by Timothy Lane 2/4/15
There have been a number of books I have thought of reviewing here recently (in one case I wrote one up only to have it disappear into the ether, an indirect casualty of my e-mail being hacked). I will provide some short reviews of them here.
Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918 by John Mosier has a long title, but the book itself is quite interesting for students of military history. Mosier (who has made his name as something of a historical revisionist) looks at the modern developments in fortress design and artillery leading into the war. He points out that the Germans had an advantage over the Allies in their superior heavy guns (the best heavy guns the French had were older weapons that were obsolescent, but at least packed a punch). He also discusses the entire war’s campaigns in the Verdun area, which began in the early phases of the war and continued through the end (including the Meuse-Argonne battle in which the Americans won a decisive if costly victory at the end of the war).
One thing Mosier does is to look at what happened, as distinct from what the propagandists said at the time. (The Allies made sure that they had total control of news from the front, and used it to present the story they wanted to be true. Unfortunately, apparently they came to believe their own lies, which is always dangerous.) Oddly, this led the French to ignore a victory they won in the summer of 1917 around Verdun. They recovered a lot of ground remaining from the end of the 1916 battle (the most famous of the battles around Verdun, of course). But since they had already claimed the complete recovery of what they had lost during the German offensive, it would be a bit odd to claim to recover it again. Europeans were used to official lies (the catchphrase “to lie like a bulletin” had come into use in the Napoleonic era), so they were far less ovine than modern American liberals and would very likely notice such discordances.
Another interesting work of military history is Snow & Steel: The Battle of the Bulge 1944-1945 by Peter Caddick Adams, a British historian whose experiences in the British Army (serving in recent struggles in places like Iraq and Afghanistan) left him with a very high regard for American soldiers. Despite the title, the book actually covers much of the Western campaign from the Allied breakout from Normandy to the end of the war.
Included is the crucial matter of Antwerp, which provided the Allies with a large, convenient supply source that finally eliminated the desperate supply situation that had brought them virtually to a halt in September 1944. Although the Allies have a reputation for handling logistics better than the Germans, this was largely a result of vastly superior production (mostly in America, of course). When Canadian forces captured Antwerp undamaged on September 2, the Allies were pleased and the Germans very concerned. But the port was useless until the Scheldt (leading to it) was cleared, and this was considered a low priority for several weeks. Eventually the weak German forces holding the banks on both sides were cleared away, and then the mines in the channel as well, but not until November 28 would the first ship land in the port (though the Red Ball Express had already been closed down a couple of weeks earlier).
Caddick-Adams devotes a good bit of space to studying the leaders on both sides, especially Adolf Hitler (who actually made the decision of where to attack and what the goal was), as well as analyzing the plan for the campaign. He notes that Hitler, a devoted fan of Richard Wagner’s operas, had a strong affinity for the forests that Wagner used for his most important scenes. All his military headquarters were located in forests, and he had a fondness for attacking in them (he had been quick to support Erich von Manstein’s idea of an attack through the Ardennes in 1940). And by 1944, he was no longer in touch in reality. He failed to consider that the Ardennes would be much harder to traverse in winter and in bad weather (which was needed to keep the dreaded Jabos away), actually planning on an even faster passage than in 1940. None of his generals (even the politically reliable Walter Model and Alfred Jodl) supported his megalomaniacal notion of driving all the way to Antwerp, but Hitler was convinced that the Americans were worthless as troops and the Allies would be too stunned to respond. (His generals knew better, and were especially concerned about Patton — and rightly so, as it turned out.) Of course, Hitler’s preference for his imaginary world over reality is very similar to liberal behavior today.
Caddick-James goes into considerable detail about many of the actions, especially for the first day of the offensive (December 16). He details many of the atrocities, mostly by the SS and especially by the !st SS Panzer Division (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler) and its spearhead under Jochen Peiper (it was his forces who committed the Malmedy massacre, which actually happened in a nearby crossroads since the Germans never took Malmedy). Intelligence (especially its failures) is a major theme of the book. And there are many nice little tidbits, such as learning that Hitler got his Iron Cross First Class in World War I (a source of great pride, and also a weapon he used against the General Staff) at the recommendation of a captain who happened to be Jewish.
Another interesting historical work is Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. This looks at Patton’s service in the European theater from the Sicilian campaign through the end, and then his last months. As the title suggests, the authors think Patton was in fact murdered; there had already been a couple of suspicious incidents during the war (on one occasion a Spitfire — possibly Soviet via Lendl-Lease — tried to shoot down his courier plane. Decades later an old OSS officer would claim to have arranged for Patton’s automobile accident, and they do find many suspicious aspects to it. (The OSS was honeycombed with Soviet agents, like much of the FDR administration. Its leader, William Donovan, was a liberal New York Republican.) They also note that the doctors thought Patton would ultimately recover from his injuries; the former OSS agent said that the NKVD arranged Patton’s murder in the hospital.
