Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gold Key Archives: Star Trek Vol. 1 (Four Stars)

I remember the first time I saw these... the artwork is decent but the writing is awful. Someone who never watched Star Trek wrote the dialog (Spock: "Thank a thousand star heavens!" Kirk: "Great Novas," Scotty: "Bejabbers!") and some plot devices (lunar hours and galaxy minutes) but it they're still worth looking at.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Now the story can be told, 25 years later...

In 1990 I was deployed with Bravo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery. Officially, we were equipped with the third generation of the Hawk surface-to-air missile system. However, a handful of us knew that we were also equipped with a second, secret weapon system which used missiles identical to the Hawk but employed a detection, identification and engagement system based on a totally different principle. It was called Alpha and I was only given permission to write about it in 2015.

Secrets and Scuds follows Bravo Battery from Fort Bliss to southern Iraq, the misadventures of its soldiers and the Catch-22s of the Army. Tent City, Baghdad Betty, an accidental missile launch, scud attacks, IQAF MiG-25s, disguised generators and  a close call on a fratricide incident all occupy the pages Secrets and Scuds. Now available on

The book is illustrated with photos by the author and cartoons.
 I review almost exclusively history books (with rare exceptions). I will gladly review any book having to do with antiaircraft or air defense. Get in touch with me for more information. Most of my book reviews are also on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Courage of a Samurai (Five Stars)

This excellent book looks at the principles of Courage, Integrity, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honor, Loyalty and Ganbaru, all principles which guided the traditional samurai in their duties. Ms. Whaley uses vignettes of many Japanese and Japanese-Americans to illustrate these principles and to make them relevant to the reader.

While I am interested in Japanese history and culture and have done some readings on both topics I still learned from this excellent book. Ms.Whaley knows the philosophy of the samurai and writes extremely well on the topic. I wish she had expanded on the chapter on Courage and the circumstances surrounding Chiune Sugihara, i.e. that as consul he found himself first in an independent Lithuania and then in a corner of the USSR as Stalin occupied the Baltic States as part of his devil's bargain with Hitler. Another part of that bargain was the persecution of the Jewish population of those states. It's a minor thing, but it does clarify the situation Sugihara was in.

As a book this makes you think and challenges what you think you would do in certain situations... the hallmark of great writing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Geneva Convention: the Hidden History of the Red Cross (two stars)

As I am currently doing some research now on the Geneva Convention and the treatment of prisoners of war I thought that this book might be handy. It is a good (not a great) history of the circumstances surrounding the original Geneva Convention, the Red Cross and the evolution of law regarding warfare prior to WWI. The writing is OK, although there is some layout and grammar issues (such as the use of a period where a comma would be more appropriate and compound words divided into two words by means of a hyphen) but these do not distract from the story of Dunant and the original founders of the Red Cross. In fact, Dunant is such an eccentric character it would be hard not to write about him in a way that makes him interesting.

The main problem with the book comes from the way it is framed... literally.
The Introduction does not simply give the reader an oversight into the topic but rather rambles off into an attack on Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney-General (in this case a hyphen is warranted but missing) of the United States. He is described as a "religious Texan," as if that is somehow relevant to the point she is trying to make. She describes the detention facility built for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay as a "concentration camp" (it isn't). And she was critical about Gonzales' description of the Geneva Conventions (as applied to terrorists) as "quaint."
But at least the introduction is mercifully short.

However, Ms. Bennett can't leave it at that. In the last chapter she goes back to bashing the U.S. treatment of terrorists at Guantanamo. She is angry that Flex Plexico (actually, Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, USN) has the nerve to deny that detainees are mistreated with the "equivalent" of torture. She notes that 15 articles of the Geneva Convention are not being observed at Guantanamo Bay... according to the UK Guardian. Apparently, Gonzales disagrees with the US "Ministry of Justice"(sic) as to whether or not detainees deserve the protections that captured soldiers do.

Ms. Bennett, described as a "historian of the Red Cross," fails to note the Geneva Conventions put into play in regards to "irregular warfare." Because of Prussia's experiences during the Franco-Prussian War, which saw French civilians arming themselves with shotguns and other firearms and shooting at German soldiers from windows and other ambushes clauses were put in which described "illegal combatants." These fighters, who have no uniforms, no national symbol, no identification papers, do not get the same protections as regular soldiers.

With that being said, the United States of America, which lost thousands of civilian lives on September 11th, 2001, has graciously used the provisions of the Geneva Conventions as a yardstick for the treatment of detainees. Sorry, but the detainees can't have a canteen as laid out in  Article 28. The detainees food is prepared by the same people who prepare the guards food but with Islamic dietary restrictions in mind (Article 26)... with the exception of those detainees attempting to hunger strike so when they die their lawyers can claim they were murdered. Respect for persons and honor is irrelevant (Article 14)... these are murderers and thieves and if you doubt that I'm sure you can find some beheading videos on YouTube. I can refute or discuss any or all of the articles she claims are not being complied with but it would take too long.

