Combat Reads

Blog no more, just some quick-and-dirty book lists and literary notes from several veterans of past wars plus one former combat correspondent.

Nose in:

Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice by John A. Nagl. Retired US Army LTC practiced counterinsurgency in Iraq, and worked on the new counterinsurgency manual with Petraeus. Here’s audio of Nagl on NPR neatly summing up the problem with ISIS in Iraq, and what the politically much feared boots on the ground should look like and could accomplish. His big take: we were too fast to go in and too fast to come out of Iraq, but the best way to stay out is to get back in. OK, that’s not exactly how he put it…. Previously from Nagl: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam.

Recent reads:

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen Guelzo. It’s Gettysburg, beautifully executed. With a lot of strategic big picture in the runup, close examination of knowns and unknowns in the three-day battle’s myths and mysteries, and exhaustive ground-view accounts of every action, from every available angle, offering a lot of clarity in the chaos. Then there’s the blame game. Virtually every surviving general self-promoting or pointing fingers in the days and decades that followed, with a peanut gallery of junior officers and enlisted men chiming in. By the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era and director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College.

The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tapper. A tale of outpost life, patrols, ambushes and counterinsurgency successes and failures in the mountains of far Nuristan, culminating in the Oct. 3, 2009 defense of Outpost Keating. If you’re a Restrepo/War fan, this takes place in the same general neighborhood, before during and after the period covered by Restrepo. (Also the scene of the debacle recounted in Lone Survivor.) Where Junger was interested in exploring the existential experience of combat, a fascinating subject by itself, Tapper is more about the narrative and the people, to include the Nuristanis, and the mission. Says this is the Kafiristan Kipling was talking about in “The Man Who Would be King.” (Best movie ever made, btw: John Houston directing Sean Connery and Michael Caine as a pair of cashiered British NCOs turned solders of fortune, with great performances by Saaed Jaffrey as the Gurkha Billy Fish, Shakira Caine as Roxanne and the Oscar-worthy Doghmi Larbi as Ootah the Terrible.)

Tapper reports that the idol worshippers up in Kafiristan finally converted to Islam at the end of the 19th century, hence the switch from Kafiristan, or Infidel Country, to Nuristan … State of Enlightenment. Apparently in the land of notoriously fractious and belligerent tribes, these guys take first prize, and Tapper spends some time talking about them for a bit of a look inside their heads. Still early in, but good intimate reporting on the key American characters as people and what they were doing as soldiers. From a DC reporter with a reputation as a non-Koolaid drinker. Caveat, the largely favorable review at Small Wars Journal notes this is a work of exhaustive after-the-fact reportage, not to be confused with the real-time on-the-ground war reporting of people like Junger, Herr and others, who lived the life. (I’d add Filkins to SWJ’s illustrious list.)

Update: The Outpost is proving to be a great practical tutorial on military leadership and counterinsurgency, with an intimate look at the lives of its practitioners.

How I am now chopping things:

Panawal Angkhola Kukri. Handmade in Nepal and imported by GK&Co. Half razor, half hatchet, you can clear brush, chop wood, butcher a goat, peel mangos, shave and trim your nails with it. A great camping knife that is also handy for home defense. Some cosmetic imperfections, but that just adds to the charm. What do you want, it was hammered out of car springs in some Nepali village. Arrived with a fearsome edge, high-carbon steel, with full tang, rosewood handle and a spine fully 3/8″ thick up to the point. It is the brick shithouse of field knives. Must-have in the event social chaos breaks out or the Zombie Apocalypse arrives … or gets worse, depending on how you view that. I already owned a venerable tribal-looking beast of a Kukri with carved wooden scabbard and horn handle — retired to display though still a fully serviceable brick shithouse — but wanted a working model. GK&Co reviews extremely well in terms of quality, price and service. Accept no imitations. The sheath is serviceable but could stand improvements. Looking around online, I see that Kukri sheath modification is a thing. Some other interesting models include the 12″ Chirra Beast, 11″ British Army Afghan issue, and traditional army issue. There are also 16″ and 20″ models.

The Kukri of course is the legendary hacking, chopping, nail-paring does-it-all knife carried by Gurkha tribesmen who have served as shock troops for the British Army for a century and a half. Very good-natured little guys from the hills who are utterly deadly and fiercely loyal. When those photos popped a few years ago of Prince Harry in a sandbag bunker in some Godforsaken part of Afghanistan, he wasn’t surrounded by a security team of British SAS six-footers. He was lounging with several smiling little guys from Nepal. Gurkhas. The British Army knew that before any Taliban laid a finger on Prince Harry, each one of those Gurkhas would have a pile of 50-plus dead Taliban around his own dead body. Mostly hacked to death with Kukris.

A pair of Gurkhas worked as watchmen in our building in Bangkok when I was a kid. The old guy was a World War II British Army Burma vet who had been involved in hand-to-hand, with a bayonet wound to his left arm. In Kuwait during the runup to Iraq, when there had been a couple of attacks on foreigners, I was happy to have two ex-British Army Gurkhas downstairs in my apartment building. I knew that before al-Qaeda got up to the sixth floor, there would be a pile of them on the stairs.

For some Gurkha reading, here’s the legendary John Masters’ Bugles and a Tiger and The Road Past Mandalay, his memoirs of serving as an officer with a Gurkha regiment on the Northwest Frontier in the 1930s and in Burma in World War II. Masters went on to write a lot of great Indian military-themed novels.

Some other Gurkha/Kukri-related reads: Gurkhas: Special Force by Chris Bellamy (author of the comprehensive Russian Front history Absolute War); Gurkhas at War: Eyewitness Accounts from World War II to Iraq by
J. P. Cross; The Gurkhas by Byron Farwell; The Gurkhas: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Feared Soldiers by John Parker; and The Fighting Kukri: Illustrated Lessons on the Gurkha Combat Knife by Dwight McLemore. This looks interesting: Gurkha War Poems, Mijash Tembe.

More recent reads:

Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick. Another great one from Philbrick. This one serves as the necessary prequel to David McCullough’s great 1776, explaining how they got there.

With Scotland’s vote to remain part of Great Britain, it is fascinating to look at the dirty, working street politics of America’s decision to separate. Philbrick looks at the runup to revolution in Boston roughly from the Tea Party through Concord and Lexington and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Living and working in the places described, with views out my office windows of some of these American battlefields, regularly walking the streets the tarred and feathered tax collector John Malcom was dragged through, past the British positions to the American lines, while following the politics of this place as they continue to this day, it is impossible not to see history as an accordian rotten with wormholes. Not dead and not even past, as they say.

Philbrick has written another highly intimate history. He introduces you to the personalities and the personality traits that influenced what we now see as setpiece, inevitable events, and the accidents and emotional upwellings beyond these men’s control that they harnessed to their advantage, or flailed against. Unsurprising for anyone with a passing knowledge of present day politics, there is a lot of vanity and ambition in there that is entirely apart from the lofty ideals they espoused, and often more practically significant to how events played out.

Military history enthusiasts will appreciate Philbrick’s fluent, ground-level telling of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, and the organic dangerously uncontrolled growth of the American army that besieged the British. As seen in Mayflower and The Last Stand, in military matters he plays the personal, social, political, tactical and strategic like a piano. First-rate combat writing, making the events of two and a half centuries ago immediate. He gets things like gut, terrain, weaponry and equipment and how those can be pivotal in key moments. Add tactical decisions, communication, command and strategic mindset. You’d think this guy had done this. A lot of lofty, mythic history reduced to dirt, sweat, nerve, brains, blood and smoke, and rendered comprehensible.

