Favorite Histories Read in 2019

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Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War by James McGrath Morris

Here is a good example of why I don’t post the best books of the year in December:  This was one of the last books I read this year.  Outstanding account of two 20th Century American writers.  They met during World War I when both were serving as ambulance drivers.  For several years, Dos Passos was the successful and published writer who was helping out a young Hemingway.

Over the years, their friendship ripened, and both men published a number of books.  Hemingway surged in fame and fortune.  Dos Passos received the accolades of the literary establishment, but little by way of book royalties.  Hemingway, being generous as he often was, gave and loaned money to his friend who also married one of Hemingway’s life-long friends, Katy Smith.

Hemingway being Hemingway, he came to the point where he despised and slashed at his literary companion.  He could not stand the fact that Dos Passos got more appreciation from the very crowds that Hemingway hated–literary reviewers.  Like most things that EH touched, this friendship turned ugly before he killed himself.

I really wish this book had added another fifty or more pages detailing Dos Passos’s turn from the Leftist thinking to Conservatism.  The Spanish Civil War opened his eyes, even as it blinded Hemingway’s vision.  I love much about Hemingway, but he was vicious, nasty, cruel, self-centered, and more.  I lament not having read enough by and about John Dos Passos, his peer who is rarely regarded in these times but who was often viewed as EH’s superior in their times.

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Hitler and the Habsburgs: The Fuhrer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals by James Longo

I mentioned having seen this book at Books-A-Million one day while teaching Humanities.  Later that same day, Joshua Carnes showed up in my classroom and handed the book to me.

What an outstanding book!  The Habsburgs are rarely regarded or thought of.  Francis Ferdinand is usually relegated to the brief discussion of the immediate outbreak of World War I.  I never knew that Hitler had any vendetta against the family.  Of course, it comes as no surprise that Adolf sought to harm the children of Francis Ferdinand and his wife Sophia, both slain in the summer of 1914.

This is a sad story of a devote Christian family, oppressed and tortured, who nevertheless maintained faith and dignity.  (I reviewed this book last February.)

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War by Lynn Olson

Outstanding study of how the countries conquered by Hitler continued their resistance from the sole outpost of freedom–Great Britain.  So much here was new to me, in spite of a lifetime of reading on World War II.  So many unsung heroes and heroines.  Reviewed in March under the title “World War II in Books.” I am now a collector of anything that Lynn Olson has written.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liberty in the Things of God by Robert Louis Wilkin

Outstanding study of the development of Christian liberty of conscience.  I really loved this book.  Worth reading again and again.  Vital due to our lack of understanding of religious freedom and the misconceptions that assume that such freedom is the product of unbelievers.

Reviewed in May.

The British are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson

The British are Coming, Volume 1 of the Revolution Trilogy by Rick Atkinson

I loved Rick Atkinson’s trilogy on World War II, love this book, and look forward to the next two volumes.  I must confess that my greatest comfort in reading this account of the American War for Independence came from knowing how the story ends.  In the midst of this book, I kept thinking, “We are going to lose this war.”

Sand & Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by Peter Caddick-Adams

Lengthy, detailed study of the preparation and execution of the Normandy invasion. Review written in August.

This year was the 75th anniversary of the greatest military invasion in all of history:  The D-Day Normandy Landings in France on June 6, 1944.  This account was incredibly packed with both big picture explanations of the events along with the up close and personal accounts of those who were there.

I am sold on this author/historian which resulted in me buying his equally lengthy book on the Battle of the Bulge, titled Snow and Steel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christian and a Democrat: A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt by John F. Woolverton and James D. Bratt

Review written in September.

As expected, my favorable review of this book garnered me a few criticisms from my normally adoring public following.  Conservatives so dislike FDR that many cannot pause long enough to give him credit for anything.  I enjoyed this detailed, but still inadequate account of FDR the man and his faith.  Was he truly a Christian?  I am not sure that is a question for historians.  He was not shallow in regard to his faith commitment.  He had a life-long attachment to Christianity, was a long-time and faithful church member, was vocal about his beliefs, and was spiritually minded on the personal level and not just for political purposes.

His faith was diluted by the social gospel and more liberal elements then in vogue.  His life was concerning because of some of the moral failings.  Still, this is a good study of a complex and great man.

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Did America Have a Christian Founding? By Mark David Hall

Review written in November.

How delightful the discover of this book has been.  I became Facebook friends with Dr. Hall and have entered on the quest of obtaining and reading every book he has written or edited.  The topic of this book is one that I have long read and studied.  But, if I had only one book to read and consider on this topic, this would be the one.