Needless to say, this is like eating a plain chees sandwich between two moldy pieces of bread. If you ditched the liberal hand-wringing at the beginning and end and just concentrated on THE ORIGINS OF THE RED CROSS it would make a decent book.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Elvis's Army (Four Stars)

This started out as an excellent book. Linn has written a solid piece on the U.S. Army, primarily between the end of WWII and the beginnings of Vietnam. During this period the Army experimented with the New Look, tried the Pentomic concept, and eventually reorganized the major units of action with ROAD. The author does an excellent job of explaining the contradictory needs within the Army for trained, career-minded  technicians and large numbers of draftees. When the U.S. Army tried to give draftees more of an incentive to remain, with education and other benefits, it made it more difficult to keep weapons maintained and to conduct  training. When the Army attempted to retain NCO technicians it found that only the least qualified men were staying in.

Linn explored several interesting topics. First and foremost was the role public relations played in the 1950s. The Army was not only redefining itself, it was busy SELLING itself as a branch of the service which still had a role to play in the atomic era. Unfortunately, the same personnel shortfalls in the Army at large made it hard to find and keep good PIOs, but some of the public affairs efforts were really quite good. Other programs, which gave TV and movie companies access to Army stock footage and equipment, allowed the Army to have a "say" on scripts.

Unfortunately, the book does not transition well into the Vietnam era, when ROAD divisions were committed to fighting an insurgency. Instead it winds up going into a critique of the invasion of Iraq (!) which is so inappropriate that it provides an intellectual "jolt." Too bad. If the end of the book was as good as the first 9/10ths I would have suggested it deserved six stars. As it is, the book does have some very good information, much of it statistical but weaved by Linn in a way that makes it engaging.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting (Four Stars)

An interesting book, Handwriting talks about the first forms of writing and how it evolved into the cursive style we use today. Ms. Trubek's writing style is good and she discusses some of the ideas and opinions people have about handwriting in an age when the computer and the internet seems to be making it obsolete. She does a great job of explaining how lower case and upper case letters evolved and the creation of illuminated manuscripts. Overall, very enjoyable.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

NEWEST TITLE OUT TODAY! Geneva Convention POW Handbook

This book contains the Geneva Conventions Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Signed 21OCT1950). The Geneva Convention is currently accepted world-wide as the standard for the treatment of POWs, although it has not always been followed by all combatants.  The POW handbook also provides an index to important topics up front and descriptive list of articles, hopefully making this the easiest copy of the Geneva Convention to use.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Encyclopedia of Prisoners of War and Internment (Four Stars)

I found this book very useful in studying the problems and experiences of prisoners of war, although I found the format a bit uneven. The encyclopedia defines some terms used in the Geneva Conventions but not all of them. On the other hand, it provides some excellent insight into WHY some of the articles in the Geneva Convention are there, as well as comparisons of the Geneva and Hague conventions. Most of the articles are very well done while a couple seem to be space fillers. As a reference, though, I found it excellent.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Wretched Writing (Three Stars)

Not as well done as it could have been, given the material Ms. Petras collected. This is, without a doubt, a good collection of snippets of bad writing of every kind, but her humorous treatment falls flat in most places.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Curiosities of the Confederate Capital (three stars)

This group of stories, or vignettes, about the CSA's capital had some interesting information but it also had seemed to leave out some things. The stories seem to revisit many of the same incidents too. I think this book could stand better organizing and perhaps some additional material.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Beaufort's Old Burying Ground (Four Stars)

If you only visit one cemetery this year make it the Old Burying Ground. This place has a blockage runner, a girl buried in a rum barrel, a British officer buried standing up, and a variety of other characters. This book illustrates some of the headstones and signs found in the burying ground as well as pictures of some of the departed and local homes and businesses associated with the residents. An interesting look at the history of this corner of America.

The Witches (Three Stars)

In 1692 a terrible series of accusations spun out of control in Salem Village, leading to a witch hunt which would end up pointing the finger at the hundreds of pious puritans. When a witch can supposedly materialize in the midst of a court or in the rafters of a meeting house and yet remain invisible to all but the "afflicted" then judges must rely on eyewitness accounts. Ms. Schiff breaks down the events surrounding the witch trials which would result in the deaths of several people, supplying what details are known about many of the actors involved. It's a sobering book, but also slow to digest.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Nigerian Biafran War, 1967-70 (Five Stars)

Little remembered today, the Biafran War was a fight for independence by the Christian Ibos against the Muslim majority of Nigeria following Nigeria's independence from Britain. The war involved not just ground forces but also air and naval forces by both sides and improvisation was the name of the game. Colorful leaders and colorful characters from the rank-and-file abounded, if the photos and plates are anything to go by. It's a fascinating story and the photographs and artwork of this Osprey book makes for a great reference or for a good read in its own right.

