'87 Sir

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

Monday, December 18, 2017

Grouchy Historian's Favorite Books-2017

So this year was a particularly good year for books.  In fact, my best year ever, with 45 books completed.  As usual non-fiction lead the way, but there were several excellent novels this year from my favorite authors.
My good friends at the New York Journal of Books provided many wonderful volumes to read and I am very much looking forward to the books I have already selected for next year.
I provided formal reviews of many of these volumes, they are on my personal page at NYJB.

SO, here we go.   First, non-Fiction

This was by far the winner.  There were some excellent military history books this year, but this one was really firing on all cylinders, as you can tell from my review.

As I noted in my review, the ultimate outcome of World War 2 was very much in doubt, even after the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945.  By that summer, nearly all the combatants were exhausted and war weary, including the United States, and the decision to use the atomic bomb, as this volume shows (AGAIN) was correct not only militarily to reduce American casualties, but in the long run, the atomic bombs and surrender of Japan very likely prevented the annihilation of the Japanese people and culture. 

2nd place was much tougher.  I really, really like all of Citino's work on the Germany Army, armies, and art of war, but this book was surprisingly good for a one volume history.  

This was the only extended campaign of the entire Pacific War and taught the US some very hard earned lessons in combined arms warfare and joint operations.  It does an excellent job of covering the land, air, and sea campaigns, and well as describing the larger issues of leadership and strategy.  If you only read one book on Guadalcanal, this should probably be it.

 Yea, I'm a sucker for Vince Flynn, a really nice guy and great author taken from us too soon.  Fortunately, Kyle Mills has stepped into his BIG shoes and done very, very well at carrying on the story.   This book was particularly good as it appears Mr. Mills is tying up several LONG story arcs while writing a definite page turning thriller.  Mitch Rapp is no robo-hero in this book, but someone who is feeling his age and mortality as well as his sense of duty and honor.  I hope Mr. Mills has something good in store for us next year.

So my runner up just sort of fell into my lap.  I REALLY, REALLY enjoyed Ms. Nagata's The Red Series, which if you haven't read you totally should, it is some of the finest military sci-fi ever.
She made a blanket offer to send an e-book to review and I did.  Every day I read some news article that shows just how prescient she is in this book.  It is a little slow to start, but once the action gets going and the overarching mystery starts to unfold you will find yourself saying "Holy Sh*t" or maybe that's just me.  It is definitely a quick and worthwhile read.  I hope she's also got something in the works for next year.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

75 Years of Greatness

This weekend marks the 75th Anniversary of the U.S. Navy's greatest triumph, the Battle of Midway.

It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that this was one of the most decisive battles in naval history, turning the entire tide of the Pacific War and changing the role of the American Navy from the strategic defense to the strategic offense.  

There has been a great deal of analysis on the importance of this this battle, and I have to agree with the most extreme consensus that without an American victory here, the entire "Germany First" strategy, so crucial to the eventual Allied victory, would have likely died a quick death had the Japanese won and invaded and occupied Midway.

The bravery shown by the American Navy, especially the torpedo squadrons that were almost wiped out to a man, stands as a testament to both the Greatest Generation, and the courage of American Naval Aviators.

So, no Grouchy Historian post would be complete without books, right?

These are three of the standard, yet still some of the best works available.

I highly recommend  the middle volume by my old professor, Dr. Craig Symonds.  He does a great job of revisiting old myths and skewering those naval officers that need skewered, both Japanese and American.  

He basically concludes the battle on June 4, the most critical day of the battle, when American dive bombers sank three Japanese Fleet Carriers in a single attack wave, and when additional air raids are conducted, leading to the loss of a 4th Japanese carrier and the eventual sinking of the USS Yorktown, the battle is essentially decided in a 10 hour period on that day.

All of these are great books, and all Americans should remember the sacrifice of these true American heroes.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Revisionist History..or complete history?

