New Review of “War Horse”

A Recent and I believe fair review of War Horse in Michigan War Studies Review byGervase Phillips, Manchester Metropolitan University :

A one-volume history of mounted warfare is a bold undertaking, for the scope of the topic is immense. As Louis DiMarco remarks in the introduction to this new study, “the war horse and rider was a viable military system for more than 3,000 years, far longer than any other military system” (ix). It is a challenge that has largely defeated the handful of historians who have attempted the task thus far: G. T. Denison, in the late nineteenth century, wrote what was, essentially, a polemic advocating the then current “mounted rifleman” school rather than a history;1 in 1961, James Lunt, a former cavalryman, published an elegy for his arm, too episodic to serve as a general history.2 In the 1970s, two works, one a collection of essays,3 the other a monograph by John Ellis,4 attempted a more comprehensive coverage, but these slim volumes provide only superficial treatment of their topic, and Ellis’s work is marred by his ideological prejudices against those social classes who (in the west at least) traditionally dominated the cavalry branch. DiMarco’s work is different: in his history, the horse itself provides the strong, central, unifying theme. The physical characteristics of the horse, breeds and types, horse equipment, equitation and horse mastership (care of horses) in the field—these are DiMarco’s concerns as he takes his reader from the earliest years of man’s blossoming relationship with equids, up through their use by American special forces in Afghanistan today.

I can recommend DiMarco’s work as the best single-volume history of cavalry….

Read the complete Review Here.

Advertisements

The Pacific – An Interim Review

My initial impressions of Pacific are positive.

 First, I don’t have HBO so I didn’t plan on seeing the series until after it came out on DVD.  However, because of a business trip I spent three days in a hotel that had HBO and I was able to catch  episodes 1-3 and 5.  So my observations are based on about 4 hours of the series.  I suspect I won’t see any more until the DVDs come out.  If so, I will try to remember to come back and update this post.

Like the Band of Brothers (BOB) series, Pacific is hyper realistic in terms of sets, equipment and uniforms.  So an A+ on those important traits.  I think, after Saving Private Ryan and BOB, however, the big battle scenes, such as the attack across the airfield in episode 5, were somewhat predictable.  I counted five arms or legs being blown off, at least one maybe two medics killed while treating wounded, and overall you knew that some of the most engaging of the characters weren’t going to survive.  The only question was who wasn’t going to make it.  I also am not impressed with modern  battle scenes were hundreds of troops mass for an attack.  That’s just not realistic for anything other than the beach landings (where, unfortunately, massing was a necessary evil).  Since I saw episode 5 first, and that’s where Marines storm the airfield on Peleliu, my initial impression of the series was not so hot, however, that changed as I viewed episodes 1-3.

Pacific is not BOB and that’s a good thing.  It is different because the war in the Pacific was very different from the war in Europe, and it is different because the source material is very different.  BOB is based on the Steven Ambrose book which is based on his interviews with the soldiers.  Pacific is mostly based on the written memoirs of the men of the 1st Marine Division.  In particular, it relies on Robert Leckie’s Helmet for my Pillow and With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge.  Because it is based on memoirs, Pacific is much more personal than BOB.  It includes a significant story line that focuses on the personal lives and loves of the men.  This gives the series greater weight and makes you care even more than in BOB about the individual marines.

I didn’t see episode 4, and that is where the Marines land on Peleliu.  From what I’ve seen in the trailers and in the above documentary, the landing scene using AMTRACs is probably the most realistic ever filmed.

So, overall I’m very happy with Pacific.  Without seeing the next five episodes, I am guessing it is on its way to be a classic similar to BOB.  If you have HBO I strongly recommend that you catch up with the past episodes and invest in the next five.  If you don’t have HBO (like me) than, enjoy the making of the movie above, tease yourself with the trailers on youtube, and look forward to that boxed set that I’m guessing will be in stores just in time for Christmas 🙂

Here are the books I recommend to go with the series:

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 11:26 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Book Review: Benevolent Assimilation

Benevolent Assimilation:  The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903,Stuart Creighton Miller, Yale University Press, 1982.

Benevolent Assimilation is one of the most referenced and consulted works on the American – Philippine war.  The book is a well-written general military and political history that falls into the group of new-left histories written during or shortly after the U.S. Vietnam war.  As such, it consciously evaluates the American experience in the Philippines within the context of the perceived American tragedy of Vietnam. Miller’s view is that American success in the Philippines represents the triumph of a world military power over the nationalistic aspirations of an oppressed indigenous population.

Miller’s is an important work to read and understand.  To many, the book continues to represent how the U.S. military repeatied mistakes made in earlier wars in Vietnam.  Currently,  it is also used to illustrate the flawed U.S. policy in Iraq.    For these reasons it is important that military professionals engage with Miller’s history, and are able to compare and contrast his history with the more nuanced, pragmatic, and realistic analysis of John Gates and Brian Linn.

