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June 05, 2011

Sunday Morning Book Thread

I'm about to finish up Jeff Shaara's "To The Last Man", another of his "fictional histories" in which he focuses on several major historical characters, along with some completely fictional ones, about The Great War. It's not a remarkable book but it is interesting enough to have kept me going.

He begins with the stalemate in the ground war and the development of air power, the principle characters are Manfried von Richthofen, Germany's "ace of aces" and American (volunteer) Raoul Lufbery. Shaara spends considerable time on weapons, tactics, and everyday life (and death) of these early air warriors. The second part of the book opens a narrative on Gen. John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, who is promoted by President Wilson ahead of many senior officers to lead the American Expeditionary Force in Europe, largely because of Wilson's belief that Pershing knows how to organize and build an army for a nation that is unprepared for war.

The parts that I enjoyed the most were reading about Pershing manuevering between British and French politics, two war-weary nations who understood that without America they could not win, particularly as Germany freed up forces from the eastern front (when Russia descended into civil war) and pressed them on the west. Several known characters come into play, George Marshall, and George Patton, a young tank battalion commander who wants to get into the fight (and succeeds, even getting wounded).

Pershing decides three things before committing his forces. The first, he cannot allow the French or the British to eat up his troops in their trench war of attrition, and insists they must fight as an independent force. The second, they must be given time to mobilize, assemble and train, and the third, once committed, they must attack and push past stiff German resistance, and overcome the stalemated trench warfare that had bled France and Britain almost dry.

It was also interesting to me to watch Pershing negotiate his way through the competing French and British interests, in much the same way Dwight Eisenhower had to do a few decades later.

It ain't "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" but it ain't bad either.

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posted by Dave In Texas at 08:50 AM

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