Category Archives: Book Review

Uncommon Valor- Book Review

   Frank Antenori with Hans Halberstadt, Roughneck Nine-One: The Extraordinary Story of a Special Forces A-Team at War, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2007

 

Rising above the politicization of the Iraq war is a task best left to the men who fought it.  Well publicized memoirs by the commanding Generals, the Secretary of Defense, and the Commander-in-Chief only fueled the partisan debate.  Green Beret Frank Antenori’s gripping account of the Battle of Debecka Pass is a vital primary source detailing the misunderstood conflict. An unusual blend of tactical storytelling and technical detail, Roughneck Nine-One is a rare look into the world of America’s “quiet professionals.”

Roughneck

Antenori expresses the unprecedented nature of his battle history.  Typically, Special Forces battles are classified affairs, kept from public scrutiny until years later.  Embedded reporters from CNN and the New York Times present at Debecka prevented the combat from being classified.  Antenori and co-author Halberstadt are able to relay the events with brutal frankness and commendable accuracy.  The frustrations of military logistics are explained to build anticipation for the inevitable battle.  Glimpses into American military planning are rare, and Antenori’s insights are particularly telling- the warrior struggling with red tape to acquire the necessary tools.

 

Roughneck Nine-One is essential reading because it dispels many commonly held myths about the Iraq war.  First, most importantly, the myth about weapons of mass destruction.  Mainstream media perpetuates the narrative of Bush lying about WMD to start the war- Antenori establishes that if true, this was a most elaborate lie.  Special Forces units were assigned specific missions targeting known WMD sites. Strategic complications delayed US entry into Iraq giving Saddam Hussein time to destroy or hide the incriminating evidence; Debecka was fought on such a mission.  Secondly, that Saddam had no ties to terrorism.  The Green Berets regularly engaged foreign fighters using the Iranian border as shelter- Antenori has no politically axe to grind, he tells a story the way he experienced it.

Quiet Professional

Quiet Professional

Frank Antenori opens an important window to a misunderstood conflict.  Partisan bickering over the justification for the war has clouded a proper historical picture of it.  Stories like Roughneck Nine-One are invaluable to scholars looking to accurately record America’s involvement in Iraq.

    

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Book Review- A new look at Grant

Frank P. Varney, General Grant and the Rewriting of History, California, Savas and Beatty, 2013

A critical examination of Grant’s memoirs and their effects on the historical record. 

 

Professor Frank Varney’s first book is a bold effort to right historical wrongs…. and the wrongs were perpetrated by none other than US Grant.   Varney proposes a three volume examination of the inconsistencies, mistakes, and outright lies found in Grant’s widely utilized memoirs.  Volume one takes Grant (and his historical defenders) to task for ruining the reputation of Major General William S. Rosecrans.  Varney carefully dissects both the historical record and the secondary sources which were deeply influenced by Grant’s account.

“The well of data about Rosecrans has been so tainted that many historians… are simply not motivated to look beyond the traditionally relied-upon sources- the writings of Grant prominent among them.”   Varney sums up how Grant’s memoirs have affected Civil War historiography.  Researchers simply assume Grant was right- they fail to verify with lesser known primary sources; what source could be more valuable than the man credited as the Union victor?  Varney’s research is extensive and provides key insights to the Grant/Rosecrans feud.  At the Battles of Iuka and Corinth, Grant was miles from the fighting- his battle reports change over time- and his memoir bears little resemblance to the Official Records.  Historians like Steven Woodworth and T. Harry Williams  have been complicit in propagating Grant’s distorted account and Varney cites key examples of his peers failing to carry-out the most basic research methodology.

Far from a redemptive piece about Rosecrans… Varney acknowledges the flaws in the man.  But, the evidence of tampering and distortion are too extensive to be ignored by the historical community.  Rosecrans had his flaws, but Grant’s accounts of the war have forever tarnished a General with widely accepted military skill.  Grant didn’t care for his subordinate and Varney skillfully shows how he took credit for victories, exaggerated his own actions, and distorted (even lied) about the performance of others.  Rosecrans was the victim of a concerted effort led by Grant- and historians have failed to give a balanced account of this chapter in Civil War history.  Hopefully, Professor Varney’s future volumes will be as detailed and insightful as this first edition.

