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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: military history, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. The bombing of Monte Cassino

On the 15th of February 1944, Allied planes bombed the abbey at Monte Cassino as part of an extended campaign against the Italians. St. Benedict of Nursia established his first monastery, the source of the Benedictine Order, here around 529. Over four months, the Battle of Monte Cassino would inflict some 200,000 causalities and rank as one of the most horrific battles of World War Two. This excerpt from Peter Caddick-Adams’s Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell, recounts the bombing.

On the afternoon of 14 February, Allied artillery shells scattered leaflets containing a printed warning in Italian and English of the abbey’s impending destruction. These were produced by the same US Fifth Army propaganda unit that normally peddled surrender leaflets and devised psychological warfare messages. The monks negotiated a safe passage through the German lines for 16 February — too late, as it turned out. American Harold Bond, of the 36th Texan Division, remembered  the texture of the ‘honey-coloured Travertine stone’ of the abbey that fine Tuesday morning, and how ‘the Germans seemed to sense that something important was about to happen for they were strangely quiet’. Journalist Christopher Buckley wrote of ‘the cold blue on that late winter morning’ as formations of Flying Fortresses ‘flew in perfect formation with that arrogant dignity which distinguishes bomber aircraft as they set out upon a sortie’. John Buckeridge of 1/Royal Sussex, up on Snakeshead, recalled his surprise as the air filled with the drone of engines and waves of silver bombers, the sun glinting off their bellies, hove into view. His surprise turned to concern when he saw their bomb doors open — as far as his battalion was concerned the raid was not due for at least another day.

Brigadier Lovett of 7th Indian Brigade was furious at the lack of warning: ‘I was called on the blower and told that the bombers would be  over in fifteen minutes… even as I spoke the  roar  [of  aircraft] drowned my voice as the first shower of eggs [bombs]  came down.’ At the HQ of the 4/16th Punjabis, the adjutant wrote: ‘We went to the door of the command post and gazed up… There we saw the white trails of many high-level bombers. Our first thought was that they were the enemy. Then somebody said, “Flying Fortresses.” There followed the whistle, swish and blast as the first flights struck at the monastery.’ The first formation released their cargo over the abbey. ‘We could see them fall, looking at this distance like little black stones, and then the ground  all around  us shook with gigantic shocks as they exploded,’ wrote Harold  Bond. ‘Where the abbey had been there was only a huge cloud of smoke and dust which concealed the entire hilltop.’

The aircraft which committed the deed came from the massive resources of the US Fifteenth and Twelfth Air Forces (3,876 planes, including transports and those of the RAF in theatre), whose heavy and medium bombardment wings were based predominantly on two dozen temporary airstrips around Foggia in southern Italy (by comparison, a Luftwaffe return of aircraft numbers in Italy on 31 January revealed 474 fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft in theatre, of which 224 were serviceable). Less than an hour’s flying time from Cassino, the Foggia airfields were primitive, mostly grass affairs, covered with Pierced Steel Planking runways, with all offices, accommodation and other facilities under canvas, or quickly constructed out of wood. In mid-winter the buildings and tents were wet and freezing, and often the runways were swamped with oceans of mud which inhibited  flying. Among the personnel stationed there was Joseph Heller, whose famous novel Catch-22 was based on the surreal no-win-situation chaos of Heller’s 488th Bombardment Squadron, 340th Bomb Group, Twelfth Air Force, with whom he flew sixty combat missions as a bombardier (bomb-aimer) in B-25 Mitchells.

After the first wave of  aircraft struck Cassino monastery, a Sikh company of 4/16th Punjabis fell back, understandably, and a German wireless message was heard to announce: ‘Indian troops  with turbans are retiring’. Bond and his friends were astonished when, ‘now and again, between the waves of bombers, a wind would blow the smoke away, and to our surprise we saw the gigantic walls of the abbey still stood’. Captain Rupert Clarke, Alexander’s ADC, was watching with his boss. ‘Alex and I were lying out on the ground about 3,000 yards from Cassino. As I watched the bombers, I saw bomb doors open and bombs began to fall well short of the target.’ Back at the 4/16th Punjabis, ‘almost before the ground ceased to shake the telephones were ringing. One of our companies was within 300 yards of the target and the others within 800 yards; all had received a plastering and were asking questions with some asperity.’ Later, when a formation of B-25 medium bombers passed over, Buckley noticed, ‘a  bright  flame, such  as a  giant  might have produced by striking titanic matches on the mountain-side, spurted swiftly upwards at half a dozen points. Then a pillar of smoke 500 feet high broke upwards into the blue. For nearly five minutes it hung around the building, thinning gradually upwards.’

Nila Kantan of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps was no longer driving trucks, as no vehicles could get up to the 4th Indian Division’s positions overlooking the abbey, so he found himself portering instead. ‘On our shoulders we carried all the things up the hill; the gradient was one in three, and we had to go almost on all fours. I was watching from our hill as all the bombers went in and unloaded their bombs; soon after, our guns blasted the hill, and ruined the monastery.’ For Harold Bond, the end was the strangest, ‘then nothing happened. The smoke and dust slowly drifted away, showing the crumbled masonry with fragments of walls still standing, and men in their foxholes talked with each other about the show they had just seen, but the battlefield remained relatively quiet.’

