The Hattin Campaign and the Triumph of Saladin in 1187

Medieval politics make modern politics look like child’s play.  If any act from medieval times highlights this it is the Hattin Campaign of 1187 in which the entire military might of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem was destroyed because the Christians themselves collectively acted stupidly due to internal political factors in the face of an existential external threat.  The final campaign of the Kingdom of Jerusalem is best seen as an object lesson of what happens when you let internal politics direct external actions. In 1186 Guy de Lusignan became king of Jerusalem through his wife Sibylla after the death of Baldwin V while in his minority.  The coronation was … Read more…

The First Battle of Manassas – 21 July, 1861

Manassas 5

First Manassas or First Bull Run as it was called in the North was the first major battle between land forces of the Civil War.  The outcome of the battle also set the general pattern for battles in the first two years of the war. That pattern being tactical Union defeats with the Confederacy being incapable of following up on the strategic opportunities presented by their victories. Forces Involved: Union – 28,450 troops under BG Irvin McDowell Confederate – 32,230 under BG Joseph Johnston and BG P.G.T. Beauregard A key point is to remember that uniforms were not standardized on either side this early in the war. Both armies looked … Read more…

The Battle of Antietam – 17 September, 1862

Photo of the Antietam battlefield taken on the day of the battle by Alexander Gardner

The Battle of Antietam is interesting for several reasons the most important of which for me is that it is the single bloodiest day in American military history. There have been bloodier battles in American wars but no single day matches the blood spilled on those Maryland fields that early day in 1862. The Union victory at Antietam, if you can call it a victory, also provided Abe Lincoln with the opportunity to promulgate the Emancipation Proclamation. An executive act that was totally unconstitutional but that he did anyway for domestic and foreign political reasons. Antietam was the final battle of Lee’s first invasion of the North and while it … Read more…

Book Review: The Color of War: How One Battle Broke Japan and the Other Changed America by James Campbell

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the publisher for purposes of reviewing it. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] The Color of War is one of those strange history books that seems both bipolar and unified at the same time.  It is the story of the invasion of Saipan and the Port Chicago naval disaster told mostly convergently.  At first the somewhat bi-polar nature of the way the story was told was off-putting but the more I read the book the more the method made sense.  The two different but temporally convergent narratives reinforce the separation … Read more…

Book Review: Road to Valor by Aili & Andres McConnon

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the publisher for purposes of reviewing it. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] Road to Valor is the story of one of the many unsung and unremembered heroes of World War II. Gino Bartali was a prewar Italian racing champion and winner of the Tour de France.  Just about everyone has heard of Oskar Schindler and his List due to the 1993 Spielberg movie or Anne Frank.  What is less known are the thousands of others across occupied Europe that worked trying to help Jews and others that the Nazi’s … Read more…

Update on SFC Walter Taylor

Saw this update on SFC Taylor’s case yesterday and decided to add it to my page as well.  From the LA Times: Court-martial decision postponed for soldier in Afghan shooting.  His Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a Grand Jury, was held last week and now the case in in the hands of the reviewing officer.  She will review the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing and then make a recommendation to Taylor’s Brigade commander who will endorse that recommendation or not and then send it to the JMTC commander in Graf who is the General Court Martial Convening Authority.  The JMTC commander makes the final decision on whether this case should go to trial or if Taylor should face, a lesser Court Martial, administrative punishment, or even no further action.

All that being said, I would guess that at a minimum Taylor faces a Special Court Martial, probably a Special BCD.  The nature of what has been reported so far makes it clear that Taylor is being prosecute as an example to others.  Whether that is good military policy is besides the point, the army does stuff like this sometimes.  I will say that in my experience, if it does go to a Court Martial Taylor will get a fairer hearing than he would in a civilian court.  His CM Panel, the military version of a jury, will consist of people his grade or higher both officer and enlisted if he opts that, and he would be stupid not to.  The panel are people that understand the military and the pressures in combat.

I have no worries that if it goes to trial he will win.  The problem I have is that even if he wins, his career is now damaged because of the massive publicity surrounding the case.  That is something he cannot get away from.  It will also haunt him as he goes in front of a selection board for promotion.  The perception could be that he hurt the army and he could therefor later be denied promotion or even selected for elimination and the case could have nothing overt to do with it but it will always be there.  The army is a small place and institutional memory is long, especially about people who are perceived as tarnishing the Army Reputation.

