Fifteen Terrific War Books
Wikipedia has
a fascinating toll page.
It lists wars not by date, not by historical value,
not by importance --- to us, anyway ---
but by numbers of dead.
The Top Fifteen Hits, along with
estimates of the final toll,
dates and locale,

World War II 60,000,000 - 85,000,000 1939 - 1945Worldwide
Mongol conquests 40,000,000 - 70,000,000 1206 - 1324 Eurasia
Three Kingdoms War 36,000,000 - 40,000,000 184 - 280 A. D. China
Second Sino - Japanese War 25,000,000 1937 - 1945 China
Qing dynasty
Conquest of Ming Dynasty
25,000,000 1616 - 1662 China
Taiping Rebellion 20,000,000 - 100,000,000 1850 - 1864 China
World War I/Great War 20,000,000 1914 - 1918 Worldwide
An Lushan Rebellion13,000,000 - 36,000,000 755 - 763A. D. China
Conquest of the Americas 8,400,000 - 137,750,000 1492 - 1691 A. D. Americas
Dungan Revolt 8,000,000 - 20,770,000 1862 - 1877 China
Conquests of Tamerlane 8,000,000 - 20,000,000 1370 - 1405 Eurasia
Chinese Civil War 8,000,000 1927 - 1949 China
Russian Civil War and
Foreign Intervention
5,000,000 - 9,000,000 1917 - 1922 Russia
Napoleonic Wars 3,500,000 - 6,000,000 1803 - 1815 Europe
Thirty Years' War 3,000,000 - 11,500,000 1618 - 1648 Europe

We're crushed. We had always thought that those of us from the West should take the cake for sheer god-given righteousness in our national or international efforts at population control, but it appears that - - - except for WWII in which all of us were embroiled in the mix - - - the Chinese, the peoples of Eurasia (that is, Central Europe), and the Russians have us all beat in the war-deadlies competition.

And wars that we thought would appear somewhere near the top (the American Civil War, the Korean War, our much-beloved Spanish Civil War, and for history buffs, the Punic Wars or the Roundheads vs. the Cavaliers) . . . well, they just didn't cut the mustard, didn't even make the Top Twenty Sweepstakes. Is this the moment to dare to make America great again?

Anyway, over the last twenty-one years, we've offered up poems, readings and reviews of a variety of books about various wars, and we submit below fifteen or so that we hope will whet your appetite.

--- The Ed.

World War I:
A New Kind of War
Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau
Annette Becker

(Hill & Wang)
With chilling humour, historian John Keegan recounts how he once offended the curator of a war museum:

    I constantly recall the look of disgust that passed over the face of a highly distinguished curator of one of the greatest collections of arms and armour in the world when I casually remarked to him that a common type of debris removed from the flesh of wounded men by surgeons in the gunpowder age was broken bone and teeth from neighbours in the ranks. He had simply never considered what was the effect of the weapons about which he knew so much, as artifacts, on the bodies of the soldiers who used them.

Reticence in discussing violence is particularly unfortunate in the case of the Great War, for one important characteristic of this four-and-a-half-year conflict is its unprecedented levels of violence --- among combatants, against prisoners and, last but not least, against civilians. To grasp these many-sided forms of violence is an indispensable prerequisite to any basic understanding of the 1914 - 18 conflict, and to any interpretation of the mark it left on the Western world. To understand the Great War is to try to understand that. We have to start with the fighting.

We shall not try here to describe this in detail, if indeed such an endeavour is possible, but simply to point out the salient factors. The Great War brought into being a new kind of armed confrontation and thus became a historical watershed, representing a complex rupture with the circumstances and conditions of warfare as they had been known before that had huge consequences for the rest of the century.

Already in 1914, at the beginning of war, battle was much more violent than it had ever been before. And then military and civilian suffering gradually intensified the violence over the duration of the conflict. This progressive intensification lent its own dynamic to the conflict; in the very first days and weeks of the war the practices of war took a brutal turn, not only on the battlefields but also for prisoners and civilians. Even for the ordinary soldier, the enormous explosion of violence that occurred in the summer of 1914 immediately and scathingly refuted all the predictions that had been made in the years prior.

