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Book Review: World War II: Cause and Effect by Bill Brady

[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]

World War Two: Cause and Effect by Bill Brady is not so much a narrative history as a topical anthology of the war.  It is a collection of papers Mr Brady has presented over the years collected and published in one volume.  According to the jacket Mr. Brady is a lifelong history buff and is a member and President of the South African Military History Society of Kwa Zulu Natal in Durban, South Africa.

The book itself is 341 pages in length.  The text is divided into twenty-nine topical chapters with each chapter being one of the papers presented.  Unfortunately, the book as neither a bibliography nor an index.  While disappointing, that lack does not seriously harm the book.

There is really nothing new or innovative about the topics covered in the book.  No new theoretical ground is broken and no new facts or data about the war are presented that would tend to change the way the war is viewed.  That being said, the text is clear and the writing style is quite good making this a very enjoyable read.  All the topics are well covered and there are descriptions of some of the less covered events of the war.  The three chapters I found most interesting covered the Battle of the River Plate, the Fall of SIngapore, and the Slapton Sands accident before D-Day.

While this book does not present any ground-shaking new information about World War II, it is a good introduction to some of the wars most famous and also some not so famous events.  The analysis of strategy and tactics within follows the widespread conventional wisdom and judgement of historians.  The lack of a bibliography and index is distressing but then, this is not an academic work nor does it aspire to be one. This is a book about World War II that the average person who knows little about the war can both read and understand.

I recommend this book for people who only know the allies won World War II.  It provides a good, topical, chronology of the war and provides just enough information to cover it’s topics while sparking an interest to learn more.  A good introduction to the war that shows both the complexity and extent of the world’s most devastating war to date.

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Book Review: Nightfighter: Radar Intercept Killer by Mark A. Magruder

[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]

Every time I think that nothing more can be written about WWII that is both interesting and informative a book like this one makes an appearance.  I will even be upfront and admit that I don’t normally go in for biographies or autobiograhies of famous people, much less someone who is not a household name.  Nightfighter: Radar Intercept Killer by Mark A. Magruder has caused me to reevaluate both opinions.

WWII Insignia of VMF(N) – 533 “Black Mac’s Killers”

This book is the story of USMC COL Marion Magruder, one of the most influential people in the development and implementation of Marine Corps Nightfighter doctrine in WWII.  COL Magruder is one of those figures that had a profound impact on the war but who almost nobody has heard about because they were not glory hounds out to make a name for themselves.  COL Magruder just wanted to win the war, do his job, and bring as many of his people home as he could.  The book is written by one of the COL’s sons and is a tribute to him.  It succeeds in being both an excellent tribute and a great chronicle of a little understood of aspect of WWII aerial combat.

The book itself is 286 pages of text with a reference list and index. It is divided into twelve topical chapters that detail the story of COL Magruder’s career from inception in the Marine Corps to the end of WWII.

The most interesting part of this story is the revelation that at the outset of WWII the USMC had no doctrine for nightfighting and had virtually ignored that aspect of aerial combat. It was only in the face of nighttime Japanese raids and the damage they caused that the Marines decided to develop that capability. COL Magruder was part of a team deployed to England to learn nightfighting and practice it against the Germans in a crash course before returning to the states and writing Marine nightfighting doctrine. He then went on to stand up, command, and take to combat VMF(N) 533, one of the first nightfighting squadrons for Marine Aviation.

This work is the story of the man behind the development and successful implementation of Marine nightfighting in WWII. It is engagingly written, well presented, and a joy to read. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in WWII but especially for aviation historians for the glimpse into the ways doctrine is developed and implemented under the pressures of war.

