Testimony in 100 Words or Less


I was recently listening to a Catholic apologist who suggested being able to share your testimony in 100 words or less. I thought that was a really cool idea.

1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence…”

So here’s my testimony in exactly 100 words:

I was raised by Christian parents to love Jesus and trust the Bible, and I still do. However, as an adult I needed to know exactly what I believe and why, and I ultimately wasn’t satisfied with a Christianity that’s determined by personal interpretation of Scripture. Study uncovered historical Christian beliefs and legitimate papal authority. I found that we received Scripture through the Church Jesus founded and promised to preserve. Scripture was intended to be understood as part of that Church’s overall teaching. Through logic and God’s grace, I’ve found the fullness of the Christian faith in the Catholic Church.

-Ben 7/6/15

P.S. This testimony obviously presumes and excludes many things about my life and beliefs (for sake of brevity), so don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions. Also feel free to share your own 100 word testimony in the comment section.

Who Wrote Hebrews?

It’s fairly common knowledge among Christians that we don’t know for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews in the Bible. The Church knows it to be inspired Scripture, despite the lack of certainty regarding its author.

Well, I’ve been reading an interesting book on Church history called Roots of the Faith, by Mike Aquilina, and he directed my attention to an interesting section in the writings of a Church historian named Eusebius, who lived in the late 200’s through the early 300’s. Since I happen to have Eusebius’ Church History on my shelf, I looked that particular section up for myself because it sounded intriguing.

Here, Eusebius is describing the writings of Clement of Alexandria, who was born circa 150, and Clement seemed to be quite confident in his knowledge of who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews:

“He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name.”
–Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.2-3

So he’s saying that Paul wrote Hebrews, but left out his usual greeting for good reasons. The writing somewhat resembles Luke, because Luke translated it into the Greek.

Eusebius continues,

“Farther on he says: ‘But now, as the blessed presbyter said, since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance.’” (6.14.4)

So even though Paul’s primary mission was to the Gentiles, his “superabundance” overflowed to the Hebrews as well, and the Church has been blessed to this day with the Epistle to the Hebrews apparently as a result of Paul going above and beyond the call of duty (so to speak). I understand that there are other sources from the early Church which also offer insight into the subject of Hebrews’ authorship, but Eusebius is the one I came across and I just thought it was really interesting.


Unrelated to the authorship of Hebrews but included in the same chapter, Eusebius refers to Clement’s writings regarding Mark’s Gospel:

“As Peter had preached the Word publically at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it.”
–Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.6

Interesting stuff!

-Ben 10/28/14

Order of Understanding: Insight for Catholic Apologists

In my transition from Evangelical Protestant to (Roman) Catholic, there was an orderly process of understanding that allowed me to slowly release my grip on the presuppositions and perks of Protestantism. The three steps I’ve outlined below are the foundation upon which Catholic understanding was established in my mind and heart:

  1. Truth is not relative. In other words, Jesus’ death on the cross does not mean whatever we want it to mean. If you want real Christianity, you need to venture outside the realm of preference. Important: misunderstanding Christ and His Church does not equal condemnation. However, every Christian should want to pursue the most accurate version of Christianity possible. Christians should desire the fullness of the faith. It seems rather dangerous to cling to a minimalist understanding of Christ and trust that God will look mercifully upon a refusal to look deeper. For too many people, it is simply convenient that Catholicism looks wrong to them, and an honest examination of Catholic beliefs is not on their to-do list. If someone is stuck at step 1, and they believe Christianity can be defined according to their preferences, then an explanation of Catholic doctrines can be a frustrating exercise.
  2. History matters. The accumulated knowledge of Christians throughout the centuries far surpasses my own knowledge. As someone with a degree in history I can vouch for the value of reading primary source material. Basically… if you want to better understand America, read the writings of the Founding Fathers. If you want to better understand Christianity, read the writings of the early Church Fathers. If nothing else, they offer some of the best possible commentary on Scripture that you can find. I began to really ponder how orthodox (authentic) Christian beliefs could be preserved against heresies through the centuries. The fact that heresies can be fueled by a misunderstanding of Scripture should be disconcerting to Protestants (of course an acknowledgment that heresy is bad should be part of step 1). Find a Protestant who cares about history, and you’ve got someone who can learn… and can grasp the need for apostolic succession and the value of Sacred Tradition.
  3. The Protestant concept of “Sola Scriptura” (“Scripture Alone” as the doctrinal authority for Christians) simply doesn’t work… nor is it biblically defendable. This was the death blow to my Protestant assumptions. Unity in the Body of Christ is important (again, step 1 is necessary), and Sola Scriptura causes tragic division among Christians. Sola Scriptura is not defined or demanded in Scripture itself. Perhaps even more importantly, there is no definitive scriptural way of knowing which books should be in the Bible, thereby creating uncertainty within the confines of Sola Scriptura about the reliability of the Bible’s contents.