Read Complete Review Here.

Book Review: Normandy to Victory

Normandy to Victory : The War Diary of General Courtney H. Hodges and the First U.S. Army, by Major William C. Sylvan and Captain Francis G. Smith Jr. (edited by John Greenwood), is an important book on U.S. Army operations in the European Theater during World War II.  Its greatest contribution is as resource for understanding many of the important operations of the war from the perspective of General Hodges and his headquarters.  It is also valuable as a firsthand account of leading soldiers in battle at the field army level.  This book is not for the uninitiated.  Truly appreciating the detail, nuance, and its value as a primary source, requires grounding in the history of the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II.   That said, for those with a serious interest in World War II history Normandy to Victory is a “must have” book.

Book Review: Schoolbooks and Krags

Schoolbooks and Krags: The United States Army in the Philippines, 1898-1902. John M. Gates. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973.

Gates is at his best discussing the American strategy. He effectively describes how the two aspects of the dual strategy of attraction and chastisement complimented each other. The book begins with the efforts of General Otis, the first commander, who did not have the military strength to accomplish his mission, vague guidance from the President, and few intelligence sources. Otis did not understand the strategy of the Philippine revolutionaries led by Emilio Aguinaldo. None-the-less, the American army quickly defeated the Filipinos in the conventional phase of combat in 1899. Gates then details how General Arthur MacArthur wrestled with the challenge of devising and executing a strategy aimed at defeating the Filipinos who had reverted to a deliberate stratagem of guerrilla warfare. MacArthur aimed at separating the insurgents from the civil population and then defeating them. This strategy required close cooperation with William Howard Taft, the U.S. civil administrator in the islands, and pro-American Filipinos. The book concludes with an analysis of how the entire strategy was almost undone by MacArthur’s replacement, General Adna Chaffee, as the Army, according to Gates, over-reacted to the Balangiga massacre. This reaction included the brutal Samar pacification campaign under General Jacob H. Smith.

Read complete review here.

War Horse Reviewed in Military Review

A very nice review by someone who knows both horses and military history:

WAR HORSE: A History of the Military Horse and Rider, Louis DiMarco, Westholme Publishing, Yardley, PA, 432 pages, $29.95.

Louis DiMarco’s War Horse: A History of the Military Horse and Rider is a fascinating one-of-a-kind book that looks at military history through the evolving science of horse riding, training, and breeding. Its unique approach offers a fresh interpretation of classic military history from the ancients through operations in World War II.

War Horse is a remarkable book on many levels, beginning with the ancient Egyptians’ use of the chariot. DiMarco describes how the desire for increased mobility and economy drove the creation of the warrior on horseback and traces the evolution of horse breeds, horsemanship, tack, the evolution of cavalry warfare, and the contributions of cavalry to warfare: its tactics, operational art, and even grand strategies through the centuries. These developments produced operational and tactical mobility, shock, and firepower. DiMarco illustrates through battle and campaign narratives how the great captains skillfully translated an understanding of mounted forces into battlefield success. He also describes how a lack of appreciation for horses and mounted forces could lead to failure.

The book’s ability to penetrate to a level of significant detail, overturn repeated myths, summarize suc­cinctly, and back up its judgments and conclusions is significant. When I began teaching at SAMS I wanted a book like War Horse to educate the officer corps on the constant and turbulent evolution of opera­tional art. The book demonstrates how ideas about doctrine, weapons, branches of service, and organiza­tional designs evolve in a messy but inexorable way.

DiMarco is uniquely qualified to write about horse cavalry. He is a retired Army officer and has served in positions from cavalry troop through joint staff. He served as a doctrine writer at the Armor School, specialized in reconnaissance doc­trine and urban and counterinsur­gency warfare at the Combined Arms Command, and is currently teaching military history at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leav­enworth. Most importantly, DiMarco is an accomplished horseman who has actively owned and trained horses for more than 20 years.

As a horse book and horse cav­alry book War Horse is in a class of its own. The natural sentiment toward the horse and horse cavalry doesn’t get in the way of solid and deeply researched history. The book provides many detailed facts about horse types and breeds not often found in books on horse cavalry and delves deeply into the details of riding “tack” and cavalry weapons. I find the battle reconstructions more credible due to DiMarco’s research and knowledge of horsemanship, tack, and weapons.

This is my kind of history reading: interesting and intellectually stimulat­ing. It’s the kind of book I like to move through slowly, mulling over the con­tent, fitting the pieces into the messy filing system of my mind. In short, the book is a fascinating and detailed account of an important contributor to human history—the war horse.

 BG Huba Wass de Czege, USA, Retired, Easton, Kansas

Military Review, May-June 2009

Published in: on May 8, 2009 at 10:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,