One-Minute Book Reviews

July 5, 2008

The D-Day Messages Heard by American, British and Other Troops Going Ashore in Normandy – A Brief Excerpt From ‘The Longest Day’

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I wanted to post this excerpt from The Longest Day on June 6 but couldn’t put my hands on the book in time. Cornelius Ryan’s great account of the Normandy invasion fits the spirit of the Fourth of July weekend, too:

This passage describes the day of the invasion and typifies the you-are-there narrative style that has helped to make this book a classic:

“Never had there been a dawn like this. In the murky, gray light, in majestic, fearful grandeur, the great Allied fleet lay off Normandy’s five invasion beaches. The sea teemed with ships. …

“On the transports men jammed the rails, waiting their turn to climb down slippery ladders or scramble-nets into the heaving, spray-washed beaching craft. And through it all, over the ships’ public-address systems came a steady flow of messages and exhortations: ‘Fight to get your troops ashore, fight to save your ships, and if you’ve got any strength left, fight to save yourselves.’ … ‘Get in there, Fourth Division, and give ’em hell!’ … ‘Don’t forget, the Big Red One is leading the way.’ … ‘U.S. Rangers, man your stations’ … ‘Remember Dunkirk! Remember Coventry! God bless you all’ …’Nous mourrons sur le sable de notre France chérie, mais nous ne retournerons pas [We shall die on the sands of our dear France but we shall not turn back].’ … ‘This is it, men, pick it up and put it on, you’ve only got a one-way ticket and this is the end of the line. Twenty-nine, let’s go!’ And the two messages that most men still remember: ‘Away all boats,’ and ‘Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name …’”

From The Longest Day: June 6, 1944 (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, 1994), first published in 1959. The ellipses at the end of the first paragraph show where I omitted some text from the book. The ellipses in the second paragraph do not represented omitted text – they appear in the book. You can read a longer excerpt from another section of the book here www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=25&pid=404556&agid=2.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 6, 2008

D-Day Books – Remembering June 6, 1944

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:22 am
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“Eisenhower revealed a greatness of spirit as Supreme Commander and military leader of the Alliance which it is difficult to imagine being matched by another general.”
– From Max Hastings in Victory in Europe: D-Day to V-E Day

I wanted to write today about The Longest Day, Cornelius Ryan’s great account of the invasion of Normandy and one of my favorite books about World War II. But the library didn’t have a copy I could use to check a few quotes (though it had the movie version, memorable chiefly for a performance by Ernest Borgnine).

Nor did the library have two other books I’d considered: Overlord, by Max Hastings, whose recent Retribution I admired greatly, and Stephen Ambrose’s D Day June 6, 1944, which lacks the narrative power of The Longest Day but which many critics liked more than I did. The library did have Six Armies in Normandy, by the distinguished military historian John Keegan. But that one seemed to be less about the June 6 naval invasion than the subsequent land battles and was also a more technical book than I was looking for.

So I came home with Victory in Europe: D-Day to V-E Day (Little, Brown, 1985) a coffee-table book with a text by Max Hastings, color photographs by the director George Stevens and an introduction by George Stevens, Jr. This passage deals with the role of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in the invasion:

“Much criticism was thrust upon Eisenhower during the war and after its conclusion for his failings as a soldier, and indeed even his admirers concede that he was no battlefield commander. Yet throughout the 1944–1945 campaign, Eisenhower revealed a greatness of spirit as the Supreme Commander and military leader of the Alliance which it is difficult to imagine being matched by another general. Nowhere was this seen to greater advantage than during the critical D-Day launching conferences of 3 and 4 June, when the weather seemed to threaten the fulfillment of all the Allies’ hopes. [Britain’s Field Marshal Bernard] Montgomery, in one of the major misjudgments of his career, urged that the landing should go ahead on 5 June. Given the difficulties that occurred in better weather on the 6th, it seems possible that disaster could have befallen the Allies had they gone ahead a day earlier. As it was, Eisenhower alone assumed the vast responsibility first, for postponing the invasion on the 5th and also committing his vast force to another day of confinement on their ships; and second, for setting the invasion in motion, gambling hugely on the accuracy of Group-Captain Stagg’s prediction of a weather ‘window’ on the 6th. ‘I’m quite positive we must give the order,’ he said at the meeting at 9:45 p.m. on 4 June. ‘I don’t like it, but there it is … I don’t see how we can do anything else.’”