Monday, October 17, 2016

General Sherman's Christmas (Four Stars)

This book looks at the March to the Sea as well as the final assault that resulted in the evacuation of Savannah to the Yankees. It's a fascinating story, if not a bit less detailed than other books on the subject. Weintraub uses personal recollections whenever possible to illustrate both sides of the conflict and the difficulties that the Union soldiers had in making the march, as well as the suffering of the civilians in the path of Sherman's juggernaut. The employs a Christmas theme and is well-written. Illustrated with a map and drawings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

 I review almost exclusively history books (with rare exceptions). I will gladly review any book having to do with antiaircraft or air defense. Get in touch with me for more information. Most of my book reviews are also on Goodreads and Amazon.

the Elusive Eden (Three Stars)

Following the Civil War there were some Confederates who decided, for various reasons, to emigrate to the Empire of Brazil. Among them was Frank McMullan, a Texan who arranged to bring over a hundred colonists to one of the last slave-holding countries the Western Hemisphere. The colonists endured the uncertainty of the Brazilian bureaucracy, the sinister machinations of the crew who was paid to take them to South America, and even a shipwreck. Once in Brazil the southerners found that things were not going to work out as they had planned. Many returned, but some stayed.

McMullan secretly hoped to find a lost treasure in the mountains near the colony (in fact, this was why the area was selected). This idea was handed down to two others in the group and would remain an obsession for them.

The writing is good, but slow in parts. It is also redundant regarding some facts. Still, an interesting (and forgotten!) chapter in American history.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Inch'on 1950 (Four Stars)

Hardly ever remembered today, the landing at Inchon brought the Korean War to a new phase, one in which the communists were sent reeling northwards, away from the UN forces within the Pusan Perimeter. This landing had everything going against it: ad hoc units, a short planning period, lack of amphibious landing experience among the troops, a challenging landing site, poor reconnaissance... but when the smoke cleared X Corps controlled Inchon and Seoul and had cut off the main supply artery for the DPRK.

Well written, but just a little redundant because of the way the information is presented, Inch'on 1950 is well-illustrated with photographs, maps and artist renditions. Even if you've HEARD the story of Inchon, this provides a better picture of how the operation was actually carried out.

Monday, October 3, 2016

True Believer: Stalin's Last American Spy (Five Stars)

Noel Field was in idealist who wanted to prevent war, a humanitarian and an American. By the end of his life he was an apologist for Stalin's invasions of Finland and Poland, a supporter of the most repressive state on Earth and a traitor to his homeland.

Marton's book follows Field's life, from the son of an American diplomat to a forgotten pawn of the Cold War. Recruited by the Soviets at the same time as Hiss and Chambers, Field provided the USSR with State Department documents in the 1930s, especially during disarmament talks with other powers. Because of Field's position in the State Department he was no doubt also able to influence AMERICAN policy so it fit in with STALIN's POLICY.

But what I thought was hilarious in this book, in a grim sort of a way, was the untold story of Fields during the last of the Stalin show trials. While Senator McCarthy was revealing the presence of communists in the State Department (an incontrovertible fact, despite the use of the term "Red Scare") Stalin was busy getting rid of those communist leaders in Eastern Europe who did not toe his line. He used Fields, whose work during WWII for a Unitarian aid program enabled many communists to return to their home countries, as broad brush to portray them as spies and saboteurs. While comfortable communists hauled up before the House Un-American Committee refused to name other clandestine communists, Fields named over 500 communists he aided during the war... but not to HUAC. He named them to the Secret Police, who dispatched many of them immediately because they had "suspicious ties to the West." Others got stiff sentences in the Gulag.

Fields allowed himself to be brainwashed into the service of a dictator who had the blood of millions of his hands. He saw the communist system as almost a holy thing and America as a wretched opponent of progressivism. It's a pity the man never devoted a fraction of that enthusiasm towards his country, or at least towards the State Department.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Growing up with Manos: the Hands of Fate (Four Stars)

Any big fan of MST3K is familiar with Manos, the Hands of Fate. To them, the movie is a spectacularly bad product which made for one of the best episodes of Mystery Science 3000 as Joel and the Bots riff hit about ten jokes a minute at some points. But the circumstances of Manos makes for an amusing story in and of itself.

When I started reading the book and Ms. Jones' description of life in El Paso it definitely struck a chord with me. I have lived in El Paso at three points in my life (although well-after the days of Manos) and was familiar with much of the culture described by her in the book. I even recognized the movie as having been shot in El Paso when I saw it on MST3K... which I watched for the first time during my second assignment to Fort Bliss. Manos reinforced my belief that nothing good ever comes out of El Paso.

Jackey Jones, who played the little girl Debbie in the film, hits a lot of high points in her book: the story behind Torgo's knees, the origin of the Temple of Mild Foreboding (Temple of Doom was already taken), the near strike put on by the Wives and The Big Premier. The involvement of her and her family on the film (her father played the Master and her mother made some of the costumes) put her in a great position to provide her own reminisces of the movie as well as giving her the means to find many of the folks involved with the film. The book is well-written, although to be honest I expected a more tongue-in-cheek presentation but God knows, the truth is funny enough.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rogue Heroes (Five Stars)

This book looks at the Special Air Service, a unit organized in North Africa during WWII for the purpose of conducting sustained raids deep behind enemy lines and collecting intelligence. From its humble beginnings under David Sterling to its use in France to slow down German reinforcements attempting to reach the Normandy bridgehead, the SAS story is told by MacIntyre in the only way practical: through the stories of the men who were its members. From David Sterling, with the contradictions of his character to Paddy Mayne, a man bedeviled by internal demons and driven to drink, MacIntyre tells the story of men who were often flawed but committed, who were tough but had weaknesses, and who were pioneers in a new field of military endeavor which required new thinking and new tactics. Sometimes, the SAS was treated as a commando unit or some special elite unit and given battlefield roles for which they were unsuited (such as at Termoli) and suffered casualties accordingly. But when given missions for which they had experience and had planned for they could be devastating. They lived up to their motto "Who Dares, Wins."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lincoln the Inventor (Five Stars)

