hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘war’

Book Review: Leningrad: State of Siege

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 20, 2020

Leningrad: State of SiegeLeningrad: State of Siege by Michael Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Westerners tend to think of their losses, sacrifices, etc., when thinking about WWII, and Americans in particular like to “brag” on how not only did they save the world twice in less than 35 years, but “won” WWII. I’m an American with family who fought in that horrible war, who went in on D-Day and suffered terrible wounds and casualties, so I’m not trying to make light of this situation, nor am I a Russian “fan,” commie supporter, etc., as some might accuse me upon reading this. But if you study WWII, the US certainly played a big role, and really carried the war in the far east, but as for Europe, well, we didn’t come close to suffering the horrible atrocities, suffering and losses the Russians did. Not even close. The US, in total, lost slightly over 400,000 people in the war, a horrible figure to be sure. But Russia, or the Soviet Union, suffered roughly 10 Million military deaths and combined with civilian deaths, the total was closer to 25 MILLION, which basically makes all of the other countries fighting in that theater look like they were going to a high school dance, because if you want to read about some true atrocities (aside from the Holocaust itself, of course), study the Leningrad and Stalingrad campaigns. We love to laud Patton as an ass kicker, and he was a charismatic leader, but he had nothing on the Soviets, whose Field Marshal Zhukov beat the shit out of the Germans while driving them back to Berlin where the Germans surrendered to him personally. I don’t write this to mock my own country, nor to disrespect our losses and sacrifices. But I’ve basically had it with “patriots” who love to talk about how America kicked everyone’s ass in WWII while saving the world when we barely partook of the majority of the years, battles and campaigns other countries did, and while our civilians at home had nothing to worry about as opposed to nearly all European countries, as well as many in the Pacific theater. If you are unaware of these facts, I advise you to read this book, read another on Stalingrad I have listed in my bookshelves here, and anything else educational, because it really opens the eyes and makes one appreciate just how horrible things were on the eastern front, and how many people in other countries might be justified in arguing that it was the Soviets and not the Americans who won the war… Recommended.

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Book Review: Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 14, 2018

Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction by Joseph M. Siracusa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At a little over 150 pages, this book covers a lot of ground in a short format. Unfortunately, while I did think it was pretty good, its focus wasn’t entirely what I wanted, and it lacked in some areas. There is an initial introduction to the creation of atomic bombs from a very minimal and layman’s technical perspective, but then the book launches into the history of nuclear power, the history behind the Manhattan Project and the WW II race for the atomic bomb, America’s legacy of being the first and only country to use it, and the bulk of the rest of the book is a history and discussion of the Cold War politics, diplomacy, and military strategic readiness (from a US perspective) between the US and the Soviet Union. The book ends with a minor bit on how, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has had to try to find a place for the Bomb in its arsenal, for some people, how to justify not only maintaining a large stockpile, but improving it, for others, how to decrease a load of weapons large enough to destroy this planet many times over. It ends by acknowledging the fact that now that there’s not another nuclear “enemy” to construct a strategy around, and with the advent of non-state sponsored organizations, terrorists and the like, the effort to construct a new ideology and strategy is much more difficult than it used to be.

All of that was good, if not occasionally repetitive. What I had hoped to see was more scientific and technical detail behind, not only the creation of the early bombs, but current technology, and where we are heading. And I didn’t get that. I also wanted to see more of a discussion on the ethics behind this, and on the justifications of maintaining the current seven nuclear powers while working to ensure no other country, and especially no other country the US “disapproves” of (Iran…), obtains nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapon industry. I mean, why is it okay for Pakistan to have them, but not Iran? Why is it okay for Israel to be thought of of having them (they won’t admit to it), while other countries cannot? I’m not saying I support the idea of more or warmongering countries getting nuclear weapons, but who made America the planet’s god, to decide who gets them and who doesn’t? That strikes me as incredibly arrogant and hypocritical. And I’m American! Naturally, the world would be better off without nuclear weapons, but that genie is out of the bottle, so this is a complex problem requiring, yes, political and diplomatic discussions and solutions, and not saber rattling. I’m currently reading another book on “limited” nuclear warfare for the 21st century. It’s incredibly interesting, and I think it would make a good companion piece to this book, maybe as Volume 2 of a two volume series. Because that’s where the world has gone, that’s where the world should and will have to go if we intend to not commit global suicide, and nuclear power countries need to dialogue about these issues and more.

