Best Books on War

May 25 is Memorial Day in the US. To honour the sacrifice of those with the courage to have served--and with express gratitude--herewith Military History magazine's list of Best Books on War, in the sincere hope that through study comes understanding.

  • THE ILIAD (Homer)
  • ON WAR (Clausewitz)
  • WAR AND PEACE (Tolstoy)
  • FACE OF BATTLE (Keegan)
  • WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE...AND YOUNG (Moore with Galloway)
  • ONCE AN EAGLE (Myrer)
  • GOODBYE, DARKNESS (Manchester)
  • WORLD AT ARMS (Weinberg)
  • PATTON (D'Este)

As MH chose not to distinguish between fiction and nonfiction, I would add Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut), Citizen Soldier (Ambrose), Art ofWar (Sun-Tzu), War and Remembrance (Wouk) and--to round arbitrarily to 25--any history of choice by Walter Lord (my personal military choices would be either Incredible Victory--about the Battle of Midway--or A Time To Stand--about The Alamo; Lord's research may by now be dated but his prose and, especially, sense of the dramatic moment of each chosen story brings history to life).

Mirror, Mirror...

There are good Star Trek movies and bad Star Trek movies.* And there are Star Trek movies the faithful--*we* faithful--like, and that we hate. Relative success or failure can depend upon many things...but it begins with 'Is it Star Trek?'

Star Trek *isn't* Star Wars. It isn't like any other franchise-- science fiction or otherwise--and creators violate it's core tenets at their peril. These can be trivial (expansive, symphonic scoring *is* Star Trek, insipid, folk-rock song ballads are not) or they can be moral/ethical/philosophic (placing others above self *is* Star Trek, personal quests--especially for God but also for family, or revenge, or selfish gain--are not), but whenever creators of big-screen motion pictures or small-screen series have defied them, the result has usually been rejected (and, to the justification of the faithful, has usually been as bad as it has been disliked). And--continuity matters. That has always been a part of the Star Trek legacy. Those behind the final series incarnation, 'Enterprise,' nearly killed the franchise, they broke so many conventions (see 'ridiculous song' above)--but their cardinal sin was rebelling against what they described as slavish continuity restraints so violently that what they created-- whatever it's other merits--wasn't Star Trek.

It is into precisely such peril that creator JJ Abrams steps, in his feature film attempt to reboot the franchise: how do you make something exciting and fresh and new which relies so at its heart upon all that has gone before?

'Star Trek' accomplishes the dual goal of being good *and* good Star Trek by--as all good Trek feature films before it did--being Star Trek first. There is not a frame of film, not a moment of dialogue, not a chord of music which disrespects what has gone before...and when it indulges it's past most directly, the moment is moving to the brink of tears.

Quibbles are as numerous as tribbles, and enough of these there may be that some faithful will not like the movie; the shape of this Enterprise (likeable in angles emphasizing its 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' esque saucer, awkward when its 'Next Generation' hull and almost ugly when its assymetric, lightbulblike nacelles dominate) is polarizing, whether some of the cast evoke their originals nearly to caricature while others fall hopelessly short of their predecessors' charisma is already a heated is whether the degree to which the film cribs from the series' most successful, 'The Wrath of Khan' (for my purposes--if you are going to emulate something, pick something good).

By the time the last Star Trek film whimpered from theaters, however ('Nemesis,' which had its sentimental adieus but was neither very good nor very Trek) the franchise was at best an irrelevancy, and bordering on becoming a cultural punch line. 'Star Trek' is good enough on its mainstream merits to moot that, to reinvigorate a hopeful, optimistic, bold and smart storytelling vehicle again (at a time when we could all use that kind of bouyancy)--and to set an example in so doing that respecting someone else's sandbox when you come play in it does nothing to diminish the beauty of the sand castle you may create there.

May this Trek universe go on to Peace and Long Life.

*--The 'Good' Star Trek movies, for the record (the specific order is mine, but the consensus is pretty broad):

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek (8): First Contact
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Many would elevate The Voyage Home above The Search for Spock (the one anomalous 'odd-numbered Trek movie' which inarguably defies the 'odd ones suck' curse); certainly, it is the most popularly-accessible and mainstream of the series, but STIII's operatic sensibility has its adherents as well and II, III and IV work best as a trilogy in sequence anyway.

Star Trek (7): Generations also has proponents and is probably the best of the 'not so good' Star Trek movies--but while its dramatic successes are profound and elevate it for those of us who really like it, its failures are enormous and difficult to work past, for those who do not.

Star Trek (9): Insurrection has a nicely-nuanced mature romantic subplot undone by ridiculous villains and a general sense of inconsequence, and Star Trek (10): Nemesis feels uncanonical and indulgent. The less said about Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the better; probably, in light of the evidence of the latter two, 'Enterprise's' ridiculous song and various citable instances from every iteration of each series, any vocalizing in a Star Trek incarnation should be prohibited.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture cannot be discussed objectively here. As noted, there is good and bad Trek and Trek which is loved and hated, and they needn't be the same; so it is that I am emotionally inextricably hung up with this film. It brought my beloved 'classic Trek' back from the dead, in glorious 70mm widescreen with the most soaring Jerry Goldsmith-composed music and the most aesthetically beautiful starship ever designed. It may be slow, even uncinematic, and cerebral to a fault. But I can quote every line of dialogue from memory and will stop-down for it every time I run across it on late- night TV and when the Admiral orders Sulu to take her out I will get a lump in my throat till the day I die. Because it *is* Star Trek.