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spikegifted - Military History

Every moment of everyone's life is part of history. History is everywhere; history is in everyone. Everyone is capable of creating history - no matter how big a part or how little, everyone is constantly participating in history. Taking this concept into a military context, there creates the fascinating subject of military history. Warfare is a product of history, but at the same time history is also a product of warfare. The two are intertwine in such a way that is impossible to separate. Unfortunately, I don't subscribe to any online dictionary that will give me a full meaning of the term 'military history', so I've to provide the meanings of the two words separately. Here're the meanings according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:


Main Entry: his·to·ry
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -ries
Etymology: Latin historia, from Greek, inquiry, history, from histOr, istOr knowing, learned; akin to Greek eidenai to know
Date: 14th century
2 a : a chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes b : a treatise presenting systematically related natural phenomena c : an account of a patient's medical background d : an established record <a prisoner with a history of violence>
3 : a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events <medieval history>
4 a : events that form the subject matter of a history b : events of the past c : one that is finished or done for <the winning streak was history> <you're history> d : previous treatment, handling, or experience (as of a metal)

Main Entry: 1 mil·i·tary
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French militaire, from Latin militaris, from milit-, miles soldier
Date: 15th century
1 a : of or relating to soldiers, arms, or war b : of or relating to armed forces; especially : of or relating to ground or sometimes ground and air forces as opposed to naval forces
2 a : performed or made by armed forces b : supported by armed force
3 : of or relating to the army
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural military also mil·i·tar·ies
Date: 1736
1 : military persons; especially : army officers
2 : armed forces

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I've an unbounded fascination in the history of warfare. However, before I dive too deep into the subject, I'd like to qualify that statement: while I've a strong interest in the actual conduct of armed conflict itself, I'm more drawn to the strategic perspective of the war - the interaction between politics, military, social background, history, technologies... It is an all-embracing subject. The common understanding of military strategy doesn't include the really strategic part of the warfare, it is primarily focused on the planning of battles and the execution of military tactics. That is a professional soldier's point of view: 'give me the order and I'll execute it to the best of my command's ability'. There is no reasoning behind it, nor would a soldier required to understand the reason. However, somewhere along the chain of command, someone has to know the reason. And if we pull the threads of reasoning to their origin, there will be a single point where war was decided and all subsequent events would be derived from that point.

Is war merely an extension of politics? Or is war a more violent form of politics? Is war so intertwined with politics? Does war acquires a momentum all by itself - separating itself from politics and from reason. These are questions I keep asking myself when I'm reading military history. Armed conflicts are horrible events of our history. It is horrible because such events usually costs lives - innocent or otherwise. Throughout history, war has been conducted with a combination of political, ideological, commercial, racial and religious motives. If conflict itself looses these motives, the combatants will loose focus and lead to an inconsistent command where the armed forces are not aligned with an identifiable long-term aim. This is only true at the strategic level. When these motives are mixed with the operations of war, they affect to the smooth running of warfare and depending on the degree of interference they can lead to disastrous results.

History teaches each and everyone of us valuable lessons and history of warfare teaches us the most valuable of them all because warfare is so expensive, in every sense of the word: financially, politically and in terms of man power. But at the same time, wars and the preparation of armed conflicts have the habit of accelerating events previously set in motion - military technologies, social make-ups, political developments, etc. Throughout history, wars have been responsible to great deal of changes. While these progress, by no means, compensate the sacrifice of resources, they can be considered as positive by-products of conflicts.

My fascination with warfare started at a young age, when I picked up several books that were translated into Chinese gave me the flavor of things to come. At around the same time, the excellent series 'World at War' made by Thames Television were broadcasted in Hong Kong with Chinese voiced-over. That was my fascination with the Second World War started. In every aspect one can imagine, WWII was truly a global conflict. The world has never experience an armed conflict conducted at the kind of scale seen during WWII, and, thank God, has not since. Nation states from every corner of the world was involved. Although the theatres were fairly distinct, they were nevertheless interconnected.

