'87 Sir

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

Saturday, January 17, 2015

World War I---as it might have been.

Alternate history is one of my favorite literary genres, and is  a fine art that few authors really master, in my opinion.

Harry Turtledove really made this realm of fiction stand out for the masses, I think, and I really enjoyed his Great War trilogy of trilogies. However, I didn't really like his recent series and never got beyond starting the first book. However, I think he may have a winner is new book out this summer Bombs Away: The Hot War which brings the Cold War HOT when MacArthur uses atomic bombs in Korea. Hopefully it will be as good as his earlier works.

Robert Conroy has really stepped up to fill a gap in the field that Mr. Turtledove used to dominate, and his last two books, published in hard cover, have been really excellent. I particularly liked his recent book on an alternative American Revolution where the British win the Battle of Yorktown.

But, in my humble opinion, the undisputed master of hardcore military alternate history remains Peter Tsouras. I have read nearly all of his books, covering D-Day, Gettysburg, World War II (several volumes), the Cold War, and an individual volume on Stalingrad.

All of them, particularly his anthologies, are well written, very realistic, and really make you think about how fragile history is and how the smallest of details, decisions, or even weather, could have changed everything.

His anthologies in particular are a magnificent collection of essays by military historians who get to let their imaginations run free while carefully following the 5 rules of alternate history put forth by my favorite grouchy guy, Ralph Peters, in the introduction of Tsouras' Stalingrad book.

Which brings me to the latest volume, a look at alternative
possibilities for World War I. This is an extremely timely book, coming at the close of 2014, the beginning of the 100th anniversary of the keystone conflict of the 20th century....the war that did not end all wars, but created the conditions for World War II, the Cold War, and even the current upheavals in the Middle East..(can anyone say Sykes-Picot...public school kids probably need to Wiki that...I'm certain it's not in Common Core Language Arts) .

This volume examines a number of potential scenarios- from the Germans shifting their attention to Russia and ignoring the Schlieffen Plan in 1914, to a more decisive Battle of Jutland, to a great Russian triumph of the Brusilov Offensive of 1916.  All of the essays are very well written, extremely plausible, and show how the tragic Armageddon from 1914-1918 could have ended quite differently.  

I was particularly intrigued by the essay on the Brusilov Offensive--the Austrian Empire was a large albatross on the Central Powers...ehh, the Ottomans weren't much better actually, but the Russians could have really made a strategic difference in the war with a little better leadership and a little more luck and persistence.  The Germans faced some real challenges in the East propping up their weaker ally, and if the Allies had been a little more coordinated and lucky with their 1916 offensives, they  might have forced the Central Powers to seek an armistice two years early.

Some of the smaller essays were equally intriguing, especially the essay on Greek assistance with the Gallipoli Campaign.  With the usual micro attention span of Americans, and the need to sweep a lot of past sins under the rug for the sake of maintaining alliances, it's good to remember that ISIL and Al Qaeda are only carrying on the tradition of ethnic cleansing of Christians by the Ottoman Turks (good Muslims all) starting with the great Armenian genocide and the ethnic cleansing of the Balkans (hmmm where have I heard that before)  after the Balkan Wars just prior to World War I.  

History does indeed have a funny way of repeating itself..eh?

But I digress...I think I am getting my mojo back...this was a great book...the ONLY complaint is that I never got my hardcover from Amazon...I pre-ordered it....then it kept getting push back on release...THEN they said they were out and back ordered....WTF?  I have always gotten my pre-orders within a day or two of the release date.  Very disappointing...so I ordered the Kindle version and read it.  Very enjoyable, but I am one of those whiners that likes pictures and to flip back and forth to the provided maps.  Neither of which works well on Kindle.

Now, to be fair I will say that all of Tsouras' books seem to disappear quickly and you can often buy them only on the used market.  Disappointing, but one of those publisher things I guess.  The good news is that now many of them are available on Kindle...albeit without pictures.  

So, for an interesting look at the World War I that might have been...pick up or download this book...it is a quick and thought provoking read.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Time and Tide Wait for No Man---back to some books

So now that I have made it through the worst birthday ever, I suppose it's time to saddle up and get back to writing about the things I know best...books, bacon and stupid people.

I figured I would ease into it with a review of a really excellent new book on the Battle of the Bulge. I did my usual memorial post on the battle already where I introduced this book as a work in progress. It was a bit of a doorstop, so I just finished it yesterday evening.

As I mentioned in my yearly post, this was a very fresh look at the battle with a fairly unique perspective.  Dr. Caddick-Adams provides a somewhat revisionist view of what brought the battle about (hint-it had to do more with Hitler's politics and world-view than sound military strategy) and why it was doomed from the start.  What is more remarkable is that he makes a pretty compelling case that the Germans launched a much weaker offensive than reported by many historians, with many infantry divisions, especially in the supporting German 7th Army and 5th Panzer Army, under strength and suffering from severe logistical short-comings.  

This is a perspective that I didn't really see emphasized in many earlier works.  In spite of hard fighting, and not to undermine the stout resistance by many American GIs, the Germans had no chance of successfully crossing the Meuse River, much less reaching their stated objective of Antwerp.  Planning on refueling your tanks using captured enemy supplies, which was a key factor in German planning is not really what I would consider sound logistical planning.  

In fact, the battle was really a tribute to the Allies emphasis on logistical planning.  The American Army were able to rush reinforcements to critical areas of the battle, namely the city of Bastogne and the northern parts of the battle near the city of St Vith, because of the huge advantage in motorization and mechanization of the Allied armies.  In contrast, as he points out, many German units continued to use horse drawn artillery and supplies and could barely sustain and reinforce the units in combat, much less run supplies all the way to Antwerp.