This excellent book looks at a side of Lincoln which is often overlooked... certainly Lincoln is considered to be to be a man of humor, a thinker and a moralist, but an inventor? Mr. Emerson looks at Lincoln's patent for a device to lift ships over shallow water to be yet another aspect of Lincoln's keen mind, which not only could distill ideas to their basic form but also solve problems in a practical way. Lincoln's personal dabbling in the mechanical arts did not stop at his own invention but continued on to his days as President, when he would speak to weapons manufacturers and other inventors, trying out their devices and identifying flaws in their design or, occasionally, recognizing them as new and unique. This volume might be slim but it explores this side of Lincoln's intellectual life which is rarely discussed today. If only there were an engineering school Lincoln could have gone to!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Air Defence at Sea (Five Stars)

This fascinating book looks at the air defense of warships and fleets. Published in 1988, this book focuses on the weapons and techniques of the time, with a heavy emphasis on sea-based interceptor aviation. It also looks at the primary threat of the time... the Soviet Navy. This is a good study as the emphasis between the two blocs, East and West, was different in regards to the air defense of their fleets. The Soviets leaned heavily on their fleet of Bear aircraft for long-range surveillance at sea while NATO had true aircraft carriers with airplanes which could serve a spectrum of offensive and defensive roles.

Admiral Hill has provided an excellent study (although with very little info on historical development) and has lavishly included maps, diagrams and photographs. He discusses the various missile and gun systems for point defense and the longer-range systems for "area defense." A small book but one with a lot of information. Does not include current developments or geopolitical realities, but still good for the underlying principles.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Trump : The Greatest Show on Earth (One Star)

You would think that a book written by a Village Voice journalist (sic) and recommended by Democracy Now! would be free of bias, providing an untarnished look at Donald Trump from an objective standpoint... but you'd be wrong.

That was sarcasm, for those leftists who had their sense of humor removed before the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Wayne Barrett is proud of his investigation into Trump's business dealings in the 1970s, before he was a household name. Barrett's articles got him banned from doing interviews with Trump for several years and the author claims that Trump offered to get him an apartment in NY as some sort of bribe. Since Barrett didn't take him up on his supposed offer, maybe it happened... and maybe it didn't.

The book uses the term "Trumpian" and it may be that he invented this term since this is a recycle of a book he originally published in 1992, which is all the more remarkable since this was in the days when Trump wasn't considered an "enemy of the people" by the democrats, who gladly accepted his money in charitable and political efforts (same thing in the case of the Clinton Foundation).

The big problem seems to be that Trump made money and he has a brand. The author goes into detail about business dealings which took place over 25 years ago and makes accusations of "rigging," bribery and other questionable practices (the book is absent of any references, so just like the apartment deal we have to take Barrett's word for it). Even the index of this book is a bit shy at 26 pages, considering the book is 445 pages of long, drawn-out discussions of Trump's real estate and other business dealings. If you feel you HAVE to read this book, buy the 1992 edition for 1 cent... there is nothing new here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

 I review almost exclusively history books (with rare exceptions). I will gladly review any book having to do with antiaircraft or air defense. Get in touch with me for more information. Most of my book reviews are also on Goodreads and Amazon.

MASH: An Army Surgeon in Korea (Five Stars)

Doctor Apel relates his personal experiences during the Korean War... not exactly the same as the TV show (although he did provide input for that program). Dr. Apel arrived in Korea as a newly-minted doctor who was basically called up based upon his participation in a WWII doctor training program for the Navy. Given a commission and an Army uniform he was not properly prepared for duty at a MASH, which saved lives by getting the wounded surgical care as quickly as possible. Apel talks about the work conditions, the use of early helicopters for supply and evac, some of the characters he met while in the Arrny, even the bureaucratic red tape which threatened to stop doctors from saving limbs. All this during the Korean War, a hard-fought conflict which should really be remembered today.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fallout (Four Stars)

The Great Atomic War continues, with the USSR and the United States exchanging bombs in the early 1950s, before true intercontinental bombers and missiles would make things REALLY hot. Turtledove tells the story from the perspectives of various Soviets, Americans, Brits, Hungarians and other characters just trying to survive as both sides try to win battles going on in Europe and Korea by hurting the other side's cities. While Turtledove does a great job of creating characters there definitely seems to be something lacking in his knowledge of air defense. Radar-guided aircraft would have been a bane to lumbering B-29/Tu-4s, not to mention flak barriers and even flak rockets. Still, a hard book to put down...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Shadow of Red (Five Stars)

Unlike many works on this topic, which run on the assumption that there were in fact no communists in the broadcast industry, Shadow of Red is an objective look at the actual involvement of the CPUSA in radio and television, as well as those employees who were involved in front organizations cobbled together by communists. Everitt puts the so-called "witch-hunt" in context, discussing the outbreak of the Korean War as a factor in America's attitudes towards communists who openly and vocally supported the same people killing Americans in Asia. Another issue, also not always addressed, was the disillusionment with communism many leftists had after the flip-flops of the 1930s and 1940s towards fascism and African-Americans. Acceptance of the party line meant believing that Finland in 1940 was an actual threat to the USSR and not a victim of aggression. Acceptance of the party line meant hating refugees from the Baltics because they were escaped enemies of the Soviet Union. Acceptance of the party line meant believing Americans were using biological warfare in Korea. People who could be duped into these beliefs were in a position to effect broadcasting at home.