To the issue of devolution of power as recently debated in Scotland, the American experience was different but it is important to note these are part of the same thing, played out over centuries, because we are largely the same people, with an inextricable history, in the same boat. The Americans were English (and Scottish and Irish) and loved their king, Philbrick reports, and largely wanted to remain British, but had a dispute with Parliament and sought self-determination. The Scots have had a high degree of self-governance that is arguably the step-great-grandchild of America’s independence — ironically with more say in some aspects of English affairs than the British government has in theirs. Their separatists were seeking a more emotional, ethnically driven divorce that largely lacked the geographical, political and economic imperatives of America’s separation, and ignored how deeply entwined all the British people are economically, historically and even ethnically. In the wake of Scotland’s no vote, it is worth noting that although America’s path for a variety of reasons accidental as much as purposeful led to separation, and though we are no longer British, we remain closely tied to Great Britain to our mutual benefit politically, culturally, economically and militarily. Historically and in our own time we’re stronger for it. Ultimately I suspect the Scots and the world are better off that they have chosen Great Britain. Divisiveness only plays to our adversaries, particularly when it is based on naivete, vanity and irrelevancies.

Duc: A reporter’s love for the wounded people of Vietnam by Uwe Siemon-Netto

Really good. A lot of clarity. This guy, there from early 1965 through 1970, was very PO’d about the shift away from counter insurgency for a number of years, the failures and distortions of American and other media, and the willful blindness to communist criminality. Knew Bernard Fall (Street Without Joy, Hell In A Very Small Place) and other interesting people. A post-WWII refugee from Leipzig, he hated communists and hated the fact that so many people were ignoring Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh’s purposeful policy of atrocity while obsessing on incidents of American atrocity that reflected a deviation from policy.

A lot of great stories in there as well, in what is a narrative more than a polemic. Like the two newsmen, former British Army and Wehrmacht officers, who stepped in to direct ARVN Rangers during a Tet street fight in Saigon after their own officers were killed.

It’s a bitter kind of pleasure to encounter someone who lived through it whose views of what was happening and went wrong there exactly parallel the historical understanding I have developed in recent years (scroll down for more on the subject). Especially a German, the more vocal Euros usually being the ones who think Americans are the war criminals.* A lot of reminiscences about life, people and place in Saigon, Hue and in the countryside, out with the grunts and ARVNs a lot. Ended up becoming a Lutheran minister in the United States and was chaplain to a VA PTSD unit in Minnesota. As a side note, Siemon-Netto voices concern about the pending abandonment of Afghanistan. Another “Vietnam” in the making, a “Vietnam” being an American political thing that contrary to popular misconception is not a war that shouldn’t have been fought. A “Vietnam” is a war that is allowed to go off track, and is then abandoned, with the murder and enslavement of millions and empowerment of ill-intentioned regimes being the predicable result.

* Another clear-minded German, Ullrich Fichtner, writing for Der Spiegel, was all over Iraq. In the summer of 2007, he was astonished and PO’d about the talk of abandoning Iraq. He had seen the changes happening there, knew what kind of evil we had excised when we ousted Saddam, what kind of evil we were still fighting there, and knew what would happen if we pulled out. Here’s something Fichtner wrote then: Baghdad-Babylon: Hope and Despair in Divided Iraq. Nothing like German clarity, when it rears its head. As I commented at the time, Sprechen Sie Deutsch mit einer tauben Welt.

Weekly Standard reports:

Unlike some American reporters who seldom ventured anywhere outside Saigon, Siemon-Netto ranged far and wide across South Vietnam, dipping in on remote Special Forces bases and brave South Vietnamese Army units who were cutting down from trees the corpses of village elders and their children (including babies) who had been strung up, tortured, and murdered by Communist forces …

Duc is, in parts, hilariously funny, especially when narrating incidents involving foreign reporters in Vietnam or describing the perplexity of the Vietnamese encountering Western culture and social life. But it is also poignant and tragic, especially in reporting the viciousness of the Tet Offensive of February 1968, which Siemon-Netto experienced close-up in Saigon, and whose brutal and bloody aftermath he witnessed in Hue.

He describes weeping Marines coming across hundreds of women and children murdered by the Vietcong on their way to enjoy the holiday. Then, slowly, the full horror of the Tet atrocity emerging when it became clear that the Vietcong had targeted at least 3,000 South Vietnamese civilians on written execution lists even before the offensive started. When this fastidious German reporter came upon a mass grave of victims, he was astonished to find an American television crew standing around with idle cameras. The crew refused to shoot the scene because, they said, they didn’t want to film “anti-Communist propaganda.”

Because he loved the Vietnamese so much, Siemon-Netto became deeply angry that the murderous brutality of the Communist side was never fully reported by American or other Western reporters. Vo Nguyen Giap, the North Vietnamese commander, supervised a military campaign that deliberately terrorized civilians, understanding that, in Giap’s own words, “the enemy does not possess the psychological and political means to fight a long, drawn-out war.”

Unfortunately, General Giap turned out to be correct in his cynicism: Democratic societies are too vulnerable to their own doubts and critics to stomach the vigorous and costly struggle needed to defeat persistent and ruthless tyrannies.

And you know, it’s never too late to rack up another Vietnam. Again, some people think a “Vietnam” is a deadly quagmire, something to be avoided at all costs, or exited ASAP. Four decades later, the terrible truth is persistently pushing itself forward. A Vietnam is a theater conflict within a broader strategic struggle against undeniable, unmitigated evil that can and must be seen to a satisfactory conclusion. Because the alternatives are the strengthening and spread of tyranny, the weakening of democratic forces, and the murder and/or enslavement of millions in a world that becomes constrained and diminished for all of us.

Giap, dead at 102. WaPo: “Renowned” commie general won’t be down to breakfast. Adieu, murderous bastard.

Speaking of Vietnam, a reader’s choice:

Vietnam Conflict (Hammond Superior Series)

Vintage, full color, and detailed wall map including the dates, places and events that shaped the United States’ longest military conflict. Comprehensive Conflict Chronology: 1954-1975 – Full location index – Detailed inset of Saigon and vicinity – Locations of U.S. Forces in South Vietnam and Thailand in mid-1968 – Major U.S. Ground Operations Locator U.S. Air Strikes indicated – Military operation zone including Viet Cong – Major battles, 1968 Tet offensive depicted – Size 25″ x 38″

Stop everything. Whatever you’re doing:

The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe by Stephen Harding. Saw this linked at Instapundit, intrigued by the title, bought and started reading in the middle of the night. About 26 of 233 e-book pages in. What a book.

Harding starts with a war-weary American armor captain sitting on his turret in the Inn valley of Austria’s Tyrolean Alps, looking at his map and what’s ahead, thinking of the last action before this is all over — I know that guy, btw, not him specifically, but let me just say, some of my favorite people are exhausted American armor captains contemplating the last action against fanatical diehard fascist types. Harding then gives you a quick snapshot up the road, where a war-weary Wehrmacht major has taken his guys and flipped to the anti-Nazi resistance. He doesn’t care about living or dying, he’s been around that block a couple of times, but he’s trying to figure out how he is going to handle this and keep any more of his people from dying for nothing when the Americans start laying down artillery and come through blasting everything. Because there’s Waffen SS running around the place, and things are about to get ugly. Then, up in the castle known as Schloss Itter, like some Monty Pythonian nonsequitor, you’ve got “a gaggle of argumentative Frenchmen … peering over the battlements.”

It’s already about 1 a.m. in the Crittenden household, my week is over and I’ve got a black and tan in me (Mayflower Brewing Co.‘s Golden Ale and Winter Oatmeal Stout. Really good). I read those first three or four pages and I think, OK, I’m in. I dive into Harding’s brief but detailed history of Schloss Itter. It’s a romp through the Holy Roman Empire and 19th century Wagnerian Lisztomaniacal blah blah blah, culminating in the castle’s SS renovation project of 1943. Again, brief, to the point, but detailed. This guy did his homework. And he can write.

You can tell when a book is going to be good, and the wary view through the eyes of Croatian electrician/Dachau inmate Zvonimir Cuckovic, on top of Wehrmacht Maj. Josef Gangl, U.S. armor Capt. Jack Lee and those argumentative Frenchmen, makes it clear this one is going to be.

Enter one SS Totenkopfstandarte Hauptmann Sebastian Wimmer, who had already established himself as a cruelly murderous thuggish Nazi bastard of the first order (no, none of that is redundant) in Russia, Poland and Dachau before landing this plum assignment minding high-ranking Frenchmen in a fairytale Tyrolean castle.

