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Posts Tagged ‘world war two’

Note: I’m away at the moment preaching at a church retreat.  But here’s this weekend’s nonfiction reading review…because Pastors also need a break from heavy theological reading.

Ben Macintyre. Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War.  New York, NY: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, June 1, 1989. 352 pp.

4 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

What a fascinating book on the origin of the British Special Air Service and also its early years during World War Two.  This is the first book on the SAS that I read as an adult.  I remember being a little kid reading a book on elite military units and seeing the glossy pictures of the SAS famous raid on the Iranian embassy in London to rescue hostages from terrorists with SAS commandos dressed in black and armed with MP5s.  Ever since then I have been hungry to know more about these guys and as I got older I discovered that I’m not the only one who remains fascinated with this unit.  This book surely is written because of that public interests of Britain’s most famous unit.

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A weekend nonfiction book review.  Because even Pastors need a break from heavy theological readings.

Mitch Weiss.  The Heart of Hell: The Untold Story of Courage and Sacrifice in the Shadow of Iwo Jima.  New York, NY: Penguin Group, March 1st 2016. 432 pp.

5 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

This book tells the story of a Navy craft on the eve of the Marines’ landing on the island of Iwo Jima.  It is not a story of the small boat per se (the craft is Landing Craft Infantry 449) but the stories of the men who make up the crew of Landing Craft Infantry 449.  This is the first naval history book I read of World War Two as an adult.  I certainly enjoyed it and learned a lot from it in terms of human nature, war and humanity.  In this review I want to first note the helpful format of the book and then discuss the content of the book itself.

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This is a weekend non-fiction leisure reading review.  ‘Cause ministers need a break from heavy reading too.

Jonathan Jordan.  American Warlords: How Roosevelt’s High Command Led America to Victory in World War II. New York, NY: Penguin Group, May 5th 2015. 624 pp.

5 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

What an incredible book on military history and history of military leadership.  This work is a look at the important men during World War Two that played a pivotal role in Franklin Roosevelt’s War Department towards winning World War Two.  This is a book that is a gold mine of information, a well-researched that surprisingly is also very readable for general readers.

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Leo Barron. Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General’s Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne.  New York, NY: NAL Caliber, October 28th 2014. 432 pp.

This is another work on the European Theatre of World War Two that I enjoyed in the fall of 2016. In this instance I listened to this book in audiobook format.  This book is more operational history and is what probably many who are interested in World War Two battles want to read and hear.  It tells us the story of General Patton’s attempt to break the German military stronghold surrounding the US Army 101st Airborne Division in a town called Bastogne from the perspective of one of Patton’s favorite outfit: The Fourth Armored Division.

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A Veteran’s Day weekend reading recommendation.

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Alex Kershaw. The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of World War II’s Most Decorated Platoon.  Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, November 22nd, 2004. 344 pp.

This Fall I started reading more books on the European Theatre of World War Two and this is one that I enjoyed and I’m glad I finished this on the eve of Veteran’s Day.  The book tells the story of the most decorated platoon of World War Two.  It is about the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon from the 394th Infantry Regiment of the 99th Infantry Division who fought the Germans against overwhelming odds during the Battle of the Bulge.

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Today’s the Marine Corps Birthday and as a Marine Veteran myself, I thought I post this review of a book I really enjoyed recently!

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Hampton Sides. Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission.  New York, NY: Anchor Books, May 7th, 2002. 344 pp.

5 out of 5

I am finally glad I got to finish reading this book after first seeing this book fourteen years ago as a young Marine on the eve of the Iraq war.  Back then I saw another Marine have a copy of this book, I got to thumb through it briefly and found the stories very fascinating but somehow I never got around to reading this again until recently.  This was an epic book and I’m truly humbled reading about the heroes in this book just as I was fourteen years ago.

The book is about the incredible military operation conducted by 6th Ranger Battalion to rescue American Prisoner of Wars who were the survivors of the Bataan Death March.  It was a daring raid since it took place deep within enemy lines at the Cabanatuan POW camp.  As the book pointed out the raid was also all the more daring given that military special operation at that time was still in its infancy.