This book doesn’t have the highest rating out there, and I’ve read a lot of reviews and it seems mostly due to lack of sufficient discussion on a wide range of topics, such as I’ve brought up. But I think its lower rating is unfair, because the subtitle for the book is “A Very Short Introduction.” What the hell do you expect for 150 pages?!? Of course I would have liked more. For that, I need to buy a 750 page textbook for $200. This was exactly what it advertised itself to be, so I feel it merits four stars at a minimum. If this is a topic that interests you, I certainly recommend it.

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Book Review: Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 21, 2018

Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of DunkirkBlitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk by Len Deighton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a pretty good book, but it had some information and assertions that surprised me. I’ve spent my whole life as a war buff, spent much of my youth consumed with WW II, thought I understood how Blitzkrieg theory was actually fought in WW II, but apparently, I’m wrong.

The book gives a pretty good history and summary of German war status, theory, preparation, Hitler’s rise, mindset, theories of various military strategists. And then the war finally commences. Obviously, then, if this is well known to others, I’m showing my own ignorance here, but I’d always heard that Germany’s Blitzkrieg techniques were unleashed on Poland, before excelling in Belgium and France, and ultimately later Russia, to a degree. If you’ve believed that too, Len Deighton will argue you’re wrong. His thesis is it was not used in Poland, it was somehow not used in Russia, and it wasn’t even really used in Belgium. Merely in France, in the Ardennes, to a shocking degree of success. This was news to me, but I’ll grant Len authority status and take his word for it.

I wasn’t totally stunned at how inept France’s leadership, both political and military, was, as I’d read other books on France in other wars of the century where the beaurocracy, logistical and communication nightmares are simply legendary, but it was still a bit of a shock to find out how the previously thought to be best army in Europe/the world was so incredibly fucked up! It took 48-72 hours to relay orders, because the leaders didn’t use radios, everything was hand carried (orders), and just because you got orders, you didn’t do anything until they had been confirmed one to two more times. By which point the German army was 60 miles behind your lines, destroying your country. Fucking idiots! The British, initially, weren’t a lot better, at least not the vaunted RAF, which was disappointing to read, but if the truth hurts, it hurts. Some of the French actually played soldier at Dunkirk, allowing hundreds of thousands of British and French troops to escape to Britain, but again, I continued to be shocked at how willing the French political and military leadership was to surrender to Hitler and essentially conspire in his plot against Jews and others, while the Free French forces in Britain were led by only one real general of note, and we all know who that is. Why France is on the UN Security Council is beyond me. They’ve insisted they’re one of the great world powers, but they got their asses kicked in WW I, went over to Hitler after getting their asses kicked in WW II, lost Indochina (although embarrassingly, America followed France’s exact same mistakes with the same results), lost most or all of their colonies, and while they’re the centuries biggest losers, they land a permanent spot on the UN Security Council. Don’t get it. I’ve read about how they insisted. THEY HELPED HITLER! They shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the UN Security Council! Of course, while implicitly bragging about the US in the first half of the century, like an ugly American, I could admit to a number of American “irregularities” that many people wouldn’t want known about a LOT of countries around the world where uninvited or unwanted westerners stuck their noses into things and propped up or took down “dictators” all over the damn place, so in the end, maybe the US shouldn’t be on the Security Council either, eh? LOL!

Okay, I’ll stop with the politicizing. Sorry. It’s a good book, an easy read, interesting to those who would find the topic interesting, but stops with the capitulation of France, and I guess I knocked a star off because I wish the author had gone on to address Russia and explain just why that was NOT blitzkrieg warfare — what the differences were — because without having studied it in detail lately, it seems like similar tactics were used to launch the Eastern Front, but obviously I’m wrong. I just want to know how and why I’m wrong, and I never got that information from this book, so one star off for that. Otherwise, recommended.