The recent Grant renaissance should be reconsidered. 

 

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Zinn-ister Intent

Who needs sources? I've got Jason Bourne!

Who needs sources? I’ve got Jason Bourne!

The New York Times boldly proclaimed Howard Zinn’s…. A People’s History should be required reading for all college students.  Professors and high school teachers alike have responded by making Zinn’s screed one of the top ten requested academic books.  The only justification can be found in celebrity endorsement and the book’s adherence to politically correct platitudes about our past.  Zinn egregiously claims:

  • Maoist China was “the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.”
  • Castro and his executioner Che Guevara  “had no bloody record of suppression.”
  • American actions following 9/11 were morally equivalent to the terror attack  “It seemed that the United States was reacting to the horrors perpetrated by the terrorists against innocent people in New York by killing other innocent people in Afghanistan.”
  • America’s very founding was a fraud  “They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from the favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.”
  • World War II was never about ridding the world of German Fascism or Japanese Militarism- the war was America’s fault!
    “Was it the logical policy of a government whose main interest was not stopping Fascism but advancing the imperial interests of the United States? For those interests, in the thirties, an anti-Soviet policy seemed best. Later, when Japan and Germany threatened U.S. world interests, a pro-Soviet, anti-Nazi policy became preferable.”

    founding_fathers

Where’s the research?  Where’s the scholarship?  Where’s the objectivity?  

 

Zinn himself, said it best,

I wanted my writing of history and my teaching of history to be a part of social struggle”

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Young and No Head

As long as young adults seek ways to… “discover themselves” and anger their parents- there will be audience for Howard Zinn’s A People’s History.   Parental units are part of the so-called establishment and our farthest reaching right-of-passage in America is fighting the conformity of the “the man.”   The biggest error in judgment these young rebels make is seeing the establishment as encompassing every facet of our existence- even our history…. Zinn is where too many young minds are exposed to distorted, often lazy examinations of these crucial moments.

howardzinnonvalencia-620x463

The failure to see our Founders as truly revolutionary… is the most damaging element in Howard Zinn’s rambling.  That’s what A People’s History is really, unsubstantiated neo-Marxist rambling.  Europeans were murdering oppressors driven by greed; Natives were peaceful environmentalists seeking harmony with nature.  The Founding of America was perpetrated by an elite few looking for a more efficient way to accrue wealth.  To Zinn and his readers this is all very provocative, but when placed under the scrutiny of peer review it is amateurish.

Maybe there's hope

Maybe there’s hope

Zinn’s work fails on many levels… but contextually he refuses to surrender bias to the complexities of human interaction.  The Pequot war was not as simple as “Red Man Good, White Man Bad.”  Our Founders were not only motivated by greed- trying explaining that to Robert Morris.  To impressionable undergrads, these arguments are their first bites from the apple of nonconformity.  To the middling academics who refuse to take Zinn to task, the book is an opportunity to gain some anti-establishment credibility with the youngsters.

 

 

 

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Heart of the Matter

At the heart of historical revisionism is distrust… a lack of faith in previous interpretations of the historical record.  This blog has bitterly observed the crass consumerism and intellectual vanity that often drive outlandish revisions in our history.  But, a closer examination reveals the true divide between revisionist and traditionalist- trust.

Maybe there's hope

Maybe there’s hope

As historians rush to laud Alan Taylor’s new revisionof the American Revolutionary movement, the distrust is laid bare.  If revisionist historians refuse to come out and proclaim all previous work wrong, then there must be a lack of trust.  Was Gordon Wood trying to deceive us when explaining how radical our Revolution was?  Did Dumas Malone wish to hide Jefferson’s feelings on slavery and freedom?  Was Edmund Morgan deliberately distorting history when explaining racial diversity in Colonial Virginia?  All revisionists will say is that works like Taylor’s are now “the standards.”   To hell with what came before…

Unite us, David

Unite us, David

There is no mass historical conspiracy to disregard… races or classes of people.  Gordon Wood should be read in first year graduate courses and beyond.  In their zeal to legitimize controversial interpretations, revisionists like Taylor and Annette Gordon-Reed propagate the distrust of these noteworthy predecessors.

