly that country is a basket case that even Solomon couldn't fix.
SO, how can I make bold statements like Obama f'ed up Iraq more than Bush...simple...he's sending troops back...and likely a lot of them.

Ask yourself this question...if keeping 15 or 20 thousand troops in Iraq might have prevented the re-emergence of ISIS, shortened the Syrian civil war by preventing Iranian resupply of Assad's military, and kept Iraq together and functioning would that have been worth it?

Even as Obama says the US might need troops in Afghanistan longer...a dubious course as those 7th century goat herders are even more primitive than the Iraqis and Syrians, why wouldn't he have kept troops in Iraq, a much more strategically critical country?

The answer is simple----he is blinded to reality by his rigid ideology and the narrative of the modern Democratic Party that the US had to get out of Iraq and "Bush's War" as fast as possible no matter what...after all, any fallout after a short-sighted blunder like withdrawing ALL OUR TROOPS could be blamed on Bush...seemingly forever, if my liberal acquaintances have their way.

Now of course, there is a new dilemma--how to respond to ISIS on a global level.  Do we continue the pinprick bombing campaign in Syria while mouthing platitudes about not misunderstanding and blaming Islam while loony open borders advocates say we should let thousands of Arab Muslim male refugees in our country?

Or do we man up, apply some real air power to aid the Kurds, Iraqis (for better or worse, we're now stuck with the new, improved Iranian owned Iraqi military) and whatever rump Syrian forces are left to wipe out ISIS once and for all...if that's even possible?

That's the question...and, quite frankly, there are now easy answers.  It takes fortitude, foresight, and an absolute firmness of resolve to try and deal with this challenge...which is only going to get worse if the dithering and hand-wringing by the West about the Muslim threat is interpreted as weakness by ISIS, which it most assuredly will.

Unfortunately, this Administration and it's party has no JFK, FDR or even Truman to lead this country and defend it's citizens and freedoms.  We are stuck with a President determined to make the next 15 months some sort of weird victory lap about HIM and HIS Administration and their successes...and screw whoever takes over because then everything will be THEIR fault...after all Barry will be out playing golf and making speeches about his total awesomeness as the first black (actually mixed race) President.

When the world turns to the French to lead the fight against Islamic fascism..we have truly fallen through the looking glass...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

ALERT the liberal media...a revisionist history book I like.

It has been a very, very busy fall for your Grouchy Historian, thanks to my book-loving buds at the New York Journal of Books.

I have literally been like a kid at the bacon buffet...so many books, and there have been some real surprise gems here.

One of them is this little number, reviewed by yours truly.

Marie von Clausewitz: The Woman Behind the Making of On War
I was pretty enthusiastic in my review, and well, I love me some Clausewitz...

One thing I DO NOT love is revisionist history...especially mushy gender-racial-blah, blah...hey let's re-write history to diminish and minimize the dead white male history.

When I first saw this book, I was skeptical to say the least...BUT as I love all things Clausewitz gave it a shot. 

And was darn glad I did...as they say...NOW for the rest of the story.

First of all, to have access to the complete set of her correspondence with ol' Carl...which is the entire basis of Ms. Bellinger's book, as I note in my review, must have been totally awesome.  

She does a marvelous job showing the unique character of their relationship and how Marie lived up to the old phrase "behind every successful man is a good woman" ...perhaps a quaint notion in the 21st century with our endless gender wars, but it was fascinating to read how she could be both the typical 19th century woman expected to prepare herself for marriage while still being a real intellectual and opinionated powerhouse.

I mean, besides the intimate intellectual correspondence and exchange of ideas noted in the book, what a fascinating glimpse in their private life...in the era before email, Twitter, and texting, letters were everything, and no doubt Ms. Bellinger must have left out some interesting gossip about life in the Prussian court, their intimate exchange of feelings and emotions during their many long separations...Carl, after all was a military man who spent a long time away from the woman he loved...we'll just leave it at that...I will say it is remarkable how couple's in the day could be intimate and loving with taste and decorum...no Snapchat for Carl and Marie, to be sure.

Needless to say, I LOVED this book...I have an extensive Clausewitz library, and this book will be right next to my Peter Paret and Jon Sumida.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The forgotten war—Commies vs Nazis

Continuing the general theme of examining little known aspects of World War II..at least to an American audience..I have been studying the Russian 1944 Summer Offensive, known as Operation Bagration.

Now, as any honest military historian will tell you, the Western Allies and their offensives in North Africa, Italy, and France were effectively well publicized side-shows compared to the titanic blood-letting between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia…the REAL decisive theater of World War II.