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A Review of I Am Malala

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 24, 2016

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished I Am Malala a few weeks ago and have put off writing a review for it for quite awhile because I was so overwhelmed by it. It had so much information, was so well written, was so emotional. Malala herself was so impressive, had so much incredible courage, as did her father, both of whom are lucky to be alive, is such a wonderful ambassador of Islam, is such an incredible ambassador of women’s/girl’s rights’ to education the world over, particularly in Pakistan. And she wrote this book at age 15, right before she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s frankly a most stunningly impressive person, a person destined for a lifetime of greatness, someone who has already accomplished more in her short years than most people do in their entire lives. This book was an amazing read. It was all encompassing. It was stunning. It was revealing. It was damning and indicting. It was amazing. And I’m again stunned that both she and her father remain alive. Her whole family is very lucky. I wanted to write a comprehensive plot synopsis and review, but I found one on Goodreads that does as good a job as any I myself could write, so I’m going to post it here myself, giving full credit to the author, one “Jean,” written December 30, 2015, and say it’s a darn good synopsis and the only disagreement I have with the author is she only gives the book four stars. For me, it’s easily a five star book. Easily. I would give it six stars if I could. Hell, ten. Twenty. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve ever read and I think one of the most important contemporary biographies one could hope to read. This is a book I’ve already purchased and given to others and my wife is giving a copy to her mother this week. Hopefully, she too will pass it on to another when she is done with it. Malala is a most impressive person, one of the most impressive people I’ve ever encountered. We saw her interviewed on a show a couple of years ago and that’s how we first came across her. We were impressed with her then and only now finally read her book. It’s a shame we waited so long. I hope she continues to make a global impact on young womens’ education rights and anything else she can influence. I wish her continued luck and success. And I hope to read another book by her in the future. It can only be excellent if it continues in this tradition she has established here. I can’t recommend this book more strongly. Most highly recommended. Five stars easily.

 

 

 

Dec 30, 2015 Jean rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jean by: Angela M
Shelves: non-fiction, auto-and-biography, religion-and-beliefs

A few days prior to her 18th birthday, Malala Yousafzai has returned to Oslo, to attend the Oslo Education Summit, insisting that all children worldwide have a right to education. Her defiant slogan claims, “Books not Bullets!”

Malala claims, “I measure the world in hope, not doubt” and “Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism”. Last year in Oslo, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with another child rights activist, Kailash Satyarthi. They were honoured “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”. At 17, Malala was the youngest person ever to receive this award; Malala Yousafzai is indeed a determined and remarkable person. In this book, I am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban, she tells her incredible story.

The book is an absorbing read, an amalgam of Malala’s own memoir, plus a history of the troubled country of Pakistan. Most readers will have lived through some – if not all – of the times described, unlike the author, startlingly only 15 herself when she wrote it. To many of us this is not “history” but merely remembrance of current events happening elsewhere in the world during our lifetimes. Could she have a proper grasp of such complex issues of current affairs?

Malala is fluent in Pashto, English, and Urdu. She is articulate, brave, compassionate, informed, driven – and very focused. Growing up at the heart of an area targeted by the Taliban, she had a unique experience living under a developing regime of terror. When Osama Bin Laden was eventually discovered in hiding, it was, to everyone’s shock, just a few miles away from where Malala herself lived. Along with the guidance and influence Malala’s activist father has had on her, perhaps she was destined to become the person she is.

The book starts with a prologue, briefly describing the day when she was shot, from Malala’s point of view. The name “Malala” means “grief-stricken”. Malala was named after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poetess and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan. It was an unusual name, which many thought to be unlucky or inappropriate.

Reading her account, it is clear that her father knew from the start that there would be something different about this child. Malala was allowed to stay up at night and listen to all his political conversations with his friends, long after her two brothers had been sent to bed. She was encouraged to read and think; to have a mind of her own.

