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Search tags: FIRST-WORLD-WAR-non-fiction
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review 2018-03-02 07:06
Undercover: The Men and Women of the Special Operations Executive - Patrick Howarth

SOE. The Special Operations Executive. Its remit upon its establishment in Britain during the dark days of the summer of 1940 when the Third Reich bestrode the continent of Western Europe from Norway to the Bay of Biscay: to establish an effective resistance against the Nazis in German-occupied Europe. The author of "UNDERCOVER", Patrick Howarth, was himself a member of this unique organization. With considerable skill, he shares with the reader the stories of many of the courageous men and women of SOE who risked their lives across Europe from Norway to France, the Netherlands, Poland (there the Polish resistance had an autonomy and control over operations against the Germans unlike any resistance network elsewhere), the Balkans, and Italy. Later, SOE would establish itself in the Far East and the Southwest Pacific in the war against Japan. 

Anyone who enjoys reading human interest stories and tales of espionage will gain a deep understanding and appreciation for the people who made SOE such a uniquely effective organization, despite the antagonisms it faced from older, more established intelligence agencies in Britain (e.g. the Secret Intelligence Service [SIS] or MI-6), as well as from elements of the British military. 

In essence, "[t]he history of SOE's active service in the Second World War may be deemed to have begun when members of a British military mission were retreating hastily from Poland to Romania in September 1939. It may be thought to have ended when the first white man to be parachuted into Sarawak, and future curator of Sarawak's ethnological museum, accepted the surrender of Japanese forces on 31 October 1945."

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review 2018-01-02 02:09
A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Family's Quest for Justice - Anthony Summers,Robbyn Swan

In "A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Family's Quest for Justice" Anthony Summers has written what is likely to be the definitive account of the events that led to the Pearl Harbor attack (on the U.S. Pacific Fleet) of December 7th, 1941 and the failures among the U.S. political and military leadership that helped make the attack likely. 

Summers has a deserved reputation as a journalist/writer who leaves no stone unturned and scrupulously explores every source available to him, checking thoroughly for the veracity of various documents and data he finds on a subject that is his prime interest. Some years ago, I read his biography of J. Edgar Hoover - 'Official and Confidential, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover' - which made me a fervent fan of his work. (The way he was able to marshal facts and personal accounts from people who both worked closely for Hoover or suffered as the result of his unjust acts, absolutely captivated my interest in the book.) And here in "A Matter of Honor", as a way of giving a further scope to the common narrative of the Pearl Harbor attack that has been perpetuated for decades, Summer provides the reader with a compelling account of the life and career of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel - the commander of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Here was a man who devoted his whole life to the U.S. Navy, from his time at Annapolis in the early 1900s, to the various commands he served - always earning the highest commendations from his superiors. He truly epitomized through his personal conduct and service all that could be asked for from an officer. 

Yet, from the time, Kimmel was made commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in February 1941, there are factors that Summers brings to light that show that Kimmel and his Army counterpart, General Walter Short, were not provided with all the resources they needed to defend Hawaii against a possible Japanese attack. This was during a time when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Japan were deteriorating, and by the latter part of 1941, it was judged likely by both Washington and the top military leadership that war between the 2 countries would result. (Indeed, the U.S. military had broken the Japanese military and diplomatic codes - and so, had some sense of what Tokyo was contemplating as a resolution to its impasse with Washington.) 

This is a book that anyone who wants to know the definitive account of who(m) is (are) responsible or culpable for the tragedy of Pearl Harbor should read and then quietly reflect upon. I know that I will never again judge Admiral Husband Kimmel as guilty as dereliction of duty. In my view, he was a convenient scapegoat (which is not easy for me to admit, as someone who had earlier accepted wholesale the official stories behind Admiral Kimmel's and General Short's "neglect" of Hawaii's defense).