So Memorial Day, which is all about history for me, has caused me to reconsider some long held assumptions about our most important national event, the American Revolution.As anyone who has read this blog knows, I normally despise what I consider revisionist history, i.e., the typical modern claptrap of ethano-gender hash that tries to postulate that women wrote the Declaration of Independence or that the Constitution was appropriated from the Iroquois. However, if one is to be intellectually honest, most history is biased one way or the other, and the trick, as I tell my tutoring students, is to understand as much as possible the bias of the author. Good historians, of course, recognize and acknowledge their own biases and inform their readers.

SO, with that in mind, I have been reading two really outstanding books on the American Revolutionary period.

Now both of these books would be considered revisionist in nature, as they offer a very different perspective on the traditional understanding of the American Revolution.

Although some would consider their views that our Founding Fathers were a bunch of racist, greedy, misogynists to be validated by these books, I would strongly disagree.

Unfortunately, our history has turned our Founders into some sort of mythical figures, without acknowledging that they were men, with all the flaws and vices that men have. While many of them were certainly slaveholders, and most of them had a somewhat condescending view of common farmers and and laborers, they nonetheless tried to establish an enduring form of government that was certainly not only more egalitarian than anything then in existence, but more importantly, able to change in a non-violent (mostly) and methodical way to suit the mores and needs of the people.

The first of the these books by Alan Taylor  looks at the American Revolution across a more sweeping time period, from right before the French and Indian War to the re-election of Thomas Jefferson.

The author examines a number of under-studied themes, including women, slavery, Indians, and, well greed, as contributors and factors in the forming of America.

He does so without too much polemic and with a generally balanced view of not only the sometimes less than honorable motives of our Patriotic Founders, but the blunders of the British that could have, with only a few small reversals, changed the entire course of the Revolution.

The other interesting narrative is the not well understood history of the Revolution as a global conflict when the French, Dutch, and Spanish enter the war on the colonists side, requiring the British to divert significant resources that could have been brought to bear during the critical last couple years of the war.

Finally, the author shows that even after peace was concluded with Britain, the survival of the democratic experiment called the United States was far from certain. Broke, angry, and bloodied, the colonies nearly split apart and it may not be too far to call it a miracle that they held together long enough for our Constitution to become the law of the land.

The second book by Holger Houck is far darker, but nonetheless a story that needs to be told and understood. Now even I was brought up on stories of the American Revolution as primarily a military affair of brave colonials holding out against the might of the British Empire. Well, clearly that is not the entire story. The American Revolution was a strange amalgam of an insurgency in the classic sense of the word. In fact, it would be a fascinating case study to analyze the Revolution as a successful insurgency, or, from the British perspective, of a COIN operation gone wrong.

Moreover, the American Revolution was in fact, our first civil war, pitting Patriots against Loyalists in often bloody, nasty conflicts that saw widespread terror and atrocities across the colonies, from the practice of tarring and feathering, to throwing Loyalists into prison without trial, to brutalities against women on both sides, and other things that traditional histories chose not to cover.

This author wonders down the typical liberal polemic in his introduction, but not too far, as he has to acknowledge that America had no guillotine, but it was not a clean war to be sure.

I might not start a comprehensive study of this time with these two books, I think John Ferling has some far better books for new students to this topic, but for the more experienced reader, these are very thought-provoking books that are very worthwhile.

They will definitely make you think and re-consider what you thought you knew---and that, after all is not revisionist history, but good history that goes deeper and challenges conventional wisdom.

That is history that I like.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Real books, not Facebook

Greetings everyone,

So I took a Lenten sabbatical from social media and (gasp) survived. Yup, no Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for 40 days. AND, in addition, I gave up watching TV during the week. OK, mostly during the week, my wife loves watching The Voice, and it became our little guilty pleasure, but for the MOST part I gave up TV except for the weekends. I decided to test the theory of this article about cutting down on social media and picking up on your reading. During this time I tried to make it through my pile of selected books, which I was remarkably successful.

Well, what did this experience teach me?