Backed by history, and guided by the Church, Catholics are able to rely on Scripture with confidence and accuracy.

As a Protestant, I wholeheartedly embraced the first two steps in regard to secular subjects, but Catholics demonstrated how the principles could (and should) be applied to my faith as well. Also, it isn’t that I clung to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura in opposition to the evidence… it’s just that I didn’t know any better. Finally, I was able to see that personal interpretation of Scripture is unreliable, and I began to seek solid answers to some tough questions. Watch for others like me, and be able to point them to the Church.

After the basic steps were covered, I was able to seriously consider what is perhaps the most important question I faced in my conversion process: the question of doctrinal/spiritual authority.

I think most Protestants never imagine that Sola Scriptura is wrong, and that is why they talk as though they are defending the Bible against the “men” or “traditions” of the Catholic Church. In reality they are defending their personal interpretation of the Bible against the Church that God has placed on this earth to guide all Christians. I had to learn that the Scriptures were intended to be part of the Church’s guidance and not our excuse to protest the Church’s guidance.


-Ben 8/30/14

The Guns of August, a Century After the Battles

“There was an aura about 1914 that caused those who sensed it to shiver for mankind.” –Barbara Tuchman in The Guns of August, ch. 15

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. In remembrance of this, I took the opportunity to re-read the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. The “Great War” has been overshadowed in our collective memory by World War II, but for the people of 1914, it was truly a massive conflict, and people hoped it would be the “war to end all wars.”

When we hear about World War I, we often picture the trench warfare that became a symbol of the dug-in, brutal fighting in which thousands and ultimately millions of lives were traded to gain small advances in the deadlock of Europe’s Western Front. However, in the opening weeks of the war, daring maneuvers and grand strategies were tested while armies struggled to gain the upper hand. Winston Churchill later said that it was “a drama never surpassed,” and this drama is the essence of what Tuchman was able to present through her narrative. In the foreword of the edition I read, Robert K. Massie points out that “Mrs. Tuchman’s triumph is that she makes the events of August, 1914, as suspenseful on the page as they were to the people living through them.”

When the book was published in 1962, many people still remembered World War I quite well, but even to them, Tuchman was able to make it exciting. Now more than ever, readers have all the more reason to be on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens. By the way, President John F. Kennedy read this book shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It greatly affected how he viewed the possibility of world war looming before him, and he could see with even more clarity the consequences of bad decisions made on the brink of conflict.

What Tuchman was able to do in this book is show very effectively how men can proudly bumble their way into war. We don’t often see the full extent of our thoughts, behaviors, and decisions, but especially world leaders must remember that sometimes the cat cannot be put back into the bag, and new wars bring new terrors.

World War I was a shocking example of old ways meeting new technologies. The brave bayonet charge by gallant men in red pants can be mown down quite efficiently by a well-placed machine gun. A mighty fortress can be destroyed in mere hours if you only have a gun that is big enough. A good example of old meeting new is an account quoted by Tuchman in chapter 11 of a German siege mortar entering a Belgian town:

“…a piece of artillery so colossal that we could not believe our eyes… The monster advanced in two parts, pulled by 36 horses. The pavement trembled. The crowd remained mute with consternation at the appearance of this phenomenal apparatus. Slowly it…[moved]… along the Boulevards de la Sauveniere and d’Avroy attracting crowds of curious onlookers along its slow and heavy passage. Hannibal’s elephants could not have astonished the Romans more! The soldiers who accompanied it marched stiffly with an almost religious solemnity. It was the Belial of cannons! …In the Parc d’Avroy it was carefully mounted and scrupulously aimed. Then came the frightful explosion; the crowd was flung back, the earth shook like an earthquake and all the window panes in the vicinity were shattered…”

French General Gallieni noted, “with the Germans one must always expect the gigantic.” Sadly, despite their grand history, impressive abilities, and grim determination, the Germans were greatly lacking in morals in the way they chose to fight the war. Their invasion of neutral Belgium was inexcusable and heartbreaking to read about, yet it was a fundamental aspect of their strategy to win the war quickly. The French were determined to win back territories they lost to Germany in the War of 1870, but they trusted too much in their élan, or “will to win,” which although helpful and even crucial at certain moments, could not decisively overpower German steel. Thankfully for the French, the British were brought in against Germany by Belgium’s invaded neutrality, but they were a relatively small expeditionary force with less-than-enthusiastic leadership. Russia’s involvement aiding the Allies against Germany was interesting, with their sheer strength in manpower greatly hindered by their sheer size of territory… not to mention their corrupt and somewhat backwards ways. They did manage to be helpful, albeit sometimes humorous: “At sight of an airplane, the first they had ever seen, Russian soldiers, regardless of its identity, blazed away with their rifles, convinced that such a clever invention as a flying machine could only be German.” –Tuchman, Guns of August ch. 15.

Tuchman’s research was exhaustive, and it shows in the way she was able to relate battle plans, the drama of deliberating governments, the reasoning and decision-making of field commanders, and the effect of war’s collateral damage on civilians. She was very good with her descriptions of the characters involved.

I think it’s important for people to remember how World War I started, because in many ways it was typical human pettiness and greed played out on an epic scale on a massive stage. War can be avoided in most cases, with a little extra foresight and (dare I say) Christian perspective. It may be a brilliantly discreet feminine touch on the part of the author, but I cannot walk away from reading this book in the belief that there was any good excuse for World War I. Pope Benedict XV called it “the suicide of Europe.” German general Moltke, who was largely responsible for carrying out the aggressive German war plans, seemed contemplative enough in 1914 to see the coming war as “the struggle that will decide the course of history for the next hundred years.”

And in many ways it has. I recommend picking up a copy of Barbara Tuchman’s book. A hundred years later, we should remember the guns of August.

-Ben 6/29/14

The Council of Trent and the Reformation of the Church

Having just recently finished reading The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, translated by Rev. H.J. Schroeder, I wanted to share some of what I learned. First, a brief description is probably necessary, and it’s most efficiently stated from the back cover of the TAN Books edition that I read: “The Council of Trent (1545-1563), spanned the pontificates of five popes and shone as a beacon to all the world, condemning errors of the Protestant Reformation and making pronouncements on a vast number of Church doctrines and disciplines… The Council of Trent is universally regarded as the greatest of the twenty-one Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church.”

Although this centuries-old set of canons and decrees was at times tedious reading to say the least, I gained an invaluable understanding of Catholic theology, and insight into the Church’s zealous guarding of historic doctrine.

One of the first things that struck me as I began reading through the book was the desire for Church unity. Pope Paul III stated in his Bull of the Convocation, “Whilst we deemed it necessary for the integrity of the Christian religion and for the confirmation within us of the hope of heavenly things, that there be one fold and one shepherd [John 10:16] for the Lord’s flock, the unity of the Christian name was well-nigh rent and torn asunder by schisms, dissentions and heresies” (pg. 1). Secondly, as seen in the quote I just used, I saw a constant use of Scriptures to reinforce what was being said. Thirdly, I noted an apparently sincere and humble approach to the solemn task set before the leadership, “…that the purity of the Gospel may be preserved in the Church after the errors have been removed” (pg. 17). Along with the touchingly sincere acknowledgment of the need for God’s guidance and mercy, I was impressed to see two themes running throughout the Council: 1. a sincere desire for reforming the problems within the Church, and 2. a sincere desire to have Protestants attend the council, including guarantees of safe passage and delays of proceedings while awaiting their arrival.

