'87 Sir

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

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.