The death toll of the Great War is well known: around 9 - 10 million, nearly all soldiers . . . Among the great powers in the war, France holds the worst record in proportional losses: 16 per cent of its mobilised men were killed (against 15.4 per cent for Germany). But late in the war not all the men who were mobilised actually fought. If we count only the French troops who were engaged in fighting, the proportionate losses are much greater: 22 per cent of the officers died and 18 per cent of the soldiers. In the infantry itself, the most exposed branch, one out of three officers was killed and one out of four privates.

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Freedom from Fear
The American People
In World War II

David M. Kennedy
Like the thousands of islands in the Pacific, we find Kennedy's insights strewn merrily along the 480 pages of this masterwork.
  • Prince Bismarck said that the supreme geopolitical fact of the modern era "is that the Americans speak English."
  • The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor may well have presaged their defeat in 1945. Why? There was no follow-up to destroy the all-important repair and fuel facilities, American aircraft carriers were elsewhere --- the Pacific War came to be, above all, a war between aircraft carriers --- and the strategic impact "was doubtful," avers Kennedy. The attack emboldened the Chinese and the English and enraged the American people who had previously been mostly in favor of "no foreign entanglements."
  • The German U-Boats damn near ended English defense in 1942 by cutting off fuel, foodstuffs, and strategic materials. But all that came to an end in May of 1943 with the delivery of B-24s to England, the coming of radar, and the eavesdropping of the code-breakers at Bletchley;
  • Boeing's B-17, touted as "The Flying Fortress," was a disaster. Fliers suffered from frostbite and suffocation from frozen detritus in their oxygen mask tubes. They were vulnerable to Luftwaffe head-on attacks. Mid-air collisions between the planes claimed "nearly as many airmen's lives (approximately 36,000) as did combat (approximately 49,000)."
  • Wartime contracts were a bonanza to large American corporations. "More than two-thirds of prime military contracts went to just one hundred firms. The 33 largest corporations accounted for half of all military contracting."
  • The United States was truly "the arsenal of democracy." By the war's end, we had produced 299,293 airplanes, 2,383,311 trucks, 634,569 jeeps, 88,420 tanks, 1,556 naval vessels, 6.5 million rifles, and 40 billion bullets.
  • The atomic bomb was produced by a vast industrial complex "as large in scale as the entire prewar American automobile industry."
  • "Area" bombing attacks on Germany and Japan were not restricted to military production installations; American pilots referred to those bombing runs as "women and children days."
  • Curtis LeMay whose bombing techniques created firestorms in sixty-six Japanese cities said "I'll tell you what war is about. You've got to kill people, and when you've killed enough they stop fighting."

Winston Churchill
Conducting a War From the Bedroom
Paul Addison
(Oxford University Press)
When Chamberlain was Prime Minister, the business of government was conducted through formal meetings at prearranged times. Under Churchill, the formal business was only a small part of the story. As Bridges, the Secretary to the War Cabinet, recalled:

    There were no frontiers between home and office, between work hours and the rest of the day: work went on everywhere, in his study, in the dining-room, in his bedroom. A summons would come at almost any hour of the day or night to help with some job. Minutes would be dictated, corrected, redacted. One might find oneself unexpectedly sitting in the family circle or sharing a meal while one took his orders.

Within the intimacy of the inner circle, he was a man of transparent emotions and changeable moods. Another civil servant who observed him at close quarters describes how, when he took the chair at a meeting, "that child-like face became the reflection of the man --- the set bulldog look, the sulky look of a pouting child, the angry violent look of an animal at bay, the tearful look of a compassionate woman, and the sudden spontaneous smiling look of a boy."

Churchill usually began the day's work in his bedroom, where he would read through the newspapers and begin to deal with the latest boxes of official papers. Visitors would find him sitting up in bed in a dressing gown emblazoned with dragons, top-secret papers strewn over the bedclothes and a favourite cat "Nelson," or "Munich Mouser" --- curled up at his feet. From time to time he would summon people to see him or dictate minutes for despatch to all corners of Whitehall. The more urgent, which caused great alarm to the recipients, carried a label with the instruction ACTION THIS DAY printed in red.