There were reforms needed. In the area of indulgences, the Church was determined to ensure that misuse was dealt with, “…so that all may understand that these heavenly treasures of the Church are administered not for gain but for piety” (pg. 144). Discipline in the Church needed more consistent enforcement. Leadership was to be held to the proper high standards: “It is to be desired that those who assume the episcopal office know what are their duties, and understand that they have been called not for their own convenience, not for riches or luxury, but to labors and cares for the glory of God” (pgs. 235-236). Monasteries were reformed by the council: “Since most monasteries, also abbeys, priories, and provostries, have suffered no little loss both in spiritual and temporal things through the maladministration of those to whom they have been entrusted, the holy council desires to restore them entirely to a discipline becoming the monastic life” (pg.233). This is barely a glimpse of the reformation that happened in the Church through the council of Trent. “The distress of the times and the malice of increasing heresies make it necessary that nothing be left undone which may appear to be for the edification of the faithful and for the defense of the Catholic faith” (pg. 237).

I have long understood the Catholic Church to be tyrannical and corrupt, so I was taken aback to see a completely different picture of Catholic Church leadership. If they were indeed tyrannical and corrupt, with the Protestants being justified in breaking away, then the Council of Trent probably would have appeared more like a pamphlet stating, “We are the bosses of YOU, and you will do what we say without question!” Instead, the Church took great pains to make their case for the preservation of unity and the clarity of doctrine through the use of lengthy explanations and scripture references. At risk of allowing the fires of Protestantism to spread farther in Europe, constant delays to await plague, war, the arrival of needed people and the cooperation of governments were implemented in order to ensure the absolute legitimacy of the council. It took 18 years, and ended 17 years after Martin Luther’s death, but the Council of Trent turned out to be one of the most important events in Church history, and was arguably the true reformation of the Church.

Although the history of the council is indeed fascinating, and it lends a crucial appreciation for the accomplishments that resulted, the primary reason that I decided to read this book was in order to more clearly and fully understand Catholic theology. If I might someday join the Catholic Church, I want to have seen for myself the Catholic doctrines that have so alarmed Protestants over the years. And Protestants have much to be concerned about. Not only does the Catholic Church assume authority in the lives of Christians around the world, but this authority was used very decidedly in the canons and decrees that came out of this council. The word “anathema” to describe the condition of dissenters was used numerous times. In reading the descriptions of the false doctrines that were springing up in the 16th century, I was reminded of teachings I have often heard in Protestant sermons and Bible studies.

One of the most essential subjects discussed at the council was the doctrine of justification in session six, 1547. An understanding of justification/salvation doctrine is essential for Christians, and if someone were to read one section in search of theological understanding I would recommend reading session six. I do more fully recommend reading the writings of the entire council, however, because I think too many Protestants can be reinforced in their anti-Catholic thinking by taking parts that they disagree with at face value and running with them, losing the overall context and intention of the council as a whole.

Along with justification, I learned about baptism, the Eucharist, indulgences, saints and relics, confession and penance, purgatory, etc. Much of the accomplishment of this council was that easily-misunderstood doctrines ended up being better explained, pronounced, and enforced across Christendom soon afterward and in the centuries following. With doctrines being better understood, the risk of misinterpretations of sacred Scripture could be reduced, and therefore the spread of heresies could be lessened in the future, at least among those desiring to remain in the Church.

“Let them read with humility, as becomes a Christian, what we have defined concerning our faith, and if some light should come upon them, let them not turn away the face; if they should hear the voice of the Lord, let them not harden their hearts, and if they should wish to return to the common embrace of mother Church from which they severed themselves, they may rest assured that every indulgence and sympathy will be extended to them.”

-Cardinal Ragazonus in his oration in the last session, 1563 (pg. 268)

-Ben 2/22/14

A Case for the Sign of the Cross: St. Francis de Sales and his Defense of a Christian Practice

On January 24th, Christians around the world honor the memory of St. Francis de Sales, who is remembered for his bold yet graceful defense of the Faith in the 16th century area of Switzerland. Before January 24th came along this year, I had the opportunity to read a copy of St. Francis’ book, The Sign of the Cross, in which he defends the practice of making the Sign of the Cross by referring not only to the historic traditions of Christianity, but also relating powerful stories of its use, and the biblical roots of its importance.

