Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Reads

Two of the best that I am reading so far this summer, one just published this year, and one published 63 years ago.   Both have ramifications for the current conflicts in the Ukraine and Iraq.  

The new one was just published in June, Prit Buttar’s 'Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914'.  Published by Osprey it is the first in a trilogy akin to Atkinson’s three volume opus.

It has very fine reviews at goodreads and more by Amazon customers so I won’t go into any detail here.  The reason I bring it up is because of the account of the campaigns in Galicia and the Carpathian Mountains by Generals Ruzsky  and Brusilov.  It was a war of movement rather than the more familiar trenches familiar to the West.  Part of that area is now the western Ukraine where they have been trying to get out from under the Russian thumb for a century. After WW1 was the Ukrainian-Soviet War of 1919, which the Soviets won.  But the Poles under Marshal Pilsudski occupied parts of the western Ukraine during the confusion.  So many western Ukrainians joined Pilsudski and his Ukrainian ally Simon Petliura in the Polish-Soviet War, where the Poles fought and beat the Red Army in 1921 but could not hold the Ukraine. Just 20 years later some of those western Ukrainians joined with the Nazis in their war against the Soviets.  For example: Stepan Bandera who was born in Austro-Hungarian Galicia in 1909 and as a boy probably witnessed Russian troops invading his homeland.

My only initial disappointment with the book was that the WW1 incursions into Turkey and Persia by Russian and Armenian Armies were not covered.  But probably rightly so as they were in a completely different theater and 480+ pages in one book is enough.  However, there is a chapter that covers the fighting in the Serbian Theater.  One reviewer cried about the maps, but there were more than a dozen good high level ones and I wonder if even the participants at the time had good large scale maps showing the detail of terrain and troop movement.  

I await the author's future volume of the Brusilov Offensive of 1916 where a certain Lance-Sergeant Zhukov made his bones.

Buttar is a medical doctor and does not have a PhD in History.  But his work seems well researched, he speaks and reads German and Russian and has all the research facilities of Osprey behind him.  His daughter is a student at Oxford and he is quoted as saying that he has been dreadfully waiting for one of her Oxford history profs to lambaste his work as amateurish, but it has not happened yet.

The older book, which I am rereading is 'Strange Lands and Friendly People'.  Written by a Supreme Court Justice, mountaineer, conservationist, and favorite whipping boy of Wall Street, Weyerhauser, and the John Birch Society: William O. Douglas. 

Published 60+ years ago it tells of trips by Douglas and his son through Iraq, Iran, Syria and other countries in the Mid East.  The friendly people he writes about are not the Arabs and the Persians, although he does not say anything against them.  He is mainly visiting and writing about the minorities in those countries: Qashquais, Kurds, Lurs, Bakhtiaris, Armenians, Druze, Assyrians, Azeris.  During those travels he and his son backpack and horse-pack throughout the Zagros Mountains along the borders of Iraq/Iran/USSR/Turkey. They visited Bakhtiari and Armenian villages in the valley of Oregon (Boroujen?) in Iran. They also went to Lur villages where he is told the stories of Reza Shah’s 'Butcher of Luristan', Ahmad Amir-Ahmadi and massacres by Reza Shah's Persian Cossack Brigade

 They visited the former Republic of Mahabad, where by the way Masoud Barzani, current President of the Kurdistan Regional Government was born and where Douglas tells the story of Masoud’s father Mustafa Barzaniand his struggles against both Iraq and Iran.   And they visited Maku in what has been called the Kurdish Bermuda Triangle area bordering the Turkish-Iranian-Soviet border where absentee landlords in Tehran kept the locals starving which incited more Kurdish and Azeri militancy.  And where even in this decade Iran is executing activists for being what they call mohareeb or 'enemies of God'.  

His main purpose in these trips was to see for himself those countries just south of the Soviet Union where the West was propping up dictatorships in order to keep out communism.  His key quote sixty years old but still germane:  "...we must give up the idea that the world can or ought to be standardized to American specifications".

So what is next on the reading list?  

I'm leaning towards Robert Farley's 'Grounded' about doing away with the Air Force and reverting back to pre-1947 with just Army and Naval air arms.  

Not sure I agree with the premise but I want to hear what he has to say.  

Any tips on some good reads of yours that I can start on in August?   I need a few good books to relax with while I enjoy the El Nino weather.


  1. Mike,
    I just read Seymore Hirsch's CHAIN OF COMMAND,somewhat belatedly, and i recommend it.

  2. A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II, by Maury Klein is an in interesting read about the US's industrial mobilization for WWII. As with much of popular history of the war, the warts, obstructing personalities and internecine battles have been left by the wayside. Klein does a good job of telling the whole story of the most under appreciated aspect of the War.

    Also enjoyed while relaxing on the beach was Operation Drumbeat: Germany's U-Boat Attacks Along the American Coast in World War II, by Michael Gannon. Gives a good account of the German successes against US coastal shipping and why, as well as dispelling the Hollywood depiction of submarine warfare.

  3. clarification: "As with much of popular history of the war, the warts, obstructing personalities and internecine battles have been left by the wayside."

    Should have read: Unlike much of the popular history of the war, the warts, obstructing personalities and internecine battles have not been left by the wayside.

  4. Thanks Al, I will look for them, especially the one on industrial mobilization. You are right in saying that aspect of WW2 was vastly unappreciated. Today it sounds boring to most people I suppose. Without it I believe there would never have been Russian victory at Stalingrad, Brit victory at El Alamein, and our own victory at Midway and many, many others. I say God bless Rosie and Wendy, and also the 4F's that rolled up their sleeves and went to work in factories. And even the some of the profiteers that made those factories possible whether they did it willingly or not.

    Most went back to their regular commercial products after the war. But some sadly became part of the military-industrial complex that Ike warned us about.

  5. Wasn't just 4Fs mike. Marshall's so called "90 Division Division Gamble" was based on the need for able bodied men in the work force producing the bulk of the Allies war material outweighing uniformed needs. There weren't enough Rosies and 4Fs to get the job done. Thus, the US ended up with the lowest percent of the population in uniform of all the major players in the War.