The Queen (2006)

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Mar 162016

I used to dismiss the British royal family as an irrelevant institution – lots of people do. But over the years my opinion’s mellowed a bit.

England’s peculiar historical triumph is that of a country whose transition from absolute monarchy to democracy was a gradual, mostly dignified transfer of power: there’s something to be said for a monarchy that didn’t end in a bloody revolution.  David Starkey’s BBC documentary series Monarchy (2004-2006) makes a good case for this notion.  But I also have to admit, I’m just plain won-over by Queen Elizabeth II – lots of people are.  It’s not about her “class”, which has always been a dirty word here in the states, for some pretty good reasons.  It’s that she has class. 

Highly recommend The Queen (2006).  I’m also looking-forward to the upcoming biographical series from Netflix, The Crown.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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Mar 162016

This is one hell of a movie, about one hell of an interesting guy.  T. E. Lawrence still has historians scratching their heads and arguing vehemently a century later.  Depending who you ask he was an imperialist tool, an opportunistic adventurer, a traitor to his nation, or a hero who selflessly fought for the freedom of a foreign people a world away from home.  It’s undeniable he was crucially important in shaping the modern Mid East.

Lawrence was a bundle of contradictions: a quiet, bookish young man whose stamina and sheer force of will propelled him during his college years to undertake lone journeys to places so remote and foreign that no sane Englishman would dare go without a massive retinue and the resources to match.  A lifelong romantic whose boyhood dream was to become a knight, when unexpectedly presented to the King of England for just that reason, he walked away.  A loyal subject of the crown, he betrayed secret details of the Skyes-Picot treaty to his Arab allies because he believed theirs was a destiny more important than colonial aspirations of old-Europe.  And strangest of all, a mild-mannered academic who on his own initiative stepped-forward as a military leader whose bravery, audacity, and tactics were of the first order.  In short, a really, really weird dude.

He was a great military commander, at least of small guerilla forces.  His operations often involved small groups of experienced partizan fighters appearing out of nowhere to overwhelm a larger, better-armed force.  His style was one of audacity, surprise, rigid discipline, and extreme mobility: not at all unlike that of Nathan Bedford Forrest.  I make no comparison of the two men’s personalities, morals, or politics, nor do I suggest they would have personally liked each other.  I do think they’d have agreed on many points of tactical doctrine.

Anyway, the movie’s first-class, a sprawling epic on the order of Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, and generally does justice to the historical facts.  The bits it leaves-out are generally even more unbelievable than what it leaves-in.  And Peter O’Toole’s performance – well, it’s hard to piece-together, even now, exactly what sort of man Lawrence was – but I think he probably nailed-it pretty damn well, and either way, he’ll knock your socks-off.  Make sure you watch it in good honest high-def, or else you’re cheating yourself.

Infiltration (or “Small Unit”) Tactics

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Nov 042015

Still wrapping my head around this one. Pioneered in WWI by elements from various countries, including Germany’s famous “Stormtroopers”, Infiltration Tactics (Wikipedia) are now standard doctrine for every military force in the world. Seems like it’s basically an alternative to the traditional pre-1900’s European-style set-piece battle where you line-up all your guys and tell them to march forward and shoot the other guys (or in the case of WWI, blindly charge the enemy’s fortified line in mass numbers in hopes of somehow “breaking through”). These tactics instead focus on smaller, more autonomous units tasked with seeking-out and penetrating the weak-points in an enemy’s line, while leaving more heavily-fortified positions to be dealt with by artillery and whatnot. What I really wanted to share was this nifty list of the standing-orders for Rogers’ Rangers (from the Armchair General article “Tactics 101 082 – Infiltraton in History and Practice“).

Operation Desert Storm: “Winds of the Storm” (1993)

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Nov 032015

A public domain film from the National Archives, with some audio/video cleanup by Jeff Quitney. Explains the 1991 Gulf War air campaign with numerous interview clips from General Chuck Horner, USAF (commander of all the air forces) as well as his 4 divisional commanders.
Desert Shield and Desert Storm are generally under-appreciated by most Americans. The only downside to planning and implementing a massive operation near-flawlessly and with minimal casualties is that you make it look easy; afterwards there’s an understandable tendency for those without in-depth knowledge of the events to say, “What was the big deal?” But if you have even a layman’s appreciation for what went into that effort, and some knowledge of history, it’s clear it could easily have been a very big deal. We were lucky to have a military that had learned the hard lessons of Vietnam led by some excellent people.
If you want to learn more, I highly recommend Tom Clancy’s “Every Man a Tiger,” a non-fiction book written with Chuck Horner that covers the affair in great detail yet is imminently readable even for civilian pukes such as myself.

Into The Storm

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Oct 272015

There are two schools of thought regarding Winston Churchill. One says he’s the greatest leader of the twentieth century, who stepped-forward to lead Britain through her darkest hour and through sheer will-power roused the free world to overthrow the tyranny of fascism. The other is wrong.

This HBO biopic pretty-much nails him down to the smallest detail. If you don’t know Churchill, this is as good a place to start as any: you’re next stop would be volume 3 of William Manchester’s biography “The Last Lion“.

Available for free on Amazon Prime


Ultimate General: Gettysburg

 Games, History  Comments Off on Ultimate General: Gettysburg
Jul 022015

Just got this on Steam (only $15)!

Ultimate General: Gettysburg is a Civil War real-time strategy game that meets one of the classic criterion: easy to learn, hard to master. It’s not as intimidating as most wargames I’ve tried – the controls are quite simple, just point and click. Then again, your artillery’s going to do better on high ground, and your infantry’s going to last longer if it’s firing out of cover (like woods).

Here’s a pretty good “first impressions” video:

Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow)

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Jun 092015

An old favorite – the best bio of Hamilton currently available.  A thoroughly-researched history of the smartest, least-appreciated founding father.  Also, man was Jefferson a putz.  Alexander Hamilton (

Chernow’s stuff’s all great – I also recommend his biography of George Washington and his history of “The House of Morgan”.