[Note: Fans of military history, what is your favorite D-Day book? In this post I've mentioned several of the best known (especially those by Ryan, Keegan and Ambrose). Have I missed any that you would recommend?]

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 25, 2008

Were They Really ‘The Greatest Generation’? Quote of the Day / Max Hastings

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Former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw has called those who lived during World War II “the greatest generation.” Is this phrase accurate? Max Hastings, the journalist and former editor of The Daily Telegraph, says in his latest work of military history, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45 (Knopf, $35) www.aaknopf.com:

“The phrase ‘the greatest generation’ is sometimes used in the U.S. to describe those who lived through those times. This seems inapt. The people of World War II may have adopted different fashions and danced to different music from us, but human behavior, aspirations and fears do not alter much. It is more appropriate to call them, without jealousy, ‘the generation to which the greatest things happened.’”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 22, 2008

Why Do Suicide Bombers Do It? Lessons From Kamikazes

Why have so many suicide bombers been willing to sacrifice their lives in the Middle East and elsewhere? Similar questions were raised about Japanese kamikaze pilots who crashed their planes into American aircraft carriers and other ships in the last months of World War II. Max Hastings, the British journalist, notes his new Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45 (Knopf, $35) that the attacks began when traditional Japanese air forces were being overwhelmed by the Americans:

“Suicide attack offered a prospect of redressing the balance of forces, circumventing the fact that Japanese pilots were no longer capable of challenging their American counterparts on conventional terms. Instead, their astonishing willingness for self-sacrifice might be exploited. Here was a concept which struck a chord in the Japanese psyche, and caught the Imperial Navy’s mood of the moment. Officers cherished a saying: ‘When a commander is uncertain whether to steer to port or starboard, he should steer towards death.’ An alternative aphorism held that ‘One should take care to make one’s own dying as meaningful as possible.’ The suicide concept appeared to satisfy both requirements.”

Hastings adds that one kamikaze pilot had married just three months earlier. Before leaving on his final mission, instead of saying that he was sacrificing himself for his country, he told reporters he was doing it for his beloved wife:

“To a Western mind, self-immolation in such circumstances is incomprehensible. To some Japanese of the time, however, it seemed intensely romantic.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 19, 2008

Max Hastings Reconsiders the Endgame of the War in the Pacific in ‘Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45′

Filed under: History,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:31 pm
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Remembering the era when General Douglas MacArthur wouldn’t agree to a government request to change his famous remark on leaving the Philippines from “I shall return” to “We shall return”

Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45. By Max Hastings. Knopf, 615 pp., $35.

By Janice Harayda

One of the paradoxes of the wave of historical revisionism now sweeping the United States is that while many Americans vow “never to forget” the Holocaust, they turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Japanese in World War II. The reasons for the selective memory are complex and range from the failings of schools to the possibility that – as some have psychologists have suggested – the human mind can only bear to think about so much evil.

But anyone who wants to understand the scope of savagery might start with Retribution, the British journalist Max Hastings’s latest work of military history. One virtue of this immensely readable book is that it blends with great skill the approaches that have been called “top-down” and “bottom-up” history. Retribution has memorable portraits of military leaders such as Chester Nimitz, Curtis LeMay and Douglas MacArthur (who objected when the Office of War Information wanted to change for public consumption his famous “I shall return” to “We shall return”). And Hastings’s analyses of the decisions of generals, admirals and statesmen lead to many persuasive conclusions – most notably, that dropping the atomic bombs resulted fewer deaths than would have occurred if the war had continued apace.

Amid such glimpses of those at the top, Retribution shows the shattering effects of the war on the men and women at the bottom, those who survived the firebombing of Tokyo or fought in Burma, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and elsewhere. Stories of unimaginable suffering are leavened with lighter moments. Families could send parcels to Allied prisoners of war, but the Japanese seldom delivered them. So a U.S. artillery captain held captive on Luzon was thrilled to get a package from home “which he found wonderfully sensibly chosen: a carton of cigarettes, a sweater, a jar of candy and some vitamin pills.”

