27 December 2006

Woodrow Wilson and the American Way of War, Part 2

For the second part of this ongoing series, I'd like to look at the second half of the title, "the American Way of War". Without doubt, all foreign wars in the history of the United States between 1783 and 1917 generated serious opposition among Americans. You don't have to look hard:

War of 1812: The Hartford Convention threatens the secession of the New England states.

Mexican-American War: This fellow made a name for himself as an opponent of the war, but he represented the views of a couple more key party associates. See documents 1 and 10 here.

Spanish-American War: Support for this relatively popular war demanded Congressional legislation that formally renounced any intention to annex Cuba. The war might have proved less popular without it. The legacy of the war, the annexation of the Philippines, was a different matter.

Even after 1918, the only near-universally supported foreign wars are the Second World War and the Korean War. (Although I wonder if the latter had lasted one more year whether serious opposition to it might have arisen. There's a sort of four-year rule related to American involvement in war.)

26 December 2006

Woodrow Wilson and the American Way of War, Part 1

I've been involved in a debate over Woodrow Wilson and America's enthusiasm for war in 1914-18, that has absorbed a lot of my blogging energy. I'd like to rehash the debate here, if only to clarify my own thoughts a little. What I would call the Conventional Interpretation goes something like as follows:
During 1914-16, the vast majority of Americans wanted to stay out of the war, as did Wilson. He genuinely thought he could do so, and was very lukewarm toward the Preparedness Movement. Wilson's patient efforts at trying to solve things by diplomacy rather than war continued even after the Lusitania sinking, efficient Allied propaganda within the USA, actual German "atrocities" like Edith Cavell shooting, German sabotage in America, and the Zimmermann Telegram had certainly convinced the vast majority of Americans that war was now the only option. Once Wilson had decided war was inevitable after the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans in February 1917, he was able to carry with him an (almost) united nation.

My debate is with the underlined portion. I'm not convinced the evidence that the vast majority of Americans thought war was the only option. My reading of the evidence is that most Americans remained unwilling participants in the war, but that they went along with government policy because that's what they do. The idea that there was a strong anti-war movement that possibly reflected a plurality passively opposed to the war just doesn't fit with our National Myth of America's progress to Superpower Status, which replaced our original, more isolationist, National Myth. I'll publish what I've found over the next few days, together with any new stuff I uncover as well.

11 December 2006

The New Galley Warfare?

I've always been interested in galley warfare, more than any other kind of naval warfare. During the confirmation hearings of Robert Gates to be the new Secretary of Defense, my ears pricked up when I heard him refer to the Littoral Combat Vessel. Now, if you take a map of a sea area, and superimpose a grid on it of some defined area - one mile squares for example - you can quickly see where littorals arise. I once did it for southern England and Wales, and basically there are three large areas, in the mouth of the Thames the Solent and in the Bristol Channel. Smaller areas can be found around Poole, and the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall. However, in the Mediterranean, especially around Greece and Asia Minor, there are lots. Thus, galley warfare could be thought of as another name for littoral warfare.

The first ship of this type, the USS Freedom (LCS 1) was launched on 23 September 2006 at its builder in Wisconsin. It displaces 3,000 tonnes, on a length of 377 feet, which is bigger than a J-class destroyer of the Royal Navy during the Second World War. These seem to be more of a sea control ship in narrow waters than actually reflecting the nature of combat in a littoral area.

A galley in the Mediterranean was predominantly a means of delivering fighting men. While some fleets, notably the Athenians and Carthaginians, relied on maneuver to ram and sink enemy vessls, boarding and capturing tactics were far more common throughout history. (Click on the link for "The Agony of War Under Oars" for a good description of Athenian galley tactics in the context of the crew's experience.) Furthermore, what is often overlooked is that galleys are effectively amphibious warfare ships. Their large crews can easily take up arms and fight ashore, in a relatively short space of time. Guilmartin's book Gunpowder and Galleys highlights this, and I view the Periclean strategy in the Peloponnesian wars as one to be analysed in terms of amphibious warfare, not sea control.