But this book is hardly a homage to the anticommunists of the day. As Everitt points out, the lists produced in Red Channels were based on good information but using an inconsistent yardstick. One person might be on the list simply because they worked on a pro-Soviet movie during WWII, while others with more solid leftist credentials might be missed because they were not radio or TV personalities. And in some cases there were mitigating circumstances or even errors... but no real process to sort out those wrongly accused or to even prevent innocent people from being accused.
The author also points out that the so-called blacklisting was not a government phenomena (although HUAC sometimes did play a role) but rather an attempt by the industry to self-regulate. Most broadcasters just wanted to provide non-controversial entertainment and had no use for anyone wanting to use their microphone as a red pulpit or to justify their politics via their celebrity status. In the blacklist they found a way to avoid these problems, which were bad for business.

One of the best books I have read on the so-called Red Scare. Definitely better than the political pity party pieces which normally cloud the issues.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Polish Armor of the Blitzkrieg (Five Stars)

WWII mythology continues to portray Poland as trying to stop German tanks with horse-mounted lancers. In fact, Poland did have some experience with armor and had several models of half-tracks, armored cars and tanks when the German initiated their invasion in 1939. Many of the machines were at least as good as the armor the Germans were forced to use during their initial campaigns but Poland faced many obstacles in the use of their tanks, including an almost unworkable mobilization system. Jamie Prenatt does an excellent job of discussing the various weapons involved and providing examples of the vehicles in combat. The artwork is first-rate and the book includes great photos of these virtually unknown machines in action. An excellent supplement for anyone studying the Poland campaigns.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Abraham Lincoln: A Living Legacy (Five Stars)

This National Parks guidebook tells the story of Abraham Lincoln from his birth in Kentucky to his election as President. It does this with a well-written narrative and a collection of photos and artwork which illustrates a life more than ordinary. The book also includes some maps and the histories of the three NPS sites associated with Lincoln outside of Washington DC: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHS, Abraham Lincoln Boyhood NM and Lincoln Home NHS. Although not a huge book, it is a very good guide to have with you when visiting these three sites. I especially like the photos of artifacts which are on display at many of these sites.

 I review almost exclusively history books (with rare exceptions). I will gladly review any book having to do with antiaircraft or air defense. Get in touch with me for more information. Most of my book reviews are also on Goodreads and Amazon.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Embracing Defeat (Five Stars)

Sad to say, this book languished on my shelf for over ten years. I'm glad I finally got around to it since it looks at the immediate aftermath of Japan's defeat: ripped social fabric, corruption, severe shortages, devastated cities, a prostrate economy, physical isolation and military occupation. Dower has done a great job of studying what Japan went through during this period which was many things to many people. He has included fascinating vignettes of people, whether they were virtual unknowns or Japanese who in later years would become quite famous. They added context and substance to the experience of the occupation years.

I've been interested since my undergrad days in Japan's unique history, so I was able to stick with this book despite its formidable 564 pages (not counting notes) but I will say the book is not for everyone. However, for people not even that interested in Japan but who ARE interested in the spirit and ingenuity of people faced with such a national trauma as few countries have suffered this can be a fascinating book. Illustrated with some photos.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel (Five Stars)

Prior to the 1973 War Israel scored an intelligence coup which comes around once in a generation: the IDF accessed an agent who worked directly for Egypt's head of state, Anwar Sadat. Code-named "Angel," Marwan Ashraf was able to get quality, timely intelligence regarding Egyptian and Syrian preparations for war. However, for a number of reasons Israel was still almost taken by surprise, showing that even the best intelligence can be defeated by preconceptions and personality conflicts.

Interestingly, I was stationed in Egypt at the time of Ashraf's death and funeral, and one of my jobs was to monitor Egyptian media. There was not a whisper in Mubarak's Egypt that Ashraf was anything but a patriot. Now, almost ten years better, I know better.

The author is very good at discussing the intelligence flooding into Israel prior to the war, but slightly missed the mark in discussing Egypt's preparations for crossing the Suez Canal. Since Sadat had little confidence in Egypt's ability to gain air superiority over the Sinai he was relying on an "umbrella" to protect Egyptian troops on the eastern side of the Canal and Bar-Joseph calls it "impractical" to move air defense systems across the bridges. This was not true for the SA-3 and SA-6 systems, which were mounted on tank hulls which could cross the bridges. Also, he failed to note how the missile systems were integrated with each other, each system compensating for weaknesses in other systems. A minor point but it would have given the reader a clearer picture of the Egyptian crossing.