The Yousafzai family were part of a large Pashtun tribe in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Her family consisted of her father Ziauddin and her mother and two younger brothers. They were very poor, but part of a strong community in Mingora. There were comparatively few modern amenities such as running water and electricity; waste disposal and disease were a big problem, but the valley itself was lush and beautiful, and Malala thought her home was wonderful.

This first part of Malala’s story is entitled “Before the Taliban”. Malala describes her grandparents and parents’ history, how events had shaped each generation in her family. There was her father, an outspoken poet and education activist, who overcame his chronic shyness to learn public speaking to impress his own father. There was her more traditional, uneducated mother, who too began school at the age of six – but stopped before the term was over. Malala includes many family anecdotes, explaining the varying cultural mores as she does so, and interspersing the account with the troubled political history.

The section has 8 chapters, and is over a third of the book. It takes the reader carefully though all the difficulties Pakistan has faced since its creation on 14th August 1947. Malala relates the views of her people, who regretted the loss of Swat’s identity when it joined Pakistan. Additionally, the creation of a “home for Muslims” within Pakistan’s boundaries was established too hastily, inevitably resulting in other faiths such as Hindus fleeing across the border to India. Economic chaos ensued, and peace has never yet come about.

Since then, Pakistan has suffered under various regimes. There have been three Indo-Pakistan wars, several military coups, and numerous unsuccessful attempts at a military coup. The regime has lurched between military rule and democracy, between dictatorships and brief periods when a Prime Minister such as Benazir Bhutto was in power. She served two terms, but was eventually killed, clearly assassinated, although Malala carefully chronicles the muddled events. Pakistan has had varying degrees of both political and police corruption and is in constant turmoil.

It is remarkable that any normal life can survive such conditions, but the life Malala describes is a happy one. Her father’s greatest love apart from his family was the Khushal Public School which he established. The values of education ring clear and true throughout, having been instilled in Malala from a very early age. She also begins to develop her own opinions, drawing from her experience.

One shocking episode helped to crystallise her views. Malala came across some scavenger children, who lived inside a huge mountain of rubbish. They had matted filthy hair, were dirty, diseased and covered with sores and lice. Picking out cans, bottle tops, glass and paper from the rotting pile of rubbish, they would sell them to a garbage shop for a few rupees, barely enough to live on. Malala begged her father to take a couple of these starving children into his school without pay, and inwardly vowed that she would work as hard as she could towards a time when every one of those children would have an education by right. In the meantime she wrote a letter to God, and sent it down the Swat river.

Towards the end of this first section, it is apparent that the Taliban’s influence had begun to be felt in the Swat valley. Across the border in Afghanistan, the Taliban had enforced a very strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. In horror folk learned of the massacres, the brutality towards women, the denial of food to ordinary people, the burning of homes, crops and land.

Malala explains that the majority of the Taliban were made up of Afghan Pashtun tribesmen, simple ignorant people who had always been looked down on by many educated people, including those poor themselves, such as Malala’s family. Recruits were resentful of any who had advantages, such as good jobs, and easily influenced by a fundamentalist idea of Islam. Seeing an opportunity to seize power, with weapons in their hands, they took it. There were many variations of interpretation of Islam present in Pakistan, not to mention other religions, but Malala’s people could see others fleeing for their very lives as the regime continued. They were equally suspicious of the US, thinking that they inflamed the situation, causing innocent casualties.

The local “Mufti”, a religious leader, was making decisions for the whole community. He was very critical of Malala’s father’s school; the girls should not be seen, they must be segregated. They should not learn certain inappropriate subjects. He made increasingly outrageous statements, such as that Ziauddin was running a “harem” in his school. Purdah was insisted upon for younger girls, and more strictly. The Mufti was determined to enforce his own brand of Islam; individual interpretation was quashed.

The section ends in 2005, when a massive earthquake in Pakistan killed over 70,000 people. Fundamentalists seized on this as a sort of punishment, a seal of approval on all their edicts.