To move toward a galley model, the Littoral Combat Vessel needs support from something more like a floating armored personnel carrier or even an armoured cross-Channel roll-on, roll-off ferry. This would imply a heavy dual-purpose gun armament (firing both armor-piercing and high-explosive) or rocket artillery and the ability to carry a large number of men, such as a platoon or even a company of marines. Given the likely scenarios of naval combat facing the US Navy in the foreseeable future, this seems an interesting avenue for further prototypes to explore.

08 December 2006

Vietnam Study Group

The recent publication of the Iraq Study Group report has drawn parallels with the famous conclave of "wise men" to advise President Lyndon Johnson on his Vietnam policy around the time of the 1968 Tet offensive.

Johnson had been making use of a circle of non-administration foreign policy advisors for some time. A "Vietnam Panel" met on 8 July 1965 and offered an assessment of future policy. The most famous such meeting was held under state department auspices in November 1967 (document 377). However, at a subsequent meeting in March 1968 (document 142), it appears as if Johnson has lost confidence in the "wise men" approach. It's not clear if the comment referring to it being "a mistake to get a new super-Presidential board" should be attributed to him or to Dean Acheson (or maybe both). Twelve days later, Johnson made his dramatic announcement that he would not seek re-election.

06 December 2006


This is news is a little old, but a museum about America's experience in the First World War has opened in Kansas City. I'm hoping to attend a conference in St Louis next summer, so maybe I can convince the family to make the relatively short drive up to Kansas City to take a look. I've always been a little disappointed that the Great War is a relatively low profile conflict in the United States. More than the Second World War, the First World War created America the Superpower, although the fact that American politicians retreated into unilateralism almost immediately after the war's end kind of hid that. As we approach the centenary of this conflict, I hope Americans will notice the important role the war played in the destiny of our country.

04 December 2006

Tube Alloy Targets

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has declared that British possession of strategic nuclear weapons is crucial for long-term national strategic interests. The problem is that the British nuclear deterrent has never been truly independent. Originally both British and American atomic weapons were subject to one another's veto, under the terms of the 1943 Quebec Agreement on Tube Alloys. (Tube alloys was the term used to conceal the true nature of the Manhattan Project.) However, a combination of American legislation and straitened British economic circumstance put paid to any independent tube alloy ambitions for the British armed forces. The matter wasn't really of any significance until after the U.S. Air Force had based its strategic bombers in Britain again in July 1948, and both America and Britain were fighting together once again, in the Korean peninsula, after the North Korean invasion in June 1950. The National Security Archive at George Washington University has published a series of documents about the relationship between American nuclear weapons and British governments.

Britain's first atomic deterrent, a bomb delivered by an aircraft, entered service in November 1953. By this stage, NATO had come into existence, and in the circumstances targets for British weapons were likely to be determined by the alliance's command, a situation that was formalized in 1962 by the Athens Guidelines, paragraph 5. Thus, the concept of an independent British nuclear deterrent has always been more of a de jure than a de facto one.

01 December 2006

Bomber uncovered

A Halifax bomber, crewed by Canadians and Britons and shot down in August 1944, has been uncovered in Poland. The Polish project leader comments that only two Handley-Page Halifax bombers on display in the world. One of them is in Trenton, Ontario, coincidentally the first place in North America I stopped at during my last trip there in 2005. I didn't visit the Royal Canadian Air Force Museum there, owing to arriving late in the day and having to leave early en route to Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Halifax is a prized possesion, and you can find details about it (and about the museum if you follow round the links) here.

29 November 2006

Persian Gulf Games

The Iranian armed forces held war games recently designed to show exactly what they could do in case of an American attack. Naturally, their potential is painted in the best light possible, but they have experience of how to attack Gulf shipping. It shouldn't be forgotten that the Gulf was the setting for a three-cornered conflict involving Iraq, Iran, and the United States in the past. One element of this was the so-called Tanker War, which was in part what led to American naval intervention. The Air Combat Information Group has a chronological chart showing known attacks on shipping during the whole of the Iran-Iraq war here.

