Monday, June 21, 2010

Ripples of Battle by Victor Davis Hanson

Ripples of Battle is another one of those books by VDH that can be read again and again because there are so many gems in it.

In this book, he details the ripples of effects of three battles: Okinawa, Shiloh and Delium.


Kamikazes ("divine wind") were first seen on a large scale in October 1944.  Six months later, the Americans were beginning to invade Okinawa in preparation for invading the mainland of Japan.  In the battle of Okinawa, Kamikaze attacks continued on an even larger scale then when they had originally started six months previous.  "The Japanese were planning something on a scale entirely unforeseen in preparing some 4,000 planes for suicide attacks, commencing their sorties immediately after the initial landings [by the Americans]."  The large-scale Kamikaze attack is what prompted the unleashing of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Additionally, we continue to feel the reverberations of the Kamikaze attacks today in that our world will never be the same since 9/11.

"What those who crash airplanes in the past and present alike failed to grasp was also the nature of the deadly repercussions that arose from their explosions.  Suicide bombings strike at the very psyche of the Western mind that is repelled by the religious fanaticism and the authoritarianism, or perhaps the despair, of such enemies - confirming that wares are not just misunderstandings over policy of the reckless actions of a deranged leader, but accurate reflections of fundamental differences in culture and society.  In precisely the same way kamikazes off Okinawa led to A-bombs, so too jumbo jets exploding at the World Trade Center were the logical precursors 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.  The Western world publicly objected to the Israeli plunge into the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002 and it purported destruction of the civilian infrastructure - but much of it also privately sighed, "Such are the wages of 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." (p. 45-46)

The entire chapter is a fascinating read on kamikazes and the ripples of effects it had on America and our world today.  This chapter also had a personal effect on the author as the uncle he was named after was killed in the battle of Okinawa.  Reading of the effects this battle had on his life and his family's life is very fascinating and heart-wrenching.


I'm not a Civil War expert, but I have read a few books on Lincoln and the war itself.  But after reading this chapter, I was quite surprised at how many ripples Shiloh made on our culture.  I can't recall all the details, but I will try to note the ones that impressed me.

William Tecumseh Sherman was, for all intents and purposes, a nobody before the battle of Shiloh.  After the battle, he was a national icon and would go on to lead the Union to victory over the Confederacy.  In one battle, his and the nation's entire fate was changed.  In that same battle, he was wounded twice and had three horses shot out underneath him.  Had any one of those bullets strayed a few inches in another direction, those same fates would have been significantly different.

The whole concept of Lost Opportunity arose from this battle.  The South had virtually won the war, but with the death of General Johnston, the South did not pursue the North and the North was able to regroup and mount an counter attack.  From then on, the Southern culture has viewed the battle as the lost opportunity.

Brig General Lew Wallace's life was changed dramatically that same day and with it the culture of America.  His "lost" division, whether because of misunderstandings or lack of competence, caused controversies for years.  With this blunder, his military career was over.  The rest of his life was dedicated to seeking redemption.  In that process of seeking redemption he wrote Ben-Hur which would change American culture forever.  The book became a best-seller and then a stage production and then a big-screen movie several times.  It laid the foundation for books-to-movies for generations.

Lastly, Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest would become the thorn in the side for the Union for many years.  He not only survived Shiloh but became the icon of the South and would forever be associated with the Ku Klux Klan.


The Battle of Delium introduced to the world the unique idea of preemptive attacking for defensive purposes. The Athenians had essentially terrorized the Boeotians.  No battle broke out and both sides were about to return to normal life.  The Boeotian council debated and voted and were about to return home when one of its members spoke up.  "A single boeotarch resisted - the Theban Padondas, son of one Aoelidas, a gifted commander in his sixties and do doubt a veteran of the Theban triumph twenty-three years earlier at Coronea.  Through sheer force of personality and fiery speeches to the assembled rank and file, he convinced his colleagues to recommit the entire army and pursue the Athenians.  Quite remarkably they were won over and agreed immediately to break camp and march after the Athenians."  Delium ensued and the Athenians were routed and ripples were sent through Greek and even American military strategy.

The chapter also goes on to discuss the lives of Alcibiades, Socrates and other people who survived Delium and went on to have tremendous impacts to Western culture.

Overall, it was a really good read.  On a personal note - I started reading this book toward the end of April and beginning of May and as such, Memorial Day was on my mind.  The several passages the author used to discuss the uncle he never knew and his family's thoughts on this tragic loss brought tears to my eyes as I read them on the bus while going to work.  My heart swelled with tremendous gratitude for all those men and women who have served our country and died to defend her.  I don't have many regrets in life, but I do wonder occasionally how much different it would be had I acted on my youthful desires to join the military.

I only have the deepest respect for all those who sacrifice for our freedoms - from the 19-year old high school graduate serving in the Army to the 35-year old father of 4 who serves in Afghanistan who's wife reads reports on the Internet about a bombing near his base and can only sleeplessly worry if he is still alive or not for several hours before she finally gets an email from him.  God bless them all.