If there were no meetings of the War Cabinet or other appointments he would sometimes stay in bed all morning. Over lunch, at which friends and family rubbed shoulders with politicians and military chiefs, Churchill would discourse on the war, or anything else that came to mind, with a bottle of champagne --- he had been a customer of Pol Roger since 1908 --- followed by brandy. At some point in the afternoon he would undress and retire to bed for an hour's sleep, awakening like a giant refreshed for a bath and more meetings, accompanied by iced whisky and soda. Dinner would follow with more champagne and brandy.

There is, writes Warren Kimball, "no credible testimony of Churchill's being drunk, in the falling-down slurred-words sense, while he was Prime Minister." His early training as a soldier had taught him to abhor drunkenness. Yet he was clearly dependent on alcohol, and capable on occasion of absorbing quantities that would have rendered lesser men incapable --- a feat that stood him in good stead at Kremlin banquets.

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The Somme
The Coward
A. D. Gristwood
(South Carolina)
A. D. Gristwood was a poor accountant with a profound loathing for war who was sent into the killing fields of Flanders in late 1915. He served honorably for two years, and wrote of his experiences in the trenches ten years after the fact. In two brief books --- The Somme, The Coward --- he tells, with honesty, and no little artistry, the truth of the life of the trenches and the bunkers. His is the story of the daily pounding, the stink and agony of living under the gun and the bomb and gas attacks, a twenty-four hour seven-days-a-week thirty-days-a-month job of being a muck soldier, fearing moment by moment the "whizz-bangs," mustard gas, machine gun, shrapnel, rifle-fire, tanks, and, most hideously, (as one recent critic has noted) being wounded by body parts of nearby comrades blown up by long-distant shell-fire.

There are few other accounts that I have run across --- fiction, reportage, history --- that give such an accurate picture of trench life: what it does to the body, what it does to the mind and the soul. This should be required reading for those who compete to be scholars of twentieth century history, for this is the unvarnished truth of what life was like for the young men, the flower of Western Civilization (the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, high Victorian Romance) who got trapped in the rote machine known as "modern warfare."

Two millennia of western culture, and what do we get: "These woodlands of the Somme represented the apotheosis of Mars. There lay the miscellaneous débris of war --- men living, dying and dead, friend and foe broken and shattered beyond imagination, rifle, clothing, cartridges, fragments of men, photographs of Amy and Gretchen, letters, rations, and the last parcel from home."

Shells hurling more trees upon the general ruin, the dazing concussion of their explosion, the sickly sweet smell of 'gas,' the acrid fumes of 'H.E.,' hot sunshine and mingling with spouts of flying earth and smoke, the grim portent of bodies buried a week ago and now suffering untimely resurrection, the chatter of machine-guns, and the shouts and groans of men.

"And the final sweet trespass of nature invading the barren stretch of war: Such were the woods of the Somme, where once primroses bloomed and wild rabbits scampered through the bushes."

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From Versailles to Cybernetics
Gregory Bateson
Most of you probably hardly know how the Treaty of Versailles came into being. The story is very simple. World War I dragged on and on; the Germans were rather obviously losing. At this point, George Creel, a public relations man --- and I want you not to forget that this man was a granddaddy of modern public relations --- had an idea: the idea was that maybe the Germans would surrender if we offered them soft armistice terms. He therefore drew up a set of soft terms, according to which there would be no punitive measures. These terms were drawn up in fourteen points. These Fourteen Points he passed on to President Wilson. If you are going to deceive somebody, you had better get an honest man to carry the message. President Wilson was an almost pathologically honest man and a humanitarian. He elaborated the points in a number of speeches: there were to be "no annexations, no contributions, no punitive damages..." and so on. And the Germans surrendered.

We, British and Americans --- especially the British --- continued of course to blockade Germany because we didn't want them to get uppity before the Treaty was signed. So, for another year, they continued to starve.

The Peace Conference has been vividly described by Maynard Keynes in The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919).

The Treaty was finally drawn up by four men: Clemenceau, "the tiger," who wanted to crush Germany; Lloyd George, who felt it would be politically expedient to get a lot of reparations out of Germany, and some revenge; and Wilson, who had to be bamboozled along. Whenever Wilson would wonder about those Fourteen Points of his, they took him out into the war cemeteries and made him feel ashamed of not being angry with the Germans. Who was the other? Orlando was the other, an Italian.