25 November 2006

The Horror, The Horror!

Congo (Zaire, if you're my age) is in the news again for the wrong reasons. The recent election there has simply resulted in objections from the loser. The contrast with the relatively civil response of Americans to 2000 is something that should give pause to those who freely blame the rich nations and imperialism for all the ills that afflict Africa. If you want some background about an earlier revolt, one that led to European intervention, the U.S. Army offers an essay here.

23 November 2006

India 1857-8

In terms of the English-language press, the rebellion in India in 1857-8, which brought together Sepoys and key figures in the traditional native ruling class, has not been a popular subject. It doesn't have much appeal to Americans, who think of different kinds of Indians, and the British tended to ignore it, possibly out of some kind of collective guilt. William Darymple's recent book has been doing well in Britain, possibly because it has accessed the Indian archives, and given a more rounded picture than British readers are used to. However, it was not always so, as this interesting essay explains.

21 November 2006

Leyte Gulf

Evan Thomas's book on the battle of Leyte Gulf is doing well. And there's all sorts of stuff on the web about the battle. Here's a lost-in-action report. Or you can visit the excellent Combined Fleet site to read an in-depth attempt to establish who got sunk first.

20 November 2006

Norway Debate

Leo Amery: Does the Prime Minister concede that our intervention in Norway has been pretty much a disaster so far?
Rt Hon. Neville Chamberlain: It has, but you see what I say to people is why is it difficult in Norway?

Well, not really. I've actually played around with Tony Blair’s recent comments on the al-Jazeera network in an interview, inviting comparisons with the famous wartime Norway Debate that led to the resignation of Neville Chamberlain and his replacement by Winston Churchill. Sadly, the relevant Hansard is not available on-line, at least not that I've been able to find. Something for a scholar-squirrel to dig up and post?

I can't think of any remark that has been so close to public relations disaster by a serving government official short of Gerald Ford's famous comment in his debate during the 1976 presidential election that suggested Poland was not under Soviet control. I don't follow Blair's pronouncements that closely, but I've always had the impression that he likes to reach out to his audience and make them identify himself as one of them. I imagine he thought al-Jazeera's viewers would be unsympathetic to his Iraq policy, and might consider it a disaster. But he let his guard down, and now appears stupid.

You can also read a recent parliamentary debate on British involvement in Iraq here. It is a far cry from a Norway debate, but Blair might have been looking a little Chamberlain-like had he not already agreed to stand down during the next year.

30 October 2006

Sniper books

A Scottish newspaper reports that Iraqi resistance fighters are apparently using American sniper techniques in their war against the new Iraqi government and its American allies. While it is easy to single out the book mentioned by the newspaper, there are plenty of choices available for a potential sniper to browse among en route to getting a sniper's textbook. When I worked for one publisher, I remember well the horror of the editor who worked on this example. She was upset by the callous tone, and who could blame her?

Teeth and tails

It seems the Iraqi army is seriously lacking in the military "tail". The latest audit (06-032) from the Special Inspector General in Iraq, General Stuart W. Bowen to Congress reportedly finds the Iraqi army lacking in medical personnel and soldiers capable of keeping trucks on the road. These are the kind of "technical" troops that often seem to be lacking in the armies of what one used to refer to as the Third World, possibly because they can make more money in the private sector, or even emigrate. They also don't look so impressive on parade through the streets of the capital.

