Today, St. Martin's Press will publish the paperback edition of my 2020 military history, Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All Is Lost. The book, my first venture into this particular field, sold out the first week of its publication (December), forcing the publisher to go back to the printer for tens of thousands more copies. I am therefore grateful to you, my readers, for making this book such a success. The early reviews were as good as an author could ask for:
- “An unrelenting and rousing account of one of humanity’s most laudable wartime phenomena, and a book that hurls a gauntlet at the feet of a contemporary culture which, despite our living in a world that is still violently challenging, fails to find nobility in self-sacrifice. It engages in the very best sense: every reader will find something to agree with and something to argue against in these pages―but isn’t that the true meaning of 'provocative?' Walsh wanders through his comprehensive roster of quixotic military adventures with youthful enthusiasm, lyrical style, and academic ease; and Last Stands is a promise to heroism fulfilled.”
―Caleb Carr, New York Times bestselling author of The Alienist and Surrender, New York
- "Last Stands is a thoroughly original study of doomed or trapped soldiers often fighting to the last man, from Thermopylae to the Korean War. But Michael Walsh’s book is more than a military history of heroic resistance. It is also a philosophical and spiritual defense of the premodern world, of the tragic view, of physical courage, and of masculinity and self-sacrifice in an age when those ancient virtues are too often caricatured and dismissed. A much needed essay on why rare men would prefer death to dishonor, and would perish in the hope that others thereby might live."
―Victor Davis Hanson, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of The Second World Wars
- "In Last Stands, Michael Walsh examines ferocious truths―about war and human nature, about men in battle, about courage in the face of hopelessness, about honor, duty, sacrifice, and the profound respect that masculinity may command. Last Stands, a work of scholarship and fine storytelling, is a grimly riveting study of the realities of Horace's Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."
Unsurprisingly, the most controversial aspect of my tour of the historical battlefield was found in my Introduction, "To Die For," an examination of the specifically masculine virtues involved in war, including my argument that women have no place in combat, that an army that finds itself fielding women is one that has already lost. This outraged some fantasy-land feminists, but as I complete the sequel, A Rage to Live, A Time to Die for publication next year, and having surveyed in detail commanders such as Achilles, Alexander, Caesar, Constantine, Aetius, Bohemond, Napoleon, Pershing, Nimitz, and Patton -- and putting them all into a Clausewitzian context via a close reading in German of Book One of On War-- I am even more certain of my thesis than before.
Stand up and be counted. On sale in paperback July 18.
Fundamental to my understanding is the demonstrable fact that among human beings, war is the norm and peace the aberration, and in order to survive, society in all important aspects must be organized around that basic principle and fact of life. This is how the book opens:
“The state of peace among men living side by side is not the natural state; the natural state is one of war,” wrote Immanuel Kant in Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795). “This does not always mean open hostilities, but at least an unceasing threat of war.” Indeed, war is the natural state of man, and the history of the world is written in blood... To observe that war is crucial to civilizational advancement is also to observe the following: that human beings have a larger purpose than simply living out their threescore and ten. That men are born to father children and defend them and their women against other men who would kill them or otherwise take advantage of them.
That the measure of a real man is not how much money he makes (although that is one metric, to use current jargon) but what he has done in his life: how far he has sailed, how well he has loved, how he has raised his children, and how much, or little, they love him. What he has contributed to the historical record, what he has left in the way of posterity, and for posterity; his mark, whether it be empire or a simple X. Every age, it seems, yearns for peace but—heeding the old Roman maxim, Si vis pacem, para bellum—prepares for war.
This issue of "toxic masculinity" has loomed even larger over the past few years, as certain segments of our society have now gone full speed ahead in their attempted destruction of the biological boundaries between male and female, claiming that sex differences (they use the odious squid-ink word "gender") are arbitrary, artificial constructs. But there is nothing artificial about the thrust of a bayonet through the chest, or the primeval evolutionary necessity to sacrifice oneself for your comrades during battle, or the physical strength, endurance, and just simple rage than marks the male animal in an existential fight. Let us hope that our civilization doesn't have to relearn this lesson the hard way, although it probably will. Women should no more be expected to die in combat than men should be expected to die in childbirth.
Last Stands examines the following battles: Thermopylae, Cannae, the Teutoburg Forest, Masada and Warsaw, the Roncevaux Pass (la Chanson de Roland), Hastings, the Swiss Guard during the Sack of Rome in 1527, Szigetvar, the Alamo and Camarón, Shiloh, the Little Bighorn, Rorke's Drift and Khartoum, Stalingrad, and the Marines at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir (which my father, now 97, experienced first-hand as a young first lieutenant). As I wrote:
There is no sanitizing it. War is, in fact, to use the voguish term, “toxic,” in the sense that killing and inflicting of severe physical pain is precisely its point. No one in his right mind would willingly engage in it were it not for a host of other factors, some of them genetic and sexual, some spiritual, some psychological; some vain, and some base, and some entirely unknown, even to the warriors themselves.
And yet, from the dawn of recorded history, men have felt the need, the obligation, and the duty to take up arms against an enemy and fight for what they believe in, whether the defense of territory or in conquest, rapine, and plunder. Noble or base, it does not seem to matter. At the same time, it is essentially masculine; there are no reliable accounts of nations of women warring against other women with spear, pike, hatchet, sword, bayonet, carbine, machine gun, or nuclear weapon.
When war breaks out, as it inevitably does, fastidiousness goes out the window, and—in particular, when the fight is defensive and dire—men, not women, are called to arms. That they go, fearful but generally unflinching, is a continual wonder, but it is also a “celebration” of masculinity—which, in its essence, is simply another word for duty, honor, and country.
Please help me celebrate these luckily "toxic" virtues. Both men and women will miss them once they're gone.