The second part is entitled, “The Valley of Death. Malala is now 10 years old, and she describes the arrival of the Taliban in her village. A self-proclaimed Taliban leader named Maulan Fazlullah had risen to power, through a popular local radio station in Swat, appealing mostly to the ignorant and uneducated. In his radio broadcasts he offered instruction on how to obey the Quran. He soon had many followers – including Malala’s own mother. His demands became more strident and fanatical, calling for an end to televisions, DVDs, and other modern technology. The public humiliations began of anyone who didn’t obey his interpretation of the law, including women who did any work outside the home.

The 7 chapters in this section are primarily about the suppression of the people of Swat, and the growth of Taliban influences. Some of the episodes referred to – the beatings, the beheadings – are harrowing, despite this being seen through the eyes of a young girl. Malala’s education continues, but the reader is wondering for how long this can continue. Many girls have been taken away from the school and sometimes Malala is the only girl in her class. Very competitive, she has two close friends, equally clever.

As time passes it becomes increasingly difficult for Malala to study. Military tanks are in evidence everywhere. On one occasion, travelling in a relative’s car, the driver panicked, asking her to hide a CD of music in her clothes. Malala often began to feel afraid when on the streets, imagining that every man she met was a member of the Taliban. She and her friends stopped wearing their school uniforms and hid their books as they travelled to and from school. The beatings and beheadings continued. A nearby school was bombed during a prayer service in honour of a fallen police officer.

When Malala is 11, she is approached by the BBC who feel that a child’s viewpoint would be very significant. She is asked to write an anonymous blog about her life, and chooses the pseudonym “Gul Makai”. People she knows, including some of the girls at school discover it but she wisely keeps it secret. The Taliban’s powers are increasing. They have instructed families to send them the names of marriageable women, so that marriages can be arranged for them. They have announced a date in 2009, by which all girls’ schools must be closed, yet Malala keeps hoping that something will prevent this. She becomes bolder and more confident, being taken in 2008 by her father to Peshawar to speak at the local press club. She has written a clear and passionate speech, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

Inevitably though, the final day of school arrives. Malala cannot believe it; her books are her proudest possessions. She is followed around by a camera crew from the New York Times, making a documentary. Her life seems empty without school, and increasingly the family are living in fear of their very lives. Malala compares their existence to a family of which she has just read, in “Anne Frank’s Diary”. Deciding they will have to leave their home, Malala’s family, like many others, flee to relatives. Others flee to friends, even though this means that in some homes the males have to leave. The Pashtun tradition of hospitality conflicts with the belief that an unmarried female should not reside in the same home as a male who is not her relative, but they respect both principles. Malala goes to school again with a cousin. She is now 12 years old, although everybody is living in too much turmoil to mark her birthday in the way they always had.

The third part is entitled, “Three Bullets, Three Girls”. We know what this section is going to be about, but now we also feel we know the girl herself; her history, and how her individual experience slots into the mess and bloodshed that is Pakistan’s inheritance.

It is three months later, and Malala’s family return home to find much of their village destroyed during the battles. The Taliban has gone, the Pakistani Prime Minister promises, but many people don’t believe it. Some return and eventually school resumes, but many stay away. During these 5 chapters, Malala’s beliefs become more fully formed. She wonders what it would be like to leave school at 13 to be married, just as one of her classmates has.

The climate of opinion changes. There are still tanks on every street corner, machine guns posted on rooftops, checkpoints all along a route, but now people blame the US. Why were they still there, 3 years later? There was even outrage at the American raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The details were unclear. Why had the US conducted the raid on their own, without telling the Pakistanis or seeking help from them? Conspiracy theories abound. Had the Americans perhaps even actually killed bin Laden years earlier?

Clearly the Taliban are still present, carrying out atrocities very close to their home. On Malala’s 14th birthday, when she is officially considered to be an adult, the family learn that one of Ziauddin’s outspoken friends has been attacked. Malala agrees to follow her mother’s advice, and even though the school is so close, she takes a rickshaw to school, and the bus home.

The section ends with the shooting which made world headlines. On 9th October 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala through the head, neck, and shoulder as she rode home from school on the bus after taking an exam. Although Malala can remember very little about it, being preoccupied with her own thoughts, the masked gunman apparently shouted, “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all”. Her identity became obvious, at which point he shot at her. Two of her friends, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, were also wounded, but survived.

