Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace

The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace by H. W. Brands


This is an excellent book that helps revitalize Grant's image as one of the great generals in history and a decent president to boot.  Brands does not include any maps but none are really needed as he does not dive deep into the battles but clearly explains Grant's military genius and efficiency on the battlefield.  As president, Grant always tried to do the right thing for the freedman and the Native Americans.  Highly recommended.

Interesting Facts

The Dominican Republic wanted to become part of the United States.  Grant was all for this as was Frederick Douglas but Charles Sumner in his dislike for Grant blocked this from happening in the Senate.

Grant did not drink much but the few times he did, it was clear that alcohol affected him more than it did a typical male.  During the Civil War and later, he was provably known to have only drank once.

By the time Grant became president, he believed in full equality for blacks.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Revolutionary Summer

Revolutionary Summer by Joseph J. Ellis


A nice short book that unites the work of the Continental Congress move to American independence and what was going and did happen on the battlefield between the Continental Army and the British Army in New York.  The key American figures are John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and the lesser known General Nathanael Greene.  For the British, the key figures are the British commander General William Howe, his brother Admiral Richard Howe, and General Henry Clinton.

Interesting Facts

John Adams was nicknamed "His Rotundness."

It wasn't until after much later in Jefferson's life that he became famous for the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the Congressional Congress considered May 15, 1776 the most important date as this is when they voted on independence and appointed the committee to write the declaration.

Much of the militia sent to defend New York were armed with spears.

The British force that invaded New York was the largest armada to cross the Atlantic until the American Expeditionary Force in World War I.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750

Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750 by Odd Arne Westad


The book begins with the Qing Empire in 1750.  The Quings where the Manchus from Manchuria who had conquered the Chinese Empire from the Ming Dynasty.  Through the Quings, China as a nation had focused around the imperial dynasty even if the emperor was not actually from the majority Han or even Chinese in the case of the Mongols.  The most important thing to draw from this period is the resentment the Chinese had from the Great Powers' forced concessions in China.  Two opium wars with Britain (the second included France), occupied territory by Britain, Portugal, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan.  This resentment would carry through to the Republic of China under Chiang Kai-shek, through the Peoples Republic of China.  Today China is communist in name only.  It is actually a totalitarian free-market state.

Interesting Facts

China should have the world's biggest economy in the 2030s.

India's population will be 50% greater than China's in the 2050s unless China changes its one child policy.

South Korea's biggest trading partner is China.

The Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation, HSBC, was formed in Hong Kong in 1865.

Germany provided most of the training for Chiang Kai-shek's Republican army up to 1938, when Germany and Japan became allies.

In 1882, Congress banned all immigration from China.  This is the only time immigration has been banned from a specific country.  This ban was not removed until 1943, over a year after China had been our ally against Japan.

Today, about 15% of Peruvians have some Chinese background.  All the Chinese that immigrated to Peru where male workers.

The Italian city of Prato in Tuscany now has about 25,000 Chinese living there.

Lenism inspired Chinese Communism not Marxism.  Marx's Das Kapital had not even been fully translated to Chinese before 1937.

It is estimated that between 4 and 5 million Chinese were executed under Mao, a number much larger than Stalin ever achieved.

When Mao implemented his "Great Leap Forward" in 1958, even his Soviet advisers warned him that it would cause mass hardships which infuriated Mao.  In the end, and estimated 45 million Chinese, mostly peasants, died of hunger, exhaustion or disease.  This was the beginning of the the fracturing of the Chinese-Soviet friendship.

By the late 1960s, China's leaders were preparing for war with the Soviet Union.  In order to access Soviet intentions, Mao ordered an attack on an island in the Ussuri River in March of 1969.  About 30 Soviet soldiers were killed.  Mao refused to take calls from the Soviet premier.  War was possible for several days as the Soviets considered a strike against Chinese nuclear missile installations.  Tensions remained tense through 1970 and convinced Mao that he needed an ally -- the United States. 

China's short war with Vietnam in 1979 was such a disaster for China, that China became convinced that it needed the United States to modernize its military.

