Liberation Trilogy Volume 3

liberation-trilogy-boxed-set

My interest in history began with World War II.  After reading some books and watching some documentaries, I decided–in my 9th grade year–that I was going to be a history teacher.  I never deviated from that course.  For a couple of years, I read extensively on that war and on particular generals and key figures.  As the years went by (now decades!), my interests in history broadened, focused on other areas, and expanded way beyond the Second World War.  Yet, I still tend to read several books each year on that defining Twentieth Century event.

As great as my interest is in the war, I teach very little about that war.  In part, it is because WWII comes along in the history course sequence too near the end of school.  Either there is not enough time to do it justice or student interest crashes due to summer vacation’s nearness.  There is another hesitation:  World War II has become too big for me to teach.  I am far from an expert, but I could easily devote a whole semester to dealing with that war and would still likely not get to many of the battles and key people.

Rick Atkinson

Author and historian Rick Atkinson

I finished reading Volume 3 of Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe 1944-1945 last night.  I read and reviewed Volume 1, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa 1942-1943, in 2010 (click here).  I read and reviewed Volume 2, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy 1943-1944,  in 2013 (click here).   Finishing the set gave me both a sense of accomplishment and sadness.  I rank Atkinson’s books alongside Shelby Foote’s Civil War  as must haves and must reads for students of American and military history.

Along with Cornelius Ryan’s older 3 volumes on the European campaign (The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, and The Last Battle), Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day: June 6, 1944 and Citizen Soldiers, Max Hastings’ Armegeddon, Gregor Dallas’ 1945–The War That Never Ended, and John Toland’s The Last 100 Days, Rick Atkinson’s books pass muster and yeild great rewards for the reader.

When I was really young, World War II stories left me saying, “Wow!”  Now, they leave me saying, “How?”  I am not simply using a silly rhyme, rather I am reflecting on the unbelievable nature of that war.  I cannot answer the question of HOW men endured, faced, and even triumphed over the magnitude of death, destruction, danger, and evils in that war.  Since I grew up around World War II vets, I feel the great gap between the way they rose to the challenges of their time and the inability I would have in their places.

On several occasions, Atkinson rattles off lists of supplies.  The sheer cost of the war, the amount of stuff that was made, shipped, unloaded, and used is astounding.  Bullets and cigarettes, tanks and shoes, trucks and eggs, maps and bandages were mass produced to supply the American, and in some situations, the British and French armies.  In many places, descriptions are given of multiple tons of bombs being dropped on cities or strongholds.  Add the artillery shelling to the bombing.  You wonder if reading the book is going to damage your hearing.

Two main questions kept running through my mind while reading the book: How did the Allies win? And, how did Germany keep fighting for so long?  Starting with the Normandy invasion, which is in the first part of the book, there were paratroopers who landed in the wrong places, unexpectedly strong defenses and obstacles at many of the landing beaches, bad weather before the invasion, and miscalculations and blunders by leaders at all levels.  But Normandy ranks as one of the great victories of all times.  Warfare involves intricate planning that then turns into a series of recalculations and adjustments when the shooting begins.  It was the immensity of the forces that enabled the Allies to cling to the beaches and begin expanding the beachheads.  Add to that, no, put in front of that, the sheer pluck, bravery, and dedication of those who jumped off those landing crafts and began trudging up through the water, mines, and dead bodies–all the while being under intense fire–to take the heights.

Landing craft approaching Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944

Lots of studies have examined Allied deceptions (which succeeded), the first days of the landing,  the near impossible achievements, the sufferings of the French villagers, and the German defenses.  Thankfully, the two incredibly apt German commanders, Von Rundstedt and Rommel, were both hindered by Hitler’s orders.  Thankfully, some of the German forces were sub-par.  (Actually, some were Russians who had been forced into serving in the Wermacht.)  Thankfully, the Allies largely controlled the air.