Book Review: The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle by Michael Stephenson

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the publisher for purposes of reviewing it. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] Michael Stephenson’s work The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle follows somewhat in the tradition of classics such a Keegan’s The Face of Battle and Victor David Hanson’s The Western Way of War. Where it differs from these two works as that while Keegan and Hanson focus on specific battles or time periods this book aims to be a more general description of the experience of combat throughout recorded history.  In that, the book is amazingly … Read more…

A Travesty Calling for Action

In today’s edition of Stars and Stripes and the LA Times is an article about a combat engineer facing charges for actions he took in combat in Afghanistan last year.  The gist of the story is that the soldier involved shot an unarmed female in the middle of a firefight who was moving towards the rear of her vehicle.  The description of the incident from the article is here: His convoy was reeling from a roadside bomb, his fellow soldiers were engaged in combat with insurgents and a mysterious black car had just screeched to a stop in the middle of the firefight. Some nine minutes later, a black door opens. Second 1: A … Read more…

The Reality of War – Violent Death

UNidentified Corpse on the Western Front circa 1916

Today I was reading a selection of articles from Foreign Affairs magazine dealing with modern Counterinsurgency and its perceived success or failure.  One of the things that struck me about the articles and that Bing West brings out in his rebuttal to two critiques of a piece he wrote is the modern predilection for forgetting, either purposefully or not, that war is in essence about man killing man.  What should be the enduring image of war is that of a battlefield strewn with bodies after the armies have moved on such as those below. That is not the image that the modern West has of warfare though.  Instead we get … Read more…

Book Review: Why Germany Nearly Won: A New History of the Second World War in Europe by Steven D. Mercatante

[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] At first glance Why Germany Nearly Won: A New History of the Second World War in Europe is another of the rehashing’s of WWII in the East and West that have become so popular since the fall of communism in the 1990’s and the opening of previously closed Russian archives.  That first glance would be wrong.  Steven Mercatante has produced a very well written history of the war in the East that goes to the heart of why the Eastern Front is … Read more…

Book Review: The Anabasis by Xenophon

The route of Xenophons March Up Country

I read part of this work in High School over twenty years ago and decided a few weeks ago to finish reading it. Now that I am done, I wonder why I waited so long. The book was written by Xenophon, and ancient Greek soldier and general, in the late 4th Century BC. Xenophon’s account in The Anabasis is one of the first true (in several senses of the word) adventure stories to be transmitted from antiquity. There is as much adventure here as will be found in any modern day work of fiction. One of the things that makes this book so great is that as I was reading … Read more…

Tactical Aspects of Battle: A Discussion

Image from the Broadside Blog at http://www.militarytimes.com/blogs/broadside/2011/11/01/halloween-and-military-tactics/

There is a very interesting pair of essays in the Baen free non-fiction compendium for 2011. The essence of these two pieces is the geo-strategic position of the United States in the early 21st Century and what the American prospects for maintaining global dominance are. This piece is not necessarily about geopolitics but it did get me thinking about another idea I have been tossing around in my head for the past few years, and that is tactics. Specifically tactics and the way their use affects the course of battles both classical and contemporary. Too often, tactical considerations are given short shrift in accounts of battle. For example, it is … Read more…

The Battle of Jena-Auerstädt: 14 Oct 1806

Relative locations of the engagements on 14 Oct 1806

The Battle of Jena-Auerstädt was fought in Germany on 1806 between the French Imperial Army and the Prussian Royal Army. It is actually two separate battles separated by about twenty miles. Both the French and Prussian armies were split leading to two separate engagements one was fought by Napoleon and Davout commanded the French Corps at Auerstädt. The battle at Jena was the larger of the two as far as forces involved are concerned but the action at Auerstädt was operationally the more decisive. Combined, the Prussians suffered a devastating defeat that they could not recover from and led to the virtual surrender of the kingdom in the face of … Read more…

Book Review: Julius Caesar: Lessons in Leadership from the Great Conqueror by Bill Yenne

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] I am someone who loves the ancients and loves reading the their stories. That being said, I am much more likely to read Caesar’s Commentaries or Plutarch’s Life of Caesar than a modern day biography derived from those sources. In fact, I have read all those ancient works, most in both English and the original Latin. This book was a pleasure to read anyway.  Bill Yenne has put together a comprehensive account of Caesar’s life that someone unfamiliar with Caesar’s exploits can … Read more…

Book Review: The Age of Total War: 1860-1945 by Jeremy Black

The notion that a book is “thought-provoking” is often thrown out there for works of non-fiction, and of those that are described as such that I have read most very seldom are.  This book is different, Dr. Black has written not so much a history as a treatise challenging historians, particularly military historians, to reexamine the history of conflict in the examined period with the idea of total war uppermost in their minds.  It seems a counter-intuitive thing to do at first, but he provides plenty of examples of why the wars under consideration were not total or were only partially total at best.  This includes World War II, which … Read more…