To be fair, Western military historians have written excellent histories of Stalingrad (including David Glantz's majestic 4 volume shelf filler) and the Battle of Kursk, arguably the biggest tank battle ever, but, like much World War II history…all of this research tends to stop after June 6, 1944. (That’s D-Day for you Common Core social studies kids, look it up on Wikipedia)

This little book tries to overcome that deficit by covering what is arguably the biggest, most elaborate, and most decisive offensive of World War 2—the Russian offensive against the Germans in Byelorussia in June 1944…the famed Operation Bagration that destroyed an entire German Army group, drove the Germans out of the remainder of Russia, and brought the Red Army to the gates of Warsaw, Poland.

It packs a lot of punch in only a couple hundred pages, and overall does a very acceptable job. The order-of-battle and general strategic situation for both armies is well laid out, and Tucker-Jones does an excellent job of setting the scene, particularly in describing the elaborate and very successful Soviet deception plan that convinced the Germans that the main part of the summer offensive would fall in the Ukraine instead of Byelorussia.

Once the battle start, the mighty weight of Soviet manpower and steel quickly overruns the German defenders, and when combined with Hitler’s strategic blinders and associated blunders, turns a Soviet victory into a rout as Hitler issues insane stand and die orders instead of withdrawing German forces to shorten the front and perhaps provide a reserve to strike at the lengthening and vulnerable Soviet columns.

The only factors that save the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front from total annihilation are the shift of the Soviet offensive south to finish liberating the Ukraine and the lengthening of Soviet supply lines. Of course, Stalin’s desire to stop outside Warsaw, instead of rendering aid to the Polish Home Army fighting the Germans in the streets, was a cold and calculating decision that contributed to the absorption of Poland into the Communist bloc.

For the neophyte student of the World War II Eastern Front, this is a great little book. There aren’t a lot of decent histories written on the Soviet-German conflict (David Glantz being the exception…the man is a Russian studies machine) so a book that is well-written for the average reader is a great find.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Four great page turners by the master of military techno-thrillers

I have always been a big fan of Tom Clancy, and it was a truly sad day when he passed from the scene in 2013.  I was an early fan of Hunt for Red October, and I consider Red Storm Rising still one of the best military techno-thrillers of all time..the true granddaddy of an entire genre of fiction.

So, when I got my new job and started my long commutes, I decided to plunge back in with his next generation of military thrillers, very ably co-authored…and now authored by Mark Greaney.  I pretty much devoured them in order on Audiobook…for 3 of them Lou Diamond Phillips does a marvelous job narrating and the newest volume, Full Force and Effect, has a new narrator that is acceptable, if not as familiar.

What is remarkable is how absolutely accurate Clancy and Greaney were at predicting world events.  From the South China Sea to Ukraine to North Korea, these guys clearly did their homework and got things 90% correct…with the events in Ukraine as a yardstick they were scarily accurate.

Now, as fiction goes, these will win no literature awards from snobby pretentious book reviewers I’m sure.  There is no moral angst or gray ethics here.  The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad.  The narration is very straightforward, although the duo does a good job of maintaining tension and keeping the story going at a good clip…always important in novels that weigh-in over 400 pages.  

Although Clancy loves his techno-babble, it doesn’t overwhelm the story and the books remain fairly character driven..focusing on the team from the “Campus” and their efforts to thwart evil doers and save the day.

If you hit these up in order, you won’t be disappointed,  I will be honest and say I enjoyed the last 2 more than the first 2.  Greaney clearly hits his stride and the back stories/secondary plots are really first-rate, especially in Command Authority.
These are great page-turners and just the thing for a cold winter night.

Monday, October 26, 2015

13 Hours of bravery and abandonment

Since I started my new job with a much longer commute (boo), I have been enjoying the awesomeness of Audiobooks on CD (YEA!). One of the more remarkable books has been 13 Hours, the survivors recounting of the events of September 12, 2012 in Benghazi.

Now I know most Americans couldn’t find Benghazi on a map, much less Libya, and they are more interested in the Kardashian’s latest antics than the total disintegration of our Middle East foreign policy under this Administration.

However, for those Americans who didn’t throw up listening to Hillary lie once again about the coverup of what happened during those fateful 13 hours to protect the nonsense bumper sticker of “OSAMA IS DEAD AND GM IS ALIVE” that reelected this President through fraud and lies, this is a very good book.

How good? Well, it’s soon to be a Michael Bey movie and I suspect it will take its place with Black Hawk Down in the library of excellent action movies about Americans left to die in rotten places by Democratic Administrations.

Reconstructed from accounts of the security contractors who fought on the ground with parts of Congressional testimony and other official government documents, this book shows the grit and determination of a small group of Americans trying to save their fellow countrymen from a DELIBERATE TERRORIST ACT on the evening of September 11, 2012.

