Saturday, May 5, 2007

Lessons from Three War Books

Perhaps because I've just returned from both Japan and North Africa, I've recently gotten caught-up in three books that chronicle different WWII episodes in these regions. The books are: An Army at Dawn (The War in North Africa, 1942-1943), Rick Atkinson; Incredible Victory (The Battle of Midway), Walter Lord; and Letters from Iwo Jima [published in the U.S. with the title: So Sad to Fall in Battle] , Kumiko Kakehashi. I'd recommend each of them as a "good read," but, more importantly, there are interesting lessons associated with considering them as a whole:
  • To start off, it's hard to read them and not be terribly depressed by the both the futility of war and the tragedy of unfufilled youth. So many young men, and civilians, who lost their lives, and their dreams, in these conflicts....
  • The pervasiveness of leadership hesitancy and the lack of urgency, that marks all of the combatants in these sagas, and which almost always had significantly damaging consequences. For example: Eisenhower's remoteness from the North African battlefields, and the slowness by which the Allied forces moved across this theatre; Montgomery's similar failure to close, when he had Rommel's army on the run; and, at Midway, the failure of the Japanese naval leaders, time and again, to move faster, which probably determined the difference between success and failure.
  • The consequences of not doing your homework, and not paying sufficient attention to details, prior to a major engagement. This was particularly telling among the Allied armies in North Africa, and always resulted in unnecessary deaths, sometimes of staggering proportions.
  • The pervasive power of industrial strength: you cannot fail to recognize that while neither side had a monopoly on brave young men, the war was probably won by the factories and supply-chains that allowed America's industrial system to keep on delivering assets to the front, wherever it might be.
  • The common humanity among the "grunts" on all sides. As with most other war books I've read, I come away thinking that the guys on the ground, no matter who they are, deserve better leaders than they have, usually at the battalion level and above.

War is terrible to consider, even it if lives between the covers of a book, but these three books all portray it in vivid and instructive detail.

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