Book Title: Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the Past Still Determine How we Fight, How we Live, and how we Think.
Author: Victor Davis Hanson
Date Reviewed: May 25, 2009
Overall Grade: A+ This is a great book, and Hanso is a gifted writer. If you can only read one book about warfare this year, make it this one.
1. April 1 through July 2, 1945 Approximately 4 months or 120 days.
2. Hanson is a Professor of Classics at UC Fresno. He is also a conservative hawk who fervently supported the invasion of Iraq.
3. P. 38. Hanson argues that the real lessons of the Japanese kamikaze attacks of WWII ( October 25, 1944-April 1945) as well as the terrorist hijackings of 9/11 is not that a military backward and technologically inferior foe could inflict damage to a vulnerable Western society. But that the introduction of suicidal warfare has the opposite effect on American society… instead of frightening the West into submission, the cadres of suicidal warriors “unshackled” the average American from their natural ethical and moral restraints and allowed them to consider using the most terrifying weaponry to defeat a foe that had crossed the line into barbarity.
4. P.45 although the Japanese kikusui (floating chrysanthemums) kamikaze wave attacks sunk scores of American warships, not a single capital ship (fleet carrier or battleship) was sunk. The kamikaze’s real effect (as well as the fanatic Japanese troops fighting on Okinawa) was to have consequences on the way the American military dealt with Asians in Korea, and Vietnam.
5. P.45. the sacrifice of the 3,913 American-documented kamikaze attacks was in vain. Much like the destruction left by the 9/11 hijackers the actual damage they caused was then visited on their host nations many times over. If anything, they just exacerbated the situation. “But again, what those who crash airplanes in the past and present alike failed to grasp was also the deadly repercussions that arose from their explosions. Suicide bombings strike at the very psyche of the Western mind that is repelled by religious fanaticism and the authoritarianism, or perhaps the despair, of such enemies—confirming that wars are not just misunderstandings over policy or the reckless actions of a deranged leader, but accurate reflections of fundamental differences in culture and society. In precisely the same way as kamikazes off Okinawa lead to A-bombs, so too jumbo jets exploding at the World Trade Center were the logical pre-cursors to daisy-cutters, bunker-busters, and thermobaric bombs in Afghanistan—as an unleashed America resounded with a terrible fury not seen or anticipated since 1945.”
6. P. 45-46. “The Western world publicly objected to the Israeli plunge into the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002 and its purported destruction of the civilian infrastructure—but much of it also privately sighed, ‘Such are the wages for suicide –murderers who blow up children in Tel Aviv.’ “If it is true that moral pretensions at restraint are the ultimate brakes on the murderous Western way of war, it is also accurate to suggest that such ethical restrictions erode considerably when the enemy employs suicide bombers.”
7. Only 7,000 Japanese surrendered out of an original 110,000 combatants on Okinawa. There is little doubt that such a low number (7 percent) was because many tens of thousands of Japanese chose to either commit suicide or held on tenaciously until killed by the Americans who often found them hiding in caves or strapped to trees. Both of the two commanding Japanese generals, Cho and Ushijima committed seppuku on June 18, 1945 rather than give up.
8. P. 51. Up until Okinawa, the invading Americans had fought in two general scenarios—either on islands like Iwo Jima, were there were essentially no civilians, or in places like the Philippines, where the local inhabitants were clearly friendly and welcomed liberation. After Okinawa , no one had any allusions about a third and more difficult situation to come on the mainland itself—where rumor had it that 30 million Japanese elderly, women, and children were arming themselves with guns, spears, and explosives to join in the resistance alongside both regular troops and militias.
9. P. 54. Okinawa is curiously underrepresented in history books, although it is the most powerful amphibious assault in history and, indeed the single most deadly campaign in the history of the United States’ Navy. Some attribute this to the April and May end of the third Reich—and no opportunities for swashbuckling Pattonesque Armor.
10. P. 57. The dropping of the A-bombs on Japan probably actually saved lives. “…the always deadly inventive General Curtis LeMay was ready on his own to use airpower in radically new ways to avoid American casualties. In response to the horrific losses on Okinawa, he was carefully assembling a monstrous fleet of B-29’s—perhaps eventually 5,000 in number—to be augmented by over 5,000 B-24’s and B-17’s transferred from the European theater, with the possibility that over a thousand British Lancaster bombers and their seasoned crews would join the armada as well! That rain of napalm to come from a nightmarish fleet of 10,000 or more bombers on short missions from Okinawa would have made both atomic bombs seem child’s play in comparison. The fire raids on March 11, 1945 alone killed more than died at Hiroshima, and were followed by far more destruction—perhaps 500,000 incinerated in all by the subsequent bombing—than occurred at Nagasaki.
11. P.64- VDH talks about the unique capacity for destruction in the Western war of warfare. “Romantics may have remembered the kamikazes; realist recalled how they were dealt with. Quite simply, there has never arisen a military culture quite like the West, in its terrifying ability to draw on innate values such as secular rationalism, free inquiry, and consensual government to create frightening weapons of destruction and the protocols and disciplined soldiers to use them to deadly effect—a firepower and materiel onslaught that can overwhelm the most fanatical and deadly of warriors, whether they be Apaches, kamikazes, or al-Qaeda terrorists.
Shiloh’s Ghosts April 6-7, 1862
12. P.111,VDH argues that the Confederate loss at Shiloh, after squandering a huge initial advantage lead to the persistent myth that many southerners still feel today known as “The Lost Opportunity”. The LO is based on the assumption that the much admired Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston may have been able to turn Grant’s left flank and push him backwards to the Tennessee River and destroyed Grant’s army had he not been killed in a heroic charge at the Hornet’s nest. VDH also says that the “The Lost Cause” or the way much of the South viewed their Confederate Army as noble warriors fighting a futile effort against better supplied yet less honorable men, was a direct result of battles like Shiloh where, in their eyes, it had always been some random, unfortunate catastrophe that caused their defeat. The South was more apt to attribute the defeats of their Confederate army more toward arbitrary circumstances rather than place the responsibility of those losses squarely on the incompetence or the inexperience of their courageous and heroic Southern soldiers.
13. P. 116 The tragedy of Albert Sydney Johnston dying “at the moment of victory” at Shiloh established a dangerous precedent, and was soon followed by the corollary of Stonewall Jackson being accidentally shot at the climax of Chancellorsville, thereby robbing Lee of his “right arm” in the weeks ahead at Gettysburg and allowing a dilatory Longstreet to “lose the war” on Gettysburg’s second day. VDH argues that it was the south’s obsession with these “what ifs” and “if only” scenarios that made it difficult for them to accept the verdict of the Civil War, and directly contributed to the rise of Nathan Bedford Forest’s KKK.
The Culture of Delium November 424 B.C.
14. P.193 “In theory the right wing of a Greek army was the place of honor. It was usually occupied by those troops with the greatest military prestige (or in case of armies on the defense) by local militias whose native ground was the scene of the engagement and warranted then preference.”
15. P. 237 “Yet the flamethrower at Delium predated Philip’s catapults by nearly a century and would much later be emulated by the infamous Greek fire that first emerged at Byzantium somewhere around A.D. 675. Although the exact ingredients and their ratios of mixtures remain unknown this day, the torrent of flame that was shot out of Byzantine galleys was apparently a potent fusion of naphtha, sulfur, petroleum, and quicklime that could not be extinguished with water—a nearly unquenchable toxic spume that could incinerate enemy shops in seconds.”