The abbey had been literally ruined, not obliterated as Freyberg had required, and was now one vast mountain of rubble with many walls still remaining up to a height of forty or more feet, resembling the ‘dead teeth’ General John K. Cannon of the USAAF wanted to remove; ironically those of the north-west corner (the future target of all ground assaults through the hills) remained intact. These the Germans, sheltering from the smaller bombs, immediately occupied and turned into excellent defensive positions, ready to slaughter the 4th Indian Division when they belatedly attacked. As Brigadier Kippenberger observed: ‘Whatever had been the position before, there was no doubt  that the enemy was now entitled to garrison the ruins, the breaches in the fifteen-foot-thick walls were nowhere complete, and we wondered whether we had gained anything.’

Peter Caddick-Adams is a Lecturer in Military and Security Studies at the United Kingdom’s Defence Academy, and author of Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell and Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives. He holds the rank of major in the British Territorial Army and has served with U.S. forces in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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Image credits: (1) Source: U.S. Air Force; (2) Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2005-0004 / Wittke / CC-BY-SA; (3) Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J26131 / Enz / CC-BY-SA

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2. The familiar face of Winston Churchill

By Christopher M. Bell

The steady flow of new books about Winston Churchill should confirm that the famous wartime prime minister is now the best known and most studied figure in modern British history.

Churchill, a tireless self-promoter in his own time, would undoubtedly have taken a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that the legend he helped to craft would endure well into the twenty-first century. Unlike most politicians, he was deeply concerned with how he would be remembered – and judged – by history. And, although the verdict today is by no means universally positive, there is no doubt that he has achieved a level of fame that few can rival.

Academic historians (like me) spend so much time immersed in the study of the past that we cannot help but see it as a crowded place full of familiar faces. And a figure like Churchill is impossible to ignore: his memory, like the man himself, positively demands our attention. But the full-time historian is generally able to tune Churchill out when necessary: for most of us, he remains just one of the many historical actors we must look at to understand the past.

For the public at large, however, the past is a very different place. Most people approach it as they would a party full of strangers: instinctively scanning the crowd as they enter in hopes of spotting a familiar face. But the more time that passes, the more unfamiliar the past becomes – and the fewer faces we are likely to recognize. Our collective historical memory is subject to a natural sort of attrition process. Most of Britain’s leading politicians, statesmen and warriors of the early twentieth-century, many of them household names in their own time, are now barely remembered at all. Lord Kitchener’s famous recruiting poster from the First World War is still instantly recognizable, but every year there are fewer and fewer people who can put a name to the face of a man who in 1914 was better known – and certainly more widely admired – than Churchill.

The process has distinctly Darwinian overtones, as the most famous figures of yesteryear gradually displace their lesser-known rivals – and eventually each other – in the competition for a place in our collective memory of the past. Only a handful of famous twentieth-century Britons can share the historical stage with Churchill and demand anything like equal billing. And even they do not seem to share his seeming immunity to the passage of time. Neville Chamberlain, for example, remains an iconic figure, although for many he is not an important historical actor in his own right so much as a supporting figure in a better-known, and implicitly more important, story: Churchill’s triumphant rise to power in 1940.

Britain has good reason to look back on the Second World War as the “People’s War”, but the fact remains that only one of “the people” could be reliably identified today in a police line-up. And he is recognizable precisely because of his role in this great conflict. Churchill’s near-mythical status was ensured by his leadership in the critical months between the army’s evacuation from Dunkirk and the Royal Air Force’s victory in the Battle of Britain. At a time when Britain’s defeat seemed not only possible but imminent, Churchill rallied and inspired the people as no other contemporary politician could have. In Britain’s national mythology, he almost single-handedly changed the course of the war by sustaining the morale of the British people at the height of the Nazi onslaught, and in so doing ensured Hitler’s ultimate downfall.

Even in 1940, there was already a tendency to regard Churchill as the personification of Britain’s collective war effort and the embodiment of the nation’s heroic defiance of Nazi Germany. Churchill himself once attempted to put his role into perspective when he declared that “It was a nation and a race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.” How far Churchill really believed this is debatable. In his speeches and memoirs he consistently downplayed the doubts and fears that pervaded Britain after the fall of France. But he knew better than anyone how close Britain may have come to a negotiated peace with Hitler in 1940 – and how important was his role in preventing this.

As more and more of Churchill’s contemporaries have receded and then disappeared from public memory, the popular association of Churchill with this defining moment in Britain’s history has only grown stronger. He may soon be, if he isn’t already, the last (recognizable) man standing in the history ofBritainduring the first half of the twentieth century.

Churchill believed that history was made by “great men”, and it is hard to imagine him being troubled by this trend. Historians might lament the public’s disproportionate interest in any one particular individual, but this is not to suggest we don’t need any more books about Churchill. The central place he enjoys in our memory of the twentieth century makes it all the more important that the record is as full and accurate as possible. The challenge is to populate that history with real people, and recognize that Churchill was also a supporting character in their stories.

