Monday, April 28, 2008
U.S. Armed Forces Arsenal: A Guide to Modern Combat Hardware
Samuel A. Southworth
Da Capo Press
2 of 5 stars
The worst thing about this book is the fun, engaging style. The conversational style contains slang, idioms, and occasional swear words in a humorous context. It is fun to read. The black and white photographs of military men and weaponry are beautiful. The book is well-organized, and author Southworth devotes a chapter to each type of weapon, including small arms, machine guns, bombs/missiles/rockets, artillery, tanks, helicopters, tanks, and ships. His editorializing ranges from entertaining to marginally offensive (depending on your opinion of the U.S. military), and it is a nice diversion from the sometimes-dry facts about various weaponry. He also tends toward editorializing against corporations that provide the American military with weaponry, not to mention that many military officers retire and then go to work for these companies. He attempts to provide a history of the weapons in use today; this history is certainly fascinating, though I cannot vouch to its accuracy.
That's the key problem with this book - the accuracy. I consider myself above average (for an American) in my understanding of history; however, I don't understand his allusion to the importance of British cannon at Crecy (p 71) or the importance of grapeshot and canister during the battle of Gettysburg (p 78). But as a firearms enthusiast, I know just enough about firearms from a civilian perspective to know that his writing on small arms and pistols contains several deceptions, oversights, and oversimplifications; this makes me skeptical of the rest of his research. I cannot trust the rest of his book. This is frustrating - I want to believe, as his writing is engaging. But I do not trust him, and since nothing is documented, I refuse to believe anything he says.
He oversimplifies, assumes, and deceives when discussing firearms. He does not define firearm caliber, perhaps assuming that a reader will know he difference between a .45 and a .22. (To his credit, though, he does explain that a "6-pounder" cannon means a cannon that shoots a 6-pound ball). He spells out the common caliber 30.06 as "thirty aught six" instead of the correct "thirty ought six." When he discusses the comparative advantages of guns firing different kinds of ammunition, he only considers the size and weight of ammunition. Police officers have observed criminals shot once, twice, three times by a small .22 round without stopping. A more powerful .45 round does enough damage to a human body that the threat is more likely to be stopped. The issue of stopping power should be an issue to a soldier, just as the weight of the ammunition should be.
He states, "I am a civilian writing for civilians," (p vii), yet he assumes his readers know what "NCO" (p 23) stands for. Only tangentially does he address the discrepancy between the "assault weapon" of the 1993 Clinton Gun Ban and the "assault weapon" of the military. The former are semi-automatic, meaning they fire one bullet per trigger pull; the latter are automatic, meaning they continue to fire bullets as long as the soldier holds the trigger. He describes certain .50 caliber rifle bullets as "armor-piercing rounds" (p 36) but does not specify whether he means the armor soldier wear or the armor on tanks; any firearm enthusiast will know that most rifle bullets penetrate personal body armor and will assume that the author means tank armor. But will the average reader?
His description of military snipers takes a tangent into the current event news story of the so-called "DC Snipers" - though most military men would scoff at called such untrained criminals "snipers". His description of the Star Wars program deteriorates into scathing editorializing.
On the whole, this book was a quick, entertaining read with great photographs, even though I wouldn't trust any of the content. He makes statements I felt to be deceptive; his editorializing sometimes interferes with the facts of the weapons he describes; and he does not cite his facts. That the book was so fun to read only exacerbates my qualms with his facts. I cannot recommend this book as anything more than entertaining but fictional beach reading.
© 2004 by Janine Peterson for Curled Up With a Good Book