This was one of the great sellouts in the history of our civilization. A most extraordinary event which led fairly directly and inevitably into World War II. It also led (and this is perhaps more interesting than the fact of its leading to World War II) to the total demoralization of German politics. If you promise your boy something, and renege on him, framing the whole thing on a high ethical plane, you will probably find that not only is he very angry with you, but that his moral attitudes deteriorate as long as he feels the unfair whiplash of what you are doing to him. It's not only that World War II was the appropriate response of a nation which had been treated in this particular way; what is more important is the fact that the demoralization of that nation was expectable from this sort of treatment. From the demoralization of Germany, we, too, became demoralized. This is why I say that the Treaty of Versailles was an attitudinal turning point.

I imagine that we have another couple of generations of after effects from that particular sellout to work through. We are, in fact, like members of the house of Atreus in Greek tragedy. First there was Thyestes' adultery, then Atreus' killing of Thyestes' three children, whom he served to Thyestes at a peace-making feast. Then the murder of Atreus' son, Agamemnon, by Thyestes' son, Aegistheus; and finally the murder of Aegistheus and Clytemnestra by Orestes. It goes on and on. The tragedy of oscillating and self-propagating distrust, hate, and destruction down the generations.

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The Farther Shore
Matthew Eck
It is The Red Badge of Courage as narrated by Kafka, with details supplied by Hunter Thompson. It is a not so much a tale of modern soldiering as a parable of twenty-first century warfare, no longer fought in the jungle or the trenches or from above, in the bomber ... but in the mind. What we used to call the American doughboy now finds himself in an unwelcoming environment of dust and unbearable heat, not knowing who is the enemy, who (if any) are those he is supposed to be helping. The enemy is everywhere.

We recall War and Peace, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Naked and the Dead, The Thin Red Line as expansive novels, exhaustingly so. The Farther Shore is so claustrophobic and ingrown that one has, at times, just to lay it down to avoid being suffocated by it. At one point Zeller, Santiago and Stantz find themselves living in a wrecked caboose, on a railroad that seems to lead nowhere. That's where they are: on an end-of-the-line war. Those who could have helped them to freedom somehow end up being shot or killed. It isn't only American soldier against the "terrorists;" it's those you are to be aiding fighting against each other. From a ruined house in a small village, Stantz witnesses the ritual castration of an adulterer, along with a slashing mutilation of the woman supposedly involved. These are the people who we are saving?

The whole brief tale --- 176 pages --- is spare, dry, enveloping, and won't let you be. When the three run across another American patrol they are told that they can be of no help, but then they gleefully report not only wreckage and refugees, but "a number of burnt bodies. Crispy critters, they called them." Later, Zeller comments,

    "I bet they'll make a movie about us . . . " His face was thin and pale by now, and his eyes were sunk deep in their sockets, surrounded by dark shadows. He'd lost a lot of weight. We all had. I wondered what I looked like. Maybe like a hero.

    "They'll make a movie about us," said Santiago, "made for TV."

    We all laughed.

    After a while Santiago said, "I wonder if they'll include the kids we killed?"

    Zeller and I were silent.

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On Empire
America, War, and
Global Supremacy

Eric Hobsbawm
Hobsbawn is an Old Marxist, perhaps the oldest for all we know, but unlike those scorned, hectored figures of my youth, he is famous, well-respected, much beloved, prosperous (we hope), and a great stylist. He may have honed his writing skills on the Ditto machines of the forties, but what he has to say, and how he chooses to say it, can make a grown man --- even an old codger like me --- weep:

    The number of battle-related deaths in Myanmar (Burma) was no more than five hundred, but the number of the "internally displaced" largely by the activities of the Myanmar Army, was about one million.

We don't do big wars any more. Only little mean ones. "The Iraq War confirms the point. Small wars --- now predominant --- produce vast catastrophes."

Hobsbawm has mostly been a measured writer, so when he manifests a fiery style, it can startle the reader. He not only sees the Iraq War as a disaster, he thinks those who created it quite mad. He suggests that they have forgotten that arms and power are never quite enough. His example is the Algerian War from fifty years ago: "The French learned that even with a million white settlers, an army of occupation of eight hundred thousand, and the military defeat of an insurgency by systematic massacre and torture were not enough to keep Algeria French." It is Hobsbwam's sudden dip into the personal that is so effective:

    Frankly, I can't make sense of what has happened in the United States since 9/11 that enabled a group of political crazies to realize long-held plans for an unaccompanied solo performance of world supremacy.

