Tag Archives: military history

Bruce Cumings on the Korean War

I finished reading Bruce Cumings’s book on the Korean War — finally.

There’s an excerpt in the final chapter that will likely inspire me to read more military history books on Asia (already his book has sparked my interest in reading about the Vietnam War and likely vis-a-vis modern Asian military history or post-war/Cold War context; anyone have any recommendations?).


In the new century Americans have once again replicated their Korean experience — this time in Iraq. Without forethought, due consideration, or self-knowledge, the United States barged into a political, social, and cultural thicket without knowing what it was doing, and now finds it cannot get out. A great civilization arose and flourished at the intersection of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, but American leaders know almost nothing about it. Somehow they thought they could invade a sovereign country, crush Saddam Hussein’s army, and find the road to Baghdad strewn with flowers. Shortly after the occupation began in 2003, a New York Times reporter asked a professor at Baghdad University how he thought things were going: the scholar’s first comment was “You Americans know nothing about my country.” (232).

Here are some YT audiovisual accompaniments:



All the Better to see you with, my dear

Someone, somewhere, some time else.  Other people’s stories and pleasures, and other people’s triumphs and pain, I find infinitely more moving and attention-grabbing than my own.  All the action and decision-making, the  betrayals and gestures of profound affection happen over thereMilitary History magazine has had a pretty good track record when it comes to lifting my spirits or simply diverting my introspection from the self to people and events over there.  I went to the Starbux at the Avenue Forsyth today to do some reading.  Among the materials was the March 2010 issue of Military History.

The Letter from Military History opens with these lines:

When President Ronald Reagan repeated his favorite bit of wisdom, ‘Trust, but verify,’ he was quoting an old Russian aphorism also favored by Vladimir Lenin.  Reagan used the expression wryly as a sign of his skepticism when negotiating with Cold War counterparts.  The comment has a commonsense wisdom about it — Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne…coined a folksier version: ‘Trust everybody, but cut the cards.’  It is a cautionary note  that writers, editors and readers of history would do well to heed, especially when dealing with oral history.

In the context of the March issue, that Reagan quote is an introduction to an article about faking military enlistment and awarded medals.  With respect to engaging with one’s fellow man, how much might you insist on cutting the cards?  How easily or eagerly do you trust situations and people without verifying their deserving of your trust?  Are there certain circumstances in which you prefer not to trust without verifying, whereas, in other instances, you are perfectly willing to let whomever else cut the cards?

“Believe me, when I say you are the most mesmerizing creature I’ve ever had the pleasure to look upon” ?

“If only you would permit me, I would make you the happiest person in all the land”  ?

“Sign with us, and you’ll have yourself a guarantee to get into the pro’s”  ?

“Buy today and you’ll never go hungry again” ?


And as for the someone, somewhere, and sometime else, it refers to Mitch Lerner’s article about what happened to the USS Pueblo off the coast of North Korea back in 1968.  After I was done reading it, that which was gnawing at my psychological innards beforehand and rendering me highly irritable had dissipated.

It’s not a sudden appreciation for one’s own being or for the difference between over there and here.   It’s simply a relocation of cerebral energy.

Off Topic: My moment of Pygmalion reading Reign Beaus

I went to the Avenue up in Forsyth again today.  I spent about 90 minutes at the Avenue Starbux reading the August/September 2009 issue of Military History magazine.   The Letter from Military History begins with the comment that “While it is something of a truism that ‘amateurs talk tactics, but professionals talk logistics’—a line attributed to various generals—it is a longstanding truth that armies cannot campaign successfully without adequate supplies.”

When I first read those words, I thought to myself, one could also say that “optimists talk tactics, but cynics/realists talk logistics.”   Ponder a few minutes, if you would, about how many times the little leaguers or the Girl Scouts or the Twilight Fan Club members have excitedly shouted:

– “We’ll win regionals, and then divisionals, and go to the state championship game!”

– “We’ll sell more than Troupes B, C, and D combined and win the prize!”

– “And then we’ll have enough signatures and we’ll win that trip to see the making of the third film!”

And in the mean time, someone is reminding these bright whippersnappers:

– “Okay, but with what uniforms and equipment?”

– “Where would we find sponsorship?”

– “How will you get all these signatures if everyone who would sign the petition won’t be reachable?”

The professional, the cynic/realist doesn’t rain on anyone’s parade–not in my opinion.  He merely emphasizes that there must be a means to an end or else there will be no end.


I took 141/Peachtree Parkway north to the Avenue.  En route, just before I had reached the John’s Creek Borders area (likely after Abbotts Bridge), I looked in my rear and side-view mirrors to see how close was the car behind me.  I noticed a trio of motorcyclists.  I took a few pictures.  When I got home and looked at them, my jaw took a plunge.

I think it’s a very well-taken photograph, oh but the subject of the picture.   The words that immediately came to mind: I think I’m in love.

But that’s silly, isn’t it?  I’m not sure if I want to be in love…   So then, what is it that I felt coursing through my lungs and brain as I looked at the actual pixels of this image?  Something similar to what Pygmalion felt for the statue he had made and named Galatea.   I have zero intel about this man, where he came from or where he was going; if his heart or soul is already claimed by someone else–but I must meet him.  If any of you recognize him from his helmet or his motorcycle, please leave a comment or drop me a message at the email address you can find in the About Sitting Pugs page.

Click here, here, here, and here for more photos of him and one of his compadres.

When I told one of my friends about the motorcyclist, she sent me to the music video of Paul McCartney’s song about a girl that loves a biker icon.   I like the video, but the song itself isn’t melodically enamoring (enough) for me.


More pictures of my day:

Siamese cherriesVertical view.   Side viewLine of scrimmage.