Christopher M. Bell is Associate Professor of History at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of The Royal Navy, Seapower and Strategy between the Wars (2000), co-editor of Naval Mutinies of the Twentieth Century: An International Perspective (2003), and author of Churchill and Sea Power (2012).

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Slideshow image credits: all images by British Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (1, 2, 3, 4).

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3. Available Now: Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives

Thought you knew all there was to know about the Second World War? Think again. Today we're celebrating the release of Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives, the new dual biography exploring the lives of WWII's opposing European generals Bernard Montgomery and Erwin Rommel, written by military defense analyst and BBC contributor Peter Caddick-Adams.During the Second World War, British and German

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4. The Battle of Midway: a slideshow

There are few moments in American history in which the course of events tipped so suddenly and so dramatically as at the Battle of Midway. At dawn of June 4, 1942, a rampaging Japanese navy ruled the Pacific. By sunset, their vaunted carrier force (the Kido Butai) had been sunk and their grip on the Pacific had been loosened forever.

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5. It's Here: The Ides of March

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
Cry 'Caesar!' Speak; Caesar is turn'd to hear.

Beware the ides of March.

Some might say that the death of Caesar on this day in 44 BCE was the beginning of the end. After expanding the domains of the Roman Republic and consolidating power into a dictatorship, Caesar was stabbed by a group of senators, as famously chronicled in William Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Rome would go on to become an empire, lasting for another four centuries; even in death, Caesar remained “dictator in perpetuity.”

Caesar Caesar’s most infamous lover, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, was in Rome at the time of his assassination. Caesar had backed her claim to the Egyptian throne after she was exiled by her brother and co-ruler, Ptolemy XIII and his court. Awaiting confirmation of the sustainability of her own ruling power in the aftermath of the death of her most powerful supporter, the much younger Egyptian ruler soon allied herself with Mark Antony and Octavian, Caesar’s grandnephew and recognized heir, even though she had once hoped her own son Caesarion, allegedly fathered by Caesar, would one day assume power in Rome. She later fled back to Egypt to face the military trials of the Roman Civil War caused by Caesar’s death.

Following the smashing success of his biography, Caesar: Life of a Colossus, historian Adrian Goldsworthy has written another masterful study of classical figures, Antony and Cleopatra. Noting that Cleopatra is the only woman to appear on the A-list of Greco-Roman greats, Goldsworthy writes “For all their fame, Antony and Cleopatra receive little attention in formal study of the first century BC…. The fame of Cleopatra may attract students to the subject, but courses are, quite reasonably and largely unconsciously, structured to stress more ‘serious’ topics, and shy away from personalities.”

Antony and Cleopatra Goldsworthy sets out to disprove the legitimacy of this stigma, carefully debunking the myths surrounding Antony and Cleopatra’s legacies to reveal the strength of the political characters’ power and ambition. From their own eponymous Shakespearean play, we might commonly remember the drama and failures of their romance, but Goldsworthy warns that “many want to tell the story [of Cleopatra] differently, turning the sinister seductress into a strong and independent woman struggling as best she could to protect her country.” Of course, by no means does he mean that Cleopatra was not strong and independent—she unanimously was—but rather, romance and the fictional glamour surrounding her has too often turned into debilitating sympathy for her decline. Consequently, we overlook and ignore the profoundly forceful constitution of a woman ruler in a definitive age of men.

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6. Books on the beauty of nature and the nature of humanity

Two reviews of Yale Press titles appeared in the April 17th edition of the New York Review of Books.

Andrew Butterfield reviewed Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions, edited by Pierre Rosenberg and Keith Christiansen. Butterfield praises the "ravishingly beautiful exhibition, ... one that attempts to renew our understanding of the artist." He particularly admires the essay by Willibald Sauerländer, calling it "brilliant." Read the entire review here.

9780300136685This beautiful catalogue presents the first in-depth examination of Poussin’s landscapes. Featured here are more than 40 paintings, ranging from the artist’s early Venetian-inspired pastorals to his grandly structured and austere works, designed as metaphors or allegories for the processes of nature. Also included are approximately 60 drawings and essays by internationally renowned scholars who examine the painter’s visual, literary, and philosophical influences as well as his relationships with his patrons and his place in the art-historical canon.

Elsewhere in the New York Review of Books, William H. McNeill reviewed Ben Kiernan's Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur, calling it an "even-handed treatment of mass violence as exercised by Asians, Africans, and Europeans." He went on to say, "The time I spent reading Kiernan's pages raised a disturbing question about the ways I have habitually and deliberately chosen to focus my own efforts to write world history." Read the entire review here.

9780300100983For thirty years Ben Kiernan has been deeply involved in the study of genocide and crimes against humanity. He has played a key role in unearthing confidential documentation of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. His writings have transformed our understanding not only of twentieth-century Cambodia but also of the historical phenomenon of genocide. This new book—the first global history of genocide and extermination from ancient times—is among his most important achievements. View the table of contents, or read an excerpt.