Bar-Joseph also addresses a topic of discussion among those familiar with Ashraf Marwan's story, that of whether the Angel was actually a double agent. The author demolishes this idea, pointing out how the information the agent provided was accurate but not used to its full effect by the Israelis. The argument that the timing was delayed in such a way as to convince the Israelis that the execution of the Arab plan would never take place, a very risky and unpredictable plan at best.

Overall, a great book. The author repeats the description of Nasser as the "modern Saladin" several times and has an odd use of the word "fire" instead of "assault" or "attack," but it doesn't detract from the content. Book includes photos.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Civil War Remembered (Five Stars)

Unlike many of the National Park Service handbooks, this volume looks at topics out of the mainstream of the study of the Civil War, or at subjects which are difficult to define or study: the role of women, race, the evolution of the military, border states, industry and economy, civilians, death and dying (just to name a few). Despite the relatively small size of the book and its excellent photos and other illustrations, this is not a "fluff piece." Each article is written by an author who has given the topic some deep thought and even in some cases where I disagree with the premise I still have to give the writer credit for the research they did. Definitely worth picking up if you are interested in the Civil War.

Flashman (Five Stars)

An interesting book. It is written as the memoirs of a complete rogue and scoundrel and in this case Flashman is stuck right in the middle of the First Afghan War and the retreat from Kabul, one of the worst military defeats in history. It's an odd way of writing, since Flashman is not just a coward and a scoundrel but he's a coward and a scoundrel who KNOWS it. The narrative is very engaging, although I wouldn't recommend it for today's college students... they could have PTSD from the politically-incorrect language used.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Jackie Ormes (Two Stars)

This book looks at the life and art of Jackie Ormes, a pioneering African-American cartoonist. Her artwork, as presented in this book, is good and she had practice in both single panels and strips. She also had a good handle on the humor end of cartooning, although some of her jokes do need a little explaining (which the book does).

While it is understandable that Ms. Ormes would be politically active during the period, some of the cartoons are definitely left-wing. What is frustrating is the author's interpretation of the communist subversion of the 1950s... "ACCUSED of membership in the CP" is a typical tag. The only concession that Ms. Goldstein makes to the likes of Noel Field, Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs is the idea that FBI investigations into spies was "rarely" true. So, Ms. Ormes had an FBI file. She was hardly the only one.

Ms. Ormes' attitudes were no doubt common within the African-American community. With her sharp pen, I wonder how critical she would be of many of the race hucksters who prey on that community today. In any case, this book doesn't really look at that.

The book does look at Ormes' line of Patty Jo dolls as well.

 I review almost exclusively history books (with rare exceptions). I will gladly review any book having to do with antiaircraft or air defense. Get in touch with me for more information.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Modern African Wars: Angola and Mozambique 1961-74 (Five Stars)

This Osprey volume looks at Portugal's colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique. Unlike France and Britain, Portugal managed to hold on to its African colonies through the 1970s. Part of this had to do with the single-minded nationalism of the Portuguese political leadership, as well as the unusual relationship that the home country had with the African people it ruled. Unlike the experience other countries had, Portugal provided for equal legal status of blacks and whites and Europeans and Africans served together in many of the Army units.

Portugal, which was not a large or rich country, does enjoy a rich military history and it took advantage of it. As a NATO member Portugal had access to modern arms and it configured its small but professional forces to fight the Marxist guerrillas attempting to take over the various colonies and turn them into "worker's paradises"... which of course is not how things worked out. The Portuguese even reorganized Cavalry and Artillery units as counterinsurgency units, a practice that the United States would also take advantage of in Iraq against the islamofascists. Includes some information on FRELIMO, UNITA, FPLA, etc.

The discussion of the campaign in Africa is well done and well illustrated. Definitely worth checking out.

In Wartime: Stories From the Ukraine (Five Stars)

Mr. Judah's collection of stories from various locations throughout the Ukraine gives the reader an unusual insight into the conflict there in the aftermath of the Russian takeover of the Crimea. With interviews of civilians and soldiers on both sides of the lines, Judah uses these vignettes to tell the larger story of the corruption-riddled Ukraine attempting to hold its own against the Russians and their propaganda machine.  For someone like myself, who can't understand how Ukrainians could be so indifferent to the fate of their country, the backstory is important. Unfulfilled promises of independence, unfulfilled potential due to corruption, unfulfilled futures linked to a poor understanding of the past... all these have contributed to the tragedy of the Ukraine.

Whether you are curious about the war in the Ukraine or just want to learn about the human tragedy of war, Judah's excellent writing, his ability to find great subjects and his insights make this a must-read. True, Judah makes lots of references to the Yugoslavian Civil War (which aren't always relevant) and some of the photos could use better captioning, but none of this detracts from the book as a whole. Includes maps, which are essential to understanding the full story.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Shifting Loyalties (Four Stars)

Although a bit dry at times, Shifting Loyalties does a good job of telling the story of occupied North Carolina, the coastal region which fell to Union invasion in 1862 and included the towns of New Bern and Beaufort. The relationships between the Yankees, the unionist Carolinians and rebel sympathizers (to say nothing of the African-American population) are discussed at length, exploring Union demoralization, rebel terrorism, trade and attitudes towards the war.