The issue here is vital.  Like the Achaians and the Trojans battling over the slain body of Patroclus in The Iliad, our culture has been fighting over the role of Christianity in our history and culture for a long time.  By the way, Protestants have done some stupid things along the way, and those actions are recounted in this book.  Myths are presented and documented and then dealt with forcefully by that old sly trick of historians–going to the sources.

America's Religious History - By: Thomas S. Kidd

America’s Religious History: Faith, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation by Thomas Kidd

Shame on me here.  I did read and enjoy this book, but I really should have completed my homework assignment and read the two volume American History by Dr. Kidd published by B & H Publishers.

I have long wanted to find a better American history survey than the one I use in my classes.  And Thomas Kidd is one of the brightest and most prolific stars on the stage of Christian historians.  I have a number of his books and am intent on getting and reading all of his works.

I did read this short history of religious faith in America.  On the one hand, Sidney Ahlstrom’s book, A Religious History of the American People,  has some advantages over this book.  However, Ahlstrom’s book is massive and much older; it is great for a long, serious study of the issue.  The strength of Kidd’s book is its brevity.  Many times, I was shouting “More, More!”  But I was often coming across ideas, people, and beliefs I had never heard of.  I would love to use this book as required supplemental reading for a college American history survey.

Reviewed briefly in “When Religion Meets History and Philosophy” in November.

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The Soul of the American Presidency:  The Decline Into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal by Stephen Knott

Excellent read that I reviewed just a week ago in December.

I wish I could say something deep, scholarly, and profound, but I will have to fall back on this response:  I thoroughly enjoyed and loved this book.  I read lots of politically related books and teach government.  I have studied Presidents ever since the election of 1964, in which I was–unknowingly–for the wrong candidate.

Did I agree with Stephen Knott at every step?  No way, but I found many things to reconsider, to re-enforce, and to reconfigure ways of thinking about the Presidents.  His heroes include some Presidents I find less lovable.  His villains include some of my heroes.  That was part of the fun, accompanied by pain, in reading this book.

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The Darkest Year: The American Homefront 1941-1942 by William Klingman

Fascinating and heavily anecdotal account of the wild and chaotic year after the U. S. entered World War II. How in the world did we ever win the war? Hundred of anecdotal details about the first year of America’s involvement in World War II.

Reviewed this book in May.

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Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France

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Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by Peter Caddick-Adams is published by Oxford University Press.

I am really close to embracing the absurd idea that World War II never happened.  In particular, I can almost find myself believing that the D-Day Normandy invasion of France on June 6, 1944 never happened.  No, I am not losing my sanity, nor am I listening to weird conspiracy theories of crackpots.

Here is my thought:  I cannot fathom how the men at Normandy faced the obstacles, encountered the dangers, endured the noise and destruction, and braved the event.  I get frightened by severe storms or near car wrecks on the highway.  How did these men, many who were barely past boyhood, do what they did?  My awe extends beyond the work of just the Americans, and I even marvel at the enemies on that day.

This past June 6 marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.  In light of that, a number of books began appearing highlighting the events and retelling the story of Operation Overlord.  I first learned of Sand & Steel from a friend and historian Tony Williams, who wrote a fine account of some of the books on this crucial day during World War II. His article can be found HERE.

Along with this book, James Holland’s Normandy 1944 and Alex Kershaw’s The First Wave hit the shelves shortly before the 75 year commemoration.  There are some older books that are great treasures as well for studying this event.  The first great account was Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day, which was followed up with an all-star cast epic movie.  Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day: June 6, 1944, John Keegan’s Six Armies in Normandy, Max Hasting’s Overlord, and Antony Beevor’s D-Day are among the books I have acquired over the years on this event.

It is hard to imagine a book, however, that is more detailed and rigorous in its content that Sand & Steel.  With nearly 900 pages of narrative, Caddick-Adams goes from event to event, from landing to landing, and describes the multitude of encounters, failures, disasters, and acts of heroism.  I was astounded and often simply swamped by the details.  How could any one man put so much of this story together.  In his acknowledgments, the author talks about his many years of research and many days spent walking the actual battlegrounds.  He also accessed interviews and personal accounts and got into the story in time to talk with some of the actual participants.  He was also at Pointe du Hoc in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan gave one of his greatest speeches ever.