The mechanics, in particular, are vital to armies heavily reliant on road transport for supply. Imagine a heap of ammunition arriving at Basra. Road may be the best way to get it up country to the Sunni triangle. One can spot a tempting business opportunity for a company offering mercenary services, but how many of any imported car mechanics are going to get shot at or kidnapped by the Iraqi resistance

29 October 2006

War Memory

A lack of posts has been due to work and a vacation in Belgium. The first night I went to the Menin Gate and watched the Last Post ceremony. Unlike many, I didn't find it particularly moving, but I was struck almost dumb by the Menin Gate itself, with its long list of the missing. The Last Post tradition began the year following the the inauguration of the memorial. I found myself struck once again by how the impact that the First World War had on Britain and the Dominions resembles the sense of loss Americans acquired after the Civil War. I found myself wondering if the original solemnity of Decoration Day served as an inspiration for the obsequies for the First World War dead.

11 October 2006

Meaningful dates

While I spotted a couple of comments about yesterday being the anniversary of the battle of Tours, it also being the anniversay of the battle of Kerbala went unremarked in my very Western environment. For those who don't understand statistical coincidence, all this might seem very providential. However, my empirical observations have led me to conclude battles cluster at certain points in the seasons, even acdross the very different climates of Western Europe and the Middle East. And not necessarily where one might think.

09 October 2006


North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon. The "nuclear club" at one time included South Africa. You can find out more about their experience as a nuclear power here.

28 September 2006

Studying War

I always enjoy finding college course descriptions with reading lists on the Internet. Professor Mark Grimsley has put one of his own on his Web site. You can also find the MIT course on War & American Society. The latter is more a cultural course than a military course, but the selection of films required for viewing represent an interesting cross-section of different approaches to explaining war.

27 September 2006

The American Way of War

Major General John Batiste was interviewed by the Rochester City-News. In the interview, he says: "we need to mobilize this country for a protracted war. This country has never been mobilized. We are fat, dumb, and happy."

What I find myself wondering is, in how many American wars was the country actually mobilized? The Revolutionary War, maybe. I don't think the War of 1812 saw the mobilization of America. Mexican War? Don't think so. Spanish-American War? Definitely not. Korea and Vietnam? Nope. The American Civil War, and the World Wars were the only conflicts where I'm confident in asserting that the United States mobilized its war-making powers. The rest were certainly paid for by Congressional appropriations, but that's not the same thing as General Batiste is talking about.

25 September 2006

Problems with Military History

I just noticed this post at Civil War Bookshelf. Dmitri Rotov's problems with a book on the Teutonic Knights reminded me of how ancient military history is riddled with problems of limited sources to describe events. Donald Kagan's traditional account of the Periclean strategy for the Peloponnesian War is a case in point. He overlooks some questions related to logistics because he restricts himself to written sources such as Pericles' speeches in Thucydides rather than getting out a map and trying to solve military and nautical problems. In the absence of sufficient written resources, sometimes we have to play general (or admiral).

Holier than Whom?

The U.S. Army is critically compared with the British Army of imperial days in The Sunday Times of London. According to the article, the American soldier pledges an oath that he will destroy his country's enemies. Andrew Garfield, a former British military intelligence officer, currently at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, has written a report suggesting, yet again, that British soldiers are somehow more sophisticated and flexible at dealing with the kind of counter-insurgency campaign that confronts the American army in Iraq. This was also a myth peddled during the Vietnam War, which the British often compare unfavorably with their efforts during the Malayan Emergency. The fact that the British counter-insurgency methods during the Emergency were employed to some extent in Vietnam (as detailed in Stanley Karnow's book), is never mentioned because it would undermine the British Army's heartfelt belief that it is a superior force to the American one. (You'll have to take my word for that, based on conversations with various British military writers I've had over the years.)

The journalist writing for The Sunday Times seems to have misinterpreted the report, which specifically refers to the British Army's post-imperial experience in "nation-building", by implying this was common throughout British imperial history. I've found that the British were involved in constructing railroads in Bengal, but I haven't found any other reference to British imperial civil engineering easily. I'm not saying I don't believe Sarah Baxter. I am saying that the Internet isn't publicizing it yet, suggesting that there's a touch of preaching to the choir in the British establishment's traditionally patronizing tone toward the USA.

