One of the more unexplainable parts of my personality is my total aversion to conflict of any kind, yet my compulsion to study conflicts. I wish I had had the personality, guts, and inclination to at least consider being in the military when I was right out of high school or college. I don’t even like guns. Don’t worry, for I love the Second Amendment and fully support the U. S. military as well as the folks all around me who love hunting. But personally, I don’t like guns.
Yet, military history has been a consuming passion. I do find the terrible more terrible, the losses of lives more grievous, the waste of human resources appalling, but the narrative of the history of warfare is a driving force in my reading, teaching, and studying of history.
In this blog, I am going to highlight the stack of books pictured above that I have on my reading agenda for the summer.
This book is Volume 66 in the Campaigns and Commanders Series that I have been collecting and reading for some years now. From wars in the ancient world to the modern age, from the perspectives of leaders and soldiers, from primary to secondary studies, this series is an overwhelming collection of military studies.
Concerning this book, consider that the United States began its history by going to war twice with the greatest naval power of the 18th and 19th centuries. That we even survived those wars is due to the successes or avoidance of disasters wrought by soldiers in the land. Credit George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and, yes, even Benedict Arnold, along with Daniel Morgan, Nathaniel Greene, and others for these land victories. But the British Navy was a player in both wars against the Britain, and the American nation could in no way go toe-to-toe in a naval confrontation. From Tralfalgar to Jutland Sea, the British have trounced many who tried to engage them on the waters.
Therefore, it was raiding and irregular warfare, pluck and daring, small efforts and unorthodox attempts that enabled the United States to land a few punches into the “breadbasket and kisser” (to use the descriptive language of wrestler and wrestling announcer Gino “Gorilla” Monsoon) of the Royal Navy. This book highlights that story in a series of accounts where the American naval heroes, of whom few other than John Paul Jones are rememberd.
Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917-1918 is by Edward G. Lengel. It is published by the University of Kansas Press.
Ed Lengel fascinates me as a historian because he has written a number of studies on George Washington, but also several books on World War I. Usually, historians specialize in one area and when they venture off the beaten path, it is still on familiar ground. Late last year, I read and reviewed Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Great War’s Lost Battalion. This was during a time when I was reading World War I histories, poetry, and fiction to supplement my teaching on the war.
This book, Thunder and Flames, came out in 2015, several years before Never in Finer Company. It is a more scholarly study of the role of Americans in the First World War. As I have said previously, World War I is totally overshadowed by World War II. The Americans entered late and a superficial textbook reading might lead the student to think that we were mainly just mopping up the remains of the already shattered German army.
The fact that we entered and “won” the war overlooks the many failures, challenges, and deficiencies that the Americans faced. Nothing said here is meant to lessen the courage, learning curve, or achievements of the American soldiers. World War I was an ugly event even for the United States as a late-comer. But it is well worth the time spent studying it.
The book I am currently more than halfway through is The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson. It is the first volume of the Revolution Trilogy by Atkinson. Prior to this undertaking, Atkinson wrote the Liberation Trilogy on the North African and European Campaigns of the United States (primarily) in World War II. It was that series that hooked me on his writing.
So far, I am being constantly shamed in this book by realizing how little I know about the American War for Independence. The narrative is top notch; the cast of historical characters would put Tolstoy to shame; and the flow of the book leaves me wondering if we (the United States) will win. Among other things, I was astounded reading about how much salt was needed for the army and the colonies. Supplies were as much a point of contention, struggle, and survival as was getting through battles. Smallpox was as much of a foe as were the Redcoats.
This book is good enough to read from beginning to end and then start over. I suspect this series will be just as good as the Liberation series.
This is one of several books that has been published this year just prior to the June 6, 2019 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. My first study of this event in World War II was reading Brave Men by Ernie Pyle, a first hand account by a reporter who accompanied the soldiers. It was first published in 1944, and I read it in high school in 1970. Sometime later, I read Cornelius Ryan’s classic book The Longest Day. Along with reading Ryan’s other books on World War II, I watched the movie version of The Longest Day several times. Then I read Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day June 6, 1944 sometime after it came out. I read quite a few other books that covered that event in some form or fashion as well.
I have yet to start this book. It will have to wait until I finish the Atkinson book discussed above. But it promises to be thorough. It is pretty hard for me to find a book on World War II that I don’t like, so watch for updates on this book
Anthony Beevor’s D-Day The Battle for Normandy is one of many books that Beevor has written on World War II. I have read several of his books and loved them and am trying to get and read all of his books. I have yet to start this book. My son Nick picked it up for me at the Thrifty Peanut in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Another historian I really like is Max Hastings. When Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 came out last year, I bought it. Once again, it is having to patiently wait for me to delve in. But if Hastings, Beevor, Atkinson, or Lengel writes a book, I get it as soon as I can and hope that I actually read it.