Category Archives: 20th Century

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Book Review: D-Day – Minute-by-Minute by Jonathan Mayo

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Next Week is the 70th Anniversary of D-Day the Allied invasion of Europe.  I would guess that most people don’t think about it and if they do the picture that comes to their mind is a scene from Saving Private Ryan.  The movie gives a good idea but the words of those who were there are priceless gems in my opinion.

D-Day: Minute by Minute is a description of the events of D-day in the order in which they occurred taken from transcripts and interviews of those that were there.

It gives the reader a sense of the disordered perspective the average participant has in combat. All is chaos and confusion and it take courage and determination just to keep going, much less fight effectively.  It says much for the soldiers, sailors, and airman of the allied armies that they persevered despite the chaos of the landings.

The book itself is separated into three chapters that cover the period leading up to D-Day, the 5th of June, and D-Day itself.  By far the greatest portion of the book is dedicated to D-Day, 198 pages.  There is brief introduction and a postscript that details what happened to the people whose stories are told in the main narrative.  It also includes a 16 page, very tightly packed bibliography.

The minute-by-minute format is very appealing for an event as momentous as D-Day.  It gives the reader a sense of how the day played out and what I thought was more important, that the issue of whether the Allies would succeed or fail was in doubt until late in the afternoon.  One of the best things about this book is that although it focuses on retelling events from the Allied perspective it does not ignore the Germans fighting them and the recollections of several of the Normandy beach defenders are included as well.

This is an outstanding book and should be required reading in High School history classes.  I doubt that will happen though.  Everybody, whether history buff or not, should read this book.  I highly recommend it.  That it has been released near the 70th anniversary of the landings is appropriate as it gives voice to the generation that fought there and is rapidly passing away.

The House on Pooh Corner

The House on Pooh Corner

The below photo is the House at Pooh Corner (Our name) in Bosnia in the summer of 1996 as my platoon was returning to our camp after spending the day guarding some UN folks who were excavating a Mass Grave nearby.   I was deployed to Bosnia in 1996 with 3/4, later 1/4 Cavalry out of Schweinfurt, Germany.  I ran across this photo last night and decided to post it today.  I am not in the picture because I am behind the camera.

The House on Pooh Corner
The House on Pooh Corner

The picture is not very good quality because I had to scan it, digital cameras still being in the future except for the rich in 1996.  I used about 30 disposable cameras back then that I would take the pictures with and then mail them off to get developed.

Here is the story behind the name of the building. In the winter of 1995-1996 as my unit first came into the sector we did a lot of patrolling to familiarize ourselves with our AO and to keep an eye on the people to make sure they were not going to keep being stupid. As you can perhaps imagine there is not a toilet in a Bradley CFV so we had to find somewhere to do our business. Probably 40%-50% of the houses in our AO were either abandoned or partially destroyed and this house was one of the one’s that had been abandoned. We never did find out who owned it before although by the time we redeployed someone had moved in.

Well, the house got its name because it was abandoned and on a route we drove fairly often because we knew the road was un-mined. I can’t remember who first used it to take a dump but eventually everyone in our platoon had taken a dump in the house and some with christened it he House at Pooh Corner. It was ideal because it was large and still had a roof of sorts so you would not get snowed and/or rained on while inside and it was easy for the rest of the section or platoon to secure. It eventually turned into an almost regular break area for us. We also used the name as shorthand because everybody knew where the house was at so we could reference it on the radio.

I look back and find the story hilarious now and thought I would share it. This is the kind of stuff soldiers do when they are bored.

 

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Book Review: Rise of the Warrior Cop – The Militarization of America’s Police Forces

I picked up Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces because the book looked interesting and I was shocked at what happened in Boston during the search for the two bombers.  The sight of police officers kitted up like my platoon and I was in Iraq on TV pulling people out of their homes at gunpoint and then searching those homes without a warrant shocked and dismayed me.  Therefor the title of the book was at a minimum intriguing and I decided to read it.

The book itself is separated into 9 chapters in what is essentially chronological order.  There are 31 pages of endnotes by chapter and an index. The book is a history of policing in America with particular emphasis on the rise of SWAT teams since their inception in the late 60’s in Los Angeles.  While the book is obviously biased, that is to be expected from the title.  This is an advocacy book after all.  What concerned me was how well the author made and presented his case that American police departments are becoming less about fighting crime and more about becoming a quasi paramilitary force that ignores constitutional protections when convenient.

I thought that the book does make a pretty good case that police do look at citizens as the enemy.  If you have had any run ins with law enforcement recently from a traffic stop to airport security, much less had your house invaded by a SWAT team it is evident that police take an us and them mentality.  Personally, I find it amazing that SWAT teams have become so prevalent and as the book makes very clear, there is no basis for them as the vast majority of the time SWAT raids turn up no weapons, and often nothing else.

There are many examples in the book of SWAT raids gone wrong but SWAT is not the biggest of the problems detailed in the book. The biggest problem the book points out is two faceted and that is the way in which law enforcement has been politicized and how compliant courts have stood by and even encouraged law enforcement to ignore the 4th Amendment against unlawful search and seizure. Law enforcement has always been at least somewhat political but the author in m opinion, rightly  highlights how the “war on drugs” has been used to criminalize a large segment of society for victimless crimes.  Even more disturbing is the way in which judges apparently rubberstamp requests for no-knock warrants and then if something goes wrong or even the wrong house is raided neither officers nor departments are held to account.