Part four is entitled, “Between Life and Death”. It contains just 2 chapters, about a time of which Malala can remember very little. Immediately following the attack, she was rushed to Swat Central Hospital. There she remained unconscious, in a critical condition. The political machinations behind the scenes continued. The chapters give clinical details, and credit one doctor, “Dr Fiona”, for preventing Malala’s death when staff neglected to follow specialist procedures necessary for the brain and body to recover. She insisted that Malala be sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK for intensive rehabilitation. Her parents were not able to travel to see their daughter, due to protocol. What comes across to the reader is the ignorance apparent at every level, but also a sense that it is possible for individuals to overcome this, even when the odds seem stacked against them.

The final, fifth part “A Second Life” also consists of 2 chapters. Malala now tells of her recovery more from her personal experience. By 17th October, she had come out of her coma and begun to repond. She was terribly worried about the cost of her treatment, thinking that her father would have to sell his land. She still had not been able to see her father. Eventually everything progressed to the point where the Pakistani government paid for her treatment, she was able to be visited by her family, and best of all, she had no lasting brain damage, only nerve damage.

On 3 January 2013, Malala was discharged from the hospital to continue rehabilitation at her family’s temporary home. On 2nd February she had a five-hour operation to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing. Since March 2013, she has been a pupil at the all-girls’ Edgbaston High School in Birmingham. Although happy there, she evidently misses her old life, and would love to go home some day. She realises that her new classmates regard her as a children’s rights activisit, but sometimes longs to just be the normal simple Pashtun girl of old, in Minora …

The co-author of this book is Christina Lamb, a British journalist who is currently Foreign Correspondent for the Sunday Times. Her credentials for helping to write this particular book are impeccable. She first interviewed Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in London in 1987. She then continued her work as foreign correspondent in Pakistan, journeying through Kashmir and along the frontiers of neighbouring Afghanistan. She has interviewed the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Always working in war-torn countries, she was even once deported back home. Commenting on the worsening devastation and destruction by the president Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front since she started reporting from Zimbabwe in 1994, she maintains that this has been her most harrowing experience.

In 2006, Lamb was reporting from Southern Afghanistan, meeting with town elders. The team were then supposedly directed to a safe route out, but soon after they had left, the British were attacked by Taliban fighters. Anyone who experienced running through irrigation trenches, with Kalashnikov rifles and mortar firing from all directions, for two and a half hours, is well qualified to co-author this book. Immediately after this book she wrote another about her many years in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She is critical of many missed opportunities by the US, to help resolve the long war, blaming the poor relationship US has with Pakistan for many of the continuing problems of terrorism.

Interestingly it is possible to see the seeds of that book within this one. Often the voice of Malala seems critical of the US, and their inability to be effective, even a mistrust of American troops. But whose is the underlying voice? It is impossible to really know.

Other parts of the book suggest the hand of an experienced foreign affairs correspondent. The indepth knowledge of both contemporary issues and the country’s history and political situation, as well as of the many different tribes, languages and customs within each region, is so very extensive. The issues are complex and quite difficult for the general reader, only aware of the basic schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims, to assimilate.

The roots of the split are ancient, originating in a dispute soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Sunni Muslims such as Malala’s family follow the orthodox and traditionalist branch of Islam, which takes as its precedent the actions of the Prophet Muhammad. Shia Muslims are followers of Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, whom they claim as Muhammad’s successor, believing that only God has the prerogative to appoint the successor to his prophet. But there are massively complex distinctions between all the different factions within both Sunni and Shia. Could the complicated issues explored all be Malala’s work?

However Malala is an erudite speaker and writer. I have no doubt that the views, anecdotes, and probably the structure of the book are hers, and that the passion with which she explains her views is hers alone. It is well balanced, her own experience set within the ongoing political situation. But perhaps there is slightly too much input from history to make the memoir flow easily. Malala is a courageous, intelligent, indefatigable person. I would have loved to say this book merits 5 stars. It very nearly does, and I have a sneaky feeling that if she is ever inspired by events in her life to write a book again, it probably will.

