Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hey, Watcha Reading?

Like many of my friends, I do a lot of reading, usually as many as four or five books at a time. These often include fiction for entertainment, a military history or two on a battle or campaign of interest, perhaps a biography or memoir, and maybe a political science of economics text or other non-fiction work. This year I am re-reading Carl von Clausewitz’ “On War” and will be writing about it as I do. However, I’m also reading a number of other works right now.

My favorite of the books I’m reading is the newly published and very well-written “Lincoln’s Code, The Laws of War in American History” by John Fabian Witt. It’s the story of the “Lieber Code” approved by President Lincoln and published as General Order 100 in April, 1863. But Witt uses that as the framework upon which to present a history of the laws of war in the United States and internationally. This will be of great interest to both students of the laws of war and of the American Civil War – including reenactors and living historians of that conflict!

I’ve just finished reading a book published in 1946 on Front-Line Intelligence, written as a how-to manual for S-2s and G-2s (the staff officer responsible for intelligence in a military unit). Written by several veterans of World War II, it draws extensively on vignettes, anecdotes, as well as personal experience on how to be an effective intelligence staff officer. This was published by the Infantry Journal Press, a favorite source of period texts and articles on war and warfare as practiced or at least as understood at the time. I found this to be a very entertaining and informative work and will be drawing on it for several of my lectures and talks.

Another recently finished but still close at hand book is Barry Rubin’s The Truth About Syria, published in 2008 but which has been extremely helpful as I try to fathom what is now going on in that benighted country. I should note that the author and I are in some ways old acquaintances after I read his earlier book about US policy and relations with Iran in the days of the Shah and then the Iranian revolution.  I am again so impressed by his work that I will be relying heavily on this volume as I prepare to lecture this year at several venues attempting to explain Syria – as best anyone can. I highly recommend that you try and track this down if you are still yourself trying to understand events in Syria.

From World War I, I’m reading Anthony Farrar-Hockley’s Death of an Army about the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) fighting in France and Belgium in 1914. This is an often harrowing story as you read about these regiments full of regular army veteran soldiers disappearing one by one under the tidal wave of Prussian and German troops that faced them. The record of their performance in this campaign is not enough recognized today, though they are sometimes remembered as “They Old Contemptibles” because a remark reportedly made before the war by the Kaiser called these pre-war soldiers a “contemptible little army” that he would have arrested by the German police if it dared to land in Germany in the event of war. Farrar-Hockley tells their story cleanly and eloquently as he traces the fate of the BEF – that held the line for the Territorials, Kitchener’s Volunteers, and the conscript soldiers who would follow them to Europe.

In a related but more personal vein, I’ve been reading a series of memoirs by those who fought in the First World War – the latest being Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey, an American who fought in the British Army, and Under Fire, an English translation of a French novel of the First World War based upon the experiences of the author, Henri Barbusse. Empey’s story is a quick and fascinating read as wounds ended his just over a year of service at the Battle of the Somme, but he offers the great details of how the private soldier experienced the war. Barbusse’s novel reflects the not-oft told (in English) story of how the average French soldier (volunteer or reservist) experienced The Great War fought on their own soil.

Finally, for some fun, I’m reading The NPR Curious ListenersGuide to Celtic Music, by Fiona Ritchie, presenter of The Thistle and Shamrock show on NPR. I’ve already learned about the back story to several favorite musicians and groups and their songs even as I’m being introduced to new ones!