Book Review: Ripples Of Battle

Ripples Of Battle, by Victor David Hansen

This was one of the books that I bought from the St. Johns Booksellers [1], and it is the second book I have read from this author. Of course, I was required to read his book Carnage And Culture for my Master’s of Military History Program, and I was very critical of the book when I read it. This book by having a less ambitious scope and a tighter focus on the facts of a more limited set of cases to make its point, made for a much more pleasant read, even if it was pretty counter to our present cultural assumptions about the undesirability of conflict. The thesis of this book is a simple one and a profound one that I hold to as a student of military history, and that is that the effects of battles and warfare ripple out far beyond their time and have a curious and often paradoxical role both in leading to truths that cannot be denied and also errors that compound and lead to immense suffering and futility because sometimes the wrong lessons are learned from the dramatic events of history.

The battles that Hansen uses to prove his point are intriguing in their complexity and in their lack of decisiveness: Okinawa, whose intense destructiveness prompted the use of the atom bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the inspiration for such disparate strategies as napalm bombing in Vietnam and Muslim suicide bombers; Shiloh, whose results led to the firm partnership between Sherman and Grant and the death of a general who inspired a myth of the lost cause that distracted romantically inclined Southerners from the grim reality of logistics and grand strategy and the failure of the South to handle either of these important concerns, and Delium, a defeat by Thebes of Athens that helped encourage Socrates in his philosophy because of his bravery and survival in that battle. By choosing battles that were not “decisive” and that have in some cases been largely forgotten, yet showing how these battles had massive ripples in history, the author makes his point that battles have an importance that is far outside of the narrow confines of war but also in the larger arenas of culture.

Of particular worth and importance, and poignancy, is the way that the author discusses the importance of the battle of Okinawa to himself personally, in the death of a relative who he was named after, who died young and childless in machine gun fire towards the end of the brutal battle, and who was nearly universally loved by those who knew him, even though he died childless and obscure. Among the rather poignant things the author has to say about his namesake and relative, who left a heavy burden on him, one that seems to be slightly resented, is this rather bitter reflection one page one of the book: “A man who dies tragically young, and alone does so without capital, either monetary or human. When he leaves behind no progeny, it is evident in the modesty of his commemoration.” And yet this book as a whole is a commemoration to the ripples of history that occur from those who are cut off tragically young because of their experience of warfare [2], and an effort to pay off a debt of showing why a young man who died without children or a widow to mourn him nonetheless deserves to be remembered for how his life has affected history, but inspiring a relative to give honor to a man who died too young because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time for the right reasons. If only we could all be memorialized in such a moving and elegant way, through a book that provokes thought about the mysterious workings of divine providence in realms of battle and culture.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/in-my-tribe/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/book-review-a-medieval-family/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/death-is-a-hungry-hunter/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Book Review: Ripples Of Battle

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Four Queens | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  4. Pingback: Book Review: Battlefield: Decisive Conflicts In History | Edge Induced Cohesion

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