 

Book Review: Helmet for my Pillow by Robert Leckie



When I was in the hospital earlier this year for back surgery I had nothing better to do for three days than lay in my bed so I had my wife bring my laptop and the DVD’s for The Pacific and Band of Brothers. After watching the series I decided to order Leckie’s book and rad it to see how faithful to his memoirs they kept his part of the story. I had read E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa when I was in high school and so just pulled it off the bookshelf and reread it. Helmet for my Pillow is somewhat like With the Old Breed in that both are vaguely anti-war memoirs that while they seem to accurately recount the experience of WWII tend to put a slant on it. This slant is different than that portrayed in Band of Brothers, which comes off as more heroic and idealistic.
The Pacific portrays WWII in the Pacific Theater as a bloody, grinding affair that wears on both the body and soul with no redeeming qualities except for cheap liquor and cheap women in Australia. There is no doubt that this is true as the fact of this is attested to by more people than just Robert Leckie. The miniseries is an accurate portrayal of Leckie’s book, which takes an ironic view of the war and life in general. Leckie’s tone throughout seems to be the cynical “lets feast and be merry for on the morrow we die”. He presents it almost as a wonder that he did in fact, survive the war. The realistic, cynical, and jaded style he writes in is both engaging and draws the reader on to see what the next step in his wartime life is going to be. The best thing about the book is the no holds barred, except for refusing to print cursewords, way of writing and his descriptions of both his training and time in combat. He also captures the way in which most of war is not fighting, but rather boredom. He does not come out and say it but the undertone is there that the truth about war is the oft quoted cliche ad out being stone bored 95% of the time punctuated by moments of extreme, existential terror. That feeling comes across in the book.
I enjoyed reading the book and came away glad that he survived to write it, and write so well that he conveyed some of the reality of his experience. I recommend this book for anyone interested in WWII, both historians and non-historians.

Illustration of the construction of of a typical GE reactor of the type found at Fukushima

The Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

I had to post something about the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan last Friday.  First off, I hope that the death toll does not go as high as they currently fear.  Second, everything I have seen so far about the Japanese reactions to the quake inspires nothing but admiration and respect for the Japanese people.  My prayers go out to all the victims and their families.

I am sure that if this disaster had happened in California the news would be full of stories about how the government is not doing enough and where is all the help people are supposed to be receiving from the government as folks sat around in the rubble and complained instead of trying to help themselves.  What I am seeing in Japan is the exact opposite.  People in Japan seem to be getting down to business of recovering, not bitching about why the government is not doing more.  They remind me more of the folks in Mississippi and Alabama after Katrina than anything else.

It does not amaze me how much attention is being paid to the struggles at the nuclear reactor at Fukushima.  What does amaze me is the amount of hyperbole and downright misinformation there is about what is going on.  I do not think it is coming from the Japanese government or power operator either.  Here is a nice alarmist piece from MSNBC.  I am certainly looking forward to hearing the anti-nuclear power crowd goes crazy over the issues arising at a plant struck by both a 23-foot tsunami and a magnitude 8.9 earthquake.  They will gleefully claim that the Fukushima reactors problems mean nuclear power is unsafe regardless.  They will also offer no alternatives for supplying the power generated by these plants.

Illustration of the construction of of a typical GE reactor of the type found at Fukushima, notice how robust the design is.

One thing is clear even after only minor research, the reactor design at Fukushima is very robust and the chances of a “Chernobyl like” explosion even were all safety measures to fail is as close to impossible as human engineers can make it.  What is unsaid is the amount of effort and dedication of the plants workers and engineers who have worked ceaselessly since Friday to contain a looming disaster instead of leaving their posts and seeking out family to ensure their safety.  It is easy to forget among all the talk of partial meltdown that not only was the nuclear plant hit, so was the area around it, the area where the plant workers and their family lived.

No doubt, this will be the story of the week, month, or even spring.  I also do not doubt that within a week, we will begin to see stories about which star is doing what and other petty things creep back into the news.  Modern man is nothing if not easily distracted.  I for one, will be interested in following the news from Japan in the coming months to see how the Japanese recover, a topic with which many will probably get bored very quickly.  How much were we hearing about Christchurch, New Zealand before the quake hit Japan?  The New Zealand quake was only three weeks ago and it had already all but faded from the news, how long until the disaster in Japan is overtaken by the 24-hour news cycle?

 Below are a list of links to articles and information on both the earthquake and the damage to the Fukushima reactors:  Battle to stabilize earthquake reactors, Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl, Japan Earthquake: before and after, LA Times slideshow of quake images, Info paper on Boiling Water Reactors from the US NRC