Like I said, this is a great book. Get … it … now …

A reader’s choice:

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville. Publisher’s Weekly: “With this stunning debut, Neville joins a select group of Irish writers, including Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes and Adrian McKinty, who have reinvigorated the noir tradition with a Celtic edge. Gerry Fegan, a former IRA hit man haunted by the ghosts of the 12 people he killed, realizes the only way these specters will give him rest is to systematically assassinate the men who gave him his orders. Though those in the militant IRA underworld have written him off as a babbling drunk and a liability to the movement, they take note when their members start turning up dead.” Yeah, I’d call that a combat read. OK, I’m in.

Bruen, cited above, comments: “The Ghosts of Belfast is the book when the world finally sits up and goes WOW, the Irish really have taken over the world of crime writing. Stuart Neville is Ireland’s answer to Henning Mankell.”

Ten years later:

Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad by David Zucchino, describes the taking of Baghdad by 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, April 5-9, 2003, including the actions of 4-64 Armor taking and holding the palace district April 7-8. Not the walkover you may have been led to believe. Zucchino’s book is on a par with Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down, which btw started as a newspaper series that Zucchino edited. Zucchino rode with the assault and later exhaustively interviewed the participants, including my friends SFC Jonathan Lustig and Capt. Phillip Wolford, bold and aggressive yet thoughtful and compassionate American warfighters whose actions in those days earned them well-deserved Silver Stars. They led the assault on what later became the Green Zone on April 7.

On April 8, they fought back a counterattack at what later became known as Assassins Gate … not it turns out a traditional Iraqi designation, though it does have a Thousand and One Arabian Nights sound to it, but from association with an American unit that held it. Wikipedia, citing a book on the U.S. occupation, “The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq,” attributes it to Alpha Co., 2-6 Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, known as Assassins, which reportedly pulled security there at some point. Maybe, but Alpha Co., 4-64 Armor, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, also known as Assassins, got there first. And took it, in pitched battle.

The 24-hour news channels declared Baghdad had fallen on April 9, when some Marines pulled up in front of the international press corps’ digs at the Palestine Hotel in Firdas Square, and pulled down that statue. It was an iconic moment. Generally skipped over in that narrative is that the 3rd ID’s 2nd Brigade had already taken the city.

It was a privilege to ride with them.

Died along the way, the late, great Michael Kelly, we never got to see your take on that war. Things Worth Fighting For: Collected Writings and Martyr’s Day: Chronicle of a Small War will have to do.

re George Packer’s 2006 Assassins’ Gate, might have to read that one. Here’s the late, great Christopher Hitchens: “His book rests on three main pillars: analysis of the intellectual origins of the Iraq war, summary of the political argument that preceded and then led to it, and firsthand description of the consequences on the ground … Packer is evidently not a neoconservative, but he provides an admirably fair and lucid account of those who are … he clearly welcomes the end of Saddam while having serious doubts about the wisdom of the war, and he continually tests himself against experience.”

On how bad it got, Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War, of course. An ode to that war on a par with Herr’s Dispatches, by someone who spent years in it. Of the many military takes, a young Marine officer’s ground view of the shift in Anbar circa 2006 that I liked: Thomas P. Daly’s Rage Company on what it was like to go from fighting insurgents blindly to fighting them alongside Iraqis who had had enough.

A few more out of the invasion, Heavy Metal: A Tank Company’s Battle to Baghdad by Capt. Jason Conroy and former embed Ron Martz, documents an armor company in 1-64 Armor that also took part in the taking of Baghdad. One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nate Fick describes the Marines’ push up from the perspective of a platoon leader, and is a great companion to the more impressionistic grunt’s eye view by the embed who rode with him, Evan Wright’s Generation Kill.

A lot more Iraq down below. Meanwhile …

Some of the best choices, as usual, compliments of the readers. With the long, slow 70th anniversary of Stalingrad on us (Aug. 23, 1942-Feb 2, 1943 … when more than 100,000 Germans, Italians and Romanians surrendered, fewer than 10,000 eventually making it home), here’s one on the other Stalingrad, the one you probably have never heard of:

THE RZHEV SLAUGHTERHOUSE: The Red Army’s Forgotten 15-month Campaign against Army Group Center, 1942-1943, Svetlana Gerasimova, translated by Stuart Britton: “The total losses of the Red Army around Rzhev amounted to 2,000,000 men; the Wehrmacht’s total losses are still unknown precisely to the present day. Why was one of the greatest battles of the Second World War consigned to oblivion in the Soviet Union? Why were the forces of the German Army Group Center in the Rzhev – Viaz’ma salient not encircled and destroyed? Whose fault is it that the German forces were able to withdraw from a pocket that was never fully sealed? Indeed, are there justifications for blaming this ‘lost victory’ on G.K. Zhukov?” By a historian who lives among the graves and bunkers.

Britton’s other translation titles are also worth a look for those interested in the eastern war that bled Germany while the western Allies contained and administered the coup d’grace on the Nazi regime: Valeriy Zamulin, Demolishing the Myth: The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943: An Operational Narrative; and Boris Gorbachevsky, Through the Maelstrom: A Red Army Soldier’s War on the Eastern Front, 1942-1945.

Meanwhile, to mark that Stalingrad 70th … death toll pushing 1.5 million Germans and Russians, with the Germans for a change bearing the bulk of that … here is Antony Beevor’s classic Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943, and David M. Glantz’s trilogy To the Gates of Stalingrad: Soviet-German Combat Operations, April-August 1942, Armageddon in Stalingrad: September-November 1942 , and After Stalingrad: The Red Army’s Winter Offensive 1942-1943.

On film, the knockdown, drag-out German grunt’s eye view, Stalingrad,and from the Soviet perspective, Hollywood’s star-studded sniper thriller, Enemy At The Gates, against a masterfully wrought Rattenkrieg backdrop that does a great job of illustrating the complex architecture of Stalingrad’s urban battlefield.

For the big picture on the Eastern Front, btw, try Chris Bellamy’s Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War.

Something different:

International Space Station: 1998-2011 (all stages) (Owners’ Workshop Manual) by David Baker. A reader’s choice, well reviewed. Can’t wait for the Moon base and Mars shot editions. Hey, when are we getting around to that anyway? Don’t want to stick around here forever with our eggs all in one basket. Now if only we had some visionary leadership …

In and out of this one:

Conflict & Command: Civil War History Readers edited by John T. Hubbell, a 50th anniversary anthology from the journal Civil War History. Scholarly dissection of success, failure and the critical aspects of personality and professionalism that account for that, plus varied perspectives on disputed points of history. From the blurbs, “fifteen groundbreaking essays from Albert Castel, Gary Gallagher, Mark Neely, and others that treat military matters in a variety of contexts, including leadership, strategy, tactics …. Those with an interest in the officers and men, logistics and planning, and execution and outcomes of the battles in America’s bloodiest conflict will welcome this essential collection.” Drew Gilpin Faust, the military historian/Harvard president who recently oversaw the return of ROTC to campus, is in there, too, with “We Should Grow Too Fond of It”: Why We Love the Civil War.”

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin, good prep or post-read to a viewing of Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Great book, and an interesting approach to presidential history that is highly relevant, maybe even sets a benchmark, as we watch another cabinet shaping up in contentious times. Yeah, it’s a war read. Related, different: Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit by Guy C. Fraker. Sounds like good history on Lincoln, the young nation and the law, by someone intimate with the 8th Circuit.

The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. Will be interesting to read in concert with Kevin Maurer’s controversial No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden.

Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-1975 , George J. Veith, who reports: “In April 2001, my friend and translator, Merle Pribbenow, and I visited MG Le Minh Dao, the last commander of the ARVN 18th Division. We interviewed him about the battle of Xuan Loc, which took place in April 1975. His unit stood their ground in some very heavy combat, and our article on the battle was published in January 2004 in the ‘Journal of Military History.’ Dao was so pleased with our efforts that he begged me turn the paper into a book on the final two years of the war. He emphatically told me that the RVNAF had fought well, and they were not the corrupt cowards so often portrayed in the American media. Thus began a ten-year journey of research and writing that finally culminated in ‘Black April.’”