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I’ve enjoyed this at several different level so I will review this book from different perspective: Chinese history, historiography, lessons for the US current military involvement overseas and spiritually as a Christian.
In terms of Chinese history, this book is on a time period and events that few Americans know about let alone understand. Way before America was attacked on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Japan has already been waging war and spreading its imperialism for decades. This book is about events of Japan’s invasion of China during the 1930s from the Shanghai area to Nanking, and it explores what mainstream history have not focus much on: the subject of the book being Chinese collaborators with the Japanese. If the saying is true that “history is written by those who win,” then the implication from this must also be true: mainstream’s popular historical narrative will often leave out details it would rather forget. It’s easy to see in pop cultural memory that the population of China “resisted” the Japanese throughout the Japanese occupation of China during World War Two, but that’s not always the case as this book accurately portray. In order to survive in an occupied China one has to acknowledge the political realities of Japanese control. Currently the history of the Japanese invasion of China is overshadowed by the great work, “The Rape of Nanking,” which documents extensively the incredible atrocity of the Japanese Army against Chinese civilians, and it’s easy to have the framework of the victimization of China overshadow the reality of what was happening on the ground during occupation that some was trying to survive by cooperating with the Japanese (that is not to deny the realities of victims and the heinous crimes that occurred). No doubt the book does not deny that reality of the Japanese atrocities and even provide more further details paralleling Iris Chang’s famous work. However, here in this work the author of “Collobration” advance the thesis that there were some elites in China that did cooperated with the Japanese during occupation and that they can’t be demonized into a one dimensional cardboard wicked “traitors.” It can get more complicated than that.
What I thoroughly enjoyed about this book is the consciousness of the author’s historiography. As I began reading the book, I wondered how the author was going about to write as objectively as possible a historical work concerning a subject that would not enjoy a lot of surviving data: Collaborators would have been seen as traitors after the Japanese left, and no doubt it would not help for the accurate preservation of any written record of their experiences not to mention the collaborators’ survival! This work was truly amazing in terms of the author’s fortune of working with primary sources of Japanese Imperial army’s record, the memoirs of Japanese pacification agents and Western observers in Shanghai. The author Timothy Brook does a good job of handling the primary sources with care while also bringing the readers into the conversation of how he weighed the evidences, acknowledging the biases of each source as he weaved the data to produce his narrative. Brook admit the data is far from complete and there are limitations to historical research of collaborators yet it’s amazing how much he can carefully extrapolate. I’ve enjoyed Brook’s discussion of collaboration in the greater context of collaboration studies of the European front in World War Two, noting how historiography of collaboration is so different from that of say occupied France with that of China under Japan, and also situational differences between the European front with that of China.
The consciousness upon the author to use the European occupation and collobration under Nazi control in World War 2 as a foil for the situation in occupied China lead me to think about collaboration and military occupation beyond just France and China. I can’t help it but to think about what lessons this book brings to the greater geo-political affairs of today, specifically with Iraq and Afghanistan. As I read this book I can’t help but to recall memories walking a patrol with a Civil Affairs Marine officer in Iraq in 2003 and hearing this young officer’s heavy burden as he explained that afternoon of the difficulties of geo-political realities, local politics, war craft and “nation-building.” As much as I do not like the term “occupation” to describe our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and though I think the Japanese control over China is qualitatively and morally different than the US efforts in the Middle East, nevertheless I think there are some lessons one can learn here from collaboration concerning contemporary doctrine of counter-insurgency and the “hearts and minds” component of military occupation today. I think this book is worth being put under the Marine Corps Commandant’s reading list. Timothy Brooks notes the difficult realities of how difficult it was for the Japanese to find quality collaborators (which he encouraged the readers not to load that term with negative moral connotation right away in the book, but reserving it to the end of the work). When the nationalists government in Nanking retreated as the Japanese army advance, the elites with the technical and beaucratic know-how of operating governments and infrastructures fled with the Nationalists army as well. There was no incentive for them to be the puppet of a Japanese regime. The Japanese attempt to establish “peace committees” were frustrating, with the difficulties of sorting out people the right people with legitimate political and community capital from those who were just opportunists. As always, distrust on the part of the Japanese military and not empowering the local Chinese government ended up hindering the Japanese instead. There’s a lesson here with the fact that any occupation if it’s going to successfully transfer to new indigenous civilian management won’t be easy and the occupying Army can easily make numerous mistakes with such a fragile mission. It is a worthy study and reflection with lessons applicable to the difficulty in Afghanistan.
The dimension of the book that I most appreciate however is the chapter that focuses on Westerners who were in Nanking that got involved to protect the Chinese as much as possible from the cruelty of the Japanese. These were heroic men and women who had the liberty to leave and not get involved and yet they remained on the scene to make a difference for the lives of the Chinese. As I read this chapter I can’t help but to wonder what it was that drove them to do what they do knowing the risks involved. Many of them were Christian missionaries. As a Christian myself, I appreciated the book’s documentation from missionary’s diaries, letters and records. Though I know it’s not the intention or direction of the book, I can’t help to see the connection that true Christian spirituality means that there is the Lordship of Christ in every sphere of life including the political. These men and women saw the travesty of what the Japanese can do to their fellow man and women, and they responded. From orphanage, women shelter, rice distribution center, writing to the Embassy and the military to see aide is provided and even the audacity and affront to the Japanese of establishing a safe zone that was to be free of Japanese soldiers, these men and women can be forgotten for what they have done. However, if there is a God and the theology of these men and women are true, then it follows that their action are not totally forgotten—they lived and did what they did knowing that there is a God who remember and will call men into account one day. The implication of that is not just the preaching of the Gospel (that Jesus died for sinners and raised on the Third Day as proof) but also doing what they can to help fellow man who is made in the image of God.

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