A very good look at this forgotten theater of the Civil War. Illustrated with photos and some graphics.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Peter Arno (Five Stars)

Anyone who has looked at collections of the New Yorker’s cartoons (at least those dated from the 1920s to the 1960s) has seen Arno’s work. His cartoons are simple, yet bold, and are daring without being shocking. Of the artist himself I knew nothing until I read Maslin’s book.

And I am glad I did. Maslin’s writing is excellent, studying as it does both Arno’s artistic career and his personal life. Separately they’d be interesting, together they’re fascinating. Arno’s relationship with his father, his attempts at Broadway shows, his wartime work, his marriages, his finances and his short-lived band all make for great material, and Maslin pulls it all together to give the reader a feel for the man who didn’t just draw characters… he was one.

Arno's work is in many ways like Chas Addams. Not stylistically or in the type of humor, rather it is the same in that the TYPE of humor illustrated by each of the two artists became associated with the STYLE of the artist himself. Just as Addams' macabre sense of humor can be identified by the type of detailed, creepy pen and wash style Arno's lampoons of society are associated with his sharp lines and minimalist backgrounds.

Naturally, illustrated with Arno cartoons and some photographs.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ack-Ack (Two Stars)

This book looks at D-Day, Operation Cobra and the Third Army's advance toward the Rhine and into Germany. The author's grandfather, Carl Murray, served in Battery D, 411th Antiaircraft Artillery, which was landed at the American beaches after D-Day and later moved forward with Third Army. This unit was equipped with 90mm guns, but Carl Murray was in the motor section and would not have had much to do with the artillery until it was time to move.

Point in fact, there isn't much in this book about Murray. The book is written as a short history of Third Army which revolves around a handful of photographs taken by the grandfather during the war and another handful of anecdotes of the man. It more often mentions Patton and takes anecdotes of other authors to build up the content. After reading this book I don't know any more than I did before I picked it up regarding how a 90mm battery operated (did they answer to corps? did they have advance scouts for positions?) or what challenges a motor sergeant endured during the fight. Because Murray didn't write a journal or have letters that survived the author guesses quite a bit or relies on other books to tell the reader what it was like in France in the last half of 1944. The things I read about regarding Normandy, Paris, Metz and Dachau I already knew about from reading Time-Life's WWII series. What I learned about Murray could have been condensed into a few pages.

Good writing style, though.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Guilford Courthouse 1781 (Five Stars)

Following a successful campaign in South Carolina Cornwallis entered North Carolina in an effort to bring the Revolution to an end in the South. However, poor supply and communications weakened his army as he sought to bring the rebels under General Greene to battle. Eventually Cornwallis would get his wish at Guilford Courthouse.

Guilford Courthouse saw Virginian and Carolinian militia, stiffened by Continental Line regiments, fight British regulars, German mercenaries and loyalists. They may not have won but General Greene made the best use of the men he had and managed to inflict such heavy casualties that Cornwallis had to retreat to Wilmington to reestablish and refit his men, ceding the fight for the Carolinas to Greene.

This is an excellent book detailing the fight at Guilford Courthouse. I recently walked along the battlefield park there and I am glad that I got this book to put this battle in context. It is well-illustrated and well-written.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Katyusha (Four Stars)

This book presents an excellent overview of the Katyusha rocket artillery system, one which has evolved since the early days of the Great Patriotic War. Mr. Prenatt's treatment of the topic is excellent and it is clear he has done quite a bit of research. The illustrations by Adam Hook are very good as well, and serve to really bring these machines and their gunners to life.

If there is a weakness with Katyusha then it is that the scope of the book is just too wide. The evolution of the Katyusha is so extreme on one end (air-to-ground rockets fired from truck-mounted rails) to the other (missiles contained in individual canisters, correction for weather, remote fuzing) that it would have been better to do a book about Katyusha's in WWII and perhaps a second on postwar MRLs. Just trying to keep the variants straight was a bit difficult as I went through the book.

Very well illustrated and has great photos.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

LeMay: Lessons in Leadership (Four Stars)

Curtis Lemay's career as an airman spanned several decades and many roles. his book looks at highlights of his life, as commander of a bomber wing in China, as the leader on the ground for the incendiary raids against Japan, and as the commander of Strategic Air Command. In every instance he brought a unit that was barely functioning and made it into a potent weapon of war. His story is an important one for anyone who really wants to understand the Cold War and what was at stake.

The book does have one small issue. On page 22, in the chapter which discusses his assignment to 8th Air Force in England, there is a map of Europe which oddly enough shows the geopolitical situation between German Reunification in 1990 and Slovenia's independence in 1991. WHY this map would be picked to illustrate this book I have no idea. The map on page 54 seems to accurately portray WWII Asia during the period Lemay was there.

A good book, although nothing more than an introduction.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

 I review almost exclusively history books (with rare exceptions). I will gladly review any book having to do with antiaircraft or air defense. Get in touch with me for more information.