While the book is excellent, for this Grouchy Historian, it still raises a lot of questions that NO one has seemed to answer, at least to my satisfaction:
1) What exactly was this CIA Annex doing in Benghazi?  The official embassy was in Tripoli and most CIA officers work near the Embassy...since the US did not have an OFFICIAL consulate in Benghazi, what was the CIA doing there? I am still one of those tinfoil hat types who think the CIA was running guns to Syria out of Libya...not seen anything to convince me otherwise.

2) What exactly was the US foreign policy in Libya in 2012?  Obama triumphantly bragged about winning a war by "leading from behind" when he basically let the female trifecta of Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Susan Powers get us into an illegal war (any Dems want to debate how W got a virtual declaration of war in 2003, Obama didn't even try in 2011).  BUT, although Dems still grouse about the mess W made in Iraq, they never seem to want to discuss the equally big train wreck Obama made of Libya....I guess since Obama used proxies to fight the war and didn't have the guts to send in US troops, its ok to Dems.

3)  Just like in Mogadishu, why weren't there large chunks of Benghazi that were smoking holes on September 12, 2012? After all, Obama said he was good at killing bad guys, why didn't he unleash a wave of drones to attack the Al Qaeda affiliates that were responsible for the attack?  Could it be because then he would have to acknowledge that Al Qaeda attacked a vulnerable diplomatic mission made more vulnerable due to the incompetence and neglect of Obama's Administration, particularly the Clinton State Department?

Like many patriotic Americans, I have given up hope of actually finding answers to these questions.  The lapdog media has already become Hillary's official attack dog/defender so the four dead Americans from September 11, 2012 will probably never get real justice.

In the meantime the courage in this book will have to do.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Special Ops Forces are a tool-not a strategy

Thanks to my good friends at the New York Journal of Books, I was able to get a copy of Sean Naylor’s very excellent history of the Joint Special Operations Command and write a review…linked here.

But, as always, there is more to the story. First of all, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what JSOC is versus the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) which not only owns JSOC, but the special operations pieces of each military service. What makes JSOC special is that it combines the best of the best to create a uniquely qualified organization of trigger-pullers that can deal death and destruction on very short notice world-wide.

However, what makes this book so good, and likely to be very controversial, is that Naylor pulls no punches and doesn’t hesitate to throw the bullshit flag on what he considers bad decisions that put American lives at risk.

Big case in point was the dropping of Rangers into Kandahar shortly after the war in Afghanistan began. For the most part, Naylor makes a very good case that there was little to be gained from parachuting a large forces of Rangers into the area, sweeping some compounds, and then extracting them. Of course, it did make for awesome video footage, and certainly scared some goat-herders that a battalion of whoop-ass could drop in on them pretty much undetected until the bullets start flying. But strategically, the mission was pretty much as bust as the supposed targets had already left.

Naylor gives his opinion on the various commanders of JSOC, mostly through the eyes of their subordinates and presents a mixed picture of an awesome killing machine worn down by too many missions, conducted for too long, against a varied group of targets of different operational risks, for dubious strategic gain.

At the end of the day, as I pointed out in my NYJB review, his admiration for the grunts is unmistakable, and he offers some sage advice that JSOC gives Presidents an awesome capability to reach out and touch someone, but even a legendary unit like Delta Force or Seal Team Six can’t rescue a flawed foreign policy. Still, this is an excellent book on this really never truly written about organization, and it comes in a timely manner.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Summer Brain Candy

Now we turn to the lighter summer reading. Two of my favorite authors had new books out this year and I have to say that although I liked them both, I felt there was something missing from them. Kinda of like eating a 3 Musketeers bar...all that fluffy nougat doesn't really fill you up.
Harry Turtledove has been the grand wizard of alternate history for a long time, which is my favorite sort of "sci-fi" genre. Guns of the South was the first mainstream alternate history book I ever read, and although the premise was far-fetched, to say the least, it was very well written, a lot of fun to read, with just enough twists and turns to make it a good book. His Great War: American Front series is, in my opinion, one of the best alt-history trilogies ever, and although it was followed by two sequel trilogies of various quality (actually the final series was four books), the overall effect was a magnificent blend of two favorite themes of alt-history- the South winning the Civil War and an alternate World War II. While not quite a cult classic like Man in the High Castle, the series was thoughtful, well written and scarily possible.

His second series on World War 2, weighing in at a hefty six volumes posited a beginning of the war in 1938 when Britain and France refused to betray Czechoslovakia to Hitler. I tried to make it through the first book and it just didn't grab me.

