The Fleet at Flood Tide: America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-1945 wasn't quite what I was expecting. Although the dates '1944-1945' in the subtitle made me think it would be a history of the war for those two years (similar to the way Ian Toll's excellent Pacific Crucible chronicles the beginning of the war) that's not quite the aim here. Instead, he spends a great deal of time detailing the battles in the Marianas (the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" and the invasions of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam), whereas Iwo Jima and Okinawa are handled in a few pages each. His focus is on what he calls "Total War," which is sort of the way the Japanese fought to the last man, woman, and child - including using civilians as decoys and shields. He argues that "the ritual suicides of the Japanese garrisons, and their predatory brainwashing and murder of the innocent unarmed, has been insufficiently considered as a turning point that shaped the war's final year." He shows how this hardened U.S. resolves to obtain "unconditional surrender," and led to the use of incendiary weapons (napalm) and eventually atomic bombs.
Much of the book focuses on Admiral Raymond Spruance, who had charge of the navy, and Col. Paul Tibbetts, who piloted the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. But he also brings in the recollections of many others, both American and Japanese, and both high and low-ranking, and even some non-combatants. It puts a very human face on the narrative and is often unflinching in its portrayal of the suffering endured on both sides. Unlike several other similar histories I've read, Hornfischer doesn't stop with the atomic bombs and surrender, but continues to explain the rebuilding efforts the U.S. exerted in Japan and their treatment of the conquered nation as administered by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
It's a fairly lengthy book, and as I mentioned, it took me a while to get into it - probably 150 or so pages - but it's a very rewarding read! His argument isn't entirely dissimilar to Max Hastings' in Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45, but approaches the argument for atomic weapons from a different angle. Highly recommended for those interested in the history of the Pacific War. (I rec'd an advance copy from the publisher.)...more
In August 1945, atomic bombs were dropped on Japan bringing World War II to an end. But the United States wasn't the only nation pursuing the developmIn August 1945, atomic bombs were dropped on Japan bringing World War II to an end. But the United States wasn't the only nation pursuing the development of atomic weapons. Germany also had a program, and was perhaps closer than we realize to achieving that goal - except for a small handful of Norwegian resistance fighters.
When Germany invaded Norway, they instituted martial law and took a great interest in Vemork, an industrial producer of 'heavy water' - a key ingredient in atomic testing. Several Norwegians who had escaped to Great Britain, such as Leif Tronstad, Knut Haukelid, Einar Skinnarlad and others, were trained and mounted operations to destroy the manufacturing capacity of Vemork. Although there were setbacks, delays, and even disasters, the efforts of these men who loved their country were probably essential to preventing Germany from developing a weapon that could destroy entire cities.
This is the shorter young-adult version of The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb. It is an easier read and filled with photos of the people and history of this act of sabotage. And it's a great read - especially for those who want an abbreviated history of the events. Initially I counted myself in that group, although I think I would have enjoyed the fuller version more. While this is an excellent book, particularly for the target audience and those who aren't used to dense histories, the narrative sometimes sounds a little simplistic. But it's still a very inspirational story and I enjoyed it....more
Two stories merge into one in this interesting mystery. After 16 year-old Evan's father passes away, his grandfather comes to help him sort things outTwo stories merge into one in this interesting mystery. After 16 year-old Evan's father passes away, his grandfather comes to help him sort things out. His hippie(ish) dad and grandfather didn't get along, and Evan has never met "Griff" - a tough career army man. But before Griff arrives, Evan begins reading a book he found in his father's room. The book is the diary of a Japanese soldier on a small deserted island, and something in it had prompted Evans dad to believe Griff had murdered someone. And when Griff shows up, he's every bit as scary as Evan worried he might be, and Evan's fears seem to be coming true.
I'm not normally a fan of the 'story within a story' novels, and nearly quit reading this one. On the day I had decided to give it up, suddenly the story of the Japanese soldier took a very weird turn - and I mean "weird" in a good way! All of the sudden I could barely put it down. I hope it's not a spoiler to say there are some fantastical elements to the story, and if you're looking for historical fiction, this way strays a little into the realm of ghosts and monsters. Some other reviews I looked at were disappointed with that element, but I loved it. ...more
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys tells the story of four young people among half a million refugees that were fleeing the advancing Russians as the GerSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys tells the story of four young people among half a million refugees that were fleeing the advancing Russians as the German armies began to collapse. Joanna is around 21 and from Lithuania, and is a skilled nurse. Florian is from East Prussia and is around 18, and is a gifted artist. Emilia is only 15 and from Poland, which makes her one of the 'lesser races' according to Hitler. And Alfred is a doughy sailor aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship waiting to carry lucky refugees away from the barbaric Russian soldiers and to freedom. Each, however, carries secrets - secrets that weigh heavily on them.