Any alternative “what if” speculations about Normandy are frightening to consider.  It is hard to imagine how the war would have gone if Normandy had failed.  While the Allies knew it was not a sure thing, they ruled out failure as an option.  But the next great obstacle came after the beaches were secured.  For the first month or so, the war in Normandy turned into a trench by trench, hedgerow by hedgerow war of little movement.  It resembled the near stationary conditions of much of World War I.  The Allies could have won a war of attrition, especially since the Russians were chewing up German armies on the eastern front, but it would have taken a lot longer and cost more lives.

The Allied breakout, Operation Cobra, led to a reverse of the German blitzkrieg in France in 1940.  Allied armies swept across the nation and sent the German army into retreat.  Some time later, the second French landing, this one in southern France, took place.  That campaign is often largely overlooked.  The American general in charge there, Lucian Truscott, is not usually given adequate attention and praise.

It was not long until the war shifted from both the northern and southern beachheads in France to the eastern border of France.  Germany suffered a major defeat in the first months following D-Day.  The Allied armies quickly locked together in a line relatively close to the border of Germany.  Talk began emerging–from soldiers in the trenches to the high command–of the war ending by Christmas of 1944.

It didn’t happen.  Germany was wounded, but not killed.  The time from about October of 1944 to the spring of 1945 is one of the most difficult periods to read about.  Germany’s defenses and refusal to yeild ground was intense.  Meanwhile, the Allies fought all manner of internal battles.  Keeping the armies supplied, with gasoline for the everything motorized, winter uniforms (no proper planning had been done for this), and other needs was overwhelming due to the sheer logistics of getting materials from the U.S., having working ports to receive the supplies, and then getting them to the front.

Although the American army had expanded by this point to many millions of soldiers, there were often not enough men, not enough training for the men, and not enough time for replacements troops to be brought up.  While we often think that the American army was largely made up of riflemen, there was actually a shortage of men trained and ready to do that most critical, dangerous, and necessary task in battle.

Even more potentially damaging than the shortages were the personality conflicts.  High marks are often given, as deservedly so, for General Eisenhower’s ability to keep both the Allied coalition together and keep his own generals on track.  The worst offenders were the French.  General DeGaulle, as well as the other French generals, were determined to offset the shame of France’s defeat in 1940.  They depended on the good graces and material supplies from the United States and Britain, yet they balked and complained and often threatened to go their own way.  They were, in short, rather insufferable.

British General Bernard Montgomery was another thorn in Ike’s side.  Eisenhower said of him, “…a good man to serve under, a difficult man to serve with, and an impossible man to serve over.”  None of that is to imply that the American generals were without fault or that Eisenhower’s judgment was impeccable.  It is amazing that Eisenhower, with all the stresses he endured along with the millions of cigarettes he smoked, was able to live through the war and go on to serve in many capacities for about 25 years beyond World War II.

The victorious American commanders, on May 11, 1945.

The victorious American commanders

Time forbids exploring the last 6 months of the war.  To hasten through the events:

1.  The Ardennes Offensive, often called the Battle of the Bulge, was an intelligence disaster, but a long-term benefit to the Allied victory.

American soldiers during the winter battle known as the Battle of the Bulge

2.  The Yalta Conference, not a pleasant topic for political conservatives like me, was a complex matter.  “What should have been done there and in the immediate post-war world” differs from “what realistically could be done.”

The Big Three at Yalta: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin on the terrace of the Villa Livadia. The president had but two months to live.

The Big Three (Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin) at Yalta

3.  The capture of the standing bridge at Remagen and the crossing of the Rhine River ranks as one of the great battles in history.

4.  The revelations of the Nazi atrocities in the concentration camps was then and continues to be one of the most compelling reasons why this war to exterminate Naziism was so vital.

5.  Even in the last month of so of the war, when German soldiers were surrendering by the thousands and the war was basically won, 11,000 American soldiers died in Europe.

One last major point:  While I read this book, I was more consciously aware of an uncle of mine, Clebert Moles, who was with the American army from Normandy to the end of the war.  I knew him as a man who suffered from many internal and externals battles, but I knew nothing of what preceded and largely caused his life struggles.  This book reminded me that he, along with countless others, who were killed, wounded, and scarred by the war, were heroic.