"I believe," he concludes, "it indicates a growing crisis within American society, which finds expression in the most profound political and cultural division within that country since the Civil War."

Hobsbwam's historical literacy makes such fine connections possible: Algeria ... the American Civil War ... and AIDS (which he defines as the contemporary "Black Plague.") He posits that large nation-states can no longer rely on conscript armies to "fight and die for their country." Instead, they must use "other means." Which only an Old Marxist would be able to recall: "public cameras, phone-tapping, access to personal data." These alternatives have not, he offers, made "state power and law more effective in these states, though it has made the citizens less free."

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The Face of War
New Zealand's Great War Photography
Sandy Callister
(Auckland University Press)
There are some seventy-five photographs here. There are pictures from New Zealand newspapers of those sent to Gallipoli and to the Western Front. There are shots of men in training, men in the trenches, women on the homefront.

Most haunting, however, are the eighteen photographs of soldiers who have been in combat, those who had suffered devastating facial wounds. The author found these hidden in a medical archive of WWI records at Queen Mary's Hospital in New Zealand. Callister suggests that these photographs have "more power because of their unfamiliarity; they do not easily slot into any of the existing mental pictures we have of the Great War."

Images like these --- close-ups of wounded soldiers --- are conspicuously absent from our nation's war historiography, and for that matter, the Allied war histories ... These photographs bear testimony to the murderous violence of the Western Front; they also assault our sensibilities.

The Face of War is the ironical title of this book, for the faces of the mutilated are indeed "the face of war." The author says that they represent a "visual violence," which "has the potential to challenge and subvert the many words written about the war."

The cover is particularly subtle. Ten or twelve soldiers are shown on a hillside, prepared for battle ... complete with guns, bayonets, helmets, canteens. Most are peering out over the crest, presumably towards the battlefield. One soldier, however, is lying down, resting, half hidden by the gun of another soldier. He is looking downhill, behind them.

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Another Day Of Life
Ryszard Kapuscinski,   William R. Brand and
Mroczkowska-Brand, Translators

(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)
The vignettes: the soldier who is terrified, grey in the face, about having to go into battle; and he shoots into the air, over and over again, trying to shoot his own fear. The long hot truck convoys to the south of Luanda --- the author and four or five soldiers --- and we find ourselves hoping that they will make it, make it to Pereira, because, god knows, we don't want Kapuscinski to perish, to never write for us again.

His description of the weekends, when nothing happens:

    On Saturday and Sunday all life died away. Those two days were governed by their own inviolable laws. The guns fell silent and the war was suspended. People put down their weapons and fell asleep ... Headquarters and offices were closed. Markets were depopulated. Radio stations went off the air. Busses stopped running. In an incomprehensible but absolute way, this vast country with its war and destruction, its aggression and poverty, came to a halt, went motionless as if someone had cast a spell, as if it were enchanted ... Worst of all, I could never establish what happened to the people. The closest friends disappeared like stones in water. They were not at home and not in the streets. Yet they couldn't have traveled outside the city. Clubs, restaurants, and cafés --- they didn't exist. I don't know --- I can't explain it.

"I can't explain it." Would our correspondents at Bataan or Pusan or Inchon or even the Ardennes have said "I can't explain it." Would Ernie Pyle have said "I can't explain it." Maybe that is what makes Kapuscinski so inviting: he's honest and human and we come to know him, know his angers and fears and feelings. Sort of. I mean he isn't telling us about the depression he must feel at the down-home stupidity of killing and wars. But he is still there, in the way that Orwell was there, describing what it is like to be with the Republicans who are dying on the fields, the malfunctioning guns, the cold, the bitter cold of the trenches.

Like Orwell, Kapuscinski misses nothing --- the shabbiness, the stink, the bodies, the nightly radio transmission difficulties with Poland, the beautiful lady commando. The Lisbon TV crew spends an afternoon filming her (and lusting after her) --- causing Kapuscinski to comment: "We always create the beauty of women, and that day we created Carlotta's beauty." And then, after they return, they are eating, and they hear that Carlotta has been killed. And the dispassionate writers and newsmen stand up from the table, leave their food behind, and walk "into the deserted street. Each of us walked separately, alone; there was nothing to talk about ... It was better for us to reach the hotel that way and disappear from each other's sight."