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7. Morris's 1948 is a critics' favorite

9780300126969 Under the spotlight of the 60th anniversary of Israeli independence, Benny Morris's recent book, 1948, is a praised as a shining example.

Last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review features David Margolick's review, saying: "Morris relates the story of his new book soberly and somberly, evenhandedly and exhaustively."

The May 5th issue of The New Yorker hit newsstands on Monday with a feature piece by David Remnick. This piece on Israeli history centers around Morris and the publication of 1948, calling it "a commanding, superbly documented, and fair-minded study of the events that, in the wake of the Holocaust, gave a sovereign home to one people and dispossessed another."

Last Monday, David Holahan reviewed the book for the Hartford Courant. 1948, he said, is "a richly detailed and thoroughly researched primer.... A compelling 'aha' book, 1948 brings order to complex, little-understood subjects." He went on to compliment Morris on his "vivid narrative prose and masterly analysis."

Canada's National Post began running excerpts from 1948 on May 5, and will run a total of 5 installments. Read the second and third installments.

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8. In Memoriam: Lt. Gen. William E. Odom

Odom_4 The recent passing of retired senior military official and former Yale professor William Odom has given many the chance to reflect on his life of service and scholarship. In his work with the Carter and Reagan administrations, Odom maintained a hard-line stance on the Soviet Union, a nation that had fascinated him since his days as a student at West Point. More recently, Odom had been a staunch critic of the war in Iraq, never sacrificing his independence from political parties to oppose the conflict.

We at the Yale Press are proud that part of Lt. Gen. Odom’s legacy lives on in print. The Collapse of the Soviet Military (8/2000), his first book with YUP, presents his exper t’s argument for the scaling back of the Soviet armed forces after the fall of the Union, drawing upon both field experience and original research. In America’s Inadvertent Empire (2/2004), Odom joins former Council on Foreign Relations fellow Robert Dujarric to argue against American unilateralism and question the conventional wisdom that the spread of democracy serves as a panacea for global conflict. Finally, Odom’s study of American security, Fixing Intelligence (4/2004), offers his post-9/11 suggestions for tightening protocols to encourage more effective cooperation between security and intelligence officials.

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9. Scenes from the other "London Underground"

Holmes Faced with the impending blitz during the Second World War, Winston Churchill and his cabinet sought protection in an underground headquarters beneath the Treasury building in London. Though the prime minister much preferred to observe the war from the keener vantage point of the top floor of 10 Downing Street ("to the horror of his staff"), the Cabinet War Rooms played host to more than 100 meetings of Churchill's war cabinet between 1939 and 1945.

Since 2003, when the restored Churchill War Rooms were reopened to the public, visitors have had the opportunity to tour the site for themselves, yet many continue to wonder how a dank storage basement could have become the prime minister’s base of wartime operations, not to mention what life was really like in this underground bunker. Drawing on a wealth of original material, including new firsthand accounts of the people who lived and worked there, distinguished Churchill biographer Richard Holmes provides the first comprehensive history of the Cabinet War Rooms in his new book Churchill’s Bunker.

For those unlikely to be making a pilgrimage to London in the near future, be sure to view the Imperial War Museum's excellent virtual tour below, and read up on Churchill's wartime retreat in Holmes's excellent new book.


10. Darfur Genocide Charges Filed

This Monday, the International Criminal Court in The Hague charged the President of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, with three counts of genocide in Darfur, which is the worst crime in international law.  The charges come after a long legal process, during which al-Bashir was reelected for another term as president.  He was also charged in March 2009 with two counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity, and in response, al-Bashir expelled ten international aid organizations from Sudan.  Al-Bashir says he will not turn himself in, but the prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo believes that he will “face justice” eventually.  It is estimated by the United Nations that 2.7 million have fled their homes and 300,000 have died since 2003.

To better understand the genocide in Darfur, look no further than Ben Kiernan’s Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur.  Kiernan identifies four major theKiernanmes in the history of genocide: conflicts over agriculture and agricultural land, the influence of cults of antiquity such as Sparta, conflict over race, and conflicts over territory and power, all of which had their basis in ancient history.  Kiernan studied many of the genocides throughout history, starting with some of these ancient origins, telling the stories that surround them and finds the four themes in these stories.   He addresses the conflict in Darfur late in the book, describing a 1987 letter which was a clear precursor to the 2003 start of the conflict, when Ja

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11. Happy Veteran's Day To All

Happy Veteran's Day to all of our readers who served or know someone who has.

While we don't take off for Veteran's Day, we do celebrate our nation's defenders year-round with our military history list. It's always a fascinating area for us to work with, and our most recent addition to the category, MARITIME DOMINION, is a wonderful study of naval power that focuses on the modern U.S. navy.

Thanks for your service, and be sure to tell a veteran you appreciate him or her today!

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12. Henry Roe Cloud Series and More on Native American History

As reported by the Yale Daily News earlier this month, the new Henry Roe Cloud series on American Indians and Modernity was announced by Ned Blackhawk, a Yale professor of History and American Studies, and Christopher Rogers, Editorial Director of Yale University Press. Cloud was the first known Native American graduate from Yale College. According to Professor Blackhawk, the new series has grown out of the “pressing concern” that private universities, despite having “vast resources […] have not treated the studies of Native Americans as seriously” as have public universities. In an effort to increase Native American scholarship the Henry Roe Cloud series will publish one new title a year in this underrepresented field. Here is the Henry Roe Cloud series press release.

