October 2011

Military Book Club: Catch-22 Stands the Test of Time

Paradoxes Abound in Joseph Heller's Catch-22

The beauty of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is also the tragedy of Catch-22. Every single rule, regulation, and medical condition in the entire novel by Joseph Heller is a paradox. The novel even starts out with a paradox: Yossarian’s medical condition, which looks like jaundice, but isn’t actually jaundice, can’t be treated medically because it isn’t quite jaundice. If he were actually more debilitated, he would recuperate faster.

 

Heller’s book is genius in how it shows the tragedies and absurdities of war in ways that other authors couldn’t. (Vonnegut might be the one other writer who has written about war in such a unique way.) Characters such as Major Major Major Major and Dunbar act as foils to the “crazy” Yossarian who actually grasps more of the harsher realities of the war that he is in.

Military Book Look: Day of Lightning, Years of Scorn

A review of the late Charles R. Anderson's biography of General Walter Short

Charles R. Anderson was a historian who left us too soon, dying of cancer in 2003 before the completion of a long-overdue biography on a general who got showered not in praise like, say,  George S. Patton Jr. or Omar Bradley, but in condemnation as harsh as that which has been poured over George Armstrong Custer.  His name: Walter Campbell Short.  A man whose military career would have taken a far different turn had General George C. Marshall not appointed him command of the Hawaiian Department late in 1940 with the command formally assumed by Short with appropriate pomp and circumstance on February 7th, 1941.

Anderson’s biography reveals a man not incompetent or inflexible but an officer who rose to his position by merit starting after his switching from a teaching career at Western Military Academy in Upper Alton, Illinois for the Army itself when he was awarded an Army officer’s commission in 1902 without having set foot in the grounds of the US Military Academy thanks to strong interest shown in the military which manifested itself in grades of 100 while taking classes in the Military Department at the University of Illinois when he studied to be a teacher.

Anderson depicts in crisp, matter-of-fact prose Short’s rise from that point up and up through the US Army acquiring many good marks from his superiors along the way.  A time in which he also won a good woman’s heart, and which saw a son enter their lives whom would be their pride and joy; a son who chose to follow his dad into the Army, launching his own military career when he donned the “cadet grey” of West Point. 

Then we get to Short’s fateful appointment to Hawaii, the Japanese attack, Short’s subsequent relief and retirement from the Army,  the slew of investigations he appeared before, and then his untimely death in September of 1949.

Military Book Look: I Could Never Be So Lucky Again

The classic memoir of Jimmy Doolittle, a hero who wrote his life story and, unlike Hollywood, told the truth about it

Ten years ago, Hollywood foisted on the world more of its lies about history in the form of the movie Pathetic Harbor … excuse me, Pearl Harbor.  In it, a grossly miscast Alec Baldwin played a yahoo character named “Jimmy Doolittle” who did not come even remotely close to the James H. Doolittle you can find in the pages of this book.  In fact, speaking of lies, at one point in it Jimmy has something to say about how say, the press used to tell fibs about him, and summed up such malarkey like this: “When truth goes out the window, we all lose something.”  Well, we certainly lost something when Hollywood dumped garbage all over the man’s name in 2001, but the truth about his life remained intact and unsullied.  And all of that truth can be found on each and every page of I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.

Jimmy was modest to a fault when he penned this book after years of encouragement from others that he put his life story down on paper. In spite of winning numerous awards and honors such as the Schneider Cup, the Bendix Trophy, the Thompson and Clifford W. Henderson trophies (both at once), and the Medal of Honor, and assisting aviation technology during the 1920’s and 1930’s to the point aircraft of today boast very, very few flight instruments on their control panels Doolittle did not have a hand in either perfecting or creating from scratch, when he recounts his achievements he does not to act like, well, a Hollywood prima donna like the joker Hollywood tried to drop into his shoes (and fell flat on its face while doing so!)  Indeed,  Doolittle is to be posthumously commended for how in this book's pages he always gives credit where credit was due and always accepts modestly the credit due to him in either his efforts in the field of aviation or his military career which saw him lead against the Japanese home islands on April 18th, 1942, the famous air raid that now bears his name and, later, the famous 8th Air Force in Europe and, briefly, the Pacific.

Military book look: Shattered Sword, The Untold Story Of The Battle of Midway

A review of Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully's work on the legendary WWII battle

The battle of Midway!  My friends, this is one of the most hallowed events in history to which many books have been devoted.  This one, first released in 2005, tells the story largely from the Japanese point of view with the Americans only occasionally stepping onto center stage, providing a unique perspective on the battle from conception to combat to aftermath with several appendixes devoted to minute details related to the Japanese side such as what the authors think would have happened had the Japanese tried to land their landing force on Midway had the US fleet been routed (resulting in a bloody repulse, they conclude with convincing argument) and the wreckage from the carrier Kaga found by an expedition in 1999.   All in all, it is a comprehensive read put out by the men who founded a website devoted to the Imperial Japanese Navy at: http://www.combinedfleet.com/kaigun.htm