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Several points to be made about this book:

The first 400 pages of this book deal with the planning stages for the invasion.  I was horrified by the fact that so many soldiers were killed during training exercises going on all across Britain during 1943 and early 1944.  Many men who “died fighting the Nazis” actually died during mishaps and problems relating to the training drills.  But, if these training drills had not taken place,  the results would have been worse.  Those poor guys are just as much fallen heroes as those who actually made it to the beaches.

The Germans were working furiously to create defensive mechanisms, collectively known as the Atlantic Wall, to repel the invasion.  They were hindered in many ways, ranging from lack of supplies to efforts to sabotage their works.  The beaches of northern France were turned into death zones by the mines, barbed wire, metal obstacles, and other devices.  Topping the high ground were bunkers, machine gun nests, pill boxes, and other concrete fortifications stocked with all manner of weapons.

The role of air power was decisive for the Allies, but the number of times where bombs fell in the wrong places or did not succeed in destroying enemies locations is incredible.  Again, adding to my disbelief, the sheer amount of tonnage dropped on Europe and particularly northern France seems impossible.  (How did people endure the noise of World War II?)

As Caddick-Adams began describing the various encounters during the landing, I found myself wondering how the Allies could possibly have been winning that day.  One of the most enjoyable features of the book is the author’s short accounts of the men themselves.  Thankfully, a number of personal accounts and interviews have been gathered that tell the story from the perspective of the participants.  Repeatedly, the stories are filled with the horrors of seeing people killed and maimed who were standing just inches away.  Some men did heroic acts while disembarking and hitting the beaches, while others cringing and panicking did whatever they could to find safety.  I stand in awe of all.

Caddick-Adams does a good job of reassessing some of the previous accounts and stories and myths about D-Day.  Cornelius Ryan’s book is outstanding, but in a story this big, he missed the mark quite a few times.  Even with 900 pages, Caddick, Adams is still only skimming the surface of this story.

This book is not for the person who wants to just read a good account of D-Day.  Maybe someone watches The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan and they want to learn more.  They should go for some of the other, shorter accounts.  But for the student of World War II, already well briefed on what happened, this book is a great resource, very readable, and filled with much that is unforgettable.

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Mustang, Sequel to Shortgrass, by John J. Dwyer

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My friend John Barach is right.  Fiction is read for enjoyment.  As a literature teacher, I spend class time highlighting benefits of reading literary works.  Sometimes, I justify my own reading of spy and espionage novels, murder mysteries, and other times of “escape reading” because the books are well written, or give insights into human nature, or reveal aspects of foreign nations, and so on.  But I like reading for fun.

It is all fun, but some types of books are…funner than others.  (I like using the word funner because it is more fun sounding than more fun.)  Page-turning fiction is fun to read.  I often start the book with a slow pace and read a chapter or a few pages each night, but somewhere around the 50 to 100 page mark of a good book, I start reading more and more.  I don’t stay up all night reading, nor all day.  And I usually am reading a half dozen books at a time.  But the novel on the bed stand is my dessert reading.  And I like dessert in every form.

In January, I read and reviewed Shortgrass by John J. Dwyer.  This is a novel set in Oklahoma during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  It is the story of a young man named Lance Roark and his life struggles, ranging from religious convictions to romance to facing the oncoming war that conflicts with his pacifist religious background. From the moment I finished that book, I was chomping at the bit to read the sequel.

That sequel, Mustang, came out a few months ago, but I saved it for just the right occasion.  That occasion turned out to be mid-to-late July.  I read the book by starting slowly, but as often happens, I found myself more and more drawn in to Lance’s life and struggles.  Consequently, I read increasing numbers of pages until I felt the relief of having finished the book along with the sadness that it was over.

To review a novel is not easy because of the problem of spoilers, so I will focus on some of the themes of these books, with an emphasis on Mustang.

World War II was a great war in terms of the number of places where it took place, the number of countries it involved, the cost in lives and material, and much more.  The bibliography on WWII is simply overwhelming, but one could do no better than to read Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars. It was a war dominated to a large degree by the still evolving air power.  Debates still rage over the effectiveness and the morality of the air war.

Lance Roark falls in love with flying before the war.  After Pearl Harbor, he is a shoe in for the Army Air Corps.  (The Air Force as a separate branch of the military did not exist then.)  He then becomes the lead pilot for a B-17 Flying Fortress.  The array of planes used by the different sides in World War II is amazing, and from a distance, the air war seems to have a certain glamour and panache.  The actual story, from inside the cockpit and from the experiences of the pilots and crews, was anything but glamorous.  The air war was horrible for both those in the sky and on the ground.