If only I had a dining room that had this POV.


If this boy were real, what would his name be?

Memorial Day Weekend 2009

But first, read my review of Lymelife (Derick Martini, 200eight) here.


May 29th, Memorial Day three years ago, I gazed into Brandon Boyd’s eyes and nearly walked into Wes Moss, a fellow Emory alum and a contestant on second season of The Apprentice.  It was such a surreal and thrilling day–so very popcultural.  Due to a recent  (incidental), revitalized interest in military history, I’ve decided that Memorial Day weekend 2009 will be devoted to reading more and contemplating about the armed forces–not necessarily limited to America’s–and in a more substantial manner (compared to something like this).

Learning history–any kind of history–is about as exciting as counting backwards from 100 for some people.  For other people, though, history is fascinating.  If we don’t know where we are until we know where we’ve been, if we can’t know what we will do if we don’t know what we’ve done, internalizing every kind of history should be a given.

I’ve always enjoyed reading (about) history.  I’m more language arts-minded, but the scientist and pattern-seeker stands strong and curious.  My present interest in military history was sparked by watching Black Hawk Down a few days ago.  A day or so later, I bought the 3-disc special edition as well as the HBO series Generation Kill, which I’ve been enjoying immensely.

I’ve also purchased BHD’s source material, the book by Mark Bowden, SAS Heroes by Peter Scholey, and Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides.

Ghost Soldiers was actually adapted into a film called The Great Raid (John Dahl, 2005), which was the subject of a term paper I wrote for my Masculinity & Violence seminar in grad school.  Here is an excerpt:

Based on William B. Breuer’s book The Great Raid of Cabanatuan and Hampton Sides’s book Ghost Soldiers, The Great Raid takes place in the Philippines and charts five days from January 27 to 31 of 1945 in the lives of prisoners-of-war at Cabanatuan, the Rangers that rescue them, and the members of the Underground that risked their lives to make sure the POWs got medicine.  Rather than tell the story of the rescue mission exclusively from the perspective of the Rangers, the film divides the goal-oriented narrative among three groups of characters, which results in competing narratives.

Firstly, the film follows the conception through to the execution of the rescue led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt), Captain Robert Prince (James Franco), and Captain Juan Pajota (Cesar Montano).  Secondly, the film spends a considerable amount of time inside Cabanatuan with POWs Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes), Captain Redding (Marton Csokas), Duke (Nicholas Bell) and Lieutenant Paul Colvin (Logan Marshall-Green).  Thirdly, the film includes sequences detailing the kinds of risks the POWs and the members of the Underground—specifically Margaret Utinsky (Connie Nielsen) and Mina (Natalie Mendoza)—had to take in order for the former to help the latter…

As a combat film,* The Great Raid is doing too much.  Three narratives compete for screen time and the viewer’s attention.  In terms of scenes, the film alternates between the storylines, but because there is so much drama that occurs in the Prisoner and Underground scenes (Major Gibson’s malaria worsens, Captain Redding’s unsuccessful escape attempt leads to the deaths of nine other POWs; Margaret becomes the only survivor of this Underground group), one nearly forgets that there is going to be a rescue.


The reason that I felt compelled to articulate my thoughts on my rekindled interest in this subject is due to the concept of respect.  Mrs. Aretha Franklin sang on those seven letters: R. E. S. P. E. C. T.  Among my group of close friends, the words, “respect,” “integrity,” and “honesty” are dearly held beliefs.  Integrity and honesty, yes, I hold them close as well.  In terms of “respect,” though, I never thought about it.  When most people would say, “I respect him very much,” I would say, “I’m in awe of him” or “I admire him very much.”

The Free Dictionary defines the word primarily as “to feel or show deferential regard for; esteem” and “Willingness to show consideration or appreciation.”

I can certainly apply those uses to external and objective conversations, but it wasn’t until I watched the documentaries and featurettes of both Black Hawk Down DVDs that I finally understood or figured out what “R. E. S. P. E. C. T. means to me.”

A year ago in January, I wrote an entry after I finished reading John Feinstein’s book about the Army-Navy football rivalry.  Specifically, I had written, “I’ve never regarded the military with anything but deference, framed around a cognitive (historical) understanding of what they do and what they represent.  Vietnam and the 21st Century haven’t been so kind to them in terms of PR, but I don’t hold them responsible for the way Middle Eastern relations have or haven’t gone.  After reviewing a documentary called Occupation: Dreamland three years ago and recently watching a documentary called Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company, I felt more respect and gratitude, which were magnified after finishing Feinstein’s book.

My use of the word “respect” there is denotatively, linguistically correct.  But, it only truly, truly registered yesterday when I was walking to my desk at work that the only people with/to/for whom I can genuinely say I respect…would be the military and firemen.

I Respect the military and firemen.  It occurred to me this afternoon when I was driving home, after I had related this epiphany to a coworker, that the reason I would or could describe my thoughts/feelings about these groups of individuals with the R word is because…   I cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to have seen, heard, smelled, and felt the things that they have.   Thus, to be in awe of what they do and even to admire them for saving lives and defending the values of our nation and communities simply isn’t enough.


*And what do I mean by “combat film”?

In her book The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre, Jeanine Basinger meticulously sets up the parameters for what she does and does not consider to be a combat film.   Military Biographies is one of four kinds of films that feature war in a visual or tangentially narrative way but are not combat films.  Basinger excludes them because while “many true combat films are based on the…experiences of real-life war heroes…, the biographical war film about events from War World II tends not to be about combat, but about a personal sacrifice…or a human crisis of some sort..;” and when there is combat, it is “used as a remembered event…or is presented as the basis of the problem, one section of a larger, noncombatant story” (12).