I'm not usually a fan of historical fiction - real facts mixed in with fiction tends to confuse me, but when I don't know that many real facts to begin with, it's a lot easier to read. And this was a very compelling story - told from each of the 4 perspectives in short alternating chapters. Because each section is no more than a few pages at most, I often found myself reading more and more at each sitting, trying to find out what was happening. One of the characters made me furious, but the others - and many of the peripheral characters - drew me into their collective stories. It's the kind of story that readers who like historical fiction like The Nightingale will really enjoy. And even though it highlights a lot of the suffering and tragedy of this time in history, it's a good read and one of those stories from the Eastern Front of WWII that I didn't know anything about. (I rec'd an advance copy through the Amazon Vine program.)...more
From a purely intellectual standpoint, I think it would be fascinating to see something like a massive earthquake, a raging tornado, or a nuclear bombFrom a purely intellectual standpoint, I think it would be fascinating to see something like a massive earthquake, a raging tornado, or a nuclear bomb explosion. I've seen some pretty amazing jets at airshows and it would be cool to see them in real action - dropping bombs or shooting down enemy fighters - basically doing what they were made to do. The unfortunate reality, however, is the very real danger in such situations and the probability of death and destruction.
Likewise, I enjoy reading military histories, notwithstanding the fact that they're all about death and destruction. But most focus more on the actions of generals and movements of armies; while they might give you some taste of the unpleasantness of war, they're still more often than not, rather sanitized. But that's where this excellent book is different; not only does it tell you about the battles - Bunker Hill (American Revolution), Gettysburg (American Civil War), and Iwo Jima (WWII) - but it gives you a feeling for what real war was like. The focus for each battle is methodic but slightly different: "... for Bunker Hill, we [can] deduce a militiaman's experience of combat depending on his location (redoubt, beach, rail fence) and for Gettysburg we [can] do the same by deconstructing the era's formal templates (artillery bombardment, attack, defense), [and] for Iwo Jima [we] mostly examine combat method -- that is, how Marines first confronted obstacles and then surmounted them by watching, doing, adapting, and learning." (from pg 217 of the advance copy)
It's true, there's plenty of blood and guts in the writing, but it's told with a professional detachment that satisfies my weird curiosity but still leaves room for a healthy appreciation for the personal sacrifices. Yes, I squirmed while reading about the effects of cannonballs and bullets on the human body or the frightening descriptions of grenades and flame throwers in battle, but it's not all gore. It's interesting to read how the battles progressed from a soldier's perspective and how each differed, as well as why modern-day combat would be different still. It's also loaded with many of the individual observations from people involved in the fighting, the kind of quotes that don't always make it into the regular histories. One interesting note is how progressively "work-like" war had become by WWII, and how few reports of PTSD-like cases there were at Bunker Hill. Another was the psychological effects of things like bombardments and bayonettes.
It might not be the ideal book for someone with a weak stomach, but I found it so engrossing and well-written that it never really bothered me (and I read most of it while eating lunch). It's scholarly-like in its thoroughness and approach, but not difficult to read by any measure. I know a man who fought at Iwo Jima and he's criticized most books on the battle, but I suspect he might be more approving of this one. It certainly gave me a greater appreciation for his experience. ...more
A number of memoirs have been written by Jewish survivors of WWII, but rarely do we see a collection of the stories of ordinary Germans who also livedA number of memoirs have been written by Jewish survivors of WWII, but rarely do we see a collection of the stories of ordinary Germans who also lived through those years. Jean Messinger has collected a couple dozen stories and recollections, mostly from those she has met living in Colorado. Most of the stories are from those who were children or came of age during the war. Some grew up in homes that supported Hitler (usually due to the economic prosperity that came after many years of hardship), but most were ambivalent or against him. Some are told in the person's own words and some are told by the author, and in some stories I thought it interesting the facts that were left out. The question of what happened to Jewish neighbors was often not a something anyone felt safe wondering too much about, and several talked of being turned in to authorities over trivial statements. (Incidentally, two of the stories in this collection are from Jews.) And overall, this was actually quite an interesting book to read. Many of the memoirs show hardship after losing homes or family members. I'm not the only one who's wondered how such an atrocity could happen among an entire population, and while this book doesn't try to offer an answer it's interesting to see the recollections of people who lived through such a fascinating and terrible chapter of history. (I received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for an unbiased review.)...more
When Hitler and the Nazis came to power they didn't just overrun their enemies - they burned their books. Millions of books were burned in Berlin andWhen Hitler and the Nazis came to power they didn't just overrun their enemies - they burned their books. Millions of books were burned in Berlin and other countries - books and authors that were seen as subversive to the Nazi ideals. Hitler even wrote his own book, and foisted it upon the population. In fact, it wasn't just a war for the land and people, it was a war for their minds as well.