So now he has moved beyond the World Wars and tackled a remarkably unique idea in Cold War alternate history- What if Truman allowed MacArthur to drop the atomic bomb on China at the height of the Korean War? History tells us Little Mac was eager to nuke the commies back to the stone age, and in the aftermath of the Chosin Reservoir debacle, he might have gotten his way if the 1st Marine Division had been wiped out, one the implied point-of-divergences in this book.

So, for previous readers of Turtledove's series, the story is told through the eyes of many characters, although he does a pretty good job of keeping the numbers from becoming too much to keep up with, and the story moves along at a good pace. A couple of interesting points he does a good job of showing.

Although both the US and Russia had nukes, they were very crude, with even more crude delivery systems-propeller-driven manned bombers. So, unlike later in the 1960s when ICBMs and jet bombers could have rained down annihilation on both countries, most of the nukes are used Europe and Manchuria, with a smattering of US west coast cities. So while nukes certainly up the destruction and loss of life, they are not the war or humanity ending weapons they later become. Second, the challenge of how to end the world's first nuclear war really becomes apparent as Turtledove's depiction of the fictional conversations between Truman and George Marshall show.

SO, no spoiler here, Turtledove clearly has at least another trilogy in mind here as the book ends on a cliff-hanger--so to speak. And yes, I will read, and likely enjoy it a lot. It's nice to have you back, Harry.

Brad Thor is, with Vince Flynn and JD Robb, one of my trio of thriller authors that I never miss. His Scot Harvath character is one of my favorites and his series of books is awesome.

That being said, sigh, Brad has, in my opinion been in kind of a rut his last few books, and I was really hoping he would break out back to the Scot Harvath of old, and in my wee perfect world, write a real cross-over novel with his other excellent and underrated series (I hope) of novels based on the Athena Project, a group of women Delta Force operators (no longer such a far-fetched notion) who are both sexy and lethal. However, this was not that book. It was almost like a roller coaster, but not in a good way, it took you up, down, all around, but at the end of the ride--you wanted more. As I was reading, I noticed I had about 50 pages left and I was going "Crap, cliff hanger coming" and I was resigning myself to waiting another year to resolve some plot "what the hell was that" ender. And then, all of a sudden, BLAMMO, the book ended, all the plot points were resolved--The End. I was sorta crushed...it just kinda ended. I mean it was a great little 3 day brain break and Scot Harvath is a great character, but it wasn't all I hoped.

However, I am pinning my hopes on the new Mitch Rapp book, coming out later this year by an author hired by the estate of Mitch, who died way too soon from prostate cancer to satisfy my hunger for a good spy thriller.

Otherwise it's a long dry spell until Eve and Roark meet me for Thanksgiving.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

America's Founding...in spite of ourselves.

John Ferling, the dean of American colonial history, has written an outstanding one volume narrative of the American Revolution that is readable and informative for both the hard-bitten historian, and the folks who think that Sons of Liberty was realistic history.

OK, guilty confession, I LOVED Sons of Liberty, even though I knew it was as historically accurate as Hillary’s excuses on Benghazi, so yes, even Grouchy Historians have their brain candy.

However, this book is really marvelous. Ferling does a remarkable job of covering a myriad of topics in only about 300 pages, discussing everything from military strategy to colonial politics, to the issues of women and slavery. He weaves everything together to show the avoidable tragedy that was the American Revolution, and either directly or indirectly (mostly directly) shows that Britain could have either a) avoided the whole mess, b) won the war outright in either 1776 or 1777 or c) ended up with an acceptable stalemate and probable long-term victory in 1780. So let’s address these each in turn.

a) The whole mess could have been avoided if Britain had accepted political and economic reality that the colonies, while mostly loyal to England, did not like being dictated to by a governing legislature thousands of miles away where they had no representation. If England had let the colonists run their own affair and substituted taxation with a more reasonable tariff system on the growing colonial trade, they probably would have made more money and not totally torqued the colonists off.

b) Once the war started, the British had two excellent opportunities to end the war militarily. First in 1776, the whole New York campaign should have ended with General Howe capturing or destroying Washington’s army, but indecision and hesitation allowed Washington to escape his bad generalship (Ferling considers Washington less than a military genius, although an ideal commander for a revolutionary army) and launch a minor counterattack at Trenton to keep the rebellion going. 1777 was an even better opportunity to crush the rebellion by severing the New England colonies in a campaign to seize the Hudson River valley. Here again, petty bickering between British generals resulted in a lack of unity of command, creating the American victory at Saratoga and bringing the French into the war.

c) However, and this is the most interesting point from a military perspective, the British were actually winning the overall war in 1780, occupying New York, a large swath of the southern colonies, and FINALLY rallying large numbers of Loyalist Americans (a severely underutilized resource) to fight for the King. The colonies were nearly broke, war weary, and might have considered making peace with the forces in place, which would have left Britain in possession of 1/3 of the colonies and in a good position to strangle the rest economically. Instead, Lord Cornwallis brought his army out of the Carolinas into Virginia where he settled into a little port called Yorktown. The rest, as they say, is history.