A minor point:  I am a stickler for nice hardback books, dust jackets included, and I handle my books like fine China.  But I discovered that my copy of this book is coming apart with a major break in the binding.  Alas, I will have to procure a replacement.

A final point: Rick Atkinson’s next project is a 3 volume set on the American War for Independence.

Christianity, Economics, and Capitalism

A former student of mine from the Genoa Central days, Melissa Hays, asked me for recommendations concerning books on capitalism from a Christian perspective.  This question has stumped me.  I only have about 100 or so books on economics with about half of them being Christian in perspective.  I really know very little about the topic directly.  For the past 20 plus years, I have devoted great amounts of time to various eras of history, many different aspects of literature, certain topics in Christian worldview thinking, and quite a few pastoral and Biblical studies.  But I have read few works on economics.  In part, this is because economic reading always reminds me of some bill I need to pay, or how quickly this month’s salary is disappearing, or how much kids and cars and house and insurance cost, or how stretched my budget is, or how long I will have to work to pay off my debts (probably up through year 2247).  I prefer poetry over economics.  Don’t misunderstand me:  I love money and what money can do for me and the world.  I just prefer to read about life in the old South over investments on Wall Street.  The election of 1948 intrigues me more than the bank bailouts of 2008.  But the field is an important one for Christians to study.

On a political level, I cannot bear to think about economics.  I thought things looked really bleak and dreary back 20 and 30 years ago.  For a time, the economic direction of our country improved slightly.  During the Reagan, Bush I, and even Clinton years, there were infinitesimally small changes that promised some hope.  I harbor no such expectations at the moment except for a hope that I am totally misreading this gigantic hole in the hull of our economic ship of state.

I will make some book recommendations, but will put forth these caveats.

First, don’t test me on the books.  I have many books of which I am only slightly familiar with the contents.  In some cases, I read the books.  In others, I read portions of the books.  In yet other cases, I read other books by the author or things about the book or scanned over the book. This is not my bailiwick.

Second, capitalism is a broad topic.  It has many facets in our economic, social, and political spheres.  Capitalism has been used by good people for good purposes, and it has been used by bad people for bad purposes.  A Christian bookstore and a brothel can both be capitalistic enterprises.  The recommendations will consider the varied hues of capitalism’s uses, abuses, and value.

Third, not all Christians agree on what Biblical principles arise from Scripture.  As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary  consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”  Civil,  social, and economic policies are not, in most cases, directly stated in Scripture.  There are applicable Scriptural principles, such as prohibitions against idolatry and theft.  Governments do have the tendency to assert divinity.  In those cases, the political and economic implications of “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” apply.

Because economics covers so many areas of life and action, there will be differing approaches from Bible-believing and Bible-informed thinkers.  This should not be viewed negatively, but rather as the occasion to study, glean, think, pray, and best apply whatever Biblical principles are apt for the occasion.

Fourth, many fine books on economics have been written by economists and historians who are either not Christian or not specifically writing in light of the Bible.  Assuming as I do that “All truth is God’s truth,” I find much there that is compatible or reflective of Christian principles.

I will name some books below and comment on them briefly.

1.  Biblical Economics in Comics by Vic Lockman.  Yes, this is a book written in comic and cartoon style.  Vic Lockman is an old and dear friend whose gift has always been cartoon drawing.  His views are very conservative and theonomic.  By theonomic, I mean that he derives principles of ethics from Biblical law.  There is much here to amuse while educating the reader.  At the very least, a reader should come away from this fun book realizing that the Bible contains some principles and precepts that we need to think on regarding economics.

2.  Biblical Economics: A Commonsense Guide to Our Daily Bread by R. C. Sproul, Jr.  Mr. Sproul came to Veritas Academy some years ago and taught this book to my students.  There is much that I appreciate about it.  It is, however, more libertarian and more Austrian School than I would adhere to.  (You will have to look up libertarianism, libertarian economics, and Austrian School on your own.)  In terms of economics, this book is priced for $16.  But if anyone wants a copy for $5. plus postage, I would be glad to sell it to them.

