Saturday, 31 December 2016
Author: Henry Kwami Anyidoho
Publisher: Foundation Publishing
Photos/ Maps: 34/4
This book is a rendition of the author’s experiences as Deputy Force Commander and Chief of Staff for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the period of the Rwandan Genocide April – July 1994. Brig Anyidoho kept an extensive diary throughout his time with UNAMIR and drew upon these notes and his recollections to draft this treatise on his experiences and to provide a series of lessons learned from the disaster. The accuracy of his observations and recommendations and their relevance to future UN peacekeeping missions was confirmed when many of them were included in the Brahimi Report of 2000 which saw a fundamental overhaul of the UN support and operational ethos.
The author was intimately involved in the period leading up to the civil war and was present throughout the fighting. As such, he was either personally involved or privy to the myriad of challenges relating to negotiations and interactions with Rwandan forces (both Hutu and Tutsi), the international community as well as the UN itself. His insights into the bureaucracies, trials and idiosyncrasies of these organizations and their public and private agendas are extremely enlightening.
Throughout his account, the author comments upon the strengths and weaknesses of the UN system in particular, both logistically and operationally. His views are based on hard operational experience and, being noted at the time of observation, are astute and germane. While it is obvious that he was frustrated by what he perceived as inefficiencies, his approach is not one of blame but of a genuine desire to see the system improved.
He includes in his work an introduction to the causes and history of the Rwandan Crisis, a specific series of recommendations relating to national level command preparation and training, the UN and its policies (politically, operationally and logistically) and the shortcomings in the reactions/capabilities of the Organization of African Unity (precursor to the African Union) and how these may be addressed. Additionally, his work incorporates lessons learned throughout the narrative itself.
Friday, 30 December 2016
Author: Jamie Bartlett
Publisher: Melville House
Photos/ Maps: 0
One of the most profound initiators of change and social influence for the last two generation has been by far the internet and the reach and access that it provides to society at all levels. More than just a repository of information, it also serves as a platform for anyone, regardless of education, economic stature or social background, to promote their vision of the world and to act as architects of their own brand of change.
Bartlett’s book discusses what he identifies as the Dark Net; “internet underworlds set apart yet connected….worlds of freedom and anonymity, where users say and do what they like, often uncensored, unregulated and outside of society’s norms”. The key here is that it looks at the impact that anonymity has on the behaviours of people. In a world where less and less personal information is perceived to be private, the dark net provides an environment where society’s standards and rules may be cast aside.
Why is this significant? Bartlett’s work at first blush appears to be a rather superficial discussion of the concerns raised periodically by media and governments about the challenges posed by an unregulated body; however, as one moves forward in the book, it is clear that Bartlett’s analysis is both insightful and challenging to conventional thinking. He highlights not just practical questions surrounding issues of Net management and accessibility but also delves into areas with much broader implications; touching upon the fundamentals of our societies and perceptions.
This book is not an esoteric treatise on philosophy, rather a practical and tangible discussion on real world issues being played out online. Questions relating to the use of bitcoin on national economies, amateur pornography as practical revenue generation, sales and marketing of drugs and other items, privacy and government oversight are all discussed using interviews with real world people. Additionally, the ongoing passionate debates between those who feel that technology and the web represent the gateway to the ultimate evolution of man (so called transhumanists) or its downfall (anarcho-primitivists) are presented. Finally, the role that the web plays in facilitating “self-help” in controversial areas such as medicine, suicide, self-mutilation and anorexia is discussed.
Wednesday, 28 December 2016
This review has been submitted to the British Military History Journal
Title: Three German Invasions of France – The Summer Campaigns of 1870, 1914 and 1940
Author: Douglas Fermer
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Photos/ Maps: 30/11
Germany and France have maintained a difficult relationship stemming back to the pre-German unification period of Prussia and Napoleonic France. Three wars were fought between the two nations during the 70 years from 1970 until 1940; each reflecting a period of political, doctrinal and societal change within each nation state. Fermer’s book looks at the root causes and the execution of these wars with a view towards highlighting the impact on these conflicts upon the French army and society primarily and upon Germany secondarily.