By the end of the book, one is truly amazed that we aren’t drinking tea and eating crumpets. No wonder so many people believe the United States is a blessed country…our Founding Fathers nearly blew it on more than once occasion.

If you read nothing else about this critical period in American history, read this book…you won’t regret it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Revisionist History I like-The Canadian Army at D-Day

Outrage or revisionist history is always a tricky thing. Most of the time it annoys me like turkey bacon, but sometimes it is interesting and insightful. Stopping the Panzers is one such book that actually succeeds at piquing my interest and having something useful to say which changes how I consider the D-Day operation. The author, Marc Milner is a Canadian naval and military historian who is (Surprise) more than a little annoyed that the Canadian contribution to D-Day has been underreported and valued by Anglo-American centric historians.

Which is fair enough, after all, American readers want to read about American GIs. DUH. But to be fair, more recent scholarship regarding the British and allied contributions to the Northwest Europe campaign of 1944-1945 has been welcomed. Some of them have even be reviewed by yours truly.

So, what does Mr. Milner have to say and how well does he do it? Let’s review, because this is actually a very good book. In summation here is Mr. Milner’s thesis:
  • The Canadian Division that came ashore on D-Day was specifically intended to blunt the anticipated German counterattack on the Normandy beachheads. 
  • That Division fought a magnificent defensive battle, stopping the effort of 3 Panzer Division to attack the seam between the British beaches and potentially isolate and contain the British beachhead north of Caen. 
  • That Division’s battlefield success was more or less deliberately understated due to Anglo-American bias and poor historical work by the official Canadian history of World War II. 
That pretty much sums it up. How well did he do?

Overall, pretty darn well. Geography, as always, drives military planning and the Allies did their homework. The terrain of Normandy was difficult of maneuver warfare and the only logical place for a multi-division counterattack was right in the sector assigned to the 3rd Canadian Division. 

Moreover, because of bitter experience from Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio, the Allies correctly assumed the Germans would launch a violent counterattack when the Allied beachheads were the most vulnerable, which Milner shows was a topic of much debate in the Wehrmacht high command.

To blunt the expected counterattack, and it turns out the D-Day planners called the basic German plan down to the geographic axis of advance pretty darn well, the Canadians were put ashore with an oversized infantry/artillery division to dig in, absorb the attack, and prepare the way for an eventual counterattack.

As Milner narrates, the Canadians did this very well and at great cost. They fought a nearly classic set piece battle, using artillery, anti-tank guns and hard infantry fighting to stop the 21st, 12th SS, and Panzer Lehr Panzer divisions. Along the way, the Canadians suffered the atrocity of having dozens of their troops shot after being taken prisoner by the 12th SS, leading to even harder fighting as a “take no prisoners” mood settled into both sides.

Milner makes a very convincing case that the Canadians were unfairly portrayed as offensive noobs after stopping the Panzers, noting they had no better luck attacking over the open terrain NW of Caen than the Germans did. His story stops about June 10 or 11, so he remains focused on the crucial first week or so of the invasion and not the slog near Caen for the next month.

Overall, Milner makes his case very well. He also includes a lot of background on the initial planning for D-Day and how the Canadian role evolved over time, driven by military circumstances, and that bane of military men everywhere-coalition and domestic politics.

D-Day seems to get nearly as many books written about it as Gettysburg, and finding new or unique topics is challenging. Milner definitely does this, and tells a neglected tale that should be told.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Why "journalists" should not write or rewrite history: The Atomic Bombs were necessary and DID end World War II.

For some reason, every August for the last four or five years, the click mongers at Slate and Salon and assorted other liberal rags inhabited by "journalism" majors who want to change the world write some idiotic piece about how the US didn’t have to use atomic bombs on Japan, or how Harry Truman was a war criminal who nuked Japan to intimidate the Russians or some other claptrap.

Could the Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Be Considered Terrorism?

The indefensible Hiroshima revisionism that haunts America to this day

Now I expect this from these electronic rags as this is the place where Democratic “journalists” go while they await their big break to write for MSNBC or the Daily Show. And of course, it comes as little surprise to me that these pieces are inevitably written by morally smug progressives who have not only never served in uniform, but have been taught history in what passes for the modern American educational system.

Nonetheless, it is HIGHLY irritating to read that these poltroons, smug in the freedom provided by 400,000 dead Americans who fought in World War II, haven’t a clue what the REAL situation was in August 1945.

