Thursday, November 19, 2009

Last night I finished The First World War by John Keegan, an excellent detailed overview of the war by one of preeminent military historians.

I've always been roughly familiar with the events of World War I - the horrors of trench warfare, the early use of airplanes, tanks and poison gas, etc. - but this Remembrance Day, I realized that I'd never read a detailed version of what happened. Given how seminal WW1 is to the shape of the 20th century since it broke the economies of Europe, helped enable the communist revolution in Russia, set the stage for, and almost made inevitable, WW2 and changed European culture forever, I thought I should remedy that gap in my education.

This book is an excellent place to start, going from the buildup to the war in early 1914 to the armistice in 1918. Keegan has his own theories about what lead to war, mainly the necessity of triggering pre-planned war strategies in case of crisis to avoid giving a crippling advantage to the other side if they mobilize first. He also makes clear why the war bogged down into static trench warfare instead of the more open style found in WW2, primarily found in lack of reliable communication and flexible (i.e. non-rail) mechanized transport.

It was also very illuminating to read about WW1 in light of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the public's attitude towards them. The current allied death totals in Iraq and Afghanistan are less than the toll of one day of some of the larger WW1 battles, like the Somme, Ypres or Verdun, yet attitudes in those countries that have troops there have turned against those efforts. During WW1, the populaces didn't turn against the war even given year after year of casualties in the hundreds of thousands.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

We just got back from seeing Michael Jackson This is It.

I like seeing behind the scenes footage, so I was OK with going to see it, but I ended up liking it a lot more than I expected. I grew up surrounded by Michael Jackson songs, but it wasn't kind of music I liked then. Time has been kind to a lot of his best songs, and now I can appreciate how good they really are, particularly when played live by a good band.

On top of that, you have Michael's dancing, which is still phenomenal. He showed few signs of his age or his condition in this footage and the movie is very enjoyable, just as a performance. I left the theater actually considering buying a greatest hits package of some kind, and feeling it was a shame he didn't live to do at least a few of these live shows.