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Homer Lea: American Soldier of Fortune (American Warrior Series) Hardcover – September 15, 2010
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""The story of Homer Lea's involvement and adventures with Chinese reformers and revolutionaries both in the United States and China in the early-twentieth-century could come directly from a modern novel of international intrigue."―John T. Greenwood, editor of Normandy to Victory: The War Diary of General Courtney H. Hodges and the First U.S. Army"
"What we knew hitherto about the self-proclaimed 'General,' Homer Lea, was based on a jumble of often contradictory or problematic sources. Lawrence Kaplan cuts through the myths and offers a coherent and convincing analysis of Lea's actual connections with Chinese reformers and his role in the training of Chinese military cadets in the United States over a century ago. An intriguing tale."―Jonathan Spence, author of The Search for Modern China"
"An excellent biography of a largely forgotten extraordinary man. Despite ill health throughout his 35 years, Lea served briefly as a general in the Chinese Army and was Sun Yat Sen's military advisor. He became famous because of his book in 1909 about a future war with the United States that Japan would initiate with a surprise attack. Three years later, in another book, he predicted that Germany and Russia would be major threats to Britain and the United States. His fascinating life is well told in this biography."―Mac Coffman, author of The War to End All Wars"
"The five-foot-three-inch hunchback who only weighed 100 pounds and dropped out of Stanford College managed to convince high-ranking Chinese officials that he was not only a military expert but also the relative of the famous Confederate General Robert E. Lee. With his proclamation he found himself poised on the brink of immense change in the Chinese government."―Military Review"
"A full biography of a . . . western military dreamer with grand designs for China."―Diplomat & International Canada"
"An extraordinary contribution to the history of American-Chinese relations and the book belongs to libraries worldwide."―Center for Research of Geopolitics"
"This book is probably as thorough a recounting of Lea's life as there will ever be."―Journal of America's Military Past"
"His documentation is thorough, and he supplements the text with unique and supporting color plates from both family and personal collections."―Military Review"
"An interesting, sometimes, amusing read, Homer Lea is particularly valuable in reminding us that clandestine international political networks and military organizations are not new developments."―NYMAS"
""Now largely forgotten, Homer Lea, from the late 1890s until his death in 1912 at a few days short of age 36, played a significant role in China's access to the highest political circles on three continents and responsibility for recruiting and training some 2,000 young Chinese-American men to serve as officers for the cause."―New York Military Affairs Symposium Review"
"Kaplan has undertaken a difficult task, well accomplished, in reconstructing a biography of a figure who was controversial while living and continued to be after his death. This book will be of value to those whose interests are in the areas of Sino-American relations, American adventurers, or the events leading to the Pacific War."―Journal of Military History
""An excellent biography of a largely forgotten extraordinary man. Despite ill health throughout his 35 years, Lea served briefly as a general in the Chinese Army and was Sun Yat Sen's military advisor. He became famous because of his book in 1909 about a future war with the United States that Japan would initiate with a surprise attack. Three years later, in another book, he predicted that Germany and Russia would be major threats to Britain and the United States. His fascinating life is well told in this biography." -- Mac Coffman, author of The War to End All Wars" --
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My interest began when I was given his two most famous books by my father, The Valor of Ignorance, his most famous work, where Lea predicted the coming conflict with the Japanese that had insights, strategies and tactics that the Japanese actually used. And The Day of the Saxon, his Darwinist treatise on the survival of cultures and the degeneration of the society. His real life exploits seem to fall far short of the filibuster reputation he so desperately sought, and which he did much to dishonestly create with the public. It is more applicable to Fredrick Townsend Ward, an earlier successful American filibuster in China during the Taiping Rebellion.
His life was an enigma that prevents the author from completely fleshing out the subject. No fault of the author as most of the subjects papers were destroyed and unavailable. Some things were carefully reconstructed by the author and he does give a portrait of Lea that is sufficient enough to be both interesting, truly objective and, as far as can be ascertained, accurate.
A Stanford dropout, Chinese General and self taught military strategist, Lea was clearly brilliant and the some. His works inspired great admiration in military circles among the highest commanders, American, English, German and Japanese. Obviously with these bona fides, his military intellect is the one thing about Lea that is clearly provable. His admirers included Billy Mitchell, the Army Air Corps commander of WWI and predictor of Pearl Harbor.
The one true weakness of the work is it's shortcoming in fleshing out the era in which these events occurred. Although he does discuss the era, much of what would be useful is missing from this work. One interesting lapse in research was his attributing to Charles Gordon, the success of the Ever Victorious Army, where Gordon really followed what Fredrick Ward (read Devil Soldier) had built, even to adopting Ward's affectation of carrying a swagger stick into combat instead of a weapon. It would have made a fascinating comparison to look at Lea's attempt to train Chinese soldiers in modern warfare to the training conducted by Ward a half century earlier; the problems, adaptations, successes and failures.
The ability of Lea to succeed with people of power in an era of great prejudice and persecution of the "Yellow Peril" is on superficially addressed. Although he does discuss the Exclusionary Laws, he doesn't address the clear dichotomy created between the support he got and the attitude of the public toward Asians. It would have been greatly improved by using the methods of J. Anthony Lucas in his great historical work Big Trouble. A more detailed account of the era would have enriched this book and allowed the neophyte to better understand the era, implications and consequences.
As it is, this is an important work that finally puts together all the material available on Lea from disparate sources, some of which weren't available until the author sought and found undiscovered writings. For his efforts, the author is to be congratulated and praised, and I hope it will be the basis for a more thorough look later.
In the meantime, for those interested in the birth of modern China and one of the most unusual, brilliant and eccentric personalities affecting it's beginnings, and American attitudes, this biography is a good read and well worth the time. All works that follow must build on this excellent work and it will be footnoted in all subsequent works.