Patriot Flugabwehrrakatensystem (Five Stars)

If you're interested in the Patriot Air Defense System then this is the book for you. While thin, the book is packed with information about how the Patriot system functions and how U.S. Army Patriot battalions are organized. There is even a little bit about the weapon system's developmental history and its role in Operation Desert Storm. But for someone who wants to build a model of the system or just likes to see details of military equipment then the black-and-white and color photos are great. The book is a little repetitious in places and could have used a few photos of Patriots in operation during ODS and Iraqi Freedom, but other than that a great product.

The book even uses examples of equipment from 1-7 ADA, my first unit assignment!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Land, Sea, and Foreign Shore: A Missileer's Story (Four Stars)

Clair W. Clark joined the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, entering a program which allowed him to finish his college degree without being drafted by going through a commissioning course in Quantico, Virginia. He then specialized in surface-to-air missiles and was trained in Yuma, Arizona and Fort Bliss, Texas on the Hawk surface-to-air missile and then went on to Vietnam.

Clark's writing is very good and it really makes the reader feel as if they can picture the action. I can honestly say I learned quite a bit about the Marine Corps as it operated back in those days. With that being said, I believe this book could have been tightened up a little bit (from 400 pages to maybe 250-300). After all, I don't think I really need to know the exact route Clark took from MCAS El Toro to Yuma in 1968 nor the Ballad of John Jones and his short career as a pilot. Spelling errors are a bit annoying too, such as the word "flack" for "flak", the discussion of HU1E "Huey" gunships, and acronym EOD being translated as "Emergency Ordnance Disposal" instead of "Explosive Ordnance Disposal."

I served in Army Hawk myself in the 1980s, part of that in a "square" battery like the author. I believe he has done an excellent job of conveying what it was like to operate Hawk. In describing the destruction of the local ASP and the effects of the explosion on exposed Hawk missiles I guess it never occurred to me what effect such a thing could have on the "open-ended" hydraulic system. Nor had I any idea that a Hawk fire unit had ever been subjected to ground attack, as one of the batteries of the 1st LAAM had been. While this information was not circulated in the 1970s and 1980s I don't doubt that the raid on Charlie Battery might have had something to do with our battalion receiving reinforcements from 10th Mountain Division during Desert Storm in order to protect our perimeter.
A very good in its own right and a must-read for anyone interested in the topic of antiaircraft. Includes black and white photographs.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Case of General Edwin A. Walker (Two Stars)

This book is about General Walker and the end of his "Pro-Blue" Program in West Germany while Walker was in command of the 24th Infantry Division. The liberal media of the time smeared General Walker and tried to make him out to be a right-wing nut. Eventually, Walker resigned his commission from the U.S. Army, the only general officer to do so in the 20th Century.

Unfortunately, the book is poorly organized and manages to go off on tangents in places. A better edited and more focused book would have served the purpose much better of explaining the need for the Pro-Blue program and would have provided a stronger argument that the general was railroaded. As it is, this book serves best as a primary source for anyone researching this highly-decorated officer, a soldier who was the only other person we know of that Lee Harvey Oswald took a shot at in a failed assassination attempt that preceded Kennedy's.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Lost White Tribe (Five Stars)

A very interesting book. Robinson discusses 18th and 19th century theories on race, which evolved from Biblical theories regarding Moses, his sons and the repopulation of the world following the Deluge. This was superseded by more "scientific" theories regarding biometrics, archeology, linguistics and the results of European exploration of previously isolated areas.

The intellectual gymnastics that 19th century authorities had to go through in order to justify European domination of Asian and African peoples (whether in the form of colonization or slavery) is explored in the book, but the most interesting part for me were the theories where Caucasian races MUST have had their own civilization in Africa (in the case of Zimbabwe) or explained the mound builders in America. These theories all had the same basis in that they believed Asia was the wellspring of the Human race and NOT Africa, which we now know is the case.

These theories are significant in that the Nazis later bought into the idea of an "Aryan race" (which in fact was a common Aryan language, NOT a race) and in popular culture the idea of a lost white civilization somewhere in Africa found its way into literature and movies. A fascinating topic!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Tredegar (Five Stars)

Madison's book is well-written and looks at the iron works as a whole, from its early establishment to its final shut down in the 20th century. It is very readable and entertaining. If there is a fault in the book I would say that it lies in the fact that the book really does not look much at the role the iron works played during the Civil War, during which it provided the only steady supply of armaments and other military material that the Confederacy could really count on. That is not to say that Mr. Madison ignores the role of Tredegar during the war... not at all. Madison spends much time on the management of the works, the labor issues involved, and the tragic explosion which killed so many young girls trying to work on percussion caps and raw materials. However, I just felt like there was more to the topic than what is in this book.

Illustrated with photos and drawings.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Books in Action (Five Stars)

This book, composed of three short essays and a list of titles by author, looks at the books produced during WWII (and immediately afterward) as small paperback editions. These book titles were picked for their value in entertaining and educating GIs overseas. The titles include Robert Benchley stories, Zane Gray westerns to Selected Stories of Mark Twain. In many cases, soldiers claimed that these books provided them the first opportunity to really get to know good literature.

This book is a slim volume but if you are interested in this topic it is the best place to start.