But for many Americans, the most startling parts of this book are likely to involve the accounts of Japanese brutality to the 100,000 Allied POWs and others. These atrocities go beyond what anyone might expect from such popular books as The Railway Man, Eric Lomax’s story of working in captivity on the Burma-Siam railroad – to say nothing of movies like The Sands of Iwo Jima or The Bridge on the River Kwai.

“There were so many cases of arbitrary beheadings, clubbings and bayonetings in different parts of the empire that it is impossible to dismiss these as unauthorized initiatives by individual officers and men,” Hastings writes. Some of the sadism recalls Josef Mengele’s experiments in Nazi death camps: Eight American airmen were killed by unanesthetized vivisecton carried out in front of medical students at a Japanese hospital. Hastings disagrees with Japanese and other observers who say that it is time to put aside old grievances about such atrocities:

“Germany has paid almost $6 billion to 1.5 million victims of the Hitler era. Austria has paid $400 million to 132,000 people. By contrast, modern Japan goes to extraordinary lengths to escape any admission of responsibility, far less of liability for compensation, towards its wartime victims.”

Hastings ascribes the Japanese position partly to a tendency to excuse — “even to ennoble” — the shameful actions of parents and grandparents. Whatever the reason for what he calls “denial,” it can hardly help Japan’s relations with the world. America found one kind of retribution on the deck of the battleship Missouri, but another kind has clearly eluded its former prisoners of war and others.

Best lines: On submarine crews: “Freshmen had to master the delicate art of using submarine toilets inside a pressure hull: ‘It was hard to flush below a hundred feet and keep a clean face,’ wrote one.” On Tom Brokaw–esque romanticizing: “The phrase ‘the greatest generation’ is sometimes used in the U.S. to describe those who lived through those times. This seems inapt. The people of World War II may have adopted different fashions and danced to different music from us, but human behavior, aspirations and fears do not alter much. It is more appropriate to call them, without jealousy, ‘the generation to which the greatest things happened.’”

Worst lines: “In the first campaigns, nations which are victims rather than initiators of aggression enjoy scanty choices.” Does anyone “enjoy” having few choices? And it’s painful to see a journalist as good as Hastings using “task” as a verb: “One of Vedder’s corpsman had been tasked to carry his instruments ashore …”

Sample chapter titles: “The British in Burma,” “America’s Return to the Philippines,” “MacArthur on Luzon,” “Blood Miniature: Iwo Jima,” “Australians: ‘Bludging’ and ‘Mopping Up,’ “Okinawa,” “Mao’s War,” “The Bombs.”

Editor: Robert Lacey (HarperCollins, UK), Ashbel Green (Knopf)

Published: March 2008 www.aaknopf.com. This book was called Nemesis in Britain.

Recommendation? Highly recommended to history book clubs and fans of military history. This book could also be a great Father’s Day gift for a father who likes history or military lore.

Read an excerpt: Go to www.aaknopf.com and search for “Retribution.”

Reading group guide: A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Retribution was posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on May 19, 2008 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/05/19.

Furthermore: Hastings calls Retribution a counterpart to his earlier Armageddon, which describes the war against Germany in 1944–1945. He has been a foreign correspondent, the editor of The Daily Telegraph and Journalist of the Year in Britain.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist who has been the book critic for Glamour, the book editor of The Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights recovered.
www.janiceharayda.com

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Max Hastings’s ‘Retribution’ for History Book Clubs and Others

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10 Discussion Questions
Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45
by Max Hastings
Source: http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce the guide.

How did the Allies achieve victory in the Pacific in World War II? Max Hastings tells the story of the cataclysmic events leading to V-J Day in his latest work of military history, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45 (Knopf, 615 pp., $35) www.aaknopf.com. Here are some starter questions about the book for history book clubs and others.

Discussion Questions

1. You could argue that, as used in the title of this book, the word “retribution” has more than one meaning. What are some of them? Which do you see as the most important?