· Clausewitz was definitely right when he said-“Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain.” The never ending news cycle about Russians, wiretapping, and other malfeasance was fascinating to watch from a distance as Democrats desperately tried to turn Donald Trump into the Manchurian Candidate and ended up highlighting the shady surveillance practices of the Obamabots. Here’s a newsflash—there ain’t nothing on Trump. Believe me, if there was, it would have been leaked by now. Guaranteed. There will continue to be accusations, innuendo, and rumbling by Democrats desperate to deflect attention from a horrible candidate that ran a lackluster campaign. But in the end, it will fizzle out. It appears to be already happening.

· TV and movies have, for the most part, become almost recycled drivel. Yes, there are some very good television shows, I would almost agree with the assessment that there is FAR more creativity in the TV industry than movies. However, Hollywood seems to be stuck in a rut of remakes, superhero movies, and other schlock that certainly does not make me want to part with my $15 to see.

· Even social media is, well, just not that interesting anymore. Yes, it’s good to keep up with people, and I do enjoy a good puppy video as much as the next guy, but ALL the vitriol and drama in the wake of the election was just exhausting. I mean people came unglued and lost their freakin’ minds…all on the left, of course. It was like the Visogoths were at the gates. Yet life went on, people went to work, babies were born, and...yes...the wheels of government continued to turn.  Needless to say, I think I will be avoiding the drama of prolonged political discussions on Facebook. Too much time and energy to waste yelling past each other. In the end, people will vote and think the way they do and I certainly do not entertain any illusion of changing a hard-core lefty’s worldview with my incisive wit and sarcasm.  And, well, at some point, I just get tired of being called a patriarchal, privileged white guy who only gets up in the morning to oppress women, minorities, and puppies, while polluting the environment with my carbon footprint and not understanding the genius of Lena Dunham and Ashley Judd. 

· MOST IMPORTANTLY, There are SO many good books to read. Dang, my reading list never seems to end. Which is good. I have already had some fantastic books to review from my friends at the New York Journal of Books, and look forward to several more. In addition, I am hoping, since it is the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into the “War to End All Wars” (yea, that worked out well) that there will be many good books about the last two years of World War I and the American experience and contribution.  I've made it about halfway through my stack above and hope to finish these off before summer.  I have already put more in the queue.  

So take it from me, put down the Facebook and pick up a real book...you'll thank me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Grouchy Historian's Favorite Non-Fiction Book of 2016.

SO many great books this year...interesting that for the first time since I can remember, almost 50% of the books I read this year were fiction.  

Strangely, this was a much tougher choice than my fiction selection. As I continue my awesome relationship with the New York Journal of Books, I have had the chance to review some really outstanding works of history this year, ranging from a history of the Great Plains Indian Wars to the current fighting in Afghanistan.

They really are a great bunch of folks to work with and I look forward to continuing this relationship into 2017.

In addition, I have had the direct opportunity to work with the great team at Rowan Technology, who are currently working on a multi-volume history of war and warfare for my old nemesis, West Point. 

Football aside, the whoops on the Hudson have always done an excellent job of teaching military history, and the complete hi-tech overhaul of their curriculum has resulted in my choice for favorite non-fiction book of 2016-- The West Point History of World War II, Vol. 2 (The West Point History of Warfare Series) .  

Appearing in both hardcover and advanced e-book forms, this wonderful volume really redefines what an undergraduate text can be, particularly the e-book, which is aimed at the current crop of cadets weaned on the internet and interactive books, with an amazing but well placed amount of animated maps, video clips, and other technology marvels to keep the attention of today's college students. 

But these whiz bangs do not come at the expense of solid scholarship and excellent writing from some of the top military historians in the world.   I was lucky to be able to review both versions and found each of them equally enthralling, even though I have a penchant for hardcover books that I can browse.

One can only hope that upcoming volumes on World War I, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan maintain the high quality of work.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Grouchy Historian's Favorite Fiction Books of 2016

2016 was a pretty good year for fiction, at least from my point of view. Of course, I have a very selective list of fiction that I like to read, so normally it is a pretty safe bet that my favorite fiction work will be from Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Tom Clancy, or occasionally, JD Robb AKA Nora Roberts.

And, all of these folks had great books this year that I enjoyed immensely, especially the author chosen by the late Vince Flynn's estate to continue the adventures of his indomitable character, Mitch Rapp.