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review 2017-11-09 04:23
Blitzkrieg: Myth, Reality, and Hitler’s Lightning War: France 1940 - Lloyd Clark

"BLITZKRIEG - Myth, Reality, and Hitler's Lightning War: France 1940" provides the reader with a fairly comprehensive account of the German invasion of the Benelux countries and France during May and June 1940. The author sets out to show that the German victory in Western Europe was by no means certain. Indeed, Hitler had plans to invade Western Europe as early as November 1939. But postponements were made on several occasions owing to the weather. There was also an occasion in which a Luftwaffe courier plane carrying the invasion plans veered off course and crashed in Belgium in January 1940. The German officer who had the plans, tried to burn them but was thwarted by the Belgians who soon arrived on the scene. This led the Allies to believe that the Germans would attack them in the same way as had happened in 1914. For their part, the German General Staff had their fears of repeating the mistakes of 1914. Thus, the plans for invasion were altered. 

The French entered the war in a state of wearied resignation with little enthusiasm for offensive operations. Their political and military leadership were prepared for a war of attrition. They had expectations of the Germans attacking them, Luxembourg, and Belgium in much the same way as they did in August 1914. To that end, their plan was to commit their best units - along with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) - to Central Belgium in response to a German attack there. But, as the author points out, the French top commander Maurice Gamelin failed to take into account the possibility of the Germans making a bold thrust through the Ardennes Forest with their tanks (the Ardennes was regarded by the French as impassable to tanks and thus was lightly defended on the premise that the Germans would never make a major attack there). So, when the Germans sent their tanks, motorized units, and infantry through the Ardennes and into the key town of Sedan, Gamelin treated the German thrust as a diversion, requiring little response. But the Germans were wary of attritional warfare, knowing that their chances for success rested on exploiting any breakthrough with speed, dash, and savage attacks against the French designed to shock them both militarily and psychologically. Consequently, the Germans were able to reach the English Channel 10 days after the invasion began and within the following fortnight to compel the BEF to evacuate from the ports of Boulogne and Dunkirk. 

"BLITZKRIEG" contains pages of maps showing the development of the German offensives in the West (codenamed 'Fall Gelb' and 'Fall Rot') and several photos, which should appeal to any student of military history, as well as the general reader. 

Again from reading this book, I learned how much success or defeat in a military campaign encompasses many factors - human, economic, political, and psychological - that, taken together, contribute to the triumph of the conquering nation (Nazi Germany) and the demoralization and defeat of the opposing nation (France). 

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review 2017-10-15 23:53
World War II German Women's Auxiliary Services - Gordon Williamson

This book provides a comprehensive view of the varieties of uniforms and badges that were worn by German women who served in a variety of roles in the German Army, Navy, Luftwaffe (air force), SS, and civilian sectors during the Second World War.   

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review 2017-06-22 18:09
Eye-Opening SF: "Saving the World Through Science Fiction - James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar” by Michael R. Page
Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar (Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy) - Michael R Page,Foreword by Christopher McKitterick,Donald E Palumbo,C W Sullivan III

“Thus, traditional criticism’s charge that science fiction isn’t, in general, ‘literary’ because science fiction writers don’t focus on or have the artistry to deeply delve into character misses the point that science fiction isn’t about character, it’s about ideas. And therefore, science fiction should be judged by a different set of criteria than mundane mainstream fiction is evaluated.”


In “Saving the World Through Science Fiction - James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar” by Michael R. Page


Don't critics ignore SF because there's far too much of it, and the vast majority of it - like any sector of genre fiction - is a bit safe, geared more to selling to a niche of fans than the mass market? Certainly SF fandom is obsessed with genre distinctions (steampunk, space opera, mundane, whatever) that have absolutely no currency in the mainstream world - just like crime fandom (maybe to a lesser extent) worries about distinctions between golden age, hard-boiled, procedural and so on.

In both cases the really good stuff, the stuff that transcends the formulae and has something worthwhile to say - Atwood, or Houllebecq, or Alan Moore, Ballard, or Gunn - it "does" get noticed, it's just that people don't call it SF anymore.



If you're into SF Literary Criticism, read on.

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