Monday, 9 March 2015

Devil's Guard - George Robert Elford

Title: Devil's Guard
Author: George Robert Elford
ISBN: 978-0-440-12014-8
Publisher: Dell Publishing
Pages: 336
Photos/Maps: 0

Elford's book has become, in the opinion of many, a classic biography of a soldier engaged in asymmetric warfare. The main character, ex-Waffen SS partisanjaeger Hans Josef Wagemueller, is pro-ported to have met with the author in the far east and to have related his life story to him. The author recounts his tale, with as little change or embellishment as possible, of him leading his German troops west during the last days of the World War 2, escaping to Switzerland and ultimately joining the French Foreign Legion. The main thrust of the narrative centres upon his time with the Legion fighting in Indochina against the Viet Cong as part of an all-German battalion of veterans and his experiences there-in.

The story has generated a great deal of controversy over the years as there is no record of an all-German battalion nor of an individual named Wagemueller ever having fought as part of the Legion. Regardless of whether the story is truth or fiction really is however, beside the point as the lessons to be gleaned from it resonate either way.

Given the experiences that Western forces have had in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting asymmetric opponents, the question of what constitutes acceptable methods of executing a war has again become a central point of discussion and contention. Wagemueller's character in the book takes the position that war is, by its very nature, violent and horrible, but must be fought to win and, in order to do so, the conditions must be established and maintained whereby the side wishing to prevail does what it must to enforce its will upon the population and the enemy. It is a testament for the Real Politique approach to conflict.

Additionally, Elford's narrative translates doctrine into action as he describes through the storyline the how, what, where and why's of a unit doing what it has to in order to win. Wagemueller's character is uncompromising in his rendition of the toll that fighting to win takes upon all of the elements of society involved and, more importantly, the mental strength that soldiers must have in order to do what they have to do. Finally, and perhaps most telling, Wagemueller describes the methods by which his unit was recalled and disbanded as a result of a lack of support from the French government and population. The similarity to the impact of popular opinion on modern warfare is striking.

The story itself reads very well and is extremely engaging; the characters are presented with a human face, not enjoying what they are doing but undertaking it regardless. It is not a comfortable read and will tend to polarize its readers between those agreeing with and those appalled by the actions of the main characters. Its strength, I believe, lies in the fact that it was first published in the early 1970's during the height of the Vietnam conflict and yet, it still retains its relevance today as a means to stimulate healthy debate and discussion amongst military professionals and their leaders.

No comments:

Post a Comment