But for favorite fiction, this year I chose a new and previously unknown author, at least to me, named Linda Nagata.

Coming out of nowhere, she has written a wonderful trilogy, The Red, which in my mind, really is some of the best military SF I have ever read, evoking memories of Ian Douglass, one of my favorite military SF authors, and even the great Robert Heinlein.

These books follow the adventures of a squad of infantry using enhanced exoskeletons and AI implants, both things being researched by DARPA, in pursuing a rogue AI loose on the internet. A basic plot, it seems, but done very well, with a great deal of suspense, mystery, and plot twists to make me very happy that I was able to get all three books at once--I hate waiting for sequel books to come out.

More importantly, as with all good SF, the technology and science does not overwhelm the readers and provides a good compliment to the characters and their internal and external conflicts, the basis for all good fiction. Ms. Nagata develops sympathetic and flawed characters that draw you in and make you either cheer or jeer their fate.

Sadly, these have not done as well commercially as the author hoped. Which is too bad, because they would make outstanding ORIGINAL movies, something the dopes in Hollywood are certainly lacking.

Provocative, thoughtful, and certainly timely, these books are what everything good SF should be---stories that both entertain and make you ask, "Wow, could this really happen?"

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Father...Rest in Peace 1931-2016.

Donald Dean Lenaburg was born November 8, 1931, in Arapaho, Oklahoma, to Julius Earnest and Alvena Ernst Lenaburg. He died Tuesday, December 27, 2016, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the age of 85 years. 

Don was reared and educated in Arapaho, Oklahoma, and graduated with the Arapaho High School Class of 1950. He was a veteran of the armed forces having served his country honorably with the United States Army. Don continued his education attending Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Oklahoma, where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in engineering. He completed his education at Oklahoma A & M Technological School in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. 

Don was married August 19, 1955, in Clinton, Oklahoma, to Eleanor Pearl Hunter. They had made their home in Collinsville, Oklahoma, since December of 1967. He spent most of his working life with IBM as a customer engineer. Don was very active in giving back to the Collinsville community as a founding member of the Collinsville Lion’s Club, Collinsville VFW Post #5691, and also served as a Collinsville Rural Fire Protection board member. 

He was faithful member of the Lutheran church and was a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. He served as leader for both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and was an Eagle Scout sponsor. Don enjoyed a variety of pastimes including watching John Wayne movies and Fox News, but he especially enjoyed spending time working, or playing, in his yard.

My father was devoted to his family, spending untold weekends at football games when my brother and I were in the marching band, my sister’s basketball and volleyball games, countless band and chorus trips as an adult chaperone and finally, many, many weekends on Boy Scout campouts eating scrambled eggs lightly cooked with grass and maybe a leaf or two, which he always ate, although not always happily.

That was my father’s philosophy—there are few problems in life that couldn’t be solved with hard work. He always seemed to be doing something around the house, either working on one of the family cars, fixing something in the house, or his favorite thing—riding his tractor and digging in the dirt.

My father’s other favorite activity was working on cars, he could have given instruction to any car dealership mechanic and seemed to always have grease under his fingernails. I did not inherit his knack or desire to work on cars, sometimes I wish I did. I remember him telling my siblings and I-“Check to see if your tires are still round on the bottom.”

He served during the Korean War era and was a proud lifetime member of the local VFW, some of whose members are here to honor Dad today. He never really talked too much about his time in the Army, but I know it was important to him, and helped turn him into the husband and father he became when he left the service.

My father lived a pretty quiet simple life, but it was a faith filled life. He was life-long Lutheran, and served in many capacities at the various churches he attended. More importantly, my father lived a life of christian charity and service to others, something that I think he tried to instill in his children, and which he performed without a lot of fuss or expectation of thanks or praise. 

I think it is no coincidence that Dad died two years to the day his granddaughter, my daughter Courtney went home to heaven. It gives me great peace to know they are together again. I can just see Courtney taking her Grandpa’s hand and walking him home to God.

When I think of my father, I will always think of this passage from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25:23, “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’