3.  Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.  It has been many years since I read this book.  It is a vigorous defender of free market capitalism.  Hazlitt was not writing as a Christian. This is a free market classic.  The first chapter, titled “The Broken Window,” is worth the price of the book.

           

4.  The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World and Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson.  Ferguson, a Scotsman, is an economic historian.  I think that Civilization is one of the best books I have ever read.  His discussion of Christianity’s impact on civilization and capitalism was memorable.  Being a Scot, Ferguson, I assume, has a Presbyterian heritage, but I don’t think he is a believer.  One of the big questions on capitalism and Christianity is in regard to the connection.  A society doesn’t have to be Christian for capitalism to thrive, but it seems like capitalism has been at its best in societies that have more Christian influences.

5.  Follow the Money:  The Money Trail Through History by Ruben Alvarado is a short and useful book on money.  Alvarado is a Christian.  From the website: “The book takes the reader on a journey through history, beginning with ancient Meso­potamia, through Phoenicia, Greece, and Rome, then through medieval and early-modern Europe in its interaction with the Near and Far East, all the way to the modern-day community of nations. It demonstrates in no uncertain terms just how decisive the institution of money has been, and at the same time just how misunderstood – its role, its effects, even the very form it takes.”

6.  Those Enterprising Americans and The Roots of Capitalism by John Chamberlain.  It was many decades ago when I read these books.  I don’t know why they are not as noticed, read, or reprinted in our day.  My memories of them are favorable.  America is not the only capitalistic country in the world, but it is certainly a key one.  In spite of abuses of economic systems, the very opportunity to be enterprising, to think outside the box, to innovate and experiment, has resulted in many great economic benefits for Americans, and through America, for the world.

7.  The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek.  This book was originally written in the 1930s and was read by a few conservatives here and there for years.  Then it was rediscovered and has been a best seller.  It is a free market classic.  Hayek was not a Christian, but many Christians appreciate this book.  I was especially pleased about a year ago when I picked up my son Nicholas at the airport and he greeted me saying, “I read The Road to Serfdom on the plane ride.”

8.  Capitalism and Progress: A Diagnosis of Western Society by Bob Goudzwaard.  Many of my acquaintances, including Dr. Roy Clouser and Dr. Henk Geertsema, have recommended this book, along with Goudzwaard’s other writings.  I have it and need to read it.  Goudzwaard is professor emeritus at the Free University of Amsterdam.  Being Dutch and Christian, he connects his thinking with the foundations of Christian thought as promoted by Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd.  More about and by Dr. Goudzwaard can be found at All of Life Redeemed.

9.  The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Society by Rodney Stark.  I read, enjoyed, and profited from several of Professor Rodney Stark’s fine books.  I especially enjoyed the emphasis in this book on how Christianity impacted freedom and capitalism.  Often, much–maybe too much—credit goes to Protestantism in opening the doors to capital expansion, but Stark gives lots of credit to the Catholic city states in Italy.

10.  Calvin and Commerce: The Transforming Power of Calvinism in Market Economies, edited by David Hall and Matthew Burton.  Of course, I have to mention some book that gives Calvinism the credit for all that is good in Western Civilization.  This book is part of the P & R Calvin500 series that came out in 2009.  There are other sources that also credit (or blame) Calvinism and Protestantism for capitalism’s impact on Western Civilization.  The works of Tawney and Weber are well known and questionable at points, but most of the serious studies of Calvinism include some references to the growth of economic freedom.  (Time will not allow me to discuss Walter Russell Mead’s God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World.)  

11.  The Good of Affluence: Serving God in a Culture of Wealth by John Schneider.  This is a great book that I read a few years back.  I especially enjoyed his treatment of the parables and teachings from the Gospel of Luke that related to economics.  Both Andrew Sandlin and David Bahnsen think it is among the best books on the topic of capitalism and Christianity. In part, it is an answer to an older and questionable book called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by the left-leaning Ron Sider.

Here are some further recommendations from friends:

Gregory Baus recommends the writings of John Robbins that can be found on the website for The Trinity Foundation and Robbins’ book Freedom and Capitalism.  I also liked the late Dr. Robbins’ book and had a small part in saving Robbins from a biographical mistake concerning Hilaire Belloc.