There are situations where the use of a SWAT team and paramilitary tactics and methods are appropriate.  What this book says is not that SWAT teams need to be eliminated but that using one should be the exception and not the rule.  Mr. Balko makes a very compelling case for the overuse and abuse of both SWAT teams and no-knock warrants.  I highly recommend this book for its in-depth look at the way in which the Constitution is essentially being ignored in the pursuit of at best ill-defined law enforcement goals.

 

How History Repeats Itself

I apologize in advance for the blatantly political tone of this piece but I am flabbergasted by what I see happening on the eastern periphery of Europe and the anemic reaction to state on state aggression by the rest of the world.

I read this piece by Justin Logan from the Cato Institute this morning and was struck immediately on how similar in tone this piece is to the rhetoric of the pre-WWII America Firsters.  Is Estonia Worth a War?

I just ask myself are people so blind or so willing to seek peace at any cost that they will not stand up to tyranny until the cost of stopping it is orders of magnitude greater than if they had stood up for principle at the beginning?  The same kinds of arguments against involvement in WWII were made by isolationists in the US and appeasers abroad as Hitler’s Germany slowly re-armed and swallowed its neighbors in the years prior to WWII.

Largely the same process is in action in Russia today.  Whereas Germany felt slighted and unjustly treated after WWI modern Russia feels slighted and mistreated after the unsatisfactory (from their perspective) end to the Cold War.  It is interesting that roughly a generation passed between 1918 and 1939 and roughly a generation has passed between 1989 and 2014.  Russia was stripped of large swaths of territory in the wake of the fall of communism and Germany was stripped of territory, actually split into two separate blocks by the Danzig Corridor, in the wake of Versailles.  The German people felt they were not defeated, (hence the popularity of the stab in the back myth), while many Russians today feel that they were betrayed from within by Gorbachev and Co.  Hitler was an ideologue that fed on and amplified public perceptions of being unjustly handled by the Allies and Putin has done the same in Russia.  As Germany expanded it was only weakly opposed by the Allied powers and we are seeing the same sort of reaction in the West to Putin’s actions.

History seems to be repeating itself before our eyes as yet another European ideologue and dictator forges ahead towards war and an attempt to dominate its neighbors.  Is the West going to stand idly by and allow it to happen again until the cost of stopping it is immeasurably higher?  The stakes are higher this time around because Russia is a nuclear power.  The time to stop Putin and Russia is now and a serious demonstration of Western resolve would achieve without bloodshed what will costs thousands, if not millions of lives later on.

Has the West learned nothing from history other than that War is bad?  There are things worse than war, and if the Western leadership does not find their spine soon they will see what those things are.

 

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Book Review: No End Save Victory by David Kaiser

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War is one of

those books that at first glance looks like it is going to be one of those dry, difficult to read history books that is nothing more than a litany of dates and facts.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is an interesting and compelling account of the events in America during the 18 months prior to American entry into WWII.  Oddly, this period is mentioned in every history of the war but the actual events in the US are glossed over such that American entry into the war is painted as inevitable.  David Kaiser’s work puts that notion to rest as he details the methods and means whereby FDR led the country into war.

The review copy I received is 343 pages of text with 40 pages of notes and an index.  It is divided into 9 chronological chapters that cover the period from May, 1940 to December, 1941 and America’s entry into World War II.

The text is engaging and very well written.  What struck me most about the period was the amount of foresight by FDR in setting up and guiding the apparatus to get America ready for fighting a global war.  The strategic changes between planning for hemispheric defense and projecting American power into Europe and the pacific are dealt with extremely well.  He also makes clear the extent to which FDR had to overcome resistance from within the government and military to entry into the war while at the same time trying to hold back the more hawkish members of his Cabinet.

One of the episodes that he deals with is the development of what came to be known as the Victory Plan.  I found it refreshing that he puts to rest the myth of Major Albert C. Wedemeyer putting the Victory Plan together by himself.  He correctly identifies that the Victory Plan was a collaborative effort between the military, industry, and civilian planners.  This point is also not belabored.  Wedemeyer made his name post-war on the claims that he developed the Victory Plan almost single handedly and subsequent research has exposed that for the myth that it is.

Another thing covered very well in the book is the extent to which government had to both control and cajole industry and labor to get them behind the effort of switching from civilian to war production.  This is something that is presented as a matter of course in most histories and this book exposes that for the hard effort that it was.

Most of all, the role of FDR is highlighted as the guiding force behind American preparedness for war.  The period prior to America’s entry into World War II is very interesting because it was never a done deal that America would enter the war despite the feeling among most policy makers that war was inevitable.  All the preparation and planning would not have made a whit of difference if the American people had not committed themselves to war.  That commitment came in the wake of Pearl Harbor, but it was the planning done by FDR and the military in the months prior to Pearl Harbor that meant America was ready, or nearly ready when war did come.

I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in World War II, but especially to people who think they are familiar with America’s role in that war.  An outstanding book.