The Sign of the Cross can be made over the forehead or mouth, but the most familiar method is touching the fingers of the right hand to the forehead, followed by the lower/center chest, left shoulder and then right shoulder. This is done while saying “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, which some consider to be “the fifteen most powerful words in the English language”. St. Francis is decidedly Catholic, as are his apologetics, but non-Catholics should not be too quick to dismiss the Sign of the Cross simply because Catholics have gotten the most use out of it. My question is whether all Christians should be using it, and I’ll cut to the chase for a moment: if the Sign of the Cross is inherently (and historically) Christian, and does indeed stand against both evil and false doctrine, then it seems to me that all followers of Christ should be identifying themselves with the Sign of the Cross. Because I prefer to examine Christianity in its full historical context, I am willing to think outside the box on this, even though I’m still technically classified as an “Evangelical Protestant”.

St. Francis’ chapter titles offer some insight into his approach to the subject: “A Public Profession of Faith”, “The Use of the Sign of the Cross in the Church of the Fathers”, “A Reproof to the Antichrist”, “A Defense against Demons”, etc.

Along with scripture references to explain to people why they should not assail such a wonderful Christian practice, St. Francis also quoted many important people from Christian history, such as St. Athanasius: “Every magical art is rebuffed by the Sign of the Cross, and by it every spell is broken”. Or St. Antony: “The demons come in the night pretending to be angels of God. Seeing them, arm yourselves and your homes with the Sign of the Cross, and immediately they will be reduced to nothing, for they fear this victory sign by which the Savior despoiled the powers of the air and made them laughable.” And St. John Chrysostom: “St. Paul calls the Cross a prize, and it should not only be made with the hand on the body, but, in truth, first in the soul. For if in this way you impress it upon your face, not one of the demons will dare attack you, seeing the lance by which they received the mortal blow.”

St. Francis de Sales himself was a very interesting guy. Particularly interesting to me, he is the patron saint of writers, and known for his stand against the harmful ideas of his time that posed a real threat to him personally and caused great spiritual damage to the region in which he lived. According to the biographical note at the end of the book, “…St. Francis’ unflagging poise and kindness in [his] mission led to its eventual success. By the turn of the century, the majority of the area’s inhabitants had returned to the Catholic faith.”

In closing, the description on the back cover of the book is worth quoting at length:

Embodying the zeal of youth and the wisdom of age, this gentle jewel of Catholic apologetics traces the origins of the Sign of the Cross back to the Fathers of the Church, to the Apostles before them, and finally to our Lord Himself…

Outside the Creed itself, there are few topics to which the Fathers testify as universally and unanimously as the pious practice of making, frequently and well, the Sign of the Cross…”

I would be curious to hear the thoughts of my fellow Christians on this matter. Why are so many of us not making the Sign of the Cross? As a Christian, I have been longing for a way to identify myself boldly with Christ, express spiritual feelings outwardly, bless and be blessed, and separate myself from heretical versions of the faith. History and Christian tradition may have provided the answer. What do you think?

-Ben 1/23/14

If this sign were not applied to the forehead of believers, or to the water with which they are regenerated, or to the chrism oil with which they are anointed, or to the sacrifice by which they are nourished, none of these would be as perfect as they should be.”
–St. Augustine

Das Boot Movie Review

In an effort to direct my writing into lighter subjects, I will try my hand at movie reviews, hearkening back to a film appreciation class that I took in college. Since everybody else on the internet has the new releases pretty well covered, I prefer to uncover the lesser known movies that are noteworthy to me, and the first is Das Boot, from 1981, directed by Wolfgang Peterson. It is the story of a German submarine (“the boat”) and its crew in the north Atlantic during World War II. German submarines (U-Boats) had been extremely effective in destroying Allied shipping for the first couple years of the war, but the tide was turning in 1941, and our U-Boat crew is caught in the middle.

