Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Reviews

While I was up in Newport last summer, the President of the Naval War College, RADM Wisecup, recommended a couple of books.  Since then, I've read two of the books he recommended, and both were excellent.

The first book I read was World War Z.  The admiral himself admitted he felt odd recommending a fiction novel about a future zombie war.  Apparently the story was good enough that the movie rights were purchased, and Brad Pitt is going to star in it.

From the title, I was expecting something of a gruesome horror flick of zombies grumbling, "braaaaaains" and reaching out to grab unsuspecting victims.  However, it was actually a very thought-provoking story.  It explored the concepts of how to manage the spread of a global disease and massive refugee migrations.  It highlighted how the military is always trained and equipped to fight "the last war," and how that training and equipment would be useless in a global pandemic scenario like this.  It also explored how the human race might adapt to meet their basic needs of food and shelter after a major world conflict had destroyed the "normal" methods of consumerism (farming, production, distribution and shopping).  Overall an excellent book and a page-turner. 

The second book I read was Execute Against Japan: The U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare.  The author, Joel Ira Holwitt is actually an active duty submarine officer who earned a PhD in History from Ohio State University.

It reads very much like an academic paper such as a PhD dissertation or a masters thesis with many quotes and endnotes.  Holwitt makes some bold statements about the U.S. submarine force's campaign against the Japanese in WWII.  He falls victim to some logical fallacies in his reasoning, and I don't necessarily agree with all of his conclusions.  He makes statements that guess at the motives and intentions of key players in the President's cabinet, the Navy, and the State Department, and then claims that because he can't find any evidence to refute this, then his guess must be right.  He also doesn't have any evidence that conclusively proves his assumptions.

For example, he presumes that the Navy never asked the State Department for their opinion on a strategy of unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan, "since the State Department's reaction would undoubtedly be negative..."  (p. 129).  The book is riddled with words or phrases such as perhaps, probably, undoubtedly, no one recollected, could have been because, seems highly improbable, and seems probable.  Don't get me wrong.  They're pretty good guesses and he's probably right, but his conclusions are based on the absence of evidence to refute his opening arguments and assumptions. 

All that being said, it was a very interesting read.  The thing I enjoyed most about reading this book was the description of the isolationist sentiment in America prior to December 7th, 1941, and the dialogue over what America's strategy should be in the event of war both internal and external to the Department of the Navy.  I was aware of the isolationist bent of the general public at the time, but this book provided many specific examples of those sentiments from the neutrality laws, speeches, and letters.

Holwitt surprised me with some of the pre-decisional type documents he was able to find in various archives to illustrate how the leaders of the age were formulating their plans. We tend to take for granted our 20/20 hindsight of how things turned out in history and lose the perspective of how we got to the end result.  That's a big reason why I enjoy historically based fiction books that bring to life the active debates, public sentiments and fears of the people leading up to major events before they knew the outcome. 

Well, I'm very thankful to RADM Wisecup for the book recommendations.  Both were very good books.

For anyone who might wonder why I picked World War Z over Execute Against Japan to read first, that simply boiled down to which one was available on my Kindle.  I downloaded World War Z and started reading it on my Kindle while I was still in Newport.  Execute Against Japan is only available in hard-copy, so I had to wait for that one to come in the mail.

1 comment:

fastnav said...

I think it's awesome that RADM Wisecup recommended World War Z. Great book!