Possibly the greatest historical shame of our time, the abandonment of Indochina, though it’s never too late to rack up another one.

Pacific Time on Target: Memoirs of a Marine Artillery Officer, 1943-1945 , a private memoir by Christopher S. Donner, written immediately post-war on his time as a Marine artillery officer and forward observer in the Solomons, Guam and Okinawa. Rediscovered, edited and presented by Knoxville, Tenn., lawyer Jack H. McCall Jr., whose father served in the same unit, 9th Marine Defense Battalion. A Stanford grad student, teacher and married father, Donner signed up after Pearl Harbor. An unsparing look by an educated, sophisticated observer at unspeakably brutal combat against a dug-in, determined enemy. A good companion to Sledge’s With the Old Breed.

(Update: Larry Gwin … 7th Cav Ia Drang vet/author, see his book list below … gives “Pacific Time on Target” two thumbs up. He was also raving over lunch the other day about Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of her Survivors by James D. Hornfischer. I already knew the story, having interviewed in 1997 a couple of local guys, since passed, who survived that. Retired Cmdr. Preston Clark, then 80, talked about his recurring dream of the POW camps on the Kwai: “I’m in a building, and outside people are coming and going. Mostly going, and it’s looking bleak. I’m one of the last.” The ship-handling skill and audacity of Capt. Albert Rooks in a month of engagements off Java in February 1942 alone are worth the read, before you even get to the Kwai. Rooks went down with his ship in the Sunda Strait, after bringing her in as close as he could to give his men a chance to get ashore. Earned a posthumous MOH. HMAS Perth was lost in the same battle.)

Recently out:

Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying. The Secret WWII Transcripts of German POWs by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. Based on the secretly recorded conversations of German POWs in Allied custody. Der Spiegel reports: “The myth that Nazi-era German armed forces [were] not involved in war crimes persisted for decades after the war. Now two German researchers have destroyed it once and for all … the material [they] have uncovered in British and American archives is nothing short of sensational … ” Given the Teutonic propensity for know-it-all hectoring, a little German myth-destroying couldn’t hurt. This one offers, as a Die Zeit commentator notes, a window into the “mental history of the Wehrmacht.” Not a pretty picture, but a fascinating one. (Update: a MACV Psyops pal found this one too harsh a read, it’s now in the hands of a MACV forward observer pal, we’ll see what he says.)

Another from the great Antony Beevor, going big picture this time on The Second World War. Looking forward to this one from the author of Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege 1942-1943, The Fall of Berlin 1945, and D-Day: The Battle for Normandy. Masterful at moving from tight grunt-level focus to the inner workings of high command to bird’s eye strategic view; at shifting from horror to stats and back; at putting his readers all over complex, large-scale battlefields as best words can, while taking battles apart and putting them back together again like … messy … chaotic … clockwork; we’ll see how he does on a global scale.

Max Hastings’ recent take re same, Inferno: The World at War 1939-1945. Tends to come at his with a little more attitude. See review of Retribution: The Battle for Japan 1944-1945 below. Still need to read his Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945.

In the news:

Story of a Secret State by Jan Karski. Karski recently received a posthumous Medal of Freedom from the president, whose regrettable remark at the award event about a “Polish death camp” resulted in an international flap. I interviewed Karski 27 years ago, then in his 70s but still an impressive figure, every inch the former Polish diplomat, artillery officer, resistance operative and Georgetown prof, still doing his life’s work, spreading the word about the Holocaust. The book is a fascinating and disturbing trip through the fall of Poland, briefly into the hands of the SS, into both the Polish underground and Poland’s separate Jewish underground — which got him into the Warsaw ghetto and into a rail transfer station for the Belzec death camp disguised as a Ukrainian guard. Out of occupied Europe, he reported to Churchill and FDR. (Glad to have the 1944 first edition up on the shelf, along with first editions of WWII classics like Ernie Pyle’s 1943 Here is Your War and Richard Tregakis’ 1943 Guadalcanal Diary. Though those guys and Karski are in different ballparks.)

RIP Paul Fussell, 88, died May 23, 2012. World War II infantryman, author of Thank God for the Atom Bomb, The Great War and Modern Memory, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic and others. A great writer, educated and made uncompromising by bitter experience in combat.

RIP John Keegan, 1934-2012. Sandhurst lecturer, Telegraph defense analyst, military historian. See below for an extensive Keeganography.

Some recent readers’ choices:

Time Patrol, Poul Anderson. Liberty’s Exiles: The Loss of America and the Remaking of the British Empire, Maya Jasanoff. Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill, Richard Ketchum. The Road to Serfdom, F.A. Hayek. The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, Jonah Goldberg. Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, Siegfried Sassoon. Island in the Sea of Time, S.M. Stirling.

Wildly popular, with good reason:

Anabasis: The March Up Country, Xenophon. The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, John Vaillant. The Village, Bing West. The Conquest Of Gaul, Julius Caesar. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, Nathaniel Philbrick. A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam, Lewis Sorley, more relevant than ever. And of course, Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser. (reviews below).

In other business, how I’m now watching movies, TV: Roku. Don’t forget the HDMI cables, and if you have a cable box, you’ll need one of these.

Also, for summer fun in the North River and coastal environs, just acquired: Kwik Tek Travel Kayak Deluxe 12 ft 2 person. I’ve used a variety inflatables over the years, kayaking, whitewater rafting, scuba diving. Inflatable kayaks have the advantage of being cheaper than their hard-shell cousins, and totally portable, no rack, no heavy lifting required. Here are some other options: Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak with Pro Package and Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Inflatable Kayak. Like the look of this one: Sevylor Inflatable Colorado Hunting and Fishing Canoe, 2-Person. These things look cool, too: Sevylor QuickPak Covered Sit-On-Top Kayak.

Back to books:

Tent Life in Siberia by George Kennan. Back into this timeless, exuberant, wry, often hilarious memoir of an 1866 survey of a prospective telegraph route across Siberia, ultimately rendered pointless not just by the wretched conditions but by the success of the competing transAlantic cable project. First read this 25 years ago, still great, and a good companion to The Tiger (see below).

No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah by Bing West. Another classic of war reportage from a combat veteran who keeps going back. (See below for more re West. Good companions to this, offering grunt’s eye views on the fight in Anbar and how things shifted there, are Rage Company, Blood Stripes and House to House, as well as West’s own Strongest Tribe.

Into Dust and Fire: Five Young Americans Who Went First to Fight the Nazi Army Rachel S. Cox. An ode to a dead uncle. Robert Cox, brother of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, was a Harvard senior in May 1941 when he decided to join the British Army to fight for freedom, a journey that ended in combat in Tunisia. A lot of dead uncles out there. My own, RAAF Flt. Sgt. Philip Crittenden, got it “in flying battle” over Belgium in October 1941. Excellent, highly detailed reportage and unsentimental writing, this book’s on a par with Thomas Childers’ Wings Of Morning, on his own uncle’s ill-fated B-24 crew.

Historical ironies: Cox served in the King’s Royal Rifles, originally raised in the French and Indian War as the Royal American Regiment. (see Conquered into Liberty below). He died in service of the king and world freedom on Patriots Day 1943, the 168th anniversary of Lexington and Concord, when Americans took up arms against their king, and bled, at the crack of terrible dawn.

The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling. Thank you, Glenn Reynolds. Your “10 Years Ago on Instapundit” feature led to this 2002 review:

The Peshawar Lancers, an alternate-history romp featuring crazed Wahabbi assassins, murderous Afghan tribesmen, deep-cover death cults, and some very subtle Harry Flashman allusions …. One interesting aspect to the book, which must have been entirely completed before 9/11, is when a character expresses shock that anyone would be surprised by a group of bystanders rushing to attack a suicide bomber. That’s what one does, isn’t it?

Gotta find out how anything remotely related to Flashman can be subtle.

Conquered into Liberty: Two Centuries of Battles along the Great Warpath that Made the American Way of War by Eliot Cohen, Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, former adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Cohen argues the wars fought up and down the Albany-Quebec route over three centuries between Americans, British and the French defined the persistent strategies, tactics, motives and excuses of American warfare. The case could be made that the conventional and unconventional land warfare, plus some key naval battles, fought over this ground in several wars, defined America.