Brian DeLay’s War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War is a shining example of this sorely needed Native American scholarship.  Focusing on the period before and during the U.S.-Mexican War, War of a Thousand Deserts, tells the largely unrecorded and overlooked story of the influential activities of Native Americans living in the northern Mexican territory that would become much of Texas and the American Southwest. In doing so, the book actually reenvisions the better part of 19th and 20th century American History. As Professor Blackhawk says in his July 2009 review for the Journal of Military History:

This book successfully conjoins the history of U.S. expansion with the history of northern Mexico and links the following three fields into a singular whole: southern plains Indian history, the early Mexican republic, and Anglo-American expansion.

In the past, these three elements had been largely treated as three distinct areas; DeLay, by War of a Thousand Deserts contrast, successfully combines the three into one indivisible whole. In this new, untold version of the events described in the book, Indian history becomes inextricably linked with American history. This binding of key elements becomes essential to the book’s scholarship and importance. According to DeLay, “the interplay of [American, Mexican, and Indian] endeavors is a central goal of [the] book.”

In writing this history, DeLay does not merely attempt to assert the “incidental significance” of Indian History to the period surrounding the U.S.-Mexican War. Instead, he writes to “demonstrate that Mexican, American, and indigenous politics came together in a forgotten nexus that reshaped North American boundaries for all of its peoples.”

In describing this nexus, DeLay argues that Indian raids of the mid-19th century not only “shattered northern Mexico’s economy, depopulat[ed] its countryside and opened up great wounds in Mexico’s body politic,” but also that they had equally influential, if less tangible, effects on the U.S. side of the conflict.  These raids “indirectly facilitated the conquest and occupation of the Mexican North in 1846 and 1847” by leading the Americans to “

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13. Defending the Language with Bullets

By Dennis Baron

“It’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”     –Barack Obama

The bumper sticker on the back of a construction worker’s pickup truck caught my eye: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

This homage to education wasn’t what I expected from someone whose bitterness typically manifests itself in vehicle art celebrating guns and religion, but there was more: “If you can read this in English, thank a soldier.”

It was a “support our troops” bumper sticker that takes language and literacy out of the classroom and puts them squarely in the hands of the military.

It’s one thing to say that we owe our national security and the survival of the free world to military might. It’s something else again to be told that we need soldiers to protect the English language.

But according to this bumper sticker, any chink in our armor, any relaxation of our constant vigilance, any momentary lowering of the gun barrel, and we’ll all be speaking Russian, Iraqi, or even Mexican.

Supporters of official English argue that it’s the language of democracy — the language of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, not to mention the “Star-Spangled Banner,” “American Idol” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” (it doesn’t matter that Millionaire was a British show first, since Americans were British once themselves). English, goes the claim, is the “social glue” cementing the many cultures that underlie American culture. As Teddy Roosevelt said back in 1918, “This is a nation, not a polyglot boarding house.”

But apparently even the official language laws that states, cities, schools and businesses have put in place aren’t doing the job, so what we really need is to put a gun to people’s heads to make them use English.

Only that won’t work. The large number of translators killed in Iraq, or drummed out of the army for being gay, are two of the many indicators that our armies aren’t keeping the world safe for English.

The linguist Max Weinreich is credited with quipping that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. But guns can’t literally keep a language safe at home any more than they can effectively seal a border to keep other languages out.

In a bold act of regime change and a glaring breach of homeland security, French streamed across the English borders in the 11th century along with the Norman armies, but French soldiers were unable to convert most of the Brits they encountered to the parlez-vous, at least not in the long term.

And while the Royal Navy helped spread English around the globe as part and parcel of the British Empire, what really undergirds English today as an international language isn’t military might, but the appeal of global capitalism, science, computer technology, t-shirts, and good old rock ‘n

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14. A War & Peace podcast

Amy Mandelker has taught at UCLA, University of Southern California, Columbia, Brown, and Princeton Universities. Her books include Framing ‘Anna Karenina’: Tolstoy, the Woman Question & the Victorian Novel and Approaches to World Literature: Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’. She has revised the acclaimed Maude translation of War and Peace and recently sat down with Podularity to talk about it. (Read the audio guide breakdown here, where you can also get excerpts from this podcast.) Once you’re done, we welcome you to look back at Amy Mandelker’s blog posts and discover why Nick thinks you should read Tolstoy.

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15. Is Biography Proper History?

By Jonathan Steinberg

When I began my career in academic life as an historian, the answer was a loud No. Biography fell into the category of ‘unserious’ stuff, written by amateurs. Not any more. Big biographies of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Churchill, Lyndon Johnson and many others pour from the pens of the most distinguished academic historians. My Bismarck: A Life, which appears in February in the UK and April in the USA, will, I hope, find readers both in the professional historical profession and among the public. What has changed? Why has biography become respectable as a form of research?