In addition to the fresh perspective on topics such as the motivation and thinking (if you could call it that) behind Hitler's planning of the attack and the total Allied intelligence failure due to command hubris, what makes this book really special for me is the historiography on the Battle of the Bulge provided as a post-script.  Dr. Caddick-Adams examines most of the best-selling histories and memoirs written about the battle and offers his commentaries and insights.  

If you have never read a book about the battle, or even if you have, pick this up and you will definitely learn something new about the biggest battle ever fought by the US Army.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Clausewitz on my birthday

So, what does Clausewitz have to do with my birthday? Everything, and nothing.

On December 31, your friendly neighborhood Grouchy Historian turned 50..yes fifty, FIVE-OH, half century...etc. Naturally being the Sultan of Snark, the Duke of Sarcasm, I was going to write a wonderful, witty post about all the wisdom I had acquired in 50 years..and probably mentioning bacon a few times.

Then Clausewitz struck....and that plan went by the wayside.

Instead, I spent my 50th birthday not regaling the Internet with my wit and wisdom, but attending my daughter's funeral Mass and burial.

Yup...so much for the snark.

Others have written eloquent and heartfelt postscripts on my daughter's life...most notably my +1 on her blog...and even our Deacon who gave her eulogy, so I will not try and replicate their efforts. Instead I will take a moment in-between book reviews, political commentary (otherwise known as rants filled with facts), and my take on the world around us to pause and reflect on the last 22 years that our family spent caring for our daughter, and in turn, learning from her.

Let's be clear here, it is NOT easy caring for a severely disabled child, parent, spouse, whoever. It is very hard and extremely tiring. Sometimes the best moment of the day was when our daughter was safely tucked in her bed with her stuffed doggie or Grumpy Cat (obtained by her big brother and inspired by yours truly) so that her mom and I could finally sit down and rest before going to bed and starting another day of seizures, awful diapers (who knew our little angel could, you know, make a diaper that would scare ISIS), and trying to get enough food in her to make up for the calories burned by a day of seizures so she wouldn't lose another pound or two.  

Often my wife and I would argue about who should transfer 10 or 15 pounds to her if we could...hmmm..if only things had been that simple.

And of course, there was the expense of specialized equipment, doctors out the wazooo, more hospital visits than I EVER want to do again in whatever time I have left on this Earth...and of course the daily supplies of diapers, pads, formula, baby food...yadda, yadda, yadda.  Some people are uncomfortable talking about this...I am not one of them.  I figure we probably spent more than a few vacations, a new car, or probably a new addition on our home in extra expenses.  We spent more than a few paydays figuring which doctor bill could wait another 2 weeks and which one was getting ready to go to collection.  It was never ending, and it was only be the grace of God and the help of many people that we didn't file for bankruptcy a few times.  Thanks seem inadequate, but as the person who dealt with insurance companies...thanks, thanks for the support from so many people over the years.

Another thing I should be clear on...yes, Courtney's mom and I did some extraordinary things, but we are not Saints (it kind of amuses me to have people say that..if they only  knew!).  In truth...or as the Good Book says..Truly, truly I say, there were many nights of cursing, moaning "why us?", and more than a little despair.  In fact, as unbelievable as this may seem...I was actually, more or less, thrown out of a hospital or two...or three...it went something like this:
Charge Nurse at Hospital X:  "Mrs. Lenaburg, can you find an errand for your husband to do OUTSIDE the hospital, he's s frightening the nurses."
Mrs. Lenaburg (heavy sigh):  "Yes, maybe he should go home and rearrange the refrigerator."
Okay, so maybe I sometimes had my Stalin face on--this is the face reserved for annoying interns, snotty residents, and perky nurses who come bounding into my daughter's hospital room after a night of beeps and alarms, where my daughter is hooked up to more medical devices than the Six Million Dollar Man and have the temerity to say in a cheerful voice "Gooood morning, how is everyone this morning?"  REALLY...before coffee???  Most hospitals are lucky I didn't leave them looking like Omaha Beach after being in that beeping, annoying, weird smelling hospital room on the third day.

Nonetheless, in spite of bills, doctors, hospitals, and....yes...many, many stares from people at malls...yes, not for my good looks and charm mind you, but because we had a kid in a wheelchair who liked to hum by the Godiva Chocolate store...hmmm, wonder where she got that gene?....we did learn a lot from our daughter...her mission in life..as the good Deacon said.

1)  Try and wake up every day with a smile.  SOMEHOW, even after a rough night of seizures, our Courtney managed to wake up smiling and happy.  NOW, this could have been because she was on a medication regimen that would make Keith Richards envious, but I think it was because she knew she had another day on Earth.

2)  Enjoy the little things in life.  Like bacon.  Wow, I did get bacon into this post.  Well done.  Anyway, Courtney loved bacon and eggs.  Really loved them, like eat the spoon love them.  She loved snuggles, story time, and spicy food.  Now, mind you Mom and Dad were not always fond of Courtney eating spicy food, if you catch my drift, but a good meal and some snuggle time is something everyone should look forward too.

3)  Try and spread a smile.  As my wife said, almost everyone smiled around our daughter.  She was an extremely good listener, and I can only assume is working off all the prayer requests everyone gave her in the last week of her time on Earth.

4)  Finally, and MOST importantly, spread a little mischief once in a while..it makes people wonder.  And yes, our daughter was capable of more than her share...whether it was chucking her sippy-cup across the classroom at school (I think she got some stern talking-to from her teacher for that) , back-flipping her shoe three pews at church to wing someone in the head, or sticking out her leg to trip her brother PRECISELY when he was walking by her wheelchair, Courtney had her share of orneriness, as her Grandma would say.

So farewell my sweetness....maybe you didn't have much to do with Clausewitz but you certainly did teach me a lot...even when I didn't want to learn it.