In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia Ronald H. Spector. The war that didn’t end in 1945, in five Asian nations previously occupied by Japan. Examination of a fascinating period, going deep on a topic we all know in bits and pieces.

The Four Nations Frank Welsh. Been diving in and out of this over the past few years, always worth coming back to. A comprehensive political, economic, military and cultural/ethnic history of the British Isles, with myth-busting. With a lot of gritty detail on who was killing who, and why.

The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa: With E. D. Swinton’s “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift” Michael L. Burgoyne, Albert J. Marckwardt. A reimagining/update of Swinton’s classic lessons-learned, how not to be a tactical moron primer.

The Gun NYT war scribbler/former Marine officer C.J. Chivers’ history, sociology, etc., of the AK 47.

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival John Vaillant. Really good. A page turner. My daughter stole it from me, I had to steal it back. A tale of issues between the locals and the local tigers in Russia’s Far East. A recent history of the region, the natural, economic and political disaster that was perestroika, plus an interesting examination of cautious, respectful relations between those two super-predators, humans and big cats, from prehistory through the present.

Ha, I remember the time I startled a tiger. True story … some other time.

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II Mitchell Zuckoff. “A lost world, man-eating tribesmen, lush impenetrable jungles, stranded American fliers (one of them a dame with great gams, for heaven’s sake), a startling rescue mission. … ” says one blurber. A grueling, deadly sort of a romp.

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn Nathaniel Philbrick. The latest retelling of the now-legendary epic is another great one from a historian who, as he did in Mayflower, goes deep on the individuals involved and the choices they made … eschewing victimology, demonization and assorted cultural preconceptions in favor of weighing historic characters in context, on their own merits and flaws … as well as strategic, tactical and logistical issues, down to weaponry, rates of fire, ammo problems and day-of-battle improvisations. Clarity thanks to maps. A lot of firsthand accounts from both sides.

Big takeaway: what a grandiosely petty tragedy, the product of a historic unhappy confluence and clash of towering egos, narrow agendas and astonishing ineptitude with the troopers and Indians paying for it. Terrible irony abounds, Philbrick holds, in what was ultimately a disaster for the victor who wanted to avoid a fight, and a successful martyrdom for the defeated blunderer.

(For the favorite combat reads of a veteran of another bad day in 7th Cav’s history, Ia Drang vet Larry Gwin, see below.)

Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 Max Hastings. A narrative of the war against Japan, with broad strategic sweep, plus tight focus, including a lot on some lesser known corners of the war, the misery experienced in those theaters and the personalities and interests that drove them, for better or worse. A must-read for understanding that war, expecially with all the handwringing anti-A-bomb revisionism out there lately.

Quartered Safe Out Here George MacDonald Fraser. The Flashman author’s memoir of combat in Burma in World War II. With moments of terror and hilarity at full Flashman level, plus great characters, Fraser’s examination of what it is like as a mental and physical experience to move forward into fire, see men drop around you, and engage in close-quarters combat may answer some questions for people who have not experienced this, and will sound familiar to those who have.

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam Lewis Sorley. The second half of the Vietnam War, pre-Tet to the bitter end. Told at a high level, focusing on the struggles and successes of Gen. Creighton Abrams and Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker in their dealings with U.S. and Vietnamese pols and brass. It tells the terrible tale of everything that went right, and how it was allowed to go wrong. Excellent companion to Bing West’s The Village, which does the same at ground level. Could change your view of that war. A useful mirror on our own times. (Apropos of nothing, Abrams’ son Rob and I were in the 6th grade together at International School Bangkok. I later rode into Iraq with the 3rd ID, which at last check, Robert Abrams now commands. Small world.)

A Voyage to the South Sea … Lt. William Bligh’s own account of the Bounty mutiny, the preceeding voyage to collect breadfruit in Tahiti and the subsequent epic small-boat transit to Batavia. For those who like original source material, this Penguin version includes court transcripts from Edward Christian’s legal efforts to clear his brother Fletcher Christian’s name. Here’s Caroline Alexander’s exhaustively researched 2004 The Bounty, and Nordhoff and Hall’s classic Bounty Trilogy.

The Village, Bing West. A beautifully written narrative of a Vietnam war success, the Marine Corps’ Combined Action Platoons, that is highly relevant to understanding today’s counterinsurgency efforts. May be some of the clearest, most effective prose I’ve ever read. Instructive, inspiring, tragic. (High on my next-read list, West’s The Strongest Tribe. And he has a new one out that reportedly takes a counterintuitively dim view of the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan: The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan.)

Goodbye, Darkness, William Manchester. A World War II Marine’s return to the Pacific 33 years later. Manchester uses his quest to exorcise his own demons as a vehicle for a highly personalized infantryman’s history of the war in the islands.

Anabasis, Xenophon. Remarkable tale of 10,000 Greek mercenaries in a jam in Mesopotamia circa 400 B.C., forced to fight their way out via the Black Sea after a battle on the approaches to Babylon goes badly wrong. I don’t know why that sounds so familiar. Reads like it all happened yesterday. (I especially like the bit when they arrive at a Greek colony on the Black Sea to a cold welcome, and Xenophon tells the Geeek colonists who have shut their gates: “See those 8,500 nasty-looking mercenaries behind me? They’ve just fought their way through 500 miles of barbarians, who were a lot tougher than you look to be. So … we can do this the easy way or we can do it the hard way. Your choice.”) I also don’t know why this movie hasn’t been made yet. The Warriors, 1979 cult classic, does it as an NYC gang war, which apparently is being remade for release this year as an LA gang war. What’s wrong with doing a faithful sword-and-sandals epic, I don’t know.

Conquest of Gaul, Julius Caesar. That guy could write, in addition to excelling at kicking Gallic ass and pretty much everything else he set himself to. The brief true tale of the centurions Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo BTW is every bit as good as the elaborate, entirely fictionalized tale of these two rogues in HBO’s Rome. Better, actually. “Rome” is good fun and great film, but don’t use it as a study guide for your history final.

The Autobiography of Sgt. William Lawrence, 40th Foot, 1807-1815. Much of this dictated memoir revolves around scrounging for food, marching, the lash, etc., with periodic horrors such as being tapped for a “forlorn hope” — first through breached walls in Spain — and the infantry squares at Waterloo.

A couple of fave rereads, two from war correspondents: The Forever War by Dexter Filkins, a great NYT war correspondent. And Dispatches, by Michael Herr. They take will take you on strange, often disturbing but always insightful rides deep inside their wars, Iraq and Vietnam, respectively.

One bit of unfinished business: Sebastian Junger’s WAR is a good book. In fact, it’s a great book. I’m sorry I dissed it based on a former paratrooper Afghan vet’s bad review and my own objections to the title. Memo to self: don’t judge a book by its cover. That said, the title is a tad overreaching. Organized warfare had been going on for several millennia before this book came out. But Junger tells a compelling, insightful tale of long-duration combat at a small, remote outpost in the Korengal Valley in 2007, and the inevitable price the participants pay. The film from the same project, Restrepo … well, here’s the household teenage military historian’s one-word review:


“Restrepo” was what made me crack that book. Glad I did. Re the flick, put me down for “well-shot, neatly edited, unadorned, heart-wrenching, inspiring.” And the kid’s right … raw. Thanks, Junger and Tim Hetherington, for these efforts. RIP Tim, dead in Libya April 20, 2011, along with Getty Images shooter Chris Hondros, doing what they loved.

On a lighter note, for another unforgiving vision of war: Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino rewrites the ending to World War II, masterfully, with a lot of inserted cinephile elements, of course. In fact, the whole thing is a cinephile’s Nazi death fest. The first 15 minutes are gripping, film history. So are the next 138. You can call it war porn or a cartoon. But give yourself over to Tarantino’s world. By the end you’ll think that’s actually how it went. As with another great imagining of war, Apocalypse Now, grotesque and exaggerated fantasy feels more like the real thing than straight doc or drama sometimes. Maybe because of the fundamentally grotesque, exaggerated qualities of war that straight doc or drama rarely capture. (See Restrepo for a magnificant exception.)