2. The War in the Pacific differed from the War in Europe in many ways, including in its scale. “In the Pacific there were no great battles resembling Normandy, the Bulge, the Vistula and Oder crossings, exploiting mass and maneuver. Instead, there was a series of violently intense miniatures, rendered all the more vivid in the minds of participants because they were so concentrated in space.” [Page 119] This reality of the War in the Pacific poses an obvious challenge for military historians who need to create drama in order to maintain interest a long book. How does Hastings create that drama?

3. Hastings tries to debunk a number of myths about World War II, one of which involves the American decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some people believe that this act caused a needless loss of life because the Japanese would have surrendered if warned about the bomb. Hastings disagrees. “The myth that the Japanese were ready to surrender anyway has been so comprehensively discredited by modern research that it is astonishing some writers continue to give it credence,” he writes. “Japanese intransigence does not of itself validate the use of atomic bombs, but it should frame the context of debate.” [Page xix] How – and how well — does he make the case for this point of view?

4. What myths about the war does Hastings try to banish? How effective are his attempts?

5. Parts of Retribution may be controversial. In some of these, Hastings compares the nature if not the scope of Japanese atrocities to those of the Nazis, who used some similar methods of torture or death, such as vivisection of unanesthetized prisoners. “In the face of evidence from so many different times, places, units and circumstances, it became impossible for Japan’s leaders credibly to deny systematic inhumanity as gross as that of the Nazis,” Hastings writes. [Page 236] Based on the evidence in Retribution, is this comparison justifiable?

6. Hastings is British journalist born a few months after World War II ended. Apart from the British spellings retained in the American edition of Retribution, do you see any evidence that his nationality affected his telling of the story? Given the current political climate in the U.S., would an American writer have spoken so bluntly about the reluctance of the Japanese to come to terms with the atrocities committed in World War II?

7. The former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw has called those who lived through World War II “the greatest generation.” Hastings challenges this view. “The phrase ‘the greatest generation’ is sometimes used in the U.S. to describe those who lived through those times,” he writes. “This seems inapt. The people of World War II may have adopted different fashions and danced to different music from us, but human behavior, aspirations and fears do not alter much. It is more appropriate to call them, without jealousy, ‘the generation to which the greatest things happened.’” [Page xx] Some American writers have also faulted Brokaw’s view as romanticized. How, if at all, did Retribution affect your view the phrase “the greatest generation”?

8. Hastings explores in some depth the motives of kamikaze pilots who crashed their planes into American aircraft carriers and other ships in the last days of World War II. “Suicide attack offered a prospect of redressing the balance of forces, circumventing the fact that Japanese pilots were no longer capable of challenging their American counterparts on conventional terms,” he writes. “Instead, their astonishing willingness for self-sacrifice might be exploited. Here was a concept which struck a chord in the Japanese psyche, and caught the Imperial Navy’s mood of the moment. Officers cherished a saying: ‘When a commander is uncertain whether to steer to port or starboard, he should steer towards death.’ An alternative aphorism held that ‘One should take care to make one’s own dying as meaningful as possible.’ The suicide concept appeared to satisfy both requirements.” What parallels do you see between the tactics and motives kamikaze pilots and those of contemporary suicide bombers in the Middle East and elsewhere? [Pages 164–65]

9. In reviewing Retribution for the Wall Street Journal, Peter Kann responds to Hastings’s view that only total war enabled the U.S. exploit weapons of mass destruction. “As we have repeatedly discovered since – World War II – in Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq – limited war is much more likely to favor belligerents of limited means,” Kann writes. What, if any, implications does Retribution have for wars like the one we are fighting in Iraq? [“Total War in the Pacific,” by Peter R. Kann, the Wall Street Journal, March 15-16, 2008, page W10.]

10. Hastings says that he didn’t want to write another history of the war in the Pacific so much to describe ‘a massive and terrible experience, set in a chronological framework.’ Did he succeed? How does Retribution benefit or suffer from the approach he chose?

Your book group may also want to read: The Railway Man, a memoir by Eric Lomax of working as a prisoner of war on the Burma-Siam railroad, and Hiroshima, John Hersey’s classic report on six Hiroshimans who survived when the atomic bomb fell on their city.