It is easy to look at this movie as just another war movie, but I believe that would be a mistake. Let me explain why. First of all, aside from the fact that these men are in a war, killing and being killed, there is a sense that these boys are putting out to sea in a way that young men have done for thousands of years. Times change, but the sea is always the same. Wolfgang Peterson did an excellent job of portraying the sea in a wild and menacing way, and in the same way that World War I pilots had a greater connection to the sky in their open cockpits than their modern supersonic brethren, the men on a World War II submarine had a connection with the ocean that their nuclear descendants are isolated from now. These guys are constantly soaked, and thrown around by the ocean. The submarine begins groaning and creaking when they go too deep. Technology of the time was indeed amazing, but it was nowhere near perfected. Because of the ominous presence of the ocean all around, you cannot help but appreciate the design and construction of the wonderful machine that keeps the men alive against all odds.

This movie is one of my favorite kinds of movie: men in their machine in a crazy adventure against the odds. Think Apollo 13, Memphis Belle, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Island at the Top of the World, Serenity, and Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon in Star Wars. You develop an appreciation for the submarine similar to what the crew must be feeling as they survive one scrape after another. Every bolt that holds, and every pump that works is cause for rejoicing, and no one can deny that the Germans make quality machines. The version of the movie that I have is the 209 minute-long director’s cut, so by the end I am quite familiar with the interior of that boat, and am also longing to see land once again…

The 1980s were a fun decade for movies, but this movie is not exactly fun. What it is, however, is extremely well-made. The ’80s saw the epitome of pre-CG movie making. In other words, it looks very real, but you know you’re not just looking at a bunch of computer graphics. It actually took real work. Real water, and real explosions. It does not have that soulless fake feeling that so many action movies have today. With about $15 million dollars to work with, a new sub was built to the original specifications, along with scaled-down sea-worthy models for underwater shots. But, you may ask, another submarine movie? It is easy to take submarine movies for granted if, like me, you grew up with U-571, The Hunt for Red October, etc. But pause and reflect that this movie came out before many of the submarine movies that we have seen. It does stand well on its own, but it helps to remember the originality involved. It almost seems as though they started cranking out the other movies after this one made the genre popular. It would be more fair to compare Das Boot with an old-fashioned classic like Destination Tokyo.

Realism was a high priority with this movie, and Peterson insisted on filming within the confines of the sub, instead of removing a side to give the film crews plenty of space. To the observant audience-member, the directing is superb considering the challenges. One aspect that I found particularly impressive was the scenes that involved the crew running to the front of the sub when a fast dive was needed (to put the weight forward), and the director was able to record the fast-paced tumult with a precise artistry.

What about the characters? I must say that the captain, played by Jürgen Prochnow, is an amazing character. He exemplifies the intense professional, disillusioned yet determined. As the men appear to age during the voyage, many acquiring beards to match their newfound maturity as veterans, the captain only seems to appear more intense and naturally suited to his role. He is like a sea captain of old. The men begin apparently as boys, but they quickly get a baptism by the fire of combat, and we watch as they become more haggard and yet more efficient at their jobs. We follow the innocent war correspondent, as he faces the reality of war, and the die-hard Nazi officer, who sees the damage caused by his ideology. There’s the diesel mechanic who dotes over his engines, and the sailor who writes letters that he cannot mail. Characters like these bring the human element into the emotional telling of this story.

This movie is a great study in leadership and camaraderie.

There is another element to this that must be mentioned: sound. Especially in the director’s cut DVD, the movie-makers went out of their way to create a realistic perception of the terror you would have felt inside a steel tube hundreds of feet below the waves, as the ships above do all they can to kill you. Every click, every creak could be the last sound you hear before the ocean swallows you in one gulp. The German U-Boats owned the seas early in the war, but soon it was the hunters who were being hunted.

By the way, the movie is almost entirely in German. This might be the last straw for pampered American movie-goers, but for those of you who are still reading, I’m sure we can all agree how cool this is. I personally wish that more historical movies were done in their original language. It might be the history buff in me talking, but it lends a certain authenticity that makes a movie more believable. If you agree with these sentiments, you probably would also appreciate The Lives of Others, Apocalypto, and Joyeux Noel. And, if you’re wanting to brush up on your German language skills, Das Boot is perfect for the task.

