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Men of War: The American Soldier in Combat…

Men of War: The American Soldier in Combat at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and…

by Alexander Rose

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From a purely intellectual standpoint, I think it would be fascinating to see something like a massive earthquake, a raging tornado, or a nuclear bomb explosion. I've seen some pretty amazing jets at airshows and it would be cool to see them in real action - dropping bombs or shooting down enemy fighters - basically doing what they were made to do. The unfortunate reality, however, is the very real danger in such situations and the probability of death and destruction.

Likewise, I enjoy reading military histories, notwithstanding the fact that they're all about death and destruction. But most focus more on the actions of generals and movements of armies; while they might give you some taste of the unpleasantness of war, they're still more often than not, rather sanitized. But that's where this excellent book is different; not only does it tell you about the battles - Bunker Hill (American Revolution), Gettysburg (American Civil War), and Iwo Jima (WWII) - but it gives you a feeling for what real war was like. The focus for each battle is methodic but slightly different: "... for Bunker Hill, we [can] deduce a militiaman's experience of combat depending on his location (redoubt, beach, rail fence) and for Gettysburg we [can] do the same by deconstructing the era's formal templates (artillery bombardment, attack, defense), [and] for Iwo Jima [we] mostly examine combat method -- that is, how Marines first confronted obstacles and then surmounted them by watching, doing, adapting, and learning." (from pg 217 of the advance copy)

It's true, there's plenty of blood and guts in the writing, but it's told with a professional detachment that satisfies my weird curiosity but still leaves room for a healthy appreciation for the personal sacrifices. Yes, I squirmed while reading about the effects of cannonballs and bullets on the human body or the frightening descriptions of grenades and flame throwers in battle, but it's not all gore. It's interesting to read how the battles progressed from a soldier's perspective and how each differed, as well as why modern-day combat would be different still. It's also loaded with many of the individual observations from people involved in the fighting, the kind of quotes that don't always make it into the regular histories. One interesting note is how progressively "work-like" war had become by WWII, and how few reports of PTSD-like cases there were at Bunker Hill. Another was the psychological effects of things like bombardments and bayonettes.

It might not be the ideal book for someone with a weak stomach, but I found it so engrossing and well-written that it never really bothered me (and I read most of it while eating lunch). It's scholarly-like in its thoroughness and approach, but not difficult to read by any measure. I know a man who fought at Iwo Jima and he's criticized most books on the battle, but I suspect he might be more approving of this one. It certainly gave me a greater appreciation for his experience.
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  J.Green | Nov 22, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553805185, Hardcover)

In the grand tradition of John Keegan’s enduring classic The Face of Battle comes a searing, unforgettable chronicle of war through the eyes of the American soldiers who fought in three of our most iconic battles: Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima.
This is not a book about how great generals won their battles, nor is it a study in grand strategy. Men of War is instead a riveting, visceral, and astonishingly original look at ordinary soldiers under fire.
Drawing on an immense range of firsthand sources from the battlefield, Alexander Rose begins by re-creating the lost and alien world of eighteenth-century warfare at Bunker Hill, the bloodiest clash of the War of Independence—and reveals why the American militiamen were so lethally effective against the oncoming waves of British troops. Then, focusing on Gettysburg, Rose describes a typical Civil War infantry action, vividly explaining what Union and Confederate soldiers experienced before, during, and after combat. Finally, he shows how in 1945 the Marine Corps hurled itself with the greatest possible violence at the island of Iwo Jima, where nearly a third of all Marines killed in World War II would die. As Rose demonstrates, the most important factor in any battle is the human one: At Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima, the American soldier, as much as any general, proved decisive.
To an unprecedented degree, Men of War brings home the reality of combat and, just as important, its aftermath in the form of the psychological and medical effects on veterans. As such, the book makes a critical contribution to military history by narrowing the colossal gulf between the popular understanding of wars and the experiences of the soldiers who fight them.

Praise for Men of War
“A worthy successor to The Face of Battle, telling the stories of three famous American battles that were fought in three very different technological eras. . . . This is indeed war up-close, as those who fought it lived it—and survived it if they could. Men of War is deeply researched, beautifully written. It is military history at its best.”The Wall Street Journal
“A highly recommended addition to the literature of military history . . . Rose builds up a detailed picture of each of these battles, sparing few gritty details and romanticizing almost nothing. He writes vividly and memorably, with a good eye for the telling detail or anecdote as well as big-picture perspectives.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Rose’s grim, unadorned, yet immensely readable look at battle is a dose of what real war is like, and a good balance to the more common sanitized military history fare.”Publishers Weekly

“A brilliant, riveting, unique book, Men of War does for the American soldier what John Keegan’s The Face of Battle did for the British soldier. He captures vividly the emotions and conditions of combat—the terror and the boredom, the barbarity and the magnanimity—helping readers understand the realities known to those who have earned membership in that most treasured of fraternities, the brotherhood of the close fight. Men of War will be a classic.”—General David H. Petraeus, U.S. Army (Retired)
“If you want to know the meaning of war at the sharp end, this is the book to read.”—James McPherson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The War That Forged a Nation
“A gripping tapestry of three of the most iconic battles in U.S. history.”—Robert L. O’Connell, author of Fierce Patriot

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 11 Jul 2015 08:49:30 -0400)

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