Fermer’s analysis is balanced and insightful. Despite the breadth of the topics that he has undertaken to review, he does so in a very succinct manner; the renditions of his observations easy to follow and well developed. His approach is to look at each of the individual engagements as a part of a greater whole. This facilitates a linear examination that clearly identifies the connections and causation's between the wars.
He has divided his book into four distinct parts, each addressing the individual conflicts as well as the precursor period in France leading up to 1870. Each section establishes the environment of the period and the main changes that had occurred as well as the main lessons to be learned from each encounter. Central throughout is the political atmosphere which remains the main cause of the military escalation between the nations. The use of the military as a tool of political gain must be balanced and extremely carefully applied; Fermer shows that, leading to 1870, the Germans were extremely adept at this but that limitations in political acumen by both participants made themselves felt to a greater degree as time went forward. Hubris on the part of both French and German leadership was legion.
Fermer also undertakes a detailed evaluation of the impact of success upon both the victor and vanquished both doctrinally and psychologically. His investigation reveals that the German use of lessons learned following their actions were far more in depth (and taken far more seriously) than their French counterparts. The French were further handicapped by their political instability and ongoing intra-national divergence. This manifested itself in inconsistent recruitment and armament policies as well as challenges in foreign policy.
Also, included in the book is a comprehensive listing of the references that he has utilized; of particular note is the number of primary source documents. Overall this is an outstanding rendition of the turbulent period encompassing these three conflicts. The author has drafted a narrative that recounts the characteristics of the conflicts themselves, the underlying causes (primary, secondary and beyond) and the results politically, militarily and socially thus providing the reader with a complete understanding of this period. Fermer’s book is an excellent account and source.
This review has been submitted to Sabretache Magazine.
Title: Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze
Author: Peter Harmsen
The war between Japan and the Chinese has to a great extent been eclipsed by the world conflict in Europe and the Pacific. Nevertheless, the fighting between the two Asian powers was catastrophic to the people of China and a clear precursor to the style of warfare that Japan would undertake in the near future throughout the Pacific. Harmsen’s work on the fighting in Shanghai, a city steeped in intrigue and an international hub, sheds a disturbing and fascinating light onto the nature and dynamic of Far Eastern conflict.
His writing style is easy to follow and encapsulates the strategic and operational focus of operations as well as the experiences of the individual soldiers and officers on each side. He astutely analyzes the doctrinal challenges and strengths of the opposing armies and the role that the international community played as the battle unfolded. Specifically, the role of the German army advisors to the Chinese military is discussed in some detail, shedding light on the challenges and frustrations associated with those working in an advisory capacity.
Additionally, Harmsen discusses the weaknesses of the Japanese and Chinese armies and their slavish adherence to orders and doctrine. Initiative was not a strength that was promoted and this resulted in significant loss of personal and missed opportunity; this was further exacerbated by the nature of the command structure of these armies. The adherence to national doctrine also resulted in each army being able to anticipate exactly how their adversary was going to respond or react to a given situation further aggravating losses.
This weakness was offset by a deep belief in their causes amongst the soldiers. This strength of character of the individual soldiers manifested itself in their incredible ability to overcome adversity and horrific conditions. Despite poor logistics and medical support (and its resultant deprivations), the fighting men on each side continued to undertake operations in horrendous environments, in the full knowledge that surrender or capture by either side was not an option.
Another noteworthy aspect of this work is the study of the lack of empathy and humanity shown by each side in the conduct of operations. Specifically on the Japanese side, this willingness to treat both uniformed adversaries and civilians to the most terrible of atrocities (regardless of their involvement or age) reveals not only a precursor to future behaviours but a weakness in both command and an understanding of the nature of winning the hearts and minds of subdued populations.
Casemate’s publication is of excellent quality with a slightly larger font for easy reading. A comprehensive bibliography and notes section add depth and dimension to the narrative. Harmsen’s book is balanced and very readable; he has ensured a human face to the tragedy that was this battle. There is much to be learned by this insightful work; not the least of which is an appreciation of the psyche of the Chinese and Japanese soldier.
Tuesday, 6 December 2016
This review has been submitted to British Army Review.
