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Windows into war

A couple of weeks ago, someone recommended that I talk about military professional readings.

I read to learn and I read for entertainment. When traveling I enjoy losing myself in science fiction or crime drama. However, history remains high on my list and drove many purchases through the years. My bookshelves (and closets) are filled with a variety of texts. When I started to compile a list, the number of favorites exceeded my allotted space, so I’ll just mention a few.

My all time favorite history book is "A Bridge Too Far." I just find it hard to beat for an easy to read discussion of a complex battle. "Flags of our Fathers" is another easy read that provides a fascinating look at the young men who served in World War II and a horrendous fight. For a Japanese view of Iwo Jima to compare to "Flags of our Fathers," try "So Sad to Die in Battle."

"Lee’s Lieutenants" is a great history of the Civil War that any serious reader of those times cannot neglect. "Killer Angels" is a novel on the battle of Gettysburg that helps a reader get a feel for the people who fought and died in the Civil War. For really ancient warfare, I like "Gates of Fire" that chronicles in novel form the Spartans at Thermopylae. It is a much more believable account than other recent portrayals.

I have to put Clausewitz’s "On War" high on the list. It is difficult to read, but necessary to understand the theoretical underpinnings of western military thought. Reading the book can help someone understand why our military has done some of the things it has done. Sun Tzu’s "The Art of War" is another good military theory book for the serious student.

For more recent wars, "This Kind of War" is a great read on the Korean War. "Hell in a Very Small Place" is a fascinating account of the French at Dien Bien Phu. "We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young" on the Ia Drang battle is a must read. There are a number of good books on counterinsurgency operations and conflict today. I found Galula’s "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice" particularly interesting. Huntington’s "The Clash of Civilizations" is very thought-provoking given the situation we face today in the Middle East. My favorite science fiction and futuristic military operations book is "Starship Troopers" by Robert Heinlein.

This was a difficult sample to compose because there are so many books from which to choose (my wife would be happy to give some to you). Books provide a window into history and military affairs when we cannot personally experience them. The understanding that comes from such study helps a student of any age and political persuasion to understand why the world is the way it is. Such understanding is probably the only way we can avoid some of the messes that we have found ourselves in over the years as well as a way to commemorate the sacrifices of the men and women in uniform. I recommend finding a quiet corner and enjoying one.

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