SO, sit back, relax, and let’s move beyond the hyperbole, stupidity, and intellectual vacuum that passes for modern American “journalism” and get down to the facts.

In August 1945, Harry Truman, President for less than six months was facing an inevitable bloodbath if US forces invaded Japan as the inevitable and only way to secure their unconditional surrender. 

Sifting through the reports of American casualties from Iwo Jima and Okinawa must have caused great distress. In addition, reports of civilian deaths in Okinawa must also have caused some raised eyebrows, as intelligence reports and Japanese propaganda stated the ENTIRE population of the Home Islands were being mobilized to fight the invasion.

In addition to heavy ground casualties, the navy was equally alarmed at the waves of kamikazes Japan had unleashed against the fleet offshore Okinawa, resulting in the loss of nearly an American warship a day from the early version of suicide bombers.

Two really excellent books (yes books, those things that progressive revisionist historians seem to avoid, unless they are written by Barack Obama/Bill Ayers) lay out the TRUTH of the situation in August 1945

Richard Frank's book is really my classic go-to, although Giangreco's book is also really good.

Let's provide a summary...short bullets for John Stewart fans:
  • The Allies, although relentless and with overwhelming firepower, were also very predictable, and the Japanese KNEW the next American landing would be on the island of Kyushu.  Declassified interviews and papers from he Japanese show they had already figured out the basic Allied plan.  The Allies had to land on the main island to capture Tokyo, but they would not do it without securing an island to fly B-17 and B-24 bombers.  Simple math would dictate a landing on Kyushu.
  • Therefore the Japanese also could figure out basically WHERE they Allies were likely to land since geography limited the number of beaches the Allies could put landing craft and armor ashore.  So the Japanese rushed additional troops and fortifications to Kyushu, almost guaranteeing a Gallipoli like struggle to get off the beaches and securing the airfields the Japanese had built on the southern end of the island.  Allied intelligence estimated that Japan might have had over 500,000 troops on the island, by far the largest force every faced by an amphibious assault.
  • Truman also knew that America was very war weary and nearly at the end of their limits.  Many contemporary historians assume the US had a huge material superiority over their enemies in WW2, which is true.  But it was not limitless, and if anyone has seen the move Flags of Our Fathers they should remember the line explaining why they needed those Marines to participate in the War Bond drive...after 4 years of war, the country was nearly broke, Paul Krugman's economic miracle notwithstanding.  Could the US have withstood the estimated 1 million casualties to conquer Japan by conventional assault?  Who know, but Truman was keenly aware of the mood of the country and the limits of what American soldiers destined to invade Japan, many already transferred from combat in Europe were likely to endure.
So Truman made the hard call...and the bomb was dropped.  But guess what revisionists?  The Japanese STILL were not entirely ready to surrender.  Even after Emperor Hirohito made the decision to surrender, a cabal of Japanese officers attempted to launch a coup.  Fortunately for Japan, they failed, but nonetheless, the idea that Japan was ready to surrender before the bombs were dropped is simply NOT supported by the facts.

I think the poltroons on the progressive revisionist left should listen to the soldiers who were there.  Paul Fussell is an often quoted soldier that should always trump the morons on the left.  His essay breaking down the idiocy of the argument that Japan was going to surrender before the bombs were dropped should quickly and forever dispel this idiotic notion.
When the atom bombs were dropped and news began to circulate that “Operation Olympic” would not, after all, be necessary, when we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow to adulthood after all. The killing was all going to be over, and peace was actually going to be the state of things. When the Enola Gay dropped its package, “There were cheers,” says John Toland, “over the intercom; it meant the end of the war.”  
So, the next time some moron from the left says Truman was a war criminal or the US is a bad country for dropping the bombs on Japan, just send them this link and tell them to read it...if they can...and if they dare.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

History, Outrage, and Truth....who gets to decide?

Watching the debate on the Confederate flag in the wake of the shooting death of 9 people by a deranged lunatic has been an educational moment for me this week.

In the midst of a heated and perhaps needed debate, it doesn't seem to take long in America for the liberal left to "jump the shark" on things in the most ludicrous way possible.

Apple Removes Civil War Games From App Store Over Confederate Flag Usage

I mean, really?

Fortunately, there are still enough common sense Americans to recognize stupidity when they see it and react accordingly.

Civil War Game Pulled From Apple Store Now Doing Great On Steam

So, I decided to really think about his for a while.  It is true, that many white supremacist groups use the Confederate flag as a symbol...and that it probably does offend some African-Americans to see it flying from statehouses in the old Confederacy.  Therefore, for those governors or state legislatures who want to remove the flag from government buildings, I say fine.  If that's what the voters of the state want, then so be it, democracy in action.  

