Why do men fight, and why are they willing to continue to fight to the last man, preferring death to surrender? T. E. Lawrence said men go to war “because the women were watching.” According to Michael Walsh, in his new book, Lawrence’s answer holds more truth than irony. Men fight for their families.
Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All is Lost, by Michael Walsh, investigates the last man phenomena. It explores why men fight, and why they are willing to continue fighting even when they know they will lose.
Walsh examines history through the lens of combat, starting with the Ancient Greek Battle of Thermopylae and continuing through the Marine retreat from the Chosin Reservoir in the Twentieth Century. In thirteen chapters he explores sixteen last-stand battles. In some, including Thermopylae, Masada, and the Alamo, the defenders lost and died almost to the last man. In others, like Rorke’s Drift and the Battle of Pavlov’s House at Stalingrad, defenders triumphed against terrible odds.
Some battles such as Custer’s Last Stand and the Battle of Hastings, are famous. Others, including the Last Stand of the Swiss Guard in 1527 and the Siege of Szigetvár are obscure. A few are surprising. Shiloh is not thought of as a last stand battle. Walsh includes it, making a convincing case for its inclusion.
Sometimes, as at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the fighters exercise a choice of how to die. The Warsaw Jews knew Nazis were going to kill them. They decided to taking as many Nazis with them as they could. At Teutoburg Forest and Rorke’s Drift, defenders fought knowing surrender would not be accepted. In others, like Masada they refused to live under the rule of their conquerors.
More often, as at Szigetvár Shiloh, or Chosin, the last stands were efforts to buy time. In some, most notably the French Foreign Legion at Cameron or the Swiss Guard defending Pope Julius II, they fought preferring death before the dishonor and surrender.
Walsh believes unless there is something worth dying for there is nothing worth living for. He is an unabashed defender of physical courage, manliness, and the superiority of Western culture and civilization. Those triggered by that should avoid this book. For those willing to consider ideas outside their comfort zone, and especially those seeing reasons to support physical courage, manliness, and Western culture, Last Stands is a book worth reading.
“Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All is Lost,” by Michael Walsh, St. Martin’s Press, 2020, 368 pages, $28.99 (hardcover), $14.99 (e-book), $15.99 (audio book)
*Mark Lardas is an engineer, freelance writer, historian and model-maker living in Texas. Mark posts on Ricochet as “Seawriter,” and is well-known for his regular and much appreciated reviews of books on all subjects. Of his reviews, he says “I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review.” His website is marklardas.com