Despite running a pro-Taiwan, anit-China presidential campaign, President Ronald Reagan declared that the United States would sell sophisticated military weapons directly to Beijing. This included sophisticated aviation and missile technology.  At the same time in 1982, the United States declared we would phase out such sales to Taiwan.

There are now over 2500 KFC's in China today including one in the Forbidden City.

By 2000, the socialist economy in China was completely gone.  Even state-owned companies now competed in the free-market.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China

The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China by David J. Silbey


This is a military history of the Boxer Rebellion in China and how the close the Boxers initially came to winning against the foreign forces in China in 1900.  Their mission was to exterminate all foreigners in China and though their cause ended quickly, they inspired Chinese nationalism for years to come including Mao Zedong.

Interesting Facts

The Boxers were a bottom up phenomenon. No one controlled them from the top, so by sending a few people from village to village, town to town and city to city to train people, the movement grew incredibly fast.

Boxers was a Western label from "Righteous Fists of Harmony."

The foreign forces involved in relieving the foreign delegations in Beijing were the British, American, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Italian, and Austrian. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell

Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell by Peter Caddick-Adams


This is the second book I have read dedicated to Cassino and one of several on the combined Cassino/Anzio campaign.  The book brings an unique perspective to the battle by focusing on how the the various Armies were successful or not successful.  Of particular interest was the success of the French under Juin and the Polish Corps that finally took Monte Cassino.  Caddick-Adams is much friendlier to British General Harold Alexander than most historians.  There is also a nice focus on the 8th Army's breakthrough up the Liri Valley.  We know that Churchill liked Alexander, but the author considers him to have similar skills to Eisenhower as a diplomat general.  The author also goes easy on American General Mark Clark's decision to take Rome and deliberately disobey orders by not cutting off the retreating German 10th Army.   Caddick-Adams  notes that there was no guarantee of trapping the 10th Army which seems to be a spurious argument for disobeying orders.

Interesting Facts

Nearly 15,000 mules were used during the campaign as they proved the only reliable means of bringing supplies up and the injured and dead down from the mountains.

The Germans would mount a revolving Panther turret, called a Pantherturm, to a concrete bunker in the Gustav line.  One killed 17 Allied tanks in 3 days, the Pantherturm leader actually becoming a "tank ace." Below is an intact Pantherturm and one that has had its turret blown off by an Allied shell in Italy.

Because of such a lack of food in Naples, it is estimated that 42,000 women out of 150,000 engaged in regular or part-time prostitution.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution

Spies and Commissars by Robert Service


This book does a nice job of simplifying the complicated early years of the Russian Revolution. From the Bolsheviks, the Germans, the Western Powers and all the deluded fans, it provides fascinating reading.

Interesting Facts

Even today, British attempts to undermine Communist Russia in 1918 remain classified in Britain.

Lloyd George, by authorizing a British trade agreement with the Soviet government in 1921, save the communist government from near certain economic collapse.

In April 1918, Britain landed about 2500 troops in Murmansk including some French and Serb troops.  This was kept secret from the British people due to fear of public opinion.

After killing the Romanovs on July 17, 1918, the Bolsheviks managed to keep this a secret from most of their own party even up to March 1919.

At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the British politician raising the most concerns about a Communist Russia was Winston Churchill.

While Woodrow Wilson was secretly supplying arms to the Whites in Russia through Russian gold reserves in the United States, the first anti-interventionist Republicans were beginning to attack. In September of 1919, Republican Senator Hiram Johnson of California asked why American boys were being shot at in Russia.

In late 1919, a New York Times editorial made the wild claim that the October 1917 revolution was effected "by men from America who went to Russia."

Maryland Republican Senator Joseph I. France was first U.S. Senator to visit Russia after the Russian Revolution and led his colleagues in advocating official recognition of Soviet Russia. France was able to get Henry Cabot Lodge to lead this effort in committee hearings.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Moral Combat

MORAL COMBAT by Michael Burleigh


The book was quite a surprise as the focus was mainly on NAZI Germany's crimes.  Discussion is had on the USSR, Japan and on Allied Bombing of Germany, but the mass slaughter by the Germans is the main course.  The book rightly points out that while Stalin was responsible for as many deaths as Hitler, the USSR never launched a war of annihilation and extermination  as Germany did against Poland and the Soviet Union.  If you were not immediately killed, the German plan was starvation as a helot for the master race. 