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Flak, unbearable cold, enemy fighter planes, and fear were among the factors that made bombing raids so terrible.  I would be curious to know some of Dwyer’s sources for details because the story was unbearably gruesome reading.  That can all be seen as the cost of warfare, but the other factors have to do with the effectiveness or lack of it in the bombing raids.  We would like to think that the Americans bombed military targets with only occasional civilian losses, but that is far from true.

Concerning World War I, J. R. R. Tolkien said, ” By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.”  Same just about happened to Lance Roark, and that is not poetic license on the part of the author.

But this is a novel and not a war documentary, so there is an intense human element to the story.  Lance is a Mennonite from his upbringing.  Being such, he and his ancestors and church community had been against fighting.  Although like many who were influenced by pacifism, he choose to go into the service, he never completely gets over his convictions.  Before the war, he had been a friend to and a supporter of Charles Lindberg.  Lindberg’s life went from hero to villian in a short time because of his opposition to the U. S. entering into World War II (prior to Pearl Harbor).  Often forgotten is Lindberg’s service to his country after the war became a fact.

Intertwined in the story are many threads related to the political actions that got us into the war.  Add to that the atrocities that Americans, who were far less brutal than the Nazis, Japanese, or Russians, committed.  War, even when most justified and necessary, is fraught with many evils.

Lance goes through a series of crises with his faith.  You will have to read the books to learn the details, but he was the proverbial “red-blooded American male,” the type that the British described as “over sexed, over paid, and over here.”  Lance ain’t no Elsie Densmore, nor is he Natty Bumpo.

In so many ways, I find myself envious of Lance Roark.  He is a football hero; he is apparantly a heart-throb to many girls; he is brave, faithful, loving, strong; and yet he is a real and believable character.  And he is a Southern, by way of Oklahoma, who in true Southern fashion loves his momma. He is also like Forrest Gump, in that he meets and knows so many people who either are famous or who become famous.  Besides, Lindberg, Lance crosses paths with President Roosevelt, Walter Cronkite, John F. Kennedy, and others.

But I don’t envy what Lance goes through.  I am currently reading a massive book called Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by Peter Caddick-Adams.  It reinforces and elaborates on many of the details that are found in Mustang.

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When I look at World War II, whether it is in an historical study or in fiction, I simply shake my head in unbelief that mere mortals like me did the amazing, brave, horrible, and incredible things that people did.

When (not if) you read Mustang, you may either want to brush up on your knowledge of the war or have your electronic devices handy so that you can distinguish between Messerschmidts and Mustangs.  And buckle on your flak jacket and helmet.  You are in for a ride.

 

 

Wars from Revolutionary to Vietnam

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.

Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy by Benjamin Armstrong is published by Oklahoma University Press.

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.

Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France is by Peter Caddick-Adams and is published by Oxford University Press.

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.

 

 

 

America in World War I–Two Great Reads

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I was recently attacked, beaten near senseless, and left bruised, bleeding, and humiliated.  I can identify the perpetrators.  One is Edward Lengel and the other is Geoffrey Wawro.  Both are historians.  Both have books on World War I that were published in the past year.  And I read both books and the results are described in my opening sentence.

When I think back on my stronger areas of history, I like to list such areas as American history, 20th Century history, and the World Wars.  There are a few other areas where I feel competent and many where I am better served by keeping my mouth shut.  But World War I?

Since the first of October I have been teaching on World War I in my Humanities classes.  I have taught from Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August, which sunk my students, and I tried to bail them out, but was not overly successful.  We also read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.  We finished with World War One British Poets, a fine and short anthology of some of the vivid and powerful poems from the time.

I walked the students through the rival alliances, the strengths of the major powers, and the tensions that were threatening Europe.  I showed them the Schlieffen Plan as thought out and then poorly executed by the Germans.  I walked them through the succession of events from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to the invasion of Belgium.  I went over a short list of why the United States entered the War.  I coached them through my “What Every Man or Woman Needs to Know About World War I” review sheets.

I felt pretty good about old Ben House as a history teacher.  Then along came Edward Lengel.  Many of his earlier books are on George Washington, but he has also written several on World War I.  His most recent book, even more recently reviewed in this blog, is Never in Finer Company.

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Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Lost Battalion and the Transformation of America by Edward G. Lengel is published by De Capo Press.

This book deals with an event within the greater actions of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.  A battalion pushing against the German lines advanced beyond their flank supports and got cut off from the rest of the army.  The logical thing to do would have been to have retreated back to the security of the rest of the army.  But the orders and commands had been to advance and not retreat.