The subtitle of the book is, “the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.” Malala insists that surviving being shot in the head is not what she wants people to focus on, but the issues of children’s rights, women’s education and world peace. Surely that is what we should take away from reading this book.

“Our people have become misguided. They think their greatest concern is defending Islam and are being led astray by those like the Taliban who deliberately misinterpret the Quran … We have so many people in our country who are illiterate. And many women have no education at all. We live in a place where schools are blown up. We have no reliable electricity supply. Not a single day passes without the killing of at least one Pakistani.”

 

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A Review of Mao Tse-Tung on Guerrilla Warfare

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 1, 2015

Mao Tse-Tung On Guerrilla WarfareMao Tse-Tung On Guerrilla Warfare by Mao Tse-tung
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t believe I discovered this treasure in a Maryland antique store last week while visiting the Eastern Shore from Tennessee with my wife. As a long time student of the Vietnam conflicts and Ho Chi Mihn, and to a lesser degree, Mao Tse-Tung, I had heard of this classic guerrilla primer for some time, but I’ve never been able to find it. Until now. In hardback. And it was pricey. But worth it.

Mao wrote this small book in 1937 while leading the Chinese Red Army guerrillas against the Japanese invaders. The book was later translated and published by the US military in 1940. My edition was re-translated and published in 1961 by Brigadier General Samuel B. Griffith, who wrote a most excellent introduction to the book. In fact, while short, it’s so excellent, that when combined with Mao’s text, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if the French and US governments and military had read the original first, and for the US later, this edition. They could have learned some lessons, taken some advice, maybe taken some pointers, and perhaps saved countless lives in futile efforts to take over a people. It’s beyond idiotic. It’s actually something I’ve long thought, dating back to Edward Lansdale’s CIA efforts in 1950s Indochina and the conclusions he drew about probable guerrilla warfare the US would be facing if we were drawn into conflict there. Simply stunning how no one in charge ever listened to the experts, the “real” experts.

Mao wrote this primer while allegedly on the “Long March,” I believe it’s called if I remember correctly, which would have put him under serious stress while doing so. It’s quite comprehensive for such a small volume. It covers things such as what guerrilla warfare is, the history of guerrilla warfare, the relationship of guerrilla operations to regular army operations, the actual organization of guerrilla units and armies, political issues for guerrillas, and more. He writes quite convincingly of his firm belief that while the enemy may be technologically superior, they can’t fight on all fronts at all times of day or night and eventually a long term war will wear them down and defeat them. Griffith, the translator, makes a point that both Ho Chi Mihn and Castro used this primer and this strategy successfully and it’s hard to argue against its success.

Mao writes of political goals for guerrillas. These include:

1. Arousing and organizing the people.
2. Achieving internal unification politically.
3. Establishing bases.
4. Equipping forces.
5. Recovering national strength.
6. Destroying enemy’s national strength.
7. Regaining lost territories.

He also lists the essential requirements for all successful guerrilla operations:

1. Retention of the initiative; alertness; carefully planned tactical attacks in a war of strategical defense; tactical speed in a war strategically protracted; tactical operations on exterior lines in a war conducted strategically on interior lines.
2. Conduct of operations to complement those of the regular army.
3. The establishment of bases.
4. A clear understanding of the relationship that exists between the attack and the defense.
5. The development of mobile operations.
6. Correct command.

One thing Mao makes clear is guerrilla warfare is to be an offensive-only operation. Strike and strike quickly, move fast, run away if you have to, run away a lot, hit from behind, from the flanks, at night, strike supply lines, get arms and supplies from your enemies. His original guerrillas had perhaps three rifles and a few pistols per unit. The rest had swords and spears. They had to wait until they had successfully attacked and defeated Japanese units and taken their equipment before they could arm themselves.

Of course it’s always important for guerrillas to win the hearts of the people, especially in China’s case (and Vietnam’s later), the peasants. Everyone — even children — can help out. Anyone can be militia, spy, courier, cook, medic, soldier, etc. It’s imperative to politically educate the population so everyone will know why you’re fighting and why it’s important to fight. And why it’s important to find and eradicate traitors.

