Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why read military history?

I have not read a book in two months. That is extremely rare for me, but not unprecedented; for example, in the fall of 2005 I went four months without reading one. But yesterday I purchased two books at Barnes & Noble, one of which, in particular, is an excellent choice for interrupting my hiatus from reading. The book in question is The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, by James D. Hornfischer, an intense, gripping, page-turning account of the Battle of Samar in October, 1944, which was part of the overall Battle of Leyte Gulf, one of history's most decisive naval engagements. When I take the bus to downtown Phoenix to return to work on Tuesday morning, after the Memorial Day weekend, this volume will accompany me -- along with the other book I purchased that day, which is titled Picture Yourself Dancing. The juxtaposition of a work on military history with one about dancing will probably amuse a few people, although that is not my intent; but as I have grown older, my range of interests has constantly expanded, a fact illustrated by this double purchase.

Nobody who knows me reasonably well has ever accused me of being a warmonger, and in fact my personality and temperament more closely resemble Gandhi's than Patton's, although the tough, volatile, and profane general was my favorite hero for many years. But while I am not a warmonger, I am also not a pacifist in the generally understood sense of the word -- I fervently believe, for example, that America, with its freedoms and its way of life, is worth fighting and even dying for if the occasion requires it, which most certainly was the case during World War II in particular. I have always been able to relate well to veterans of that conflict, perhaps in part because I am a bit of an anachronism myself and have a mindset more like theirs than that of my own generation.

With that as background, I know that over the years some people have been puzzled by my fascination with military history. But last week, Rich Lowry of National Review courteously took upon himself the task of explaning it for me, and he did it much more effectively than I have ever been able to. Read his column here.

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