This guide may be expanded soon. If you have read Retribution, please feel free to suggest additional questions. A review of the book appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on May 19, 2008 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/05/19. One-Minute Book Reviews is a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights recovered.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 1, 2008

Diary: John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’ — Are People Who Live Through Disasters ‘Survivors’ or ‘Victims’?

Filed under: Classics,Diary,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:35 pm
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Perhaps no book has had more uncredited influence on the best accounts of 9/11 than Hiroshima. In this great book John Hersey tells the true stories of six people who escaped death when the atomic bomb fell on their city. One line deals with the confusion that arose, right after the blast, about what to call people who lived through the events of August 6, 1945: “In referring to those who went through the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the Japanese tended to shy away from the term ‘survivors,’ because in its focus on being alive it might suggest some slight to the sacred dead.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

April 26, 2008

Great Nonfiction for Teenagers — True Stories With High Drama

Filed under: Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:44 am
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True tales of disaster on land, on sea and in the thin air of Mt. Everest

By Janice Harayda

I noticed while doing research for a future post on John Hersey’s Hiroshima (Vintage, 152 pp., $6.95, paperback) that this modern classic had won an award for “Books for the Teen Age” from the New York Public Library www.randomhouse.com/vintage/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679721031. The contents first appeared in The New Yorker — not a magazine for teenagers — so the honor might seem surprising.

But there’s no doubt that many teenagers would be deeply affected by this true story of six people who escaped death when the atomic bomb fell on their city. Hersey tells what all were doing at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945 – one woman had just given each of her children a handful of peanuts – and follows them for a year. The result is a triumph of focus: Hersey homes in on his subjects’ struggle to stay alive, physically and emotionally, so his book has more in common with great disaster narratives than with what many people think of as “a New Yorker article” (long, digressive, full of semicolons). The Vintage paperback edition has a chapter on the survivors lives’ 40 years later. And because its structure resembles some of the most gripping accounts of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, this short book may especially appeal to teenagers who have a strong interest in that tragedy.

Hiroshima appears on many school reading lists, and you’re looking for nonfiction for a teenager who has already read it, you might consider two books dramatic enough to have inspired movies — John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a tale of disaster on Mt. Everest (Anchor, 383 pp., $14.95, paper) or Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm (HarperPerennial, 272 pp., $13.95, paperback), an account of terror at sea. Or try John Demos’s The Unredeemed Captive (Vintage, 336 pp., $14.94, paperback). This National Book Award–winner tells the story of a Puritan minister and his wife and children who were captured by Mohawks and marched to Canada, where a daughter stayed and married an Indian after her family members had died or been released. The Unredeemed Captive is more challenging than the others but well within reach of high school students who are strong readers.

A new review of a book or books for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. Coming soon: Why do some parents see red about Pinkalicious and its sequel, Purplicious?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

February 29, 2008

2008 Delete Key Awards Finalist #9 – Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen’s ‘Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th”

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Delete Key Awards Finalist #9 – From Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen:

“James nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked at bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversation to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.”

The English language goes down the USS Arizona in this novel that envisions the attack on Pearl Harbor from the Japanese point or view. Pearl Harbor suggests that Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, writes fiction about as well as Danielle Steel could draft legislation. But even Steel has a better grasp of the function of a comma than the authors of this book, both candidates for a gift-wrapped copy of Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

The ten finalists for the 2008 Delete Key Awards are being numbered, beginning with No. 10, announced in random order.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 22, 2007

General George S. Patton’s Christmas Message to Soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge (Quote of the Day, ‘The Patton Papers’)

By the winter of 1944, Germany had all but lost World War II. But Adolf Hitler made a last bid for victory by attacking U.S. Army divisions in the snowy and forested Ardennes Mountains of Belgium in mid-December. By Christmas, the American soldiers had been fighting for more than a week in weather so cold that frozen bodies were stacked like firewood.

General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Third Army, gave this Christmas message on a wallet-sized card to every serviceman under his command:

“To each officer and soldier … I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.”

As quoted by Martin Blumenson in The Patton Papers: 1940–1945 (Houghton Mifflin, 1974), Illustrated with maps and photographs by Samuel H. Bryant, p. 605. In 2003 Replica Books published a newer edition of The Patton Papers under the bylines of Blumenson and Patton.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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