Apr 11

Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All is Lost, by Michael Walsh ★★★★★

In this book, Michael Walsh details 18 battles where the battle was extremely lopsided and the battle was to the death. At times, an army was entirely wiped out, as in the Teutoburgerwald under Varus in the year AD 9, or at Khartoum. Other times, there are harrowing escapes of a few survivors that live to tell the tale, such as at Rorke’s  Drift, or at the Chosin Reservoir. The author (Walsh) has written a number of books, though most of them are fictional. He has acted as a movie reviewer for Time Magazine. He has also written under a pseudonym for National Review. One would imagine that Walsh is most interested in gory stories, stories with excitement and intrigue. Yet, Walsh makes it very clear from the opening prologue and introduction that that is not the case, and lays out his intentions for the book. War seems to be an inevitability, and peace an exception to the rule. Not that war is desired; the Romans were correct in stating “Si vis Pacem, para Bellum”. Even though the United States has been in nearly perpetual war since it was founded, we live in a society that has sanitized war, making war bloodless, an activity fought by gentlemen strickly standing by guiding rules and principles of engagement. The current US intention of making the war machine politically correct, balanced between the sexes and individual physical capabilities has lost sight of the true nature of war. Revenge, personal honor, patriotic pride, lust for power or wealth, and other emotions will cause one to sacrifice their lives on the battlefield, and not out of altruism, which is rarely noted among combatants. The leading introduction to this book is necessary in order to set the tone as to the author’s intentions. Walsh then marches through the chapters of this book providing synopses of various battles, including Thermopylae, Cannae, Teutoburg, Masada, Hastings, Szigetvár, the Alamo, Custer’s last stand, etc., and ending with the story of Walshes’ father fighting at Chosin Reservoir. The last battle ends on a personal note since Walsh was able to interrogate his father (who fought at Chosin) about his thoughts and reactions in the midst of battle when all seems to have been lost. Indeed, it is uncommon for the warrior to return to society eager to speak about their experience, and most often, will remain silent until coaxed to recount the battle details. A few of these battles were not taught in school, and were unfamiliar to me, such as the battle for Sigetvár. A few Amazon commentators noted that Walsh was not perfectly accurate in all of his historical comments, and such may be the case, though those inaccuracies do not distract from the main thesis of the book.

I enjoyed this book. Walsh provides excellent commentary on the nature of war, even though he does not seem to seek alternatives. Much of his diatribe seems directed at current US policy towards the military, where the sexes are confused and intermingled, where standards are lowered, where personal feelings ascend to trump the nastiness and reality of war. This is a great book to read for those who like war history. It is a light read and can be read within a week time period.

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