Censorship at War

Everyone knows how the World Wide Web makes censorship a little more difficult, and it appears that some harsh views about the RAF in Afghanistan have leaked through. The many blogs about the current wars being fought in the Middle East have drawn much comment in the press, but one has to wonder how armed forces are considering dealing with the matter. When one remembers that even letters home have regularly been censored by armed forces in the past, we ought to read these "war blogs" with more circumspection.

22 September 2006

Catching Up

The long hiatus has been a consequence of two factors: The hard disk on one of my computers died, while I was trying to finish the manuscript of my latest book, Chronicle of War, due to be published in time for Christmas by Carlton Books.

During the time, I've been keeping on eye on events, and thinking about them in historical context. One of the most interesting to me has been the recent concerns over NATO troop levels in Afghanistan. This has also come back into the news recently. Adding up the two figures gives a total of 41,000 NATO and American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.

Here's a question for you: How many soldiers did the Soviet Union keep in Afghanistan during their ten-year war from 1979 until 1989? Well, it varied, but rarely dropped below 100,000, and peaked around 140,000. In their original estimates, the Red Army reckoned that 30-35 divisions would be required to subjugate the country. Once you add logistical support troops, that's looking at an army approaching 500,000. You can find one examination of supply problems in Afghanistan here.

Now we know that the NATO contingent in Afghanistan is only fighting half (if that) as many angry Afghan factions as the Red Army faced, but that still means a lot larger force is required if any value is to be attached to Soviet analysis of the operatonal problem.

15 August 2006

The Future is the Imperfect Past

Delays and cost overruns are affecting the U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems. I first became aware of these when I was asked to prepare some sample spreads for a book about 21st century warfare. The idea never sold, and I had forgotten about it.

However, I found this quote reminded me of something:
...the Army has been developing a new generation of tanks that is supposed to be faster and more maneuverable, but will have far less armor than many battle tanks of the past quarter century. That idea has already been thrown into doubt by the devastating effectiveness of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs in Iraq.

The Sherman tank was noted for its propensity to burn when hit, but the real problem was the lack of armour. The Sherman was kept relatively lightly armoured because American planners knew that more than likely it would have to be shipped overseas, and thicker armour equals a heavier weight and fewer tanks per shipload. Furthermore, American tank doctrine of the Second World War envisaged a mobile role for tanks. Enemy tanks were to be engaged by tank destroyers.

It seems the M1 Abrams may represent an evolutionary dead-end for the U.S. Army. It was designed for the anticipated tank vs tank engagements on a narrow front along the Inner German Border, which actually was historically uncharacteristic of U.S. armoured doctrine. We're looking at a future for the armoured forces the way Himself might have envisioned it.

12 August 2006

What kind of conflict?

One of the facts selected for heavy emphasis in the recent transatlantic air plot was that the alleged plotters were one and all British subjects. Whether the conflict between Britain and al-Qaeda is a war or not is an interesting question, in this context. Of course, siding with the enemy of one's country in war is one of the classic examples of treason, as specified in a longstanding English statute.

In previous conflicts, the British state has had to cope with a similar situation to today, in having a a large pool of potential enemy sympathizers. Perhaps one parallel is the treatment of Oswald Mosley and his fascists in 1939. But perhaps one must look elsewhere for a better parallel. We need an internationally recognized regime, confronted in war by an extra-territorial organization, that is liable to recruit combatants from citizen-sympathizers, who may receive support from an external quasi-military formation: This parallel involves "the trials of 135,000 French people, the internment of 70,000 `enemies of the state', the complicity of the French police and the Milice in suppressing resistance" (quoted from here). It's not really a pretty picture, and is another of the many reasons for ordinary people, who will suffer most on a daily basis, not to enter into war eagerly.