Griffith’s introduction, as I mentioned, is short but excellent. He gives a brief overview of Mao himself, on the nature of revolutionary guerrilla war, on strategy, tactics, and logistics of such a war, and some conclusions. Among his conclusions are the notion that fighting such guerrillas is definitely a losing proposition for a conventional army and even counter-guerrilla tactics won’t work! He even goes on to say that if any country or government were to try to aid a country or government fighting against a guerrilla army, it would be wise to ONLY offer advisers and equipment. Remember, he wrote this in 1961, about the time when America was starting to openly send advisers to South Vietnam. I guess he could foretell things. Pity no one in the US government read this or listened to him or took him or this book seriously. Cause he was right. We had no chance. And if you believe Mao — and Griffith — virtually any government or army fighting a conventional or counter-guerrilla protracted war against a “revolutionary” guerrilla army is pretty much destined to lose. Fact. Tragedy. Too much loss of life.

This book was everything I’d hoped it would be. It was superb. It was a history, a strategy, a tactic, a warning — it was fascinating. And to read it with the benefit of history’s hindsight made it especially amazing. Mao wasn’t right about everything. He couldn’t be. But it seems to me that Ho picked Mao’s brains and used what he could and improved upon everything to totally destroy the US effort in the war we lost against North Vietnam, a war that could have been avoided if we had only looked at history. This is a book I’m keeping in my library and will undoubtedly be reading again. It’s quite short and easy to read. And it’s most highly recommended.

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A Review of The Green Berets

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 7, 2015

The Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U. S. Army's Elite Special Forces UnitThe Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U. S. Army’s Elite Special Forces Unit by Robin Moore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. I first read it many years ago in high school and it’s stuck with me ever since, so when I saw it in a used bookstore, I bought it and reread it and I’m glad I did. The Green Berets is journalistic nonfiction being marketed as fiction to protect the identity and locations of the people and places involved. Since this book was published in 1965, the north Vietnamese could have read it and done some damage with it if it named actual people or locations. Since it was published in 1965, you can guess that it’s about American military “advisers,” not actual servicemen as the war hadn’t started yet. But it had, secretly. This book has stories on green berets in Laos with local militias they’ve recruited and trained hitting the Viet Cong and the NVA (Viet Minh, as they’re referred to here). This book shows real life heroes in action, in harm’s way, far from safety, doing a lot of damage to Uncle Ho. Makes one wonder if Special Forces had been allowed to keeping fighting the war their way how differently things might have gone. There’s a sweet, but sad, love story in the book. There are some humorous moments. I think one thing that really has stuck with me over the years is the fact that this book started my disrespect for the South Vietnamese military, which was full of crooked pansies who wouldn’t fight at night, wouldn’t get up early in the morning to march, wouldn’t land their helicopters in “hot”” DZs, demanded to be in charge but when the fighting started, would run away and let the Americans do it. This surprised me, but as I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on the Vietnam war over the years, this fact is told over and over again. Yet I’ve never understood why. The northern Vietnamese army was tough as nails, to be feared, would charge into machine gun fire without thinking. The south Vietnamese army was a bunch of pussies. Why? They were supposed to be fighting to save their country. Didn’t they care? I have read accounts where some of them said let the Americans do it, we won’t. That’s a sick attitude. Frankly, it was a civil war and the US had no business being there. I’m glad the country’s reunified, even if it is communist. It’s just a shame that so many had to die. However, the book is not for the squeamish. There are accounts of Viet Cong atrocities that turn your stomach. But that’s war and it happened, so it had to be reported. I’m sure Moore could have made his book twice as big with all of the stories he collected while he was over there serving in the field himself, and I sometimes wonder why he chose the ones he did, but they’re all good. By the way, before the green berets let him tour with them, they made him become, essentially a green beret. He had to go to jump school, get scuba training, jungle warfare training, all of it. He earned his beret. Great book. Strongly recommended.

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