In the 1960s when I started, the prevailing paradigm came from social sciences. History had to build sociological modes like the totalitarianism model. It had to measure, count and verify. It had to study structures and functions of  the social order, drawn from Marxist analysis or Weberian sociology.  Anything else seemed dangerously uncertain, ill-defined and, worse, ‘subjective’.

The collapse of the Soviet Union brought down the whole edifice of social science. Nobody in the spectrum of social studies had a clue that the Soviet Union and its vast empire could vaporize in two years as if it had been a mirage; anything with ‘social’ in its terminologies lost purchase along with socialism. The gap left in the set of tools available to historians has not yet been filled. But there were lives out there to study. Even I, educated in Parsonian structural-functional analysis and a dedicated social scientific historian, had noticed an absurd contrast between my models and a twentieth century reality dominated by huge charismatic individuals: Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson, Lenin, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Biography established itself, I think, because the social science models left out the power of human personality. Serious historians of National Socialism realized that they had to solve the Hitler problem. The great Hitler biographer, Ian Kershaw, begins his massive 2 volume biography with a section called ‘Reflecting on Hitler’ with these words:

‘The legacy of Hitler belongs to all of us. Part of that legacy is the continuing duty to seek understanding of how Hitler was possible. ..the character of his power – the power of the  Führer . . . a social construct, a creation of social expectations and motivations vested in Hitler by his followers.’ (pp. xiv and xxvi)

Kershaw makes a fundamental and liberating distinction between the life of the man Hitler and the interaction of that life with the category of rule associated with the term Führer or leader, a political, objective reality, which we can study as we can the growth of modern industry or the changes in population.

In writing my book, I worked on the same principle. For the last four decades, since I first lectured on Bismarck as a very junior research fellow at Cambridge, his achievement puzzled me. How had he done it?  Bismarck achieved his feats because his powerful personality disarmed and commanded his supporters and his opponents alike for nearly four decades, but  every individual, no matter how great, works within real parameters. Changes in the international balance of power, over which he had no control made his success possible. The institutional structure of the Kingdom of Prussia after the Revolution of 1848 gave him levers of power. The Prussian army over which Bismarck as a civilian could by definition have no say, made his victories possible.  He needed a general to be Minister of War, who knew he was a genius and found one in Albrecht von Roon (1803-1879). Finally he had to ma

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16. People are talking about Parsi's Treacherous Alliance

9780300120578Rolling Stone interviewed Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, for a recent article. The article reports that Vice President Dick Cheney is "angling behind the scenes for yet another unilateral military action, this time aimed at toppling the clerical regime in Iran." Parsi, who is also the president of the Nationarl Iranian American Council, says that "the United States is pursuing policies that make it impossible to succeed." The article was also picked up by Michael Moore's website, MichaelMoore.com. To read the entire article, click here.

Powell's Books featured a review of Treacherous Alliance for the Review-a-Day section of their website. The review, originally printed in the New York Review of Books, can be found here.

Read an excerpt.

View the table of contents.

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17. YUP authors on the airwaves

9780300100983 Ben Kiernan was interviewed by Lewis Lapham, former Harper's editor and now editor of Lapham's Quarterly. They discussed Kiernan's recently released Blood and Soil on Lapham's radio program "The World in Time," which aired this past Sunday, October 28. The interview is posted on Lewis Lapham's website at Lapham Quarterly, or can be heard here.

Ben Kiernan will also appear on Book TV later in November. If you missed Kiernan's recent discussion about his book at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or if you just want to hear him speak again, tune in on on Sunday, November 25, at 7:00 AM. For more information, click here.

9780300124989 Daniel Solove will be on KERA Dallas Public Radio's excellent hour-long program Think on November 5 at 1pm local time. Solove is the author of The Future of Reputation.This engrossing book explores the profound implications of personal information on the Internet, preserved forever even if it is false, biased, or humiliating. Brimming with examples of online gossip, slander, and rumor, the book discusses the tensions between privacy and free speech and proposes how to balance the two. What information about you is on the Internet?

Bernd Brunner will be appearing on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show on December 3. Brunner's Bears: A Brief History was released by Yale University Press earlier this month. Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance, was also guest on The Diane Rehm Show earlier this month to talk about his new book.

9780300122992 Brunner's engaging book examines the shared history of people and bears. Hopscotching through history, literature, and science, Bernd Brunner presents a delightfully illustrated compendium of information about different cultures’ attitudes toward bears, the central place of bears in our myths and dreams, how our images of bears do and do not mesh with reality, and more.

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18. Spine-tingling books from YUP

In honor of the Halloween spirit, check out these spooks--I mean books--from Yale University Press.


Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality by Paul Barber

In this engrossing book, Paul Barber surveys centuries of folklore about vampires and offers the first scientific explanation for the origins of the vampire legends. From the tale of a sixteenth-century shoemaker from Breslau whose ghost terrorized everyone in the city, to the testimony of a doctor who presided over the exhumation and dissection of a graveyard full of Serbian vampires, his book is fascinating reading.