Reader MikeHu offers a headsup on what sounds like a fascinating film project: “Theirs is the Glory,” a Market Garden depiction filmed in 1945 at Arnhem with British “Red Devil” para vets and Dutch civilians who had participated in the real deal a year earlier. It’s included in this relatively cheap 4-disc collection of WWII classics. Here’s Wikipedia on the film, which was directed by a WWI Irish Rifles vet of Gallipoli.

Your purchases via the links help support my e-reading habit, at no additional cost to you. Per request of a former Vietnam doorgunner pal, plus others who keep clicking into cached pages, the best of the site’s booklists follow:

A COMBAT VET’S READING LIST compiled by our mutual friend, Larry Gwin, former XO of Alpha Co., 2/7 Cav at the Ia Drang and author of Baptism, a Vietnam Memoir:

The American Revolution:

1776, by David McCullough

The Winter Soldiers, Saratoga, and Decisive Day, by Richard M. Ketchum

Rabble in Arms, by Kenneth Roberts

The Civil War:

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara

The Last Full Measure, by Jeff Shaara

The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane

Army of the Potomac Trilogy, by Bruce Catton

Gettysburg, by Stephen W. Sears

Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

World War I:

Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, by Siegfried Sassoon

Good-Bye to All That, by Robert Graves

All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell

World War II:

The Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer

The Cruel Sea, by Nicholas Monsarrat

The Thin Red Line, by James Jones

The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer

D-Day, by Stephen E. Ambrose

Citizen Soldiers, by Stephen E. Ambrose

Goodbye Darkness, by William Manchester

With the Old Breed, by E.B. Sledge

A Bridge Too Far, by Cornelius Ryan

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, by James D. Hornfischer

Wings Of Morning, by Thomas Childers

Stalingrad, and The Fall of Berlin 1945, by Antony Beevor


Chosin, by Eric Hammel

The Coldest War, by James Brady

The Coldest Winter, by David Halberstam


Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu, by Bernard B. Fall

A Bright Shining Lie, by Neil Sheehan

Dispatches, by Michael Herr

We were Soldiers Once…And Young, by Hal Moore and Joe Galloway

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

Other Wars/Classics:

The Iliad, by Homer

The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great, by Steven Pressfield

The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan (Ireland, 1776)

War and Peace, by Count Leo Tolstoy

Moscow 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March, by Adam Zamoyski

Black Hawk Down, by Mark Bowden

The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins

Another 7th Cav Ia Drang vet reached back into his unit’s history:

Son of the Morning Star, by Evan S. Connell

Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors, by Stephen Ambrose

Here’s another Nam combat vet’s addition:

Achilles in Vietnam, by Jonathan Shay

Two more Nam vets add:

King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict, by Eric Schultz

Paul Revere’s Ride, by David Fischer

Dak To, by Edward F. Murphy

The Long Gray Line, by Rick Atkinson

A Vietnam Psyops vet adds:


Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible, by John McManus

The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of WWII’s Most Decorated Platoon, by Alex Kershaw

Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission, by Hampton Sides


The Cat from Hue, by John Laurence

Chickenhawk, by Robert Mason


Generation Kill, by Evan Wright

In the Company of Soldiers, by Rick Atkinson

House to House, by David Bellavia


A big shout out re Herr, Filkins, Sajer, Fall, Antony Beevor, Childers, all excellent must-reads of war. Childers in particular, with his tribute to absent uncles. Herr and Filkins, with their generational odes to war and warriors, and what happens when you go along for that ride. Here’s my own quick list omitting those already listed above:

The Jewish War, by Flavius Josephus

Harold and William: The Battle for England, A.D. 1064-1066, by Benton Rain Patterson

Henry V, by William Shakespeare

Every Man Will Do His Duty: An Anthology of Firsthand Accounts from the Age of Nelson, edited by Dean King

The Battle: A New History of Waterloo, by Alessandro Barbero (My review here, with a little about Gwin and company.)

Retreat from Kabul: The Catastrophic British Defeat in Afghanistan, 1842, Patrick Macrory (basis of the first Flashman novel)

Here Is Your War, by Ernie Pyle

The Face of War , by Martha Gellhorn

Guadalcanal Diary, by Richard Tregaskis

Fighter Squadron at Guadalcanal, by Max Brand.

Behind Bamboo, by Rohan Rivett

Five Years to Freedom, by James N. Rowe

Thunder Run, by David Zucchino. A battlefield acquaintance, who wrote the definitive, authoritative account of the taking of Baghdad in April 2003.

Martyr’s Day, by Michael Kelly, another battlefield acquaintance. Also, not exactly a war book, Things Worth Fighting For, edited by Max Kelly, his widow.

One Bullet Away, by Nate Fick

Blood Stripes, by David Danelo

A Terrible Love of War, by James Hillman

And for a good time, read:

Holidays in Hell, by P.J. O’Rourke

All of the Flashman novels, by George MacDonald Fraser, starting with this one.


Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae was not the source of the great CGI-enhanced film 300. That sprung whole from 300, the illustrated novel by Frank Miller.

On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Vol. Inf. Regt. led the assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. The all-black regiment and its white officers were decimated, as depicted in the 1989 film Glory. Reading list:

Where Death and Glory Meet: Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry by Russell Duncan

A Brave Black Regiment, a first person account of Captain Luis F. Emilio

Undying Glory: The Story of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment by Clinton Cox

Hope & Glory: Essays on the Legacy of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, Martin H. Blatt

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, upon which the film Apocalypse Now is based.

A DVDography of the great Michael Caine, Korean war combat vet, self-made man and star of some of the best war flicks ever made: The Man Who Would Be King, The Last Valley, Zulu, A Bridge Too Far, Battle of Britain, The Quiet American, The Eagle Has Landed, Too Late the Hero.

Band of Brothers : E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, by Stephen Ambrose, and Band of Brothers, the fine HBO series.

Das Boot: The Boat by Lothar-Günther Buchheim, produced: Das Boot – The Director’s Cut and Das Boot – The Original Uncut Version, director Wolfgang Petersen, starring Jürgen Prochnow.

Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, Nechama Tec, researched history on which Defiance, the recent film of Jewish resistance, is based.

HBO’s The Pacific. Based on With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge and Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie.

Speaking of the Pacific, some more flicks followed by a lot of books: A Town Like Alice, Empire of the Sun, King Rat, Bridge on the River Kwai, Hell In The Pacific (Psycho-drama starring Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune. What else do you need to know?), Ambush Bay, They were Expendable, Report from the Aleutians, The Airmen and the Headhunters.

The PACIFIC WAR book list:

Pete Ellis: An Amphibious Warfare Prophet, 1880-1923 Dirk Anthony Ballendorf

The Pacific War: 1941-1945 John Costello

“And I Was There”: Pearl Harbor And Midway — Breaking the Secrets Adm. Edwin T. Layton with Roger Pineau and John Costello

Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 or why they dropped the bomb on the Japanese, by Max Hastings

Pacific War, 1931-1945 Saburo Ienaga. A view from Japan.

Pearl Harbor and the Coming of the Pacific War: A Brief History with Documents and Essays Akira Iriye

God’s Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor Donald M. Goldstein

Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of her Survivors James D. Hornfischer.

Given Up for Dead: America’s Heroic Stand at Wake Island Bill Sloan

Tears In The Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath Michael and Elizabeth Norman

We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese Elizabeth Norman

Beyond Courage: One Regiment Against Japan, 1941-1945 Dorothy Cave

The Coral Sea 1942: The first carrier battle Mark Stille

Miracle at Midway by Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon

Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway Jonathan B. Parshall and Anthony Tully

Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan, 1942-1945 Barrett Tillman

Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943 Bruce Gamble

War correspondent Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary

Into the Valley: a Skirmish of the Marines, by John Hersey, also published before Guadalcanal was over.

Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone James Brady

Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle Richard B. Frank

South Pacific Destroyer: The Battle for the Solomons from Savo Island to Vella Gulf Russell Sydnor Crenshaw

Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific R. V. Burgin

Pacific War Diary, 1942-1945: The Secret Diary of an American Sailor by James J. Fahey

Tales of the South Pacific James A. Michener

How They Won the War in the Pacific: Nimitz and His Admirals Edwin Palmer Hoyt

Strong Men Armed: The United States Marines Against Japan Robert Leckie

Allies Against the Rising Sun: The United States, the British Nations, and the Defeat of Imperial Japan Nicholas Evan Sarantakes

Australian Commandos: Their Secret War against the Japanese in WWII A. B. Feuer

American Commando: Evans Carlson, His WW II Marine Raiders, and America’s First Special Forces Mission John F. Wukovits

Shadows In The Jungle: The Alamo Scouts Behind Japanese Lines In World War II Larry Alexander

Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945 Field Marshal “Bill” Slim

Beyond the Chindwin: An Account of Number Five Column of the Wingate Expedition into Burma 1943 Brigadier Bernard Fergusson

The Wild Green Earth Brigadier Bernard Fergusson

Prisoners of Hope Michael Calvert

The Road Past Mandalay John Masters

Quartered Safe Out Here George MacDonald Fraser

Go For Broke: The Nisei Warriors of World War II Who Conquered Germany, Japan, and American Bigotry C. Douglas Sterner

Yankee Samurai: The Secret Role of Nisei in America’s Pacific Victory Joseph D. Harrington

Foo : A Japanese-American Prisoner of the Rising Sun : The Secret Prison Diary of Frank ‘Foo’ Fujita by Frank Fujita

Through the Valley of the Kwai by Ernest Gordon

The War Diaries of “Weary” Dunlop: Java and the Burma-Thailand Railway, 1942-45 by Sir Edward Dunlop

Surrender and Survival The Experience of American POW’s in the Pacific 1941-1945 by E. Bartlett Kerr

Bougainville, 1943-1945: The Forgotten Campaign Harry A. Gailey

The Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea–The Forgotten War of the South Pacific James Campbell

MacArthur’s Jungle War: The 1944 New Guinea Campaign Stephen R. Taaffe

Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians

A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight Robert J. Mrazek

We Were Pirates: A Torpedoman’s Pacific War James Shell

Thunder Below! The USS Barb Revolutionizes Submarine Warfare in World War II by MOH recipient Eugene Fluckey.

Islands of Hell: The U.S. Marines in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 Eric Hammel

Bloody Tarawa: The 2d Marine Division, November 20-23, 1943 Eric Hammel

Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa Joseph H. Alexander

One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa John F. Wukovits

D-Day in the Pacific: The Battle of Saipan Harold J. Goldberg

Last Man Standing: The 1st Marine Regiment on Peleliu, September 15-21, 1944 Richard D. Camp

Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944–The Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific War Bill Sloan

With The Old Breed: At Pelelieu and Okinawa Eugene B. Sledge

Iwo Jima: Portrait of a Battle: United States Marines at War in the Pacific Eric Hammel

So Sad to Fall in Battle: An Account of War Based on General Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s Letters from Iwo Jima Kumiko Kakehashi

Operation Iceberg : The Invasion and Conquest of Okinawa in World War II Gerald Astor

Danger’s Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her Maxwell Kennedy

The Ultimate Battle: Okinawa 1945–The Last Epic Struggle of World War II Bill Sloan

Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb George Feifer

Last Chapter, by Ernie Pyle. A collection of Pyle’s Pacific columns: B-29 crews in the Marianas, a light carrier, landing on Okinawa with the Marines.

In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors Doug Stanton

Enola Gay: The Bombing of Hiroshima Gordon Thomas & Max Morgan Witts

Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan J. Samuel Walker

Thank God for the Atom Bomb Paul Fussell

In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia Ronald H. Spector

In alternate Pacific War history:

The Burning Mountain: A Novel of the Invasion of Japan Aldred Coppel

Rising Sun Victorious: An Alternate History of the Pacific War Peter G. Tsouras


Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War, Chris Bellamy

Story of a Secret State Jan Karski

LIFE Magazine, Aug. 28, 1944: POLAND by Jan Karski; PHOTOGRAPHIC ESSAY: Saipan

Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust E. Thomas Wood

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany William Shirer

The Second World War Winston Churchill

Quest for Decisive Victory: From Stalemate to Blitzkrieg in Europe, 1899-1940 Robert Citino

Path to Blitzkrieg: Doctrine and Training in the German Army, 1920-39 Robert Citino

Poland 1939: The Birth Of Blitzkrieg Steven Zaloga

Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, And Atrocity Alexander B. Rossino

BLITZKRIEG UNLEASHED: The German Invasion of Poland 1939 Richard Hargreaves

Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe by Robert Gellately.


The Confident Hope of a Miracle: The True Story of the Spanish Armada by Neil Hanson.

The Armada by Garrett Mattingly.

Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage by Stephen Budiansky

Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England by Robert Hutchinson

Martyrs and Murderers: The Guise Family and the Making of Europe by Stuart Carroll.


What does that have to do with us Yanks? Short answer, a lot: Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America David Hackett Fischer.

English Civil War proper:

God’s Fury, England’s Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars Michael Braddock

CROMWELL’S WAR MACHINE: The New Model Army 1645 – 1660 Keith Roberts

The King and the Gentleman: Charles Stuart and Oliver Cromwell, 1599-1649 Derek A. Wilson

A Life Of The Great Lord Fairfax, Commander-In-Chief Of The Army Of The Parliament Of England (1870) Clements Robert Markham

God’s Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland Michael O’Siochru


1491, New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, Charles Mann’s mythbuster. What the Americas were like, what happened when the Europeans arrived, and who is responsible for that.

Mayflower, a Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick, another mythbuster that goes deep on relations between the English and the Wampanoag, Narragansett, etal, from the Pilgrims through King Phillip’s War, including Benjamin Church’s innovative development of hybrid English-Indian units and tactics, the birth of modern counterinsurgency.

Letters from Mexico Hernan Cortes

The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico Miguel Leon-Portillo

The Discovery And Conquest Of Mexico Bernal Diaz Del Castillo

History of the Conquest of Mexico & History of the Conquest of Peru William H. Prescott

The story of Cortes and Moctezuma is an epic that could use a cinematic update, in the right hands. Meanwhile, some viewing: Apocalypto, the Mel Gibson masterpiece.

In pre-Columbian news:

Vikings : The North Atlantic Saga edited by William Fitzhugh and Elizabeth Ward, National Museum of Natural History

Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man and the First Americans by James C. Chatters.

Skull Wars Kennewick Man, Archaeology, And The Battle For Native American Identity by David Hurst Thomas.


The History: An Account of the Persian War on Greece, Including the Naval Battle at Salamis, the Battle With Athens at Marathon, And With Sparta at Thermopylae Herodotus

Thermopylae: The Battle For The West Ernle Bradford.

The Greco-Persian Wars Peter Green.

The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece — and Western Civilization Barry S. Strauss.

Why the West Has Won: Carnage and Culture from Salamis to Vietnam Victor Davis Hanson.

Anabasis, Xenophon, the March Upcountry.

The Campaigns of Alexander Arrian.

Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography Peter Green.

Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban Stephen Tanner.

The Conquest of Gaul Julius Caesar.

The Jewish War, by Flavius Josephus


The Book of War: 25 Centuries of Great War Writing

The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme

The Mask of Command

A History of Warfare

The First World War

The Second World War

Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris; June 6 – Aug. 5, 1944; Revised

The Battle For History: Re-fighting World War II

Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America

The American Civil War: A Military History

The Iraq War: The Military Offensive, from Victory in 21 Days to the Insurgent Aftermath

The Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare

Intelligence in War: The value–and limitations–of what the military can learn about the enemy

Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda

War and Our World

Winston Churchill: A Life

Collins Atlas of World War II

An Illustrated History of the First World War


Filkins’ The Forever War has been favorably compared to Michael Herr’s Dispatches, and belongs on the shelf next to it. Not so much the lyrical ode to PTSD as Dispatches is, more a matter-of-fact, practical guide to how you get it.