For some people, WWII really became a world war when the Japanese attacked the American naval base Pearl Harbor in December 1941. However I find that to be rather narrow minded since the conflict in Europe has already been raging for over two years by then and the Asian side of the war has been going on for nearly 8 years. For most Europeans, the Second World War was a continuation of a conflict that started in 1914 and interrupted when the German Kaiser was overthrown in 1918. Being Chinese, I take a rather different view to the conventional. As far as I am concern, WWII started when Japanese armies invaded China from Manchuria (which Japan annexed by setting up a puppet government).

So makes it so interesting? The Second World War was the first time mechanized land forces and air forces became major parts of military strategy. The deployment of armored and mechanized forces allowed armies to march across distances that were previously unheard of and at speeds that were unimaginable. The involvement of air forces, both at tactical and strategic levels created a new dimension to the conduct of warfare itself. And the use of carrier-based air forces changed the nature of naval operations forever. The political picture was interesting also. The aggressors were first driven by the mixture of nationalistic fever, racial imperialism and the excuse of expanding their economic bases, but as the war went on their objectives were fixed by the hope of gaining and maintaining possession of the single most important commodity to modern industrialized society (and military) - oil. On the blink of defeat, the aggressors employed increasing desperate, but unrealistic, tactics and measures in an attempt to stem the tide. In between, the aggressors and the defenders committed unspeakable horrors against their foes, either by design or by accident and forced their own citizens to endure the most unbearable hardships and sacrifices. Their distain towards human lives was a mixture of recklessness and crime. During a relatively brief period of time, an entire school of military thoughts have been swept aside - manpower was no longer the single most important commodity to achieve success on the battle field and was replaced by the stuff that drove the military machines - oil.

There were huge impacts on the social, political and economic fronts. For the second time in thirty years, Europe experienced another blood-letting of their youth. The Japanese lost much of the cream of its society. China's fortunes which had been an on-going decline since the late imperial period continued to deteriorate. Across the globe, an entire generation who grew up during the 'inter-war' years was wasted away in battlefields - for the sake of satisfying or defeating the enlarged egos of a few. In economics, the WWII has shaken the USA into finally realizing its economic and industrial potentials. It replaced Britain as the dominant global economic power that is maintained to this day. The persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany accelerated the formation of the Jewish state, in part thanks to a SS policy to 'export' German Jews to British-held Palestine (the ultimate example of the contradictory nature of National Socialist rule). Thanks to American generosity, western Europe and Japan experienced an unparalleled period of growth that lasted for over 20 years after the end of the war. On the other hand, countries that were liberated by the Soviets were forced into the fifty years of communist / socialist economic experimentations. Politics followed a similar line of development. With communism being imposed by the Soviet Union on liberated central and eastern European states, one after another, and American-sponsored liberal democratic states being setup in Japan and Western Europe, the political map of the world changed dramatically over a very short space of time. The war also waken the nationalistic feelings in Asian colonies of western European countries. In the years following the end of the war, independence movements in these soon-to-be former colonies grew and led to a series of colonial power leaving these colonies, either through violent means or otherwise. The only significant exception in the global wind of change was China. The Communists and the Nationalist (one of the worst Chinese-English translation, ever, as both groups derive their beliefs from the teaching of Marx. The 'Nationalist' should really be called National People's Party.) picked up where they left off. When the Japanese invaded, the two camps temporarily set aside their differences and united to fight the aggressor under the leadership of the Nationalist, while both sides tried to gain support internationally and domestically. Once the Japanese surrendered, the civil war resumed.