Many in America took this as a challenge, and it was seen as a matter of pride that American service men would be able to read. Book drives were begun to collect books that could be sent to the military, but many of those were heavy hardbound books and more than a few were so old and outdated as to be useless. In an unprecedented move, publishers came together under the Council on Books in Wartime and produced the Armed Services Edition (ASE) - small, lightweight, and portable copies of bestsellers, classics, biographies, histories, compilations of poetry, and discussions of current events. The books, which could fit easily in pockets and packs, turned out to be extremely popular, and over 123 million (!) were printed and distributed over the course of the war. Authors received fan mail from grateful soldiers who had read their books.
This is a wonderful and mostly forgotten story of WWII. I loved reading some of the letters and comments the men sent, and it makes me want to read books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Chicken Every Sunday. Even The Great Gatsby was saved from obscurity by the ASE program. And the impact was felt far beyond the war, as men came home readers and re-entered society and universities. The book also includes a list of many of the authors banned by the Nazis, as well as a complete list of the books published as ASEs....more
In the history of Nazi Germany's persecution of the Jews there aren't many happy stories. Usually the best we can manage is a family hidden in the attIn the history of Nazi Germany's persecution of the Jews there aren't many happy stories. Usually the best we can manage is a family hidden in the attic or an individual who slipped away. But the case of Denmark, where 7,000 Danes were Jewish, stands out even if it doesn't start very promisingly.
When Germany attacked in April 1940, Denmark's leaders didn't believe the country was strong enough to resist. Instead of putting up a fight, Denmark became an occupied country that still retained some semblance of self-government - a situation most Danes found humiliating. And given Germany's record of persecution against Jews, Danish leaders did everything they thought possible to avert a roundup of their citizens. Yet when it finally came on October 1, 1943, the people themselves managed to help nearly all the Jews to escape to Sweden. Out of those 7,000, only a few hundred were captured by the Germans.
Given that I am one quarter Danish (my grandmother and her parents emigrated around 1900) I really looked forward to this history. And it's an inspiring story of how the Danish people helped their "countrymen" escape what everyone knew was a death-sentence. The risks people took were very real and dangerous, and neighbors even cared for the property of the refugees (instead of the opportunistic looting that generally happened in other places). The book focuses mostly on the Hannover and Marcus families - two sisters - as well as their father, but other sources and stories are included as well. I found it especially interesting how people knew what the Germans were doing to the Jews (not always in vague or general terms!) and yet they still found it hard to believe it would happen in Denmark, instead trusting in the "honor" of the occupation forces. And yet, if it hadn't been for some information leaks, the number who escaped might have been small.
Unfortunately, it's also a very ponderous book that can easily overwhelm an otherwise eager reader at a snail's pace. Frequently accounts of the same event are quoted at length from multiple sources, giving a more complete view of the events but also dragging on for pages with little gained. As such, it may be a scholarly work, but made it hard for me to engage as an ordinary reader. I found the book interesting while I was reading it, but it was difficult to find much enthusiasm to pick it up again in between readings. Nonetheless, this is an important story, and one I am glad to know but it's not an easy read and I was unable to finish. (Oh, and that story about King Christian and the people all wearing Jewish stars in a show of solidarity? It's just a story.) ...more
Pearl Harbor and the attacks on other American bases throughout the Pacific were an enormously demoralizing shock for the American public. So, the darPearl Harbor and the attacks on other American bases throughout the Pacific were an enormously demoralizing shock for the American public. So, the daring raid on the Japanese mainland less than 6 months later came as a complete surprise - to both Japan and America. If you've seen the movie Pearl Harbor, you might remember the raid the movie ends with. It's a bit dramatized, but not so far off. But what it doesn't convey is the huge impact such a small raid had on the war. The Japanese went from "fearless to fearful," their sense of isolated security and racial superiority suddenly threatened, and Americans realized they were still in the fight.
This is the account of one of the pilots of those bombers, Capt. Ted Lawson, that implausibly took off from aircraft carriers. They had to take off much further from Japan than planned due to their sighting by a small monitoring ship (which was sunk) and didn't have enough fuel to fly to safe bases within China. The planes nonetheless completed their bombing missions - a pin prick, really - then made their way the best they could to the coast of China. Most planes crash landed and Lawson and his crew were severely injured (Lawson's leg had to be amputated). Spread out along the coast, only a few were captured by the Japanese but most managed, with a great deal of hardship and the self-sacrificing help of the oppressed Chinese, to escape and return to America.