11 August 2006

The New Frontier of War History

Most readers of war books are driven, at least in part, by a desire to know what it was like. How many of these people will stick with books in this Internet Age when you can watch it like any footage on the History Channel? And where will this leave future historians, wanting to find some War Against Terror equivalent of the letters that can make wars like the American Civil War so poignant?

05 August 2006

Propaganda, Old and New

I came across this article, which possessed this amazing quote:
In this decade, these Shiite mullahs...reached across the world to forge close military ties with nuclear-armed Asian states like North Korea and oil-rich enemies to our south like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.

The clause after the ellipsis is at the end of a laundry list of hostile acts directed by Iran against the United States, dating back to 1979. Apart from its paranoid association of natural rivals al-Qaeda and the Shia clergy, this linking of Hugo Chavez with Islamic militants as "close military allies" beggars belief. In some quarters of the United States' media, a kind of wartime paranoia has taken hold, and material like this can be dismissed entirely as propaganda, as opposed to the reasoned analysis it purports to be.
The shrill tones of this kind of propaganda do shame to an art that at its best achieves an understated elegance. While President Chavez has certainly made no secret of wanting closer commercial ties with Iran, that's not the same thing as Ms Lerner asserts. Chavez and the current American administration are locked in a cold war of words, and people would do well to remember that wars, hot or cold, are known to make strange bedfellows.

30 July 2006

Mussolini Mystery

While researching my forthcoming book Chronicle of War, I was rereading the last few chapters of Christopher Hibbert's biography of the Italian dictator. I finished thinking that there was a good television docu-drama in this, or even a film, but also wondering about what had happened to the documents Mussolini was described as having selected from his archives. I wondered if his death had not been a summary execution by communists, but a murder by one of the Allies' intelligence services. Well, an Internet search today revealed my suspicions have been shared by others. Indeed, Italy's best television channel, RAI Tre, has produced a documentary exploring such suspicions. An Italian journalist, Luciano Garibaldi, has also written about his own investigations. Of course, Italy is hardly short of controversial conspiracy theories, often involving foreign intelligence organizations. And in this document, authored by one of the producers of the RAI Tre documentary, there's no mention of intelligence activities in Mussolini's death. I'll probably look into this further when I have more time.

28 July 2006

Some talk of Arachosia

Operation Mountain Thrust in southeastern Afghanistan was making a lot of headlines in the British press before the Israeli assaults on Hezbollah shoved another Middle-Eastern crisis into the foreground. As the casualties mounted, I began wondering about the more distant military history of this area of Afghanistan. In the time of Alexander the Great, the region was known as Arachosia. This region featured in the civil wars following the accession of Darius the Great to the rule of Persia in the 6th century BC. You can read a translation of an original description, all we have about this conflict, under the heading "Fighting in Arachosia" here. A contingent of Arachosians fought on the left wing of the Persian army at the battle of Gaugamela, where they attempted with the rest of their division to outflank Alexander's command. After Alexander's conquest of Central Asia, the Arachosians largely vanish from the foreground of the historial stage. Much of pre-13th-century Central Asian history seems obscure from the vantage point of this English-language reader.

27 July 2006

Free Market Military

"Security contractor" is a term I hadn't read before the occupation of Iraq in 2003 by American armed forces. Of course, that's because it's a euphemism for the more morally loaded word "mercenary". In my very first job, my manager used to stop when he was bored to give me lectures about historical or political subjects, and I vividly remember one where he said government had to keep some things under its control, such as the armed forces. I had already read about the condottieri, so I knew there were historical examples of alternatives to the "nationalized" army. I wasn't surprised, therefore, to learn that some military functions were being privatized by the American government.
Throughout history, the reputation of mercenaries has never been high. However, they were common in warfare until the nineteenth century. For historically minded Americans, mercenaries most famously took the form of the Revolutionary War's Hessians, men perceived as agents of oppression. One of the best-known mercenary companies operating in Iraq is Blackwater, although not for reasons they would appreciate. They have become the subject of a lawsuit connected with this infamous attack in Fallujah in March 2004. Currently, there's an article in a series on the company and the lawsuit running in the Virginian-Pilot online, but in my experience things don't stay long on the Virginian-Pilot's web site, so get there quick.

