5 Contemporary Military Books to Greet the New Year

5 Contemporary Military Books to Greet the New Year
Illustration by Betsy Moore/MOAA

By Col. William D. Bushnell, USMC (Ret)


From ethics debates to heroism across a century of warfare, here are the latest recommendations for MOAA’s Military Professional Reading List.


You can order the books through the links in the titles below; MOAA is an Amazon Associate and earns money from qualifying purchases, with the revenue supporting The MOAA Foundation.


Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics


Edited by Nathan K. Finney and Tyrell O. Mayfield. Naval Institute Press, 2018. ISBN 978-1-68247-363-4.


The two editors are military officers, Finney is U.S. Army, Mayfield is U.S. Air Force, and both are experts on strategic planning and security operations. They and 12 essay contributors examine today’s difficult challenges of combining military professionalism with a clear understanding of ethics in an “often lethal” occupation. This work is a scholarly presentation of ethics, education, leadership, military culture, morality, and identity in the profession of arms.


They conclude that the character of warfare today requires constant vigilance in the development, training, command, and the proper use of our modern military forces within an accepted ethical framework.


Alone at Dawn: Medal of Honor Recipient John Chapman and the Untold Story of the World’s Deadliest Special Operations Force


By Dan Schilling and Lori Chapman Longfritz. Grand Central Publishing, 2019. ISBN 978-1-5387-2965-6.


This remarkable book actually tells three stories, to be absorbed by all officers of all ranks and all services – one story is powerfully stunning, one is shamefully cautionary, and the last is sadly tragic. Air Force Tech. Sgt.  John Chapman was a combat controller with a five-man SEAL team fighting al-Qaida in Afghanistan in 2002. Fighting alone, Chapman tried to rescue a wounded SEAL, attacked two enemy bunkers, and killed numerous enemy in close combat before he was overwhelmed and killed. He was awarded a  posthumous Medal of Honor for his heroic actions. 


His team, however, was the victim of service hubris, poor intelligence, no reconnaissance, and vague command structure.


The tragic result was outmanned, outgunned firefight with the enemy that wounded three SEALS and cost Chapman his life. There is no joy here, just many lessons of what not to do when planning a complex military operation.


The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War


By Neal Bascomb. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2018. ISBN 978-0-544-93711-6.


Award-winning and best-selling author Bascomb tells an inspirational true story of POW resilience, defiance, and determination during World War I, as captured British and Canadian aviators engineered a fantastic prison camp escape in July 1918. The German prison camp Holzminden was notorious for its abuses, but 29 Royal Flying Corps pilots dug a tunnel and escaped – 19 men were eventually recaptured and punished, but 10 men made it safely to Holland.


This is a terrific story of courage, self-sacrifice, and duty – with loads of examples and lessons of how to defy captors, resist interrogation and maltreatment, and maintain morale in horrible conditions.


Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Great War’s Lost Battalion


By Edward G. Lengel. DaCapo Press, 2018. ISBN 978-0-306-82568-2.


The story of the “Lost Battalion” is a timeless example of American battlefield leadership and heroism, told with dramatic and exciting narrative by award-winning historian Lengel. This is the story of the 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, commanded by Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Charles Whittlesey. The battalion was surrounded and pounded by the Germans for seven days during the Argonne Offensive in October 1918 as the result of poor senior generalship.


The battalion was never “lost,” but fought on alone against overwhelming odds, with only 194 soldiers, out of more than 500 men, walking out after their ordeal. Best are the numerous examples of Whittlesey, his officers and NCOs displaying selfless courage and sacrifice, inspiring their men to fight a desperate, no-quarter battle for survival.


Normandy ’44:  D-Day and the Epic 77-Day Battle for France


By James Holland. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2019. ISBN 978-0-8021-2942-0.


Acclaimed World War II historian Holland (Big Week, Fortress Malta, and others) now offers yet another book about D-Day. This one, however, focuses not just on June 6, 1944 and the American, British, and Canadian landings in Normandy, but also on the more than 70-day battle afterwards, as the allies widened the beachhead and defeated all German efforts to counterattack.


Holland also explains in great detail the planning and execution of naval gunfire support, as well the allies’ massive use of strategic, tactical, and close-air support. Additionally, he wisely explains the contentious command rivalries among the allies and the Germans.


Col. William D. Bushnell, USMC (Ret), has been a reviewer for Military Officer magazine since 1998. Get a more in-depth look at recent books in his monthly magazine review via the member-only Military Officer archives.

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