BUT, as always, if liberals want to go there, what about symbols that conservatives find offensive?

Yup, ol' Che, the darling of the idiotic modern left, was, in fact a brutal thug who killed thousands of Cubans and helped enslave millions more...the current Administration's efforts to rehabilitate this brutal regime notwithstanding, there are lots of reasons why this thug's mug should not be on T-shirts.

And how about this?

Why do protesters at immigration rallies often fly the Mexican flag?  Aren't they desperate to become Americans?  How about this young lady?

She is an "undocumented immigrant" that's liberal speak for illegal alien, but hey, words can mean whatever you want nowadays if you're a liberal.  So she graduates from a California university ('nuff said) and decides to carry not her adopted country's flag, but the country that supposedly her family was fleeing because of poverty, injustice or whatever.  

NOW, perhaps some folks at that ceremony thought that was offensive...think anyone on the left cares?  What about conservative America's right to be offended...or is that right reserved only for someone who has the POLITICALLY CORRECT kind of offense?

Imagine if a student at Alabama, or Mississippi State, or LSU carried a Confederate flag across the stage at their college graduation?  Think the progressive liberal media might have had a SMALL FREAKIN' meltdown over that?

Yea, me too...it seems that lefty progressives think that only THEY get to decide what's offensive.  Not content with just getting the Confederate flag removed from public display and relegated to museums, now some of these purveyors of outrage want to get rid of museums and monuments too...very similar to how ISIS wants to destroy monuments it decides are heretical in the Middle East.

This seems not only extreme, but insane.  Well, those words often do describe the Progressive Loony Left (PLL) as I tend to call them.

SO, on their pogrom to CLEANSE American history (didn't Orwell write about this in 1984), what's next?  Do they want to get rid of Mount Vernon and Monticello?  After all Washington and Jefferson did own slaves....burn the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution because both of them "allowed" slavery?  

It seems to me that this is the ultimate end product of where our education system has taken us...we don't talk about American history and all its warts and glories...we don't discuss how to make things better...we just divide ourselves into groups that get outraged at each other and  then allow SOME groups to assume some sort of morally superior mantel that permits them to dictate right and wrong, just and unjust, acceptable and hateful.

WELL, I for one don't accept that.   

I consider no liberal to be my moral superior just because of their FEELINGS or OUTRAGE and I don't consider that just because I am male, white, Catholic, heterosexual, or a veteran to mean that I am to blame for what outrages you...and yes, I do read Civil War books--a lot of them...and yes, some of them have Confederate flags on them...and yes, some of them even talk about Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.  Get. Over. It...your outrage is your problem.  Go read Dreams From My Father or Hard Choices...I'm sure they're in the bargain bin at your local Sam's Club.

As always, I hope cooler heads prevail before we destroy our history in the name of calming those PLL that make a living at outrage.  The peaceful and Christian outpouring of folks in Charleston sure does stand in contrast to the lunacy of Ferguson and Baltimore, so I do have hope that ordinary folks, black and white, can come together and pray for each other and try to understand better what unites us instead of what divides us.

I really, really do hope so...otherwise it's going to be a long, hot summer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Get to da chopper....the progressive liberal assault on our history continues...

Last weekend, my +1 and I went with her mom to a commemorative ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial to read the names of Vietnam vets who have died in the last year.  

My father-in-law was an old Navy man who died from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange while serving in the Vietnam War on a destroyer in the South China Sea and offshore South Vietnam.

This event, of course, reminded me that this year is the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of American ground combat in Vietnam.  One would think that this would be an opportunity to reflect on the service and sacrifice of the many Americans that served during the Vietnam era. 

BUT, you would be wrong...the Progressive Loony Left (PLL for short) would have none of that.
The Pentagon’s Pathetic Vietnam Whitewash
Yup, that's the headline for the Daily Beast...written by Sally Kohn, self-described progressive activist and writer that wouldn't know an American hero if one walked up and probie slapped her...(oh, is that being micro-aggressive?). Here's my favorite quote:
The website, for instance, barely mentions the mistakes and atrocities on the battlefield for which America’s military was responsible. Nor does it say much about the extraordinary protest marches and heated political debates that embroiled our nation during the fighting.
Just wow...now, of course, being a guilty white PLL she tries to make a weak statement SUPPORTING the troops cuz, of course you can't question the patriotism of the PLL:
The soldiers who served in the Vietnam War, who gave their lives in service of our country and those still alive today, deserve to be honored and commemorated. And those among us who witnessed that tumultuous period in foreign policy and domestic protest can use the occasion of this anniversary to reckon with, or even try and reconcile, the past. 
So what she is basically saying is thanks for your service you poor misguided lying baby killers...here's a thought MS. Kohn, why don't you just take a big cup of STFU.  