Title: Three Sips of Gin – Dominating the Battlespace with Rhodesia’s Elite Selous Scouts
Author: Tim Bax
Publisher: Helion and Company
Photos/ Maps: 134/1
The Selous Scouts were an organization that acted as the forward eyes and ears of the Rhodesian military during their long and brutal bush war with the ZIPRA and ZANLA revolutionary groups. This autobiography of the experiences of the author as he made his way into the Rhodesian military first as a member of the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) and then as a member of the Selous Scouts is multifaceted as he discusses his personal experiences, the doctrine of the two units in which he served, the larger challenges of the national and international environment during this period and the leadership styles of those with whom and for whom he served and their immediate effect upon his life and character.
One of the key themes that runs throughout the book is the paradigm with which the RLI and Selous Scouts approached their operations. Dynamic, out of the box thinking and a recognition of the need for leadership that could make decisions at the very lowest level combined with a high degree of aggression and expertise were hallmarks of these Rhodesian units. Bax recounts numerous operations that were successful due to the unorthodox nature of their execution and the confidence of the command structure in allowing for a broad span of independence amongst members. His willingness to relate tales of failure and embarrassment about himself and those who were seen to be some of the finest leaders within the RLI and Selous Scouts, provide balance and recognition that even the best will not succeed at times; lessons in humility that are never reiterated enough.
His discussions about particularly successful commanders reinforce both the primary strength and weakness of these asymmetric units – that being the extremely rare number of individuals who can truly lead in these environments and the critical loss of capability when they are not present. His narrative also reveals the challenge that governments and conventional forces have in fully appreciating and utilizing these units to their full potential.
Bax also provides excellent descriptions and analysis of the effectiveness of the ‘fire-force’ doctrine built around the Alouette 3 helicopter and the four man tactical unit or ‘stick’. His discussion about the international embargo necessitating Rhodesia’s unique tactical and operational doctrine clearly displays the influence of external factors on capability. His discussion plainly show that Rhodesia’s dominance lay not in equipment but the training of its soldiers and the methodologies developed to use the equipment that it had to greatest advantage.
His numerous renditions of the hijinks and trouble that he and his fellow soldiers got into while off-duty and the results would never be tolerated in today’s more politically correct militaries but they speak to an issue that has been subsumed beneath the mantle of acceptable behaviour; this is the nature of esprit des corps and morale. An entertaining and useful book.
Monday, 5 December 2016
Title: Moltke and His Generals – A Study in Leadership
Author: Quintin Barry
Publisher: Helion and Company
Photos/ Maps: 20/9
Helmut von Moltke was one of the most influential military commanders of the 19th century. During his tenure as first Chief of the Prussian General Staff followed by Chief the Great General Staff, Moltke oversaw the strategic success of the Prussian/German forces in three major conflicts: Denmark (1864), Austro-Prussian (1866) and Franco-Prussian (1870-1871). His vision and drive created a military command structure that was unparalleled in the European theatre in the form of the Great General Staff. He was supported by a senior strategic and operational staff that was developed through this system and therefore had a common understanding of expectations.
Barry’s work undertakes a study in detail of the personality and influence that Moltke and his senior officers had on the period. His analysis is balanced, critical and insightful. His observations on the challenges of personality upon the effective execution of the mission is instructive, emphasizing that despite a common training regime and mission, allowance for and encouragement of independent action must be grounded in solid discipline and command maturity.
The author dedicates a chapter to each of the major commanders reporting into Moltke. It is very instructive that not all are seen as effective; indeed his analysis is critical of many of them as the impact of personality and hubris made themselves felt. It is revealing however, just how effective was the Prussian/German command structure in minimizing the short comings of individual commanders via the strengths of the Chief of Staff appointed to that commander. The Prussian system, refined and enhanced by Moltke, deliberately assigned ‘teams’ of Commanders and Chiefs of Staff that offset the other’s weaknesses. Strength was thus a product of the whole as opposed to the individual.
Additionally, Barry reviews the development of the ‘Commanders Intent’ as a foundation of the German command system. During a period of difficult and unreliable communications, this provided Army and Unit commanders with the parameters within which they could exercise individual initiative in order to achieve Moltke’s stated aim. Barry looks at what are the training and developmental requirements needed to effectively develop the trust and understanding in order to ensure the effectiveness of this command style.