From one of the best war correspondents of our time, the Robert Kaplan shelf:

Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond

The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War

Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus

The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy

Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History

Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos

LTC David Kilcullen, Australian Army ret’d., who helped write the book on modern counterinsurgency, with the book on modern counter-insurgency: The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One

U.S. Army/U.S. Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual Gen. David Petraeus etal.

The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics and the Endgame in Iraq, Bing West

Rage Company, by Thomas Daly. A groundview of the early stages of the surge in Anbar province.

Kaboom, by Matt Gallagher. Later stages of the surge outside Baghdad.

The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army by Greg Jaffe.

Tom Ricks:

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005

The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008

Making the Corps: 10th Anniversary Edition with a New Afterword by the Author

A Soldier’s Duty: A Novel

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam by Lewis Sorley

More later …

In case you didn’t find what you were looking for:

Your purchases through the site’s links help support my reading habit. Thank you.

Topics: hasta

  Posted by Jules Crittenden at 11:00 pm Comments (30) on Monday, August 23, 2010

30 Responses to “Combat Reads”

  1. hosco6 Says:

    Jules, thanks for everything. This has been a great run.


  2. sarah rolph Says:

    You have definitely influenced people! And for the good.

    Thank you so much for a wonderful blog. It has indeed been real. If virtual.

    So who’s hosting the Coping With the Departure of Jules support group?

  3. saveliberty Says:

    Thank you for everything, Jules! We’ve enjoyed reading your blog at The Right Reasons and wish you the very best!

  4. sarah rolph Says:

    Are you getting rid of the archives?

    Publishing a book, maybe?!

  5. Bill Befort Says:

    Far though I am from Boston, your weblog has been a regular and much appreciated read for years. Thanks for the good work; you’ll be sorely missed this election season. Take your vitamins, and be careful with that back.

  6. jhstuart Says:

    Well done and thanks for the time devoted to this project. The effort was enlightening.

  7. RebeccaH Says:

    Your posts will be missed. Good luck for all your future endeavors.

  8. MikeHu Says:

    Jules – Your blog has been one of the first that I check on any given day, for quite awhile. Thanks for all the great information, and personal and fresh insights. Also, I greatly appreciate your constant and unflagging support of our soldiers, airmen, swabbies, and Marines, and our wonderful veterans. The warmonger’s bookshelf has been great, and has helped me find many a great read. Good luck with solving your back problems, and in all your future work. – Mike Huggins

  9. goo Says:

    You are going to be sorely missed. I loved your style of writing. You do have a way with words! I could not wait to read you everyday. Even bought a few books based on your recommendation. I wish you the best. Maybe this is your Brett Favre moment and I will have the honor of reading your wit again!

    Bill Guzak

  10. spqrzilla Says:

    As Sean Connery said, “Never Say Never Again”

    hope you return in the future ’cause I’m gonna miss ya.

  11. joey Says:

    You have served us with honor, wit and insight, and there is no doubt your future endeavors will bear the same standards. Thank you for giving so freely, and all success to you and yours for whatever is to come. Onward!

  12. Grimmy Says:

    Well hell.

    Now I kinda wish I’d actually read some of your posts, rather than just jumping right into the comments.

    I’m glad I had to shoot Doppleganger when I did. With this news, he’d be having a cow now. A demon possessed mule with accounting skills, that snitches on me to the feds, having a cow in my living room. That’s something I’m glad to miss out on.

    Find something useful to do and remember, the homefront will always need its shield wall so…

    Semper Fi.

  13. Mr. Bingley Says:

    Ah nuts.

    Best of luck, Jules, and enjoy spending tons of time with your family!

  14. vermontaigne Says:

    You’ll be greatly missed. By me.

  15. JammieWearingFool Says:

    Sorry to see you go, Jules. Been great reading you over the years. Best wishes in the future.

  16. markinnewton Says:

    Missed by me as well.

    I knew Jules first from reading him in the hard copy Boston Herald and was delighted to discover his further digressions on the story behind the story. Living in liberal MA, it was great to have astute an commentator with a realistic view of the world. He gave me hope that my local community wasn’t the monoculture it seems to be.

    I particularly enjoyed the off topic essays in Forward Movement. It’s great to get a sense of the whole man.

    Jules — enjoy running across the sand dunes with the boys!

  17. redc1c4 Says:

    Vaya con Elvis!

  18. Chap Says:

    Going to miss you, brother. Let me know if I may be of service in the future. I just came back from a couple weeks all over Iraq; the situation’s fragile as hell, and Gordian knots everywhere, but we’ve got a chance, brother.

  19. Missred Says:

    i was informed that my comment “damn” was a bit too short
    well then…

  20. JohnW Says:

    That’s too bad – I really enjoyed your blog. Good military history scenery chewing. Best of luck in your future endeavors.

  21. jdgjtr Says:

    Thanks for everything, Jules.

  22. OmegaPaladin Says:

    There were only four RSS feeds I followed regularly:
    Belmont Club (Wretchard)
    Victor Davis Hanson
    Daniel Pipes
    and you, Jules.

    You were always interesting, and I hope you will link your Herald stories here so we can keep up. I wish your family the best – I hope your wife’s writing career takes off, and your kids continue to do well. May you be successful and happy in all things.

  23. Dave Surls Says:

    Sorry to hear you aren’t going to be blogging here anymore. Your voice will be missed.

    Hope to see you elsewhere on the www and in newsprint, if that medium survives.

    Good luck.


  24. Clag Says:

    Sorry to hear you are winding this site up – all the best for the future. I really enjoyed your writing.

  25. heidegger Says:

    I understand both the constant drain and strain on precious inner resources entailed by a) following the news cycles and b) writing a bit or a lot about them. I honor the instinct to get away from these infernal machines and keyboards.

    I will keep a weathereye open for your reappearance where- and when-ever!

    Kick back, read more poetry, listen to more music, pay closer attention to those you love.


    Bob Bernstein down in Little Rhody

  26. The_Real_JeffS Says:

    It was one heckuva run, Jules, and a good one at that. I very much appreciate your commentary and thoughts.

    Thank you, and God speed to you and your family.

  27. Grimmy Says:

    So, dude, what’s up?

    Read, seen, heard anything interesting or stupid, or interestingly stupid enough that you just gotta say something about it?

    I’m sure you have, haven’t you. Admit it. Then tell us about it.

  28. sarah rolph Says:

    Looks like he’s still at the beach or something.

    Hope it’s nothing serious. Should we start worrying? Will that yield a comment? Or will it just keep him away? Remind him of what a pain blogging is, all those whiny readers with expectations….

    Well, Grimmy, what are you reading? I read Portofino recently. Nice little novel. Nonfiction, I’m appreciating Living Your Unlived Life; that’s Jungian-influenced self-helpy stuff for midlife people. Start-Up Nation, about Israel, is terrific–highly recommended.

    What are people doing on Saturday? I don’t think I’m going to the rally. Probably just take a long walk. I already feel sad.

    Man, this wake is really dead. Can we get another round or something?

  29. Elmer_Stoup Says:

    Enjoyed your blog. Guess all good things must come to an end.

  30. MikeHu Says:

    Jules – I misplaced your email address, so I’ll post this here on the odd chance you might check this some time…. Probably, this will be for yourself and any like-minded folks, and probably the WWII historian in your family. I just saw a WWII movie on Netflix that I had never heard of before, but one that was basically incredible. It’s titled “Theirs is the Glory” and it’s about the British “Red Devils” at Arnhem during Operation Market Garden in Sept. 1944. What’s interesting about it is that it was filmed in 1945 at the actual Arnhem locations with surviving Red-Devils portraying themselves and their fallen comrades ( AND
    It is a recreation of the battle that also uses pertinent film clips – BUT, I have to believe that there has been no “recreation” like this ever since. There are no real actors in this, but veterans (and dutch citizens who “were there”) whose main purpose for this was apparently to honor their fallen comrades. I’m no soldier, but this has a verisimilitude that is awfully hard to quibble with, even with the “stiff upper lip, will get ‘em, Johnny” attitudes that prevail throughout (and I’m convinced these guys were probably like that in real life, too). Anyway, well worth a look – available for viewing on Netflix “Instant Queue.” This is a definite for “the list”

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