War and death and the unexplainable. Those mysteries which cannot be explained.

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Robert Capa's Photographs
Of the Spanish Civil War

Leslie A. Martin, Editor
Was it the writings --- those of Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, W. H. Auden, C. Day Lewis, Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood? Was it Pete Seeger --- one of the "International Brigade" --- singing "Los Cuatro Generales," a scratchy 78 rpm record, recorded in the hills of Córdoba? Or is it the photographs of Robert Capa, that now, sixty-five years later --- can still stop the heart . . . the thousands of bleak pictures, of which he once said,

    No tricks are necessary to take pictures in Spain. You don't have to pose your camera. The pictures are there, and you just take them. The truth is the best picture, the best propaganda.

Capa was there for almost the whole of the war, save for a few months when his love and fellow photographer --- Gerda Taro --- was killed by a tank. He was rarely far from the front; indeed, his most famous photograph, that of a falling soldier, was taken at Cerro Muriando, Córdoba, in 1936. The sequence of photographs presented in Heart of Spain is the sequence of the rise and fall of the Republican Army: at first --- fresh uniforms, the obvious confidence, the youth --- smiling, always smiling. Then, later, the grubbiness and desolation and grief of an army that is constantly retreating. And finally, at the last, joining the 500,000 refugees, marching dumbly over the mountains into France.

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Wars & History
J. Gallant, L. W. Milam
Americans love their wars and their generals. We go to war each five years in countries like Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq or Granola to test new weapons. We used to have longer wars but we stopped because people got bored and cranky when the wars took television time away from reality shows. We have found that if we limit our wars to small countries, for no more than a few month's duration, there will be fewer complaints.

After wars are over, we forgive the enemy and encourage the homeless generals and presidents to move to the United States under special amnesty and grant programs. We also send in money as aid to restore the economy and to reimburse any families who may have had their oil-wells blown up.

The current American government officially spends $950,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 a year on defense. Our largest expenditures are on supersonic bombers with names like Stallion, Phantom, Thunderchief, and The Green Hornet --- although a more recent trend is to give them numbers like European Sports Cars, viz., C-57, A-100, and --- the most redoubtable of them all --- V-8 (which carries several air-to-ground missiles filled with tomato juice).

Like computers, supersonic bombers become obsolete six to eight weeks after delivery, at which time Congress tells the military to build a more up-to-date model. These bombers usually fly at least once before they are decommissioned and sold off for scrap.

Young men and women who could not be otherwise employed are encouraged to join the army when they turn eighteen. They are trained in weapon use, guerrilla warfare, and hand-to-hand combat. If the United States is between wars and has no plans for another for several years, soldiers have to wait until they are discharged to use their military expertise in locally dedicated combat zones (see INNER CITIES).

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Soldiers of the White Sun
The Chinese Army at War 1931 - 1949
Philip Jowett
It is said that the Nationalists lost 3,200,000 men, the communists, 500,000 ... and the Japanese between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000. Civilian casualties range between 20,000,000 and 35,000,000. That's millions. The reason? The Japanese army could discern no difference between civilians and the military. Under General Yasuji Okamura, the policy was called sanko sakusen --- "kill all, loot all, burn all." 2,700,000 civilians died during that particular siege.

When it came to snuffing out lives, WWII was an all-time doozer. It is estimated that, all told, as many as 75,000,000 died. If those figures are correct, at least a third to a half of these deaths occurred in China. Only Russia suffered more. Compared to this, the casualties for Americans during WWII were less than 1% of this. Even the imbroglio in Vietnam showed only (only!) an American loss of about 58,000.

Whatever you think about it, war is a beastly business and since 1945 most sensible countries like Russia, Germany, the United States, France, England and China have contented themselves with stirring up others do the fighting and dying for them.

To read through Soldiers of the White Sun --- the "white sun" was the flag of Chiang's Kuomintang --- is to be bombarded by over 500 photographs of poor Chinese soldiers who, for the most part, were paid with no more than a handful of rice for their sacrifices. They are a thin and sullen bunch ... as the rest of us would be if we were in their shoes: they were forced to fight after long, dusty treks, with little up-to-date weaponry, under incompetent leadership.

