Monthly Archives: August 2017

Boxcar Red Leader – A Review

I have the privilege of knowing veterans who have been kind enough to read and review my work over the years. Among them is a gentleman named Larry Huggins.

Larry is the real deal. Two tours in Vietnam, flying the F-105D Thunderchief, and the  F-105F “Wild Weasel.”

About the Weasels. There’s an old adage among fighter pilots regarding ground-attack missions: “One pass, haul ass.” In other words, don’t stick around to duel with the flak guns or, in more modern times, SAMs. Yet that was the mission of the Wild Weasels, to seek out and destroy SAM sites in North Vietnam. For courage and dedication to duty, the Weasels were among the very best. For sheer skill, also among the very best.

Larry survived combat in one of the most heavily-defended pieces of airspace in the world, and ended up a brigadier general, having flown in his career everything from J-3 Cubs to the F-16.

Now, when someone like Larry has kind words for an aviation story you’ve written, that’s pretty damned special to the writer. I know it is for me. Here, quoted with his permission, is what Larry had to say about Boxcar Red Leader:

Picked up your latest book at HAM on the way to Seabrooke Island, SC for our family reunion on Wednesday. Read it straight through Thur night. I can not for the life of me know how you can write like you are in the cockpit and at the controls of real airplanes. For someone that has not been in real dogfights, you sure as heck know as much about them as many combat ready fighter pilots do! Tom, you are simply amazing! Keep these books coming.

I wrote Everything We HadA Snowball’s Chance, and Boxcar Red Leader for a lot of reasons, some of which I’ve mentioned in this blog. But one major reason I wrote those books was to remember those guys, holding the line against the Japanese, in a time and a place where it was by no means certain that we’d be able to win. I think it important that we, as Americans, remember what we, as Americans, can do, when in Kipling’s words, fate lays upon us our task.

Thanks, Larry. Praise like this helps a writer keep going. And I’m hard at work on that next book!

 

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The Vast Ocean

This morning I finished reading Norman Dixon’s fascinating book, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence. It was sufficiently thought-provoking that I suspect I will have to go back and reread it several times, taking notes and making comments as I go.

However, I don’t intend to summarize the book or my impressions of its content. Instead I want to comment on the bibliography and chapter notes at the end of the book.

Perusing the bibliography of a non-fiction book is sometimes an exercise in self-congratulation and sometimes one of self-flagellation. I consider myself fairly well-read, and I was thinking, as I turned to the bibliography at the end, that I would find any number of books that I had already read. Partly this was because many of the factual accounts and a number of the conclusions reached by Dixon were in accord with things I had already read.

I didn’t count the number of works and papers cited by Dixon in his bibliography. They were numerous, somewhere between one hundred and two hundred, at a guess. I’m not a professional psychologist, so I didn’t think I’d be familiar with many of the papers or their authors, but I really did think at least some of the works cited by Dixon would be known to me. Or, at the least, I thought I’d know the authors.

Apparently I’m not as well-read as I thought. I recognized a mere handful of the authors, such as Liddell-Harte, Forester, and Glenn Wilson. The only book I read in that long list was Forester’s. That’s C.S. Forester, better known for his Horatio Hornblower series, but here cited as the author of a novel titled The General, which I read with great interest if not exactly pleasure when I was much younger.

In thinking over the reasons for this, one might be that Dixon’s work was first published in the mid-1970s, when I was still at university. Much of what I’ve read that would be relevant to Dixon’s subject matter I encountered 15 to 20 years later, when I became interested in the subject. So perhaps the relative familiarity of Dixon’s work derives from reading authors who came after him.

Or perhaps I’m not as well-read as I thought.

Regardless, I had to chuckle at myself when my certainty of a smug experience consisting of, “Yes, I’ve read that, very good” and “Aha, but of course he quoted from this,” and “I remember reading that, most intriguing” to a steadily growing confusion when I realized I had read virtually none of his sources!

This in turn led me to wonder at what point one may truly regard oneself as well-educated. One might perceive a certain complacent self-satisfaction in that term, perhaps, and that might be the lesson I should derive.

Sir Isaac Newton once remarked, if I remember the quote correctly, that however brilliant he was perceived by the rest of the world, to himself he always seemed like a small boy bending over to pick up pebbles on a beach that bordered a vast ocean. Curiosity impels me to look that up, and a moment’s Google search reveals the following from the Cambridge Library exhibition on Sir Isaac:

“I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/exhibitions/Footprints_of_the_Lion/introduction.html

So perhaps from time to time it does one good to be reminded how very, very vast that ocean of knowledge is, and perhaps to understand that any one man’s collection of pretty shells and pebbles is necessarily limited.

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