Freedom and Capitalism

Gregory Baus, who is quite well read in economics from the Austrian School perspective, and I both wonder why E. H. L. Hebden Taylor’s book Economics, Money, and Banking: Christian Principles is not still in print.  Gregory also recommends the works of Wilhelm Roepke.

Ruben Alvarado, author of Follow the Money and the publisher at Wordbridge Publishing, recommends Joseph Schumpeter’s writings, particularly Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy and History of Economic Analysis.  I don’t have these books, but will work on remedying that problem.

P. Andrew Sandlin recommends Jay Richards’ books,  but adds that Schneider’s book, listed above, is the best.  There goes a few more books on my wish list.

David Bahnsen recommends Wayne Grudem’s recent book, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution, and Michael Novak’s books.  I will have to get the new Grudem book, and I will have to comb through my study to find what books by Novak that I have.  He also recommends John Sirico’s Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

There are many more books to think through.  Although I don’t agree with him at all or many points, I have fond memories of Gary North’s many writings on economic issues.  North’s economic commentaries on the Bible, which were mainly confined to the first five books of the Bible, were wonderful.  I used Russell Kirk’s Economics: Work and Prosperity in a few classes some years back.  The writings of Thomas Sowell were outstanding.  Ludwig Von Mises was beyond me, but profitable at points.  Milton Friedman’s works, defining of the Chicago School of Economics, still have merit.  The Incredible Bread Machine, a fun paperback book of yesteryear, was a eye-opening delight. Finally, Leonard Read’s delightful essay “I, Pencil” is unsurpassed.

Freedom and Liberty

David Hackett Fischer is a good teacher to listen to on this morning of July 4.  I have been getting into his book Liberty and Freedom.

He writes, “A leading scholar of other cultures, Orlando Patterson, observes that ‘non-western peoples have thought so little about freedom that most human languages did not even possess a word for the concept before contact with the west.’ ….The Western world is unique not only in its invention of words such as liberty and freedom but also in having invented so many of them.  These words have distinct origins and different shades of meaning. Consider the two leading terms in English usage: liberty and freedom.  In early uses, both words implied a power of choice, an ability to exercise one’s will, and a condition that was distinct from slavery.  In all of those ways, liberty and freedom meant the same thing.”

Look closely at what Fischer says the words liberty and freedom imply:

1.  A power of choice

2.  an ability to exercise one’s will

3.  a condition that was distinct from slavery

If our leaders were to carefully just read the early parts of Fischer’s book and contemplate what they should do, we would experience a revolution that would far exceed that one which we celebrate on this day.

A book filled study: The true incubator of great thoughts.

 

Why Did They Fight?

Concord Bridge: Where the shot was fired that was heard all around the world.

In 1843, Captain Levi Preston was 91 years old.  A young scholar, Mellen Chamberlain, was researching the American War for Independence, and he had the occasion to interview the veteran of Lexington and Concord.

“Captain Preston,” he asked, “what made you to to the Concord fight?

Captain Preston, bristling  at the notion that he was made to fight, replied, “What did I go for?”

The young historian continued, “Were you oppressed by the Stamp Act?”

Captain Preston replied, “I never saw any stamps and I always understood that none were sold.”

“Well, what about the tea tax?” the historian asked.

Captain Preston: “Tea tax? I never drank a drop of the stuff. The boys threw it all overboard.”

Chamberlain: “I suppose you had been reading Harrington, Sidney, and Locke about the eternal principle of liberty?”

Captain Preston:  “I never heard of these men. The only books we had were the Bible, the Catechism, Watts’ Psalms, and hymns and the almanacs.”

Chamberlain:  “Well, then, what was the matter?”

Captain Preston:  “Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had been free, and we meant to be free always. They didn’t mean we should.”

Captain Levi Preston

The interview with Levi Preston can be found in David Hackett Fischer’s Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideas.

Liberty and Freedom: One of many great studies by David Hackett Fischer.