 

 

 

 

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Leave Madison Alone

Joe Ellis explained the absence of serious Madison biographies… by proclaiming “he’s boring as hell” and that “only lawyers like him.”   As previously stated, Ellis’s recent comments on the Framers and Original Intent cast doubt on the rigor of his scholarship- and these nuggets of wisdom only enhance the evidence of his misguided revisionism.

Never far apart

Never far apart

The revision Ellis is peddling holds that Madison and other Framers… rejected the doctrine of Original Intent on its face.  The only empirical evidence supporting this notion is Madison’s oft quoted explanation for not publishing his notes on the Constitutional Convention.  Once established, the government continued to disappoint Madison, driving him closer to his friend Jefferson.  During his presidency, Madison undoubtedly supported Original Intent as he battled John Marshall and Congress for the soul of the Constitution.  He feared the elasticity in the Constitution was being abused by ambitious demagogues- Madison wanted the power of government restrained- his original intent.

What have your wrought, Joe?

What have your wrought, Joe?

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Book Review

Crawford, Allen Pell, Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, Random House, 2009,

  • ISBN: 0812969464

“A remarkably disciplined scholar… Jefferson spent money on books the way less purposeful young men spent it on whisky or women.”   Allen Pell Crawford begins his study of Jefferson’s retirement at Monticello by reiterating long-established traits in the Sage of Monticello’s character.  Crawford spends the first 50 pages concisely detailing Jefferson’s life through the presidency.  No new ground is broken and it is clear that the author included this introduction to fit with the book’s overriding structure, chronology.

Crawford crafts a detailed and …readable account of Jefferson’s retirement following 1809.  Ample time is spent exploring the personalities in Jefferson’s extended family including his intricate relationship with his daughter Martha.  Family was vital to Jefferson’s being and all the heartbreak he experienced is recounted in painstaking detail.  Crawford misses a real opportunity to examine loss, one of the accepted but underdeveloped themes in Jefferson scholarship.  Rather, Jefferson’s much maligned finances are retold as Crawford does his best to link them to some character flaw, though he never is able to attribute it to more than carelessness.  Readers unfamiliar with Jefferson’s retirement will read with disillusion of the attempted murder of his beloved grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph.  More examination of the crucial relationships with Madison and Adams could have brought much-needed depth to Crawford’s analysis of Jefferson’s intellectual character.  This remains the book’s weakest element, the examination of Jefferson’s mind.

Jefferson’s mind eludes Crawford… despite his best efforts to explain its inconsistencies.  “Jefferson’s view of himself as an empiricist may also suggest how little self-knowledge he possessed…”   Crawford’s error is applying traditional analysis to a mind like Jefferson’s.  Biographers long ago discovered that Jefferson possessed diametrically opposed psychological features.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the discussion of Jefferson and slavery.  Volumes have been written about Jefferson and the contradiction of his slave owning.  Crawford falls prey to the politically correct pseudo-scholarship that dominates current Jefferson discourse.  This brand of scholarship deals in absolutes forged in modern racial attitudes leaving no room for nuance or ambiguity.  “That Jefferson could not act when urged to do more to end an institution that he acknowledged to be a moral wrong indicates the extent to which he was lacking in moral imagination.”  Crawford ignores the clear and well documented evidence to contrary to make the socially acceptable conclusion.  The urgency with which Crawford recounts the rumors regarding Jefferson’s alleged affair with Sally Hemings nearly draws the narrative to the level of tabloid storytelling.  Readers familiar with the controversy can’t ignore the fact that Sally stopped having children after Jefferson started residing at Monticello fulltime.

Allen Pell Crawford never actually… decides what kind of book he is writing.  At times Twilight at Monticello is a chronological account of Jefferson’s retirement, while also trying to examine complex features of Jefferson’s psychological makeup.  The result is a confused narrative filled with interesting tidbits and politically correct platitudes.  Readers unfamiliar with Jefferson’s later years could find some use for Crawford’s study, but students of history won’t find much use for the book off their E-readers.

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