David Walder Short Victorious

June 24, 2003


David Walder Short Victorious War

Over lunch and then while digesting lunch I finished reading David Walder's Short Victorious War. This is a general history of the Russo-Japanese war, written in the 1960s, with good bibliography and no historiography. Walder is telling the story of the war, and as he says in his afterwards, he has no patience for footnotes. So, he made sure that every reference and every quotation gave the reader enough information to find the materials in the bibliography or through a brief application of common sense.

I picked it up, in part, because I was looking in the library catalog for David Weber's Sci-Fi novel of the same title. I read a lot of military science fiction, it makes good brain candy. I picked up Weber's Honor Harrington books a couple of weeks ago and have added him to my "I want it, but will only pay used prices" list.

A lot of military science fiction is bloody, unrealistically so in many cases. The modal narrative is generally drawn from European expeditions into Africa in the 19th century, with hordes of poorly armed native troops charging the Europeans in their square with rifles and machine guns. Some authors make explicit reference - I have seen the battle of Rourke's Drift refought a hundred times in fiction. Others simply draw on the era, Jerry Pournelle's Mote in God's Eye had a fictional technology explicitly chosen to recreate they conditions of coal-fired, short-range naval ships at the turn of the 20th century. In many ways the Victorian era is the model for most of the military science fiction: nobles, loyal retainers, great powers playing the game of kings, powerful fleets with significant support requirements - it has all the background elements and it is always easier to modify a known set of relations than to make it all up from scratch.

So, I checked out and then read a real history of conflict in the era, because I was tired of reading about the fiction. Walder wrote a good, solid, readable book. I now know more than I did; I might refer to Walder when I next teach world history or Western Civilization. I felt bad for the Russian soldiers, poorly led, poorly inspired, well enough fed but otherwise poorly served by their officers and by the regime itself. Walder argues, with merit, that the Russians were incompetant, disorganized, and inexperienced for their ranks and tasks. The generals were all old men, command structures were divided and confused, and their communications and control mechanisms were non-existant. The japanese were equally brave, perhaps braver in the attack while Russians were braver in the defence, but were better led at all levels. That is the sort of thing that makes a big difference.

And now back to work, will cut out a little early and hit the library on my way to go teach. I have 8 to return including some music cds and 6 to pick up.

Posted by Red Ted at June 24, 2003 01:54 AM | TrackBack