Book Review: Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway: The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully

18663139A few years ago, I read Craig L. Symond’s The Battle of Midway (Pivotal Moments in American History) and saw Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway: The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully referenced in it. I took a look at the book on Amazon and it had a plain simple cover, giving it the feeling of an academic work, so I added it to my reading list but didn’t put it very high on the list. Recently, I finally got around to reading it.

Shattered Sword presents a new way of looking at the Battle of Midway. It is well researched and well documented with extensive endnotes and a lengthy bibliography. It is detailed yet captivating. Most of all, it presents strong arguments, backs up those arguments with documented sources, and effectively turns the traditional narrative of the Battle of Midway on its ear. The authors explore doctrine, strategy, planning, and tactics from the Japanese perspective; in doing so, they don’t just challenge the conventional wisdom about the battle and its after effects; to borrow from the title, it shatters them.

To put it mildly, this book is not what I thought it was. It is not a dry academic work, it is well written in a witty, conversational style. You’re not only getting a completely new understanding of the battle, you’re being entertained. It truly is hard to put this book down. Very seldom do you come across a book that presents an all-new way of looking at a historical event, but this book fits that bill. I’ve purposely not included any of Shattered Swords’ conclusions in order not to spoil the book. Buy it read it, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll come away with a whole new understanding of one of World War II’s important battles. I also think that those interested in military history can come away with important lessons, one of them being not to apply one side’s doctrine and operational practices to its opponent, analyze both sides’ actions in the light of their respective doctrines. It’s helpful to have about the Battle of Midway previously and have an understanding of how the US Navy fought the battle, but this truly is a five-star book and one that anyone interested in the Pacific Theater of World War II must read.

Book Review: The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 by Robert Middlekauff

51K0UIFOzgL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 by Robert Middlekauff is a long book, but well worth reading. It’s comprehensive and detailed. It is well documented with footnotes. It also has excellent bibliography section with information for further reading. It’s not a political history or a military history of the war, it incorporates both. It doesn’t just tell you what happened during the American Revolution, it tells you why it happened. A considerable portion of the book, almost 1/3 of it, covers the years preceding the Revolution and explains not only what brought British Colonists to come to the decision to break away from the British Empire, but what caused the British Government to make the decisions that pushed the colonists to the breaking point. Additionally, Middlekauff covers the years immediately after the Revolution, explaining the Constitutional Convention, the deliberations and negotiations within it, and the subsequent ratification process.

This is the best overview of the American Revolution that I’ve read. I don’t see how you could possibly get any more detailed without turning it into a multi-volume work (it’s already part of a multi-volume set – the Oxford History of the United States). The only thing I would have liked to have seen was bit more inclusion of the Spanish involvement in the American Revolution, but other than that it’s hard to find anything negative about this book. For anyone wanting an in-depth look at the why, what, and how of the American Revolution, this is the book. Anyone with an interest in US History should add it to their reading list.

A Visit to Fort Clinch, Third System Fortification Used in the Civil War, Spanish American War, and World War II

Fernandina Beach, FL – Yesterday, I drove down to Fernandina Beach to visit Fort Clinch at Fort Clinch State Park. Fort Clinch is a Third System coastal fortification located on the northeast corner of Amelia Island facing Cumberland Sound. I’ve never visited a fort designed like Fort Clinch is; from the outside, it looks like it has solid brick walls, but once you’re inside you realize that the exterior brick wall is a curtain wall built in front of thick earthen walls with the terreplein and parapet built on top of the earthen wall instead of a brick and stone structure like Fort Pulaski or Fort Sumter. Built on the Amelia Island beach among the beach dunes, Fort Clinch is pentagon shaped, with the point of the pentagon pointing at Cumberland Sound. Each corner of the curtain wall features a bastion. The curtain walls feature rifle ports and the bastions feature ports for both rifles and cannon and are also pentagon shaped to provide for mutual coverage and interlocking fields of fire.

Fort Clinch was constructed over an extended period of time and saw service during three wars. Construction began in 1847, but progress was slow and it wasn’t complete by the time the Civil War began. After the Civil War began, Confederate forces occupied it and held it until March 1862. As the Union occupied a number of Georgia and Florida barrier islands, the Confederate forces withdrew and Union forces re-occupied Fort Clinch approximately a month before they re-captured Fort Pulaski near Savannah, Georgia. In Fort Clinch’s reoccupation was much more peaceful, as the Union took possession of the Fort as the Confederates withdrew. Union Army engineers partially completed the fort, but after the Civil War, it was placed uncompleted into caretaker status. When the Spanish-American War began in 1898, Fort Clinch was reactivated and mounted with four 15-inch Rodman cannon (during the Civil War, it was armed with 10-inch Rodman cannon) and an emplacement was built for an 8-inch breech-loading gun.  After the end of the Spanish-American War, the fort once again returned to caretaker status. In 1935, the State of Florida purchased the fort and surrounding property to create Fort Clinch State Park; from 1937 to 1942, the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, did repair work on Fort Clinch as well as building a visitor’s center, roads, camping areas, and other park facilities. The area opened as a state park in 1938. During World War II, Fort Clinch was restored to service one last time and used as a communications and surveillance facility by the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard. After World War II, it was returned to the State of Florida.