As mentioned earlier, progress in technology during the Second World War was staggering. Some of the technologies that evolved during that period still influence our everyday life, nearly 60 years after the end of the conflict. Jet engines, rockets, rocket propelled artilleries, synthetic fuels and other synthetic hydrocarbon-based industrial products, certain cryptographic methods, radio, atomic energy and, of course, the atomic bomb. These are but some of the more obvious examples, there are many more that fields where the advances made during WWII still echo today. Many of these technologies existed or had be postulated prior to the outbreak of armed conflict, but it was during the period of fighting that nations encouraged and accelerated development programs that would directly or indirectly lead to a competitive advantage over the enemy and hasten his defeat - the most famous / infamous of these examples were the atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So what can we learn from this truly global conflict? I am certainly in no position to draw conclusions from such a wide-ranging and difficult chapter of history, that is for people who are far more qualified / capable than I am. Additionally, this
is going out of the realm of military history and it is certainly not something that I've picked up through reading military history. However, the horrors of those years should not be repeated at any cost. The United Nation was established, after the world learnt the lessons of failure of the League of Nations, in the hope that such an international body would maintain the uneasy peace. The UN, as a body, has largely succeed in this objective. However, since the end of the 'Cold War', and the disappearance of the one of the 'super powers', the noble objectives set out in the Charters of the United Nations have been blatantly ignored in one occasion after another. Can the world continue tolerating this type of picking and choosing of UN policies? In a world where there are no longer any significant hostile competition on ideology, shouldn't people and nations learn to tolerate each other's differences, respect each other's culture, tradition and religion and assist each other in difficulties? Differentiation and intolerance will simply seed prejudices and prejudices will eventually lead to hatred and hatred will be used to fuel extremism. This simply becomes a vicious cycle. This does not make the world a better place.

There are some excellent resources on the internet which help people who want to read more about WWII, and one of the best is Stone & Stone. I strongly recommend you go and have a look when you have a chance.