Written by Capt. Lawson, I found it much better written than I had expected and it caused me to cringe numerous times as I read what the crew went through in their ordeal. First-hand accounts are valuable, but can be limited in scope and even self-serving, but his account is very well done. It's a short and easy read that gives the reader an insight into what went into such a daring raid. (For a great assessment of just how important the "Doolittle Raid" was, see The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight by Winston Groom.)...more
The story of the ten Boom family in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. Corrie, her sister, and her father began by helping to shelter their JThe story of the ten Boom family in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. Corrie, her sister, and her father began by helping to shelter their Jewish neighbors and assist them in escaping the country and eventually became an important hub in the Dutch Underground. When they were caught they were all sent to concentration camps, and Corrie tells her story of learning to cope with the harsh conditions and how it strengthened her Christian faith. It's an easy read (actually, I listened to the audiobook) and her faith in the face of extreme trials makes for a very inspirational story....more
"Just because one is without power does not mean one needs to be without courage and ultimately without character. Shouldn't one try to find some way"Just because one is without power does not mean one needs to be without courage and ultimately without character. Shouldn't one try to find some way to make a difference, even in such hopeless circumstances, without necessarily jeopardizing one's life?" -- Josef Hartinger
Josef Hartinger was a German prosecutor whose jurisdiction included the Dachau concentration camp in the years that the National Socialists (Nazis) came to power. When he received notice that four inmates had been shot while trying to escape, it was his responsibility to investigate. While most simply accepted the flimsy stories from the guards about prisoners killed while attacking or trying to escape, he insisted on autopsies and investigations. And when he had enough evidence of wrong-doing, he attempted to prosecute.
Those sent to the camp were mostly political prisoners. They had been involved in communist activities or had connections to opposition groups. Many, however, were only suspected of complaining about the government, and in a few cases personal grudges were being settled (and more than a few were Jews). They were told they were merely being "detained" while their case was investigated, and that they were being held in "protective custody." But from the beginning, some prisoners were singled out for regular, brutal, and systematic abuse, and those prisoners invariably ended up dead rather quickly. And although Hartinger tried to prosecute a few crimes he found strong proof for, the cases were dropped or derailed by others.
It's hard to understand how something like the Holocaust could happen, and yet it did. How did people *not* know what was going on, and why did they not stop it? This is not a heroic story. Hartinger's contribution was that some of the evidence he prepared was found after the war and became instrumental in the Nuremberg trials. Nonetheless, he was one of the few to stand up and voice his objections to the injustices - and he was one of the even fewer to survive putting his life on the line. This book is a detailing of the early deaths at Dachau - not just the original four mentioned above - and describes (repeatedly) the beatings and torture several of the detainees endured. It explains how many of them were killed, and includes explanations later obtained by the perpetrators themselves. It's not for the faint of heart, and yet it is a small insight into the way the mass murder that later became systemized began, and how it was allowed to continue by those who could have spoken out....more
I think it's not too unfair to say that the late 60s and 70s can be summed up politically and nationalistically in one word: malaise. The Vietnam WarI think it's not too unfair to say that the late 60s and 70s can be summed up politically and nationalistically in one word: malaise. The Vietnam War was hardly the stuff of patriotic pride, and the presidents in the decade that followed weren't what many would characterize as inspirational. But Douglas Brinkley argues that Ronald Reagan was the perfect man to turn that around and restore a sense of pride in Americans. He did it by hearkening back to an earlier era, an era when pride in America's accomplishments was not only warranted but hard-earned: World War II, and in particular D Day.
The reason Reagan was so perfect Brinkley says is that he was part of the "greatest generation" and identified with those soldiers even though he hadn't served in a combat position himself (due to his poor eyesight). His admiration of Franklin Roosevelt's optimism extended to modeling his own speaking style on FDR's rhetoric, but with the addition of Eisenhower's pragmatism and his own conservative thinking. And one of the defining moments of his presidency was when he delivered his "Boys of Pointe du Hoc" and Omaha Beach speeches on the shores of Normandy at the 40th commemoration of D Day. His recounting of their ordeal of climbing the cliffs in the face of withering enemy fire not only earned the respect of many of his critics, it awakened a resurgent interest in WWII and it's heroes that continues today.
Brinkley explains the history of Pointe du Hoc and the rangers who took out the enemy guns atop the 100 foot cliffs. But he combines this with the history behind Reagan's historic speech extolling the heroism of D Day - a speech considered one of the greatest in recent history, along with his later speech at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate where he famously challenged: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Brinkley discusses speechwriter Peggy Noonan's crafting of the address, and how it tapped into Reagan's personality and objectives so perfectly. And while it's a very inspiring story, it's the political aspect that was the biggest detraction in my opinion. Brinkley is blunt in his assessment that the speech was a political one, given in an election year and calculated for specific effect - even while it was honest and personal for Reagan. And his discussion of the speechwriting process, while maybe well-understood in the jaded political circles of Washington, is kind of like pulling back the curtain to reveal the wizard and his tricks. I'm not saying such background shouldn't be acknowledged; just that it takes the shine off such an inspiring event. Still, it's a good book that helps explain why WWII is such a popular topic and how President Reagan brought us back to our proud legacy. ...more