Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Book Review: The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, by Hornfischer

In October of 1944, the Japanese threw the remainder of their naval power into an attempt to destroy MacArthur’s invasion of the Philippines, particularly the landing on Leyte. In a three-pronged desperate operation called Sho-1, employing powerful naval task forces under the command of admirals Nishimura, Kurita, Shima, and Ozawa, the Japanese sought to stall the American island-hopping advance. While Ozawa martialed Japan’s remaining fleet carriers in hopes of drawing Halsey’s Third Fleet north, away from its position blocking the San Bernadino Strait, the other three Japanese forces would advance on Leyte in a pincer movement from north and south.

When Halsey took the bait and left his assigned station to chase north after Ozawa, the only thing standing between the massively powerful Japanese fleet and the Leyte landings was Taffy 3 (Task Unit 77.4.3) consisting of 6 light carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer-escorts, under the command of Admiral Sprague.

Hornfischer’s fascinating book details the heroic stand of Taffy 3, which faced the largest battleship in the world whose 18” guns had a range of 20 miles, plus three more battleships armed with 14” guns, six heavy cruisers with 8” rifles, two light cruisers, and eleven destroyers. The 5” guns on Taffy 3’s small force had a range of only about 7 miles, and their shells were insufficient to put even a dent in the armored sides of the Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers. And yet Taffy 3 slowed the Japanese onslaught, and eventually caused Admiral Kurita to lose his nerve and withdraw.

The author does a superb job of introducing the reader to the human combatants, from cook to admiral, primarily on the American side. The book is full of riveting first-person accounts of the fear and courage of the men of Taffy 3, sailors and airmen, as they faced the devastating punishment of an opponent that overmatched them in every category except courage.

Hornfischer points out it was a battle of firsts and lasts: first time in history that an aircraft carrier was sunk by a surface fleet, and the last time this sort of surface melee involving battleships ever happened. His writing is superb: you can feel the spray and the concussion from the Japanese shells as they straddle the ships of Taffy 3.

If you enjoy military history, this is a must read. Five stars, highly recommended.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Book Review of Ruth Batstone's Moving On: Beyond Forgive and Forget

Ruth Batstone’s writing style is warm and engaging—this book will be very helpful in teaching and encouraging victims to deal biblically with their trauma, particularly when it comes to forgiving the perpetrator. The author does a powerful job of connecting with those who have suffered greatly at the hands of an abuser. Her empathy and understanding of the emotional damage such suffering produces is compelling as she gently nudges the reader toward the imperative to forgive.

Batstone constantly leads the reader back to the Gospel as the landmark and source of forgiveness. She repeatedly reminds us that the grounds on which we are commanded to forgive others is God’s forgiveness of our own sins through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Moving On is fully Christ-centered and is an excellent tool for presenting the Gospel to a counselee who’s not yet professed faith in Christ but who has suffered at the hands of others.

The strengths of the book include the writer’s sharing of her own suffering. Her personal experience provides Batstone with a deep-level understanding of the complex emotions swirling in the heart of a victim. Each chapter ends with questions for reflection, making the book a great homework tool for biblical counselors. She also does a good job covering the various peripheral topics surrounding the issue of forgiveness, such as anger, desire for revenge, the danger of not forgiving, and the relationship of forgiveness to worship.

There are a few matters that weaken the volume. One of the book’s strengths is also its weakness: Batstone deals mostly with the subjective aspects of forgiveness; there are a few glaring holes when it comes to her treatment of the objective, transactional nature of forgiveness. The best example of this is her failure to deal with the little word “if” in Luke 17:3. Jesus says very clearly, “if he repents, forgive him.” Batstone, on the other hand, claims boldly that “forgiveness is not contingent on another’s repentance” (p. 96). She presents forgiveness as a unilateral, one-sided transaction. I don’t recall her dealing with Psalm 86:5, in which God is said to be “ready to forgive, and abundant in loving kindness to all who call upon You” (NASB). This is the posture a believer is to take with someone who refuses to repent: the heart attitude is that of forgiveness, but without actually making the transaction of forgiveness. This is more than a semantic difference when it comes to restoring relationships broken by sin: restoration is always a two-way interaction. Batstone’s unilateral idea of forgiveness unintentionally weakens that interactive dynamic.

Another weakness is apparent in her treatment of the notion of “forgiving oneself.” Again, she deals with the subjective, emotional matters and never touches on the fact that our sins are not primarily against ourselves to begin with, but against the Lawgiver. We are not the lawgiver, and therefore there is no need to “forgive ourselves” (texts such as 1 Corinthians 6:18 really speak to self-damage we wreak, not to moral transgression against our own law thereby requiring “self-forgiveness”). While she does a excellent job of exploring what issues might be rattling around in the heart of someone who “just can’t forgive themselves,” she does not deal plainly with the fact that sin is against God, not ourselves.

I recommend this book highly, but I would suggest Jay Adam’s From Forgiven to Forgiving as a companion text to anchor the subject in a more thoroughly biblical frame work. Four stars.