No wonder that more than a million deserted to fight with the far more capable, well-organized, well-supplied (and certainly more vicious) Japanese. As the author reports, "The vast majority of Chinese soldiers received little or no training and were totally unprepared for what faced them."

I found a couple of smiling visages on these otherwise dreary pages. One is of a girl guerrilla fighter "armed to the teeth with her C-96 automatic pistol ... she also has a grenade hung rather precariously around her shoulder on a piece of string."

Another is of a young man equipped with a complete parachute assembly, supplied by the Americans when we got involved after Pearl Harbor. Outside those few cheery spots, White Sun is about the worst advertisement you could find for the oft- favored policy of total war over peaceful negotiation.

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War and Ideas
Selected Essays
John Mueller
  • The automobile was the "necessary cause" of over 3,000,000 deaths in the twentieth century.
  • There is now a huge and well-funded "terrorism industry." "Its members would be out of business if terrorism were to be back-burnered," writes Mueller, and accordingly "They have every competitive incentive (and they are nothing if not competitive) to conclude it would be their civic duty to keep the pot boiling."
  • In 1913, Woodrow Wilson declared the United States "to be the champion of democracy in the Americas." "To show he meant business, he sent US troops into Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic." All three of these countries subsequently "lapsed into extended dictatorships."
  • If you are going to organize state-sponsored murders, you don't need much manpower. Benjamin Valentino found that "Numbers of people required to perpetuate a mass killing does not need to be large. Over and over again, Valentino finds that the killing machinery was manned by relatively small numbers of people.
  • When asked about the deaths of 500,000 children in Iraq --- a result of American sanctions in the early 1990s --- Madeleine Albright responded (without disputing the figure), "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price --- we think the price is worth it." This statement was ignored in the United States, but has became famous in the Arab world.
  • As with domestic Communist violence during the Cold War, just about all terrorist violence within the United States since 2001 has taken place on television, in novels, and at the movies. Nevertheless, says Mueller, official and public opinion in the United States will probably continue to labor under that internalized "false sense of insecurity."
  • Osama bin Laden wanted to bleed America to the point of bankruptcy. He was betting on our overreaction to the 9/11 attacks which "cost al Qaeda $500,000." The resultant counter-terrorism, he claimed, cost the US "more than $500 billion." It has ... and more.
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Recalling War
Entrance and exit wounds are silvered clean,
The track aches only when the rain reminds.
The one-legged man forgets his leg of wood,
The one-armed man his jointed wooden arm.
The blinded man sees with his ears and hands
As much or more than once with both his eyes.

Their war was fought these twenty years ago
And now assumes the nature-look of time,
As when the morning traveler turns and views
His wild night-stumbling carved into a hill.

What, then, was war? No mere discord of flags
But an infection of the common sky
That sagged ominously upon the earth
Even when the season was the airiest May.
Down pressed the sky, and we, oppressed, thrust out
Boastful tongue, clenched fist and valiant yard.
Natural infirmities were out of mode,
For Death was young again; patron alone
Of healthy dying, premature fate-spasm.

Fear made fine bed-fellows. Sick with delight
At life's discovered transitoriness,
Our youth became all-flesh and waived the mind.
Never was such antiqueness of romance,
Such tasty honey oozing from the heart.
And old importances came swimming back ---
Wine, meat, log-fired, a roof over the head,
A weapon at the thigh, surgeons at call.
Even there was a use again for God ---
A word of rage in lack of meat, wine, fire,
In ache of wounds beyond all surgeoning.

War was return of earth to ugly earth,
War was foundering of sublimities,
Extinction of each happy art and faith
By which the world has still kept head in air,
Protesting logic or protesting love,
Until the unendurable moment struck ---
The inward scream, the duty to run mad.

And we recall the merry ways of guns ---
Nibbling the walls of factory and church
Like a child, piecrust; felling groves of trees
Like a child, dandelions with a switch.
Machine-guns rattle toy-like from a hill,
Down in a row the brave tin-soldiers fall:
A sight to be recalled in elder days
When learnedly the future we devote
To yet more boastful visions of despair.

---From Poems About War
Robert Graves
Copyright ©1938 The Trustees of the Robert Graves
Copyright Trust
As quoted in The Encyclopedia of WWI
P. M. Roberts, Editor

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