 

In addition to Fort Clinch, Fort Clinch State Park also offers plenty of opportunities to view wildlife along scenic overlooks, trails, and the beaches. The Visitors Center at the fort also sells a small amount of fishing gear and assorted toiletries one might need if camping overnight or fishing there. It wasn’t open during my visit, but the Visitor’s Center also features a cafe/grill where you can get a hot meal.

 

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Horseshoe Crab on the beach in front of Fort Clinch

 

 

If you’re interested in Civil War History or Military History in general, Fort Clinch is a great place to visit. It really complements visiting Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie in Charleston, SC, Fort Pulaski in Savannah, GA, and Fort McAllister in Richmond Hill, GA in giving you an overview of the various type of fixed fortifications used during the Civil War. When you add in Fort Jackson in Savannah, Fort Screven on Tybee Island, GA, Fort Morris in Sunbury, GA Fort King George in Darien, GA, Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, GA, and Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, FL, you get a great overview of the fortifications used over the history of the US southeast Atlantic coast.

Book Review: The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution by John Oller

32739518Despite having lived in Savannah, just south of South Carolina, for most of my life and having a practically lifelong love of History I never really knew much about Francis Marion beyond the myths and legends that sprang up about him. Even then, the myths were mostly about his military activity and not the man himself. The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution by John Oller is a compelling story of not only Marion’s military activity but about Marion himself. Knowing who he was as a person is key in understanding why he did what he is famous for and it gives you a window into his decision making, explaining why he was as successful as he was. Oller has done a wonderful job telling us about Marion the man, so in this book, we not only have a record of what he did but a much better understanding of how and why he did it. I truly enjoyed reading The Swamp Fox and heartily recommend it to anyone who’s familiar with the myths and wants to know more about who Marion was and what he did.

Book Review: The Final Days by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

18912409I majored in History in college and I remain a History buff, so when I want to understand current events, I often look to the past to inform the present. In this case, I wanted to put current events such as the controversies surrounding the Trump administration and the special counsel looking at the Trump campaign into historical perspective, so I went searching for a book to read. I found The Final Days by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward about the last days of the Nixon administration as Watergate and accompanying controversies closed in on Nixon, eventually bringing about his resignation.

“The people of the United States are entitled to assume that their President is telling the truth. The pattern of misrepresentation and half-truths that emerges from our investigation reveals a presidential policy cynically based on the premise that the truth itself is negotiable.”

While the Nixon and Trump administrations aren’t analogous, I do think there is at least one comparison, and it is in relation to truthfulness. The quote above is an observation on the Nixon administration, but I think it could just as easily apply to the Trump administration. Trump and some of his associates aren’t afraid to tell us things that are blatantly untruthful. Whether they’ve gone to the same extreme as the Nixon administration we don’t yet know, but it is obvious we can’t assume that Trump is telling the truth any more than Nixon told the truth.

Another thing that really stood out in my reading was Congress. The Congress of 1973 and 1974 was partisan, but at the end of the day, they were willing to do what was right for the country. The Congress of 2017/2018 instead has consistently put ideology and party ahead of the country. Indeed, there are differences in that with Nixon there was Republican President and a Democratic Congress and with Trump, there is a Republican President and a Republican Congress, but it seems that both the Democratic and Republican parties these days both put their party and their ideology before what’s best for the country.

“The problem is not Watergate or the cover-up,” he began. “It’s that he hasn’t been telling the truth to the American people.” He paused again. “The tape makes it evident that he hasn’t leveled with the country for probably eighteen months. And the President can’t lead a country he has deliberately misled for a year and a half.”

One thing that really put things into perspective for me was Patrick Buchanan’s statement above. I think that statement sums up the biggest problem of the Nixon administration and why Nixon had to go. It sums up why Trump must go if it is proven that he obstructed justice and attempted to cover up wrongdoing. You can’t lead a country that you have misled.

I can’t say that I enjoyed reading The Final Days because it’s not the kind of book you enjoy reading. That said, it’s a very informative read on a critical period of US History. It’s compelling reading; it makes you run the gamut of negative emotions throughout and then feel relief at the end even though you know how the story ends. Bernstein and Woodward do a terrific job of telling the story of the last days of the Nixon administration from the inside; at times it’s almost like being a fly on the wall. Even though, as I said above, the Nixon and Trump administrations aren’t analogous, I think this is a great book to read to put current events into historical perspective.