9780300119794_2Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity by J. E. Lendon

What set the successful armies of Sparta, Macedon, and Rome apart from those they defeated? In this major new history of battle from the age of Homer through the decline of the Roman empire, J. E. Lendon surveys a millennium of warfare to discover how militaries change—and don’t change—and how an army’s greatness depends on its use of the past.

9780300111361_2The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult by Clément Chéroux, Andreas Fischer, Pierre Apraxine, Denis Canguilhem, and Sophie Schmit

This fascinating book assembles more than 250 photographic images from the Victorian era to the 1960s, each purporting to document an occult phenomenon: levitations, apparitions, transfigurations, ectoplasms, spectres, ghosts, and auras. Drawn from the archives of European and American occult societies and private and public collections, the photographs in many cases have never before been published.

9780300104318Ghost Ships: A Surrealist Love Triangle by Robert McNab

This book tells the story of a secret journey made by three significant figures in the Surrealist movement—the painter Max Ernst, Paul Eluard (cofounder of Surrealism), and Eluard’s wife Gala—exploring their ménage à trois and the impact of the trip on their work.

Whether you're hiding under the covers or hiding under the hardcovers, Yale University Press wishes you a Happy Halloween!

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19. November is...

Aviation History Month! Check out some of the Yale University Press books that just fly off the shelves.

9780300068870 A Passion for Wings: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1908-1918, by Robert Wohl

This elegantly written, copiously illustrated book presents the first cultural history of the pioneering phase of aviation. Robert Wohl's fascinating story describes Wilbur Wright and other colorful early aeronauts, aces such as Baron von Richthofen, and the enthusiastic responses to the implications of aviation by such writers and artists as H. G. Wells, Franz Kafka, Kazimir Malevich, Robert Delaunay, Gabriele D'Annunzio, and Emile Driant.

9780300122657 The Spectacle of Flight: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1920-1950, by Robert Wohl

This extraordinary account of the development of aviation takes us from Charles Lindbergh’s dramatic New York-Paris flight to the horrifying bombing campaigns of World War II. Robert Wohl recaptures in words and illustrations an era when a wide-ranging cast of characters—among them millionaire Howard Hughes, Italian dictator Mussolini, and architect Le Corbusier—fell under aviation’s spell.

9780300122640 The Unknown Battle of Midway: The Destruction of the American Torpedo Squadrons, by Alvin Kernan

What really happened at the Battle of Midway, one of the greatest naval victories of the Second World War? This wrenching book, told by a survivor of the battle, provides the first accurate account and explanation of the devastating losses to America’s torpedo squadrons: only 7 of 51 planes returned, only 29 of 127 crewmen survived, and not a single torpedo hit its target.

Read an excerpt or view the table of contents.

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20. 2007 top picks, part 2: Yale books in holiday gift lists

Here is just a sample of some titles that editors and websites have picked in their year-end lists.

Gift600 William Grimes at the New York Times assembled a gift guide of 15 perfect books for this holiday season, including Bears: A Brief History by Bernd Brunner. Grimes warmly recommends "this little gem."

The Washington Post put out their list of the best books of 2007, featuring four YUP titles. They called Hugh Brogan's Alexis de Tocqueville a monumental achievement. West from Appomattox, an "engaging" book by Heather Cox Richardson, also made the list. Ali A. Allawi brings "a valuable new voice to the ongoing debate" in The Occupation of Iraq, they said. And they praise Janet Malcolm's Two Lives as a "lucid and elegant meditation on literature and morality."

In addition, the Washington Post rounded up a list of art gift books. Among them are Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art by Jeffrey Spier, and George Stubbs, Painter, the catalogue raisonne by Judy Egerton.

Library Journal has named Hotel: An American History, by A. K. Sandoval-Strausz a December Best Book Pick. Along with having a "sound historical method," Sandoval-Strausz writes with "that rare blend of erudition and clarity that most of us can only dream of possessing."

Also, the Yale Holiday Sale has been extended. Free shipping is available for all web orders through December 31, 2007, and select titles are 50% off. And don't forget to check out our Holiday Selections.

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21. Pearl Harbor remembered

In remembrance of the attack on Pearl Harbor 66 years ago today, here are some books related to the "day of infamy" and World War II.

9780300063684Crises in U.S. Foreign Policy: An International History Reader by Michael H. Hunt

Repeatedly in the twentieth century, the United States has been involved in confrontations with other countries, each with the potential for widespread international and domestic upheaval, even disaster. In this book Michael Hunt focuses on seven such crises, presenting for each an illuminating introduction and a rich collection of original documents. His epilogue considers the nature of international crises and the U.S. record in dealing with them.

9780300085532FDR and the Creation of the U.N. by Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley

In recent years the United Nations has become more active in—and more generally respected for—its peacekeeping efforts than at any other period in its fifty-year history. During the same period, the United States has been engaged in a debate about the place of the U.N. in the conduct of its foreign policy. This book, the first account of the American role in creating the United Nations, tells an engrossing story and also provides a useful historical perspective on the controversy.

