Six Days of War

When I read Michael B. Oren’s Power, Faith and Fantasy (PF&F)  in the fall of 2007, I never imagined I’d have such motivation to read his earlier work, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. What a gripping and humane military history.  Oren is such a good writer that critics now hold this title up as the exemplar of what other history books about Israel should be (I’m trying to find an Oren-like book on the Yom Kippur War and it’s looking grim).

Six Days of War begins with a chapter on the context of the war covering the regional players from 1948 to 1966.  The next three chapters cover catalysts to the war, the crisis in May and the final few days before the war.  These last three chapters in particular were fascinating.  Prior to reading this, I  had no idea about the political turmoil and intrigue related to determining the buildup towards the war and then the decisions that led Israel to strike first.  Next, Oren devotes a  separate chapter to each day of the war.  These days are amazing.  From the complete domination of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) during the first days (hours really) to the painful losses on both sides during the middle days to the agonizing tension between the world’s desire for a cease-fire and Israel’s desire to achieve maximum effect before ending the war, Oren provides the reader a chance to experience all of the pain, tragedy and joy of the war.  The last regular chapter covers the immediate aftershocks of the war.  Following an afterword written in 2002, the book ends with a conversation with Oren led by Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins’ SAIS.

Oren’s work is extensively referenced (from Hebrew, English, Arabic and Russian sources) and includes a sufficient number of maps to help the reader follow the action and understand the geography of the war.  This title is more than just a war history though.  Oren spends a lot of time explaining the internal politics of Israel, Egypt and Jordan in particular and the broader Arab and Muslim communities at large.  On top of that, the reader receives a very interesting look into the White House and the UN.

I highly recommend Oren’s work for anyone interested in learning more about the history and nature of the Middle East Conflict, with the caveat that reading it  may change the way you think about several countries (including your own) and their role in our search for peace.

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