We’ll never know, and most historians would no doubt be skeptical. But it’s true that many people disliked Patton, and his firm opposition to Communism (which he intended to speak out on after he came home) especially made him a target for some very murderous people.. And O’Reilly and Dugard have shown themselves disinclined toward historical paranoia in their previous books.
An interesting and underrated novel that I mentioned recently is Orbit Unlimited by Poul Anderson. This involves the effort by a tyrannical world government to suppress a potentially dangerous group of dissidents. The key weapon is free, compulsory public education. Of course, the “compulsory” part tends to be enforced in a biased way, and the dissidents who receive this “freebie” are also the ones paying the taxes for it. And the schools? They teach the sort of soft, fact-free, thought-free curriculum one could expect today. The dissidents try to teach their children better after school hours, but how many students really want to spend even more time studying? So in the end this sparks a revolt, which finally leads to them accepting exile in a planet in a distant system. The rest of the book deals with their new society.
The heart of that section of the book makes another principle we need to keep in mind. When a child runs off and gets lost, one of the colonists is persuaded to hunt for him. The key point made is that a society that can afford to take care of people will do so, one way or another, and those who don’t want government to do so had better find a way to accomplish the task without it — and do so adequately, unlike the Victorian workhouses organized by the Church that were a target for the likes of Charles Dickens (though of course we have no way today of saying how accurate these jeremiads were).
My final recommendation is actually the first in a series of (at least so far) 3 books, Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo. (The sequels, To Sail a Darkling Sea and Islands of Rage and Hope, are both available on-line at Baen Books; the first is also out in hardback.) Ringo is a rather conservative writer who likes to play with science fiction themes, and in this one he deals with the idea of a zombie apocalypse. The problem is a virus that starts out as a severe (occasionally fatal) form of influenza, and then activates a rabies-like virus (which is when people start acting like zombies). The disease seems to have been spread by a single person, probably an environmental activist, it’s extremely courageous, and it’s incurable (though a vaccine can be, and is, developed — but that takes time to make in any quantity, and the disease is spreading too fast for many people to receive it).
The primary focus of the book is on Steve Smith, an Australian para turned US history teacher (and in the summer, a weapons instructor for policemen), whose college history thesis had been on the World War II siege of Malta (which is why he named his second daughter Faith, after one of the Gloster Gladiators that defended the island). He, his wife, and his daughters are all well prepared for such an apocalyptic struggle, helped by the fact that his brother (head of security at the Bank of the Americas) had given him a coded warning (in which Ringo references Pat Frank’s superb post-nuclear novel, Alas Babylon). Faith, in particular, seems to have a violent orientation; when she shows up at the bank HQ in New York to help out there (her older sister Sophia assists in making the vaccine, a process that involves removing the spinal cords of infected primates). She was advised not to bring any guns, but is very annoyed when they take away (temporarily) her 3 Tasers, her machete, and her kukri. This attitude will serve her well when she finds herself caught up in zombie hunts (initially by chance).
As I mentioned, Ringo is a conservative and in particular has little use for modern liberals as a group. So it’s no surprise that after the device used to pass the virus is discovered (deodorizers labeled “Save the Planet”), someone hopes no one tries to blame it on the Chinese (naturally the deodorizers are made there) — and then we have a Greenpeace spokesman doing just that (but Bill O’Reilly is having none of it, pointing out that China makes everything). And later, when they discover a large luxury yacht on which cut-rate security had mutinied against the rich owner, Steve explains why the owner didn’t care about quality: He was a liberal, and “To them, everybody who knows how to use a gun looks the same.” So there’s no difference between a Special Forces veteran and a West African armed thug. (“We’re all babykillers, after all,” as Faith responds, no doubt correctly interpreting the attitude.)
Steve Smith’s initial goal was simply to escape to someplace he could be safe from the apocalypse, but after rescuing a girl on a ship he wanted to salvage (his sailboat was getting rather ragged), he comes to a new decision, and proceeds to start locating boats (helped by having a map showing distress signals) and rescuing the survivors (if any). The ultimate goal is to retake the world from the zombies, and it helps that he learns that there are at least some tiny remnants of the US government (worse off than in Frank’s book, where the Secretary of HEW became the new President). The book ends after a nearly 2-week campaign to clear up a cruise ship, though this did have the benefit of locating a fair number of survivors (in fact, one of Smith’s subordinate captains had been a passenger — and is no doubt pleased as well as surprised at one of the survivors), as they prepare to go rescue the Marine Assault Carrier Iwo Jima, which is where the next book begins.
Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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