97803001098011945: The War That Never Ended by Gregor Dallas

1945 is a monumental, multi-dimensional history of the end of World War II. Dallas narrates in meticulous detail the conflicts, contradictions, motives, and counter-motives that marked the end of the greatest military conflict in modern history and established lasting patterns of deceit, uncertainty, and distrust out of which the Cold War was born.

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22. Who was the real Fidel Castro?

In the wake of his resignation, many are asking who Fidel Castro really was, and what really happened in Cuba during his tenure as President. The answer to these questions--and more--can be found in two Yale Press titles, both available in paperback.

The Real Fidel Castro

The Real Fidel Castro by Leycester Coltman

Published on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, this timely book, the most intimate and dispassionate biography of Fidel Castro to date, offers a fresh assessment of the revolutionary leader. Written by the British ambassador to Cuba in the early 1990s, it chronicles the events of Castro’s extraordinary life and explores the contradiction between the private character and the public reputation.

Cuba: A New History

Cuba: A New History by Richard Gott

In this acute and profoundly engaged exploration of Cuban history, British journalist Richard Gott illuminates the island’s entire revolutionary past, from pre-Columbian times to the present. He emphasizes little-known aspects of Cuba’s early centuries and provides an extraordinary account of Castro’s regime, its lonely survival in the post-Soviet years, and its expected future. View the table of contents by clicking here.

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23. Leading specialist lauds Foxbats over Dimona

Writing for the Middle East Journal, Mark N. Katz favorably reviewed Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War by Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez. Professor Katz, an expert on Moscow's foreign policy toward the Middle East, was blown away by the book's compelling argument and unique viewpoint. Here's what he had to say:

I was highly skeptical about these bold claims when I began reading this book. “Moscow made us do it” seemed to be too neat an explanation for Israel’s actions in 1967. Long before reaching the book’s end, though, I became convinced that Ginor and Remez have gotten it right....

I must concur ... with Sir Lawrence Freedman’s judgment that Ginor and Remez have presented such a strong case for their argument that “the onus is now on others to show why they are wrong.”

Read more from his review of Foxbats over Dimona after the jump.

9780300123173This groundbreaking history shatters many assumptions about the Six-Day War of 1967. New research in Soviet archives and testimonies from participants in the Israeli/Egyptian conflict reveal the extent of the Kremlin’s involvement, plans for the use of nuclear weapons in the Mid-East, and willingness to precipitate a global crisis.

Click here to listen to an interview with Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez on the Yale Press Podcast.

Katz went on to say this of Foxbats over Dimona:

Their argument is based on, among other sources, a careful study of Soviet documents—many of which have only recently come to light—as well as interviews with former Soviet officials and servicemen who participated in the June 1967 events. Since the book’s publication in June 2007, many of these individuals have confirmed in the Russian press what they told Ginor and Remez. One of the authors’ most startling claims — that Soviet pilots flew the USSR’s then most ad-vanced military aircraft (the MiG-25 “Fox-bat”) over Dimona in May 1967 was subsequently confirmed by the chief spokesman for the Russian Air Force. Further, Ginor and Remez’s description of Moscow’s behavior in 1967 is consistent with how it has behaved on other occasions.

Read an excerpt from Foxbats over Dimona, or view the table of contents.

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24. Remembering Dith Pran

Dith Pran, author of Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors, passed away on Sunday in New Brunswick, N.J, as reported in the New York Times. He was a photojournalist for the New York Times and founder of the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project.

9780300078732This extraordinary book contains eyewitness accounts of life in Cambodia during Pol Pot's genocidal Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, accounts written by survivors who were children at the time. The book has been put together by Pran, whose own experiences in Cambodia were so graphically portrayed in the film The Killing Fields.

The testimonies related here bear poignant witness to the slaughter the Khmer Rouge inflicted on the Cambodian people. The contributors—most of them now in the United States and pictured in photographs that accompany their stories—report on life in Democratic Kampuchea as seen through children's eyes. They speak of their bewilderment and pain as Khmer Rouge cadres tore their families apart, subjected them to harsh brainwashing, drove them from their homes to work in forced-labor camps, and executed captives in front of them. Their stories tell of suffering and the loss of innocence, the struggle to survive against all odds, and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

Click here to read the entire New York Times obituary.

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25. Hartford Courant profiles Brent and YUP's digital Stalin archive

The Hartford Courant profiled Jonathan Brent, editorial director of Yale Press' Annals of Communism Project, who received a $1.3 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to develop a digital documentary edition of Stalin's Personal Archive.

After sharing a story of Stalin's correspondences with director Sergei Eisenstein and novelist Upton Sinclair, the Courant said, "It is documents like the dispatch to Sinclair that distinguish Yale's Stalin archive." Read the entire article here.

The article in the Courant was picked up by the History News Network, as well as by RussiaTrek and cafe historia, who said, "This is surely what the web was designed to do. If only other institutions would follow suit."

120aoc_2_3 The digitization of Stalin's Personal Archive is a new initiative of Yale University Press' acclaimed Annals of Communism series, begun in 1992.  The digitized documents from this archive will become the basis for future scholarly research, while expediting traditional book publications on topics of great importance in understanding Soviet and twentieth-century world history.

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