Another alternative would have been to surrendered.   The men under siege endured more than enough hardships.  Not only were they surrounded and under constant attack, but they were low on food and water and the wounded were not being attended.  They had fought the good fight and were in a hopeless situation.

Yet, they fought on.  How they held out is beyond me.  On one occasion, they even got shelled by American artillery.  The story is one of exceptional gallantry and worthy leaders on the battalion level.  Even the carrier pigeons in the unit served with distinction.

One side story on this story was the actions of Tennessee rifleman Alvin York.  York was not part of the Lost Battalion, but was part of the advancing columns that helped liberate the battalion and continued the advance against the Germans.

Great book.  Left me dazed with awe for the men of the unit, saddened at the effects of this on even the survivors, and the sacrifices men at war make.

Feeling the need to read even more on World War I and America’s role, I picked up the book Sons of Freedom by Geoffrey Wawro.

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Sons of Freedom by Geoffrey Wawro is published by Basic Books.  Dr. Wawro is a professor of history at the University of North Texas and the author of six books (four of which I now own).

As the subtitle explains, this book is about “The Forgotten American Soldiers Who Defeated Germany in World War I.”  I noticed a review that called this book “the definitive history” regarding America’s role in the war.  I agree.

This book is a lengthy and powerful account of how America’s entry on the actual battlefields enabled the Allies to win the war.  By 1918, both sides in the war were exhausted, bled white, and worn down by the grueling multiple fronts.  Russia was finished by then.  Revolution ended what the war itself had started on the Eastern Front.  Italy was basically caput as well. How Austria-Hungary was hanging on is still beyond me.  But there was Germany, now reinforcing the Western Front (the border areas in northern France and Belgium where the war had been raging since August of 1914).  Freed from the Eastern Front, Germany was racing more and more divisions to the west.

Under the command of the talented, but sometimes unbalanced, Erich von Ludendorff, the German army began a series of offenses against the British and French lines.  Any one of the offensive actions could easily have translated into the needed breakthrough that would have divided the Allied forces, pushed the British back into a Dunkirk situation (years before Dunkirk), or captured Paris.

The spent forces of the British and French armies sustained the front lines, but barely.  The German forces erred most greatly in shifting from one offense to the next instead of maintaining pressure in just one area.  But also, and most important, the American forces began hitting the fields of battle.

The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917.  But it took a year before the United States was able to start massing still under-trained and unequipped soldiers on French soil.  Still, they were fresh troops, and so they began the process of filling in the gaps on the battlefields.  The American commander was General John J. Pershing.  Pershing’s greatest legacy in the war was his continual insistence on American troops being able to operate independently as American armies and not as replacements and gap fillers for the Allies.

In some cases, Americans got some useful baptism of fire by being used alongside of the British and French troops.  But the goal was always an independent field of action by the U. S. Army.  Pershing fought hard against his fellow Allied commanders to achieve this.  On the negative side, he was greatly underequipped as a commander to lead an army in this type of war.  He was somehow stuck in a time warp, not always realizing how the war had been fought for the past several years.

Americans focused on the offensive.  (So had every other major army for the previous years.)  In 1918, America had one resource that no other country had–a huge supply of troops.  The American muscle was just beginning to be flexed as the troops began pouring into France.  Sad to say, much of the story and much of the book is about the tremendous bloodbath Americans were thrown into in taking this war to the Germans.

Germany was a spent force, but far from a finished force by 1918.  They still had plenty of crack troops, plenty of machine gun and artillery emplacements, and an abundance of fighting experience.  Americans were the deciding factor in Germany’s defeat, but this was no cake-walk.

Even though Sons of Freedom is a lengthy and heavily detailed book, I found it engrossing.  Granted, there were flank attacks, repulses, commander changes (many, in fact), and other details that slipped right my mind.  Yet, the larger picture of this book was of the Americans pushing and hitting the German lines and, even with mounting casualties and increasing numbers of deserters, and winning the war.

For anyone else interested in World War I, these are two great reads.  Having read Lengel’s book first, I better understood some of what was happening in Wawro’s book.  But either book could be read first.  You might end these readings being a pacifist (which is what I would be if everyone else would sign on as well), or you might end with a greater appreciation for our soldiers from the past.

Both books call attention to men who were forgotten.  World War II so overshadows the Great War that we tend to see it as amateurish and poorly done by contrast.  Arguments can be made that the two wars were simple one long conflict with a twenty year gap in the fighting.  However the First War is viewed, Americans need to remember that–whether it was the best thing to do or not–our country won that war.

I love both books and highly revere the authors, even after they so brutally beat me up.