Or as Kermit the Frog would say:

Ok, needed a wee bit of humor, because, WAIT, she isn't event the WORST PLL idiot...(oh, name calling...whatever...)

Not content to merely smear the veterans, the draft-dodging, pot smoking hippies from that era, who now sadly infest far too much of the hallowed halls of what passes for modern American academia, want to be ACKNOWLEDGED along with the 58,000 Americans who actually DIED serving their country.
While other American social movements have been celebrated with monuments, medals, memorials and movies, the anti-war movement is usually the subject of official forgetting. And yet it changed the lives of millions of Americans and altered the course of American history....Hundreds of campuses were barricaded and shut down by student strikes. Millions of Americans were viscerally affected for the rest of their lives. Not one top official ever acknowledged moral guilt for the lies that propelled so many to their graves. They continued instead as incumbents in the national security establishment.

Wow, sorry hippies...hell I'm surprised you even remember the '60s with all the dope and free love...maybe Woodstock was the height of your lives...unlike those men that served honorably at Da Nang, Quang Tri and Khe Sanh. 

Did the anti-war protesters change history, oh yea, they ensured that the U.S. abandoned our South Vietnamese allies to Communist domination and slavery, ensured the images of millions of "boat people" trying to escape death or concentration camps...yup, they should be real proud.

But, hey, if you want to go there...let's remember that LBJ (Democrat) inherited the mess from JFK (Democrat) and completely bungled the war by trying to fight just enough of a war to negotiate a peace...hmmm..so a Democratic President fought a half-assed war to NOT lose instead of winning.  Where have I heard this before?

Oh, and did he lie about the war...probably....was there plenty of blame up and down the chain of command, including the military...OH, yes...LTG H.R. McMaster hammers the military for their role in bungling Vietnam and rightly so.

So, how about the PLL hippies just shut up and thank a vet, and stop trying to pawn off your moral equivalence to men who answered the country's call.

I love movie quotes, and of course Jack Nicholson as Col Nathan Jessup has one of the best, even if he is the "villain" in the movie:
And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post.

BUT, of course PLL are too educated, important and, of course, self-righteous to actually put on a uniform and defend our country...but that's okay...2,709,918 Americans helped do your share, and 58,202 of them paid the ultimate price.
This picture pretty much says it all.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Another cookbook novel from Nora Roberts...but still a good recipe.

So, my +1 and I were taking a road trip up to New Jersey to visit old Navy friends for the weekend and needed an Audiobook for the road trip.

Since I could not quite convince her to start Shelby Foote's The Civil War in it's awesome 20+ CD and 30+ hour gloriousness, we went for the safe 2nd place....Nora Roberts.  Yes, I have read many of here single title novels, and confess to actually watching the series of Lifetime movies  based on them...interesting how these novels translate so easily into TV movies huh?  Coincidence?  I think not.  :)

This novel had your pretty basic Nora Roberts plot:
Shelby Foxworth lost her husband. Then she lost her illusions …
The man who took her from Tennessee to an exclusive Philadelphia suburb left her in crippling debt. He was an adulterer and a liar, and when Shelby tracks down his safe-deposit box, she finds multiple IDs. The man she loved wasn’t just dead. He never really existed.
Shelby takes her three-year-old daughter and heads south to seek comfort in her hometown, where she meets someone new: Griff Lott, a successful contractor. But her husband had secrets she has yet to discover. Even in this small town, surrounded by loved ones, danger is closer than she knows—and threatens Griff, as well. And an attempted murder is only the beginning …

So, here's the thing....my wife ALWAYS figures out whodunit first when we listen to mystery novels.  However, I actually figured out the plot twist within the first 50 pages.  Yup, little ol' me.

But, the thing is, we both really liked this book.  Nora can take a pretty basic plot and make a masterful story using her ability to create lovable and sympathetic characters, her unparalleled ability to write dialog (Griff in particular really cracked me up) and her sneaky ability to throw just enough plot stirring to make you almost doubt your detective ability.  As usual, her secondary characters and sub-plots really keep the story moving and offer some great opportunities to shout at the CD player..."Oh yea, go get 'em Shelby"...not that we actually did that around Exit 8 of the NJ Turnpike...just sayin'.

No wonder Nora is a gazzillionare with enough books to her credit to fill her own bookstore.  

We didn't quite finish the book on the road trip, but eagerly dug out our old CD player to finish it at home.  Not every Audiobook does that for us.

So, another summer page turner in the bag...well done.