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The following is a list of books that I've read in relation to Second World War. It is, by no means, exhaustive since I can't remember all the books that I've borrowed from libraries. However, this should provide you an indication how fascinated I am. The list does not include books that have extensive references to events that took place during the Second World War but the subject matters are largely outside the said period. Also, the list does not include books that I've read that are either by Chinese authors which do not have English translation or books that translated into Chinese and I don't know the English titles or original names of the authors. If you think that there are books that are good and I've miss out, please let me know.
Ambrose, Stephen E., D-Day (June 6, 1944 The Battle for the Normandy Beaches), 1994
Barnett, Correlli (ed.), Hitler's Generals, 1989
Beevor, Antony, Stalingrad, 1998
Beevor, Antony, Berlin (The Downfall 1945), 2002
Bullock, Alan, Hitler (A Study in Tyranny), 1964
Bullock, Alan, Hitler and Stalin (Parallel Lives), 1991
Burleigh, Michael, The Third Reich (A New History), 2000
Chancellor, Henry, Colditz (The Definitive History), 2001
Chang, Iris, The Rape of Nanking, 1997
Clark, Alan, Barbarossa (The Russian-German Conflict 1941-1945), 1995
Cornwell, John, Hitler's Scientists (Science, War and the Devil's Pact), 2003
Craig, William, Enemy at the Gates (The Battle for Stalingrad), 1973
Cross, Robin, The Battle of Kursk (Operation Citadel 1943), 1993
Deighton, Len, Blood, Tears and Folly (An Objective Look at World War II), 1993
D'Este, Carlo, A Genius for War (A Life of General George S. Patton), 1995
D'Este, Carlo, Eisenhower (Allied Supreme Commander), 2004
Downing, David, The Moscow Option (An Alternative Second World War), 1979
Ellis, John, Cassino: The Hollow Victory (The Battle for Rome January-June 1944), 1984
Elstob, Peter, Hitler's Last Offensive, 1971
Fest, Joachim C., Hitler, 1970
Fest, Joachim C., Speer (The Final Verdict), 1999
Fey, Will, Armor Battles of the Waffen-SS 1943-45, 2003
Forty, George, The Armies of Rommel, 1997
Fraser, David, Knight's Cross (A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel), 1994
Friedman, Kenneth I., Afternoon of the Rising Sun (Battle of Leyte Gulf), 2001
Fuchida, Mitsuo & Okumiya, Masatake, Midway (The Japanese Story), 1955
Gilbert, Martin, Second World War, 1989
Gilbert, Oscar E., Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, 2000
Guderian, Heinz, Achtung-Panzer (The Development of Tank Warfare), 1937
Guderian, Heinz, Panzer Leader (Erinnerungen eines Soldaten), 1952
Hastings, Max, Armageddon (The Battle for Germany 1944-45), 2004
Höhne, Heinz, The Order of the Death's Head (The Story of Hitler's SS) (Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf), 1966
Horne, Alistair, To Lose a Battle (France 1940), 1969
Hoyt, Edwin P., Japan's War (The Great Pacific Conflict), 1987
Hoyt, Edwin P., 199 Days (The Battle for Stalingrad), 1993
Kershaw, Ian, Hitler 1889 - 1936, Hubris, 1999
Kershaw, Ian, Hitler 1936 - 1945, Nemesi, 2000
Khrushchev, Nikita, Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev Volume 1 Commissar [1918-1945], 2004
Knopp, Guido, The SS (A Warning from History), 2005
Koskimaki, George E., D-Day with the Screaming Eagles, 2006
Luck, von, Hans, Panzer Commander (The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck), 1989
MacDonald, Callum, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 1989
MacDonald, Charles, The Battle of the Bulge, 1984
Macksey, Kenneth, Why the Germans Lose at War (The Myth of German Military Superiority), 1996
Macksey, Kenneth, Guderian: Panzer General, 2003
Meyer, Kurt, Grenadiers (The Story of Waffen SS General Kurt "Panzer" Meyer), 2001
Murray, Williamson & Millett, Allan R., A War To Be Won (Fighting the Second World War), 2000
Nagorski, Andrew, The Greatest Battle (The Fight for Moscow 1941-42), 2007
Natkiel, Richard & Sommer, Robin L., War Maps (Campaigns & Battles of World War II), 1985
O'Brien, Francis A., Battling for Saipan, 2003
Parker, Matthew, Monte Cassino (The Story of the Hardest-Fought Battle of World World Two), 2003
Parshall, Jonathan & Tully, Anthony, Shattered Sword (The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway), 2005
Picknett, Lynn, Prince, Clive & Prior, Stephen, Double Standards (The Rudolf Hess Cover-Up), 2001
Porch, Douglas, Hitler's Mediterranean Gamble (The North African and the Mediterranean Campaigns in World War II), 2005
Prange, Gordon W., Goldstein, Donald M. & Dillon, Katherine V., Miracle at Midway, 1982
Public Record Office, United Kingdom, The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force 1933-1945, 1948
Read, Anthony, The Devil's Disciples (The Lives and Times of Hitler's Inner Circle), 2003
Read, Anthony & Fisher, David, The Fall of Berlin, 1992
Rees, Laurence, Horror in the East, 2001
Rhodes, Richard, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, 1988
Rommel, Erwin, Field Marshal, Rommel and his Art of War, 1994
Rose, Paul Lawrence, Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project (A study in German Culture), 1998
Rutherford, Ward, The Biography of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, 1981
Salisbury, Harrison E., The 900 Days (The Siege of Leningrad), 1969
Salmaggi, Cesare & Pallavisini, Alfredo, 2194 Days of War (An Illustrated chronology of the Second World War), 1977
Service, Robert, Stalin (A Biography), 2004
Sommerville, Donald, World War II Day by Day, 1989
Spector, Ronald H., Eagle Against the Sun (The American War with Japan), 1984
Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich, 1970
Stevens, Henry, Hitler's Flying Saucers (A Guide to German Flying Discs of the Second World War), 2003
Taylor, Frederick, Dresden (Tuesday 13 February 1945), 2005
Thomas, Evan, Sea of Thunder (Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-45), 2006
Tillman, Barrett, Clash of the Carriers (The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot of World War II), 2005
Tsouras, Peter G. (ed.), Panzers on the Eastern Front (General Erhard Raus and his Panzer Divisions in Russia 1941-1945), 2002
Wright, Derrick, The Battle for Iwo Jima 1945, 1999
Yoshimura, Akira, Battleship Musashi (The Making and Sinking of the World's Biggest Battleship), 1999

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