Interesting Facts From Moral Combat

This is already well known, but given current events, it is useful to remember: At least 6 million Ukrainians died of starvation due to forced farm collectivization by Stalin starting in 1932.

One of the initial mass murderers introduced is Otto Rasch, an SS brigade leader and commander of Einsatzgruppe C.  Rasch was responsible for the massacre of Babi Yar.  He received his first doctorate in Marburg in 1912 for the work “dialect geography of the circle Eschwege” and his second PhD in 1922 at the University of Leipzig.   Having advance degrees was evidently common among leaders of the Einsatzgruppen.  Rasch died during his trial after the war.

The Soviets deported 1.25 million Poles from their Polish occupied zone before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Das Generalgouvernement, by Karl Baedeker (1943)
From Salon, "The iconic Baedekers of Leipzig, pressured by the Nazi government into producing a vacation guide to occupied Poland, published the most inadvertently creepy guidebook ever, complete with Reichminister General Governor Hans Frank promising visitors the charms of home—"ein stark heimatlich anmutendes Gebilde." Those charms include an Adolf-Hitler-Platz in the foldout Warsaw map and a brief entry for Auschwitz listing it only as a "train station.""

During the invasion of France in 1940, German Wehrmacht troops, not SS, murdered 180 French Senegalese who had fought well against them.  They were black and that was reason enough.

Some 300 million bottles per year of French wine were diverted to Germany during the occupation of France..

In Odessa, the Romanians carried out the single largest slaughter of Jews.  The Romanian soldiers used live Jewish babies for "trap shooting" by tossing them in the air and shooting them.

A quote from German General Manstein demonstrating that the entire German Army knew their role in the USSR -- "This is about wiping out Red sub-humanity..."

Female Red Army soldiers that were captured were immediately shot.

During Barbarossa, sixty to eighty thousand Jewish Red Army prisoners were taken.  By April, 1942 only 68 were alive in German captivity.

Even Hermann "Papa" Hoth was implicated -- "pity and gentleness towards the population is totally out of order... every manifestation of active or passive resistance or any machinations by Bolshevik-Jewish agitators is to be pitilessly exterminated."

In 1940, the Soviet Commander Konstantin Rokossovsky went straight from an NKVD torture center to command of a Soviet Army.  Rokossovsky endured 3 mock executions, the pulling of his finger nails, three broken ribs and nine teeth knocked out.  In 1956 as Poland's defense minister, he sent tanks against demonstrating workers.

From July 1944 to the German capitulation on May 8, 1945, more Germans died than the previous combined 5 years of war.  Much of this is a result of increased civilian casualties due to bombing of German cities along with fighting taking place in Germany itself.

“8th Co., SS-IR 8 platoon leader Alois Knabel enters Russian village in 1941, informed by the village headman that there’s a Jewish cobbler, wife and child in the town.

Knabel has the Jewish man and wife brought to the company’s quarters, where they are forced to wash and scrub the area while Knabel shouts insults and beats them with a club.

Then Knabel and 2-3 of his fellow SS troopers escort the couple to the edge of the village, where they shoot them in the back of the neck, while Knabel hold the hand of their three-year old child.

Witnessing the sudden, bloody execution of the parents, the child starts screaming. Knabel cradles the child, shushing and stroking the child’s hair with his left hand.

And with his right hand brings a service pistol to the child’s neck and fires a bullet to the base of her skull.

One of the fellow SS troopers later commented, “Look and see how finely Knabel did that, how he first calmed the child down and then shot it.””

Gustav Lombard admittedly murdered at least 6500 Jews in the Soviet Union and served 8 years as a war criminal.

In December 1941, in Simferopol the capital of Crimea, Manstein’s troops worked with Einsatzgruppe D to kill thirteen thousand Jews.  Manstein’s staff officers received watches from the victims that Manstein had requested.

Out of the 403,272 Red Army tank soldiers deployed, 310,000 were killed.