In some ways, we can sympathize with the Germans in the sense that these were young men who answered their country’s call to arms. It would have been better if the war had not happened at all, and this movie’s overall message is powerful in that respect. The futility of war is shown on the faces of the men who are sent to die in it.

-Ben 11/17/13

Five Outstanding Combat Memoirs

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell was written before the recent slew of Navy SEAL books that have come out since bin Laden was killed. This book is the real thing. Luttrell gives fascinating insight into the training that SEALs endure and what it takes to fight and win modern wars. This book is practically guaranteed to bring you to tears, and keep you on the edge of your seat as Luttrell and his fellow warriors face vicious combat in the mountains of Afghanistan. He describes how fighting the Taliban is made more difficult by politicians, malicious media, and fickle public opinion, but he also describes the priceless value of close family, friends, and brother warriors. The combat is intense, the losses are heartbreaking, the determination is inspiring, and the lessons are invaluable. This is the best memoir of 21st century warfare that I have yet read.

To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace by Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson tells the thrilling experiences of a man who flew a P-51 Mustang over Europe in WWII, and went on to become a test pilot and even fly missions over Vietnam. We get to feel the thrill and terror of a young pilot taking part in legendary air battles. Chuck Yeager, his fellow pilot, called Anderson a “mongoose” in an airplane, and “vicious” even though he was such a nice guy on the ground. The life of a fighter pilot with the experiences that Anderson had would be interesting either way, but he puts energy to his writing that makes the book all the more enjoyable. Because his career spanned such a broad timeframe, we also get insight into decades-worth of American military aviation development and tactics. As a person who is very interested in the role of airpower in war, I can say that this is the best all-around combat pilot’s memoir that I have read.

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge gives us a glimpse of the fighting conditions experienced by the Marines in the Pacific theater of WWII. He started out learning from the “old breed” of Marines, but gradually became a battle-hardened veteran in an environment where sanity was difficult to maintain. The Japanese were a savage adversary, and often fought to the bitter end from their island entrenchments. From a critical lack of water in the sweltering heat, to staring at the same grinning corpse day after day, Sledge’s experiences were effectively and hauntingly put on paper to help us remember what our veterans went through. The less-serious moments balance this powerful account well, and help to make it one of the undisputed classics of war. As far as I’m concerned, Sledge describes the most difficult and horrific fighting conditions of any combat memoir I’ve read.

Seven Roads to Hell: A Screaming Eagle at Bastogne by Donald R. Burgett is nearly unbelievable because there are so many stories in the book that are simply incredible. The 101st Airborne, more specifically Burgett and the guys he fought with, were among America’s premier fighting men in WWII. They were the best, and they knew it. At times I was almost feeling sorry for the Germans, because the “screaming eagles” were such aggressive warriors. Burgett described intense warfare, where audacity and training made up for many disadvantages. These young guys were cold killers, and they took the fight to the enemy. All four of Burgett’s memoirs from WWII are classics, but this one about Bastogne, where the 101st Airborne held out and fought hard despite being surrounded and freezing, is to-date the overall best combat memoir I have ever read.

I Rode with Stonewall: the War Experiences of the Youngest Member of Jackson’s Staff by Henry Kyd Douglas is not only a first-hand account of the entire length of the American Civil War by a soldier from the South, and insight into one of the greatest American generals to ever live, it is also an action-packed account of combat from that era (which can be extremely rare to find). In this case, truth is indeed more interesting than fiction. We get a unique perspective of “Stonewall” Jackson, from him sleeping in church to his amazing battlefield accomplishments, along with a fresh perspective of many Southern generals who together made up the most formidable group of tacticians in that war. We see a human side to these guys when normally accounts of these men and their battles can seem quite dry to us 150 years later. Douglas is an interesting character in his own right with plenty of experiences and a Southern perspective that has helped to balance my own impressions of the conflict. Of all of the combat memoirs I’ve read, this one is perhaps the most fascinating, and is sure to be a pleasant surprise to most any person interested in the Civil War.

What combat memoirs would you recommend?

-Ben 8/25/13