26 July 2006

Hot Weather Matters

The heat wave in London in the past week has distracted me from plans to write about Afghanistan, as my computers threaten to overheat if I spend too long surfing in addition to my other work. However, the weather reminds me of the role heat sometimes plays in warfare. One of the first battles that I can recall reading about in which the hot weather was significant was Monmouth Court House on 28 June 1778. The weather was certainly warm as this account makes clear. In 1976, an historian wrote a revisionist book, saying that General Charles Lee was unfairly maligned for his actions in the battle. You can find out more about the battle via the links here.

24 July 2006

Last Post at Ypres

Today is the seventy-ninth anniversary of the dedication of the Menin Gate in 1927. A ceremony has been conducted here almost every day since, the only exceptions being during Nazi occupation.

Yasukuni Visitors

Japan, German, and Italy all to a greater or lesser degree have had to cope with the consequences of defeat in the Second World War, and the discrediting of the political systems that led them into the conflict. Not one of these countries has successfully solved the problem of how to integrate the past into today's politics, but perhaps the Japanese have had the most problems. It seems Emperor Hirohito, the only Axis head of state to survive the war, had qualms about visiting the Yasukuni shrine after 1978, not shared by the current Japanese prime minister, Koizumi Junichiro.

22 July 2006

Salamanca Day

Today is the 194th anniversay of the battle of Salamanca. This battle is the one that established the reputation of the Duke of Wellington among the ranks of Great Commanders. In bygone years, titles covering the Napoleonic Wars were steady sellers. Certainly the Trafalgar bicentenary was celebrated with enthusiasm by my former employers. Now that I'm out of the business, though, I wonder if it has the same cachet? It may just be my interests lie elsewhere, but the Napoleonic Wars seem to have become a secret enthusiasm, missing the far greater publicity given to the American Civil War and the two World Wars, although no doubt the French still celebrate the Napoleonic era with proper gusto.

20 July 2006

Hero Dog Fraud?

The Imperial War Museum finds one of its exhibits has been challenged in an SAS man's memoirs. It seems the SAS man made up a story about a dog making parachute jumps, in order to keep the canine conscript from being returned to his owners. Quentin Hughes, the SAS man, died in 2004, but wrote a memoir Who Cares Who Wins in 1998. I haven't been able to establish whether it was ever actually published, and word of the hoax seems to have reached the newspapers via a "friend and colleague" named Mickey King.

19 July 2006

Understanding the Situation

The U.S. Army is now looking at Missouri during the Civil War to train platoon commanders for fighting the insurgents in Iraq. However, another American experience may be equally appropriate to the insurgency. Furthermore, from the insurgents' point of view, the war is a resistance war, a war of liberation against an occupying invader. To understand them, and to understand what their weaknesses are, it's probably worthwhile studying some of the resistance campaigns during World War II, especially in Yugoslavia and Greece, where two opposing ideologies found themselves fighting a common enemy, in the way Islamists work with secular Ba'athists in Iraq today.

18 July 2006

American Forces Network on the BBC

Radio 4 (known to me as the Home Service of the BBC) has broadcast a couple of interesting programs covering radio broadcasts to American forces in Western Europe during 1943-5. You can listen again here.

War Tourism Winners and Losers

It seems that there is money in having the right kind of war on your doorstep, as Maryland mobilizes its impressive American Civil War legacy to attract the out-of-state dollar. Let's hope there is some spinoff to help struggling writers and publishers who cover the same sort of legacy. But it does beg the question of why some wars do better than others when it comes to posterity? American Revolutionary War books don't sell in anything like the same numbers as Civil War books. The First World War, most of the time, languishes in the shadow of the Second, yet much of the current crisis in the Middle East owes its origins to the former.