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 Post subject: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 1:07 pm 
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At the end of January, I wrote a review of a review of Sandy Gall's book on Afghanistan, War against the Taliban, a book which purports to tell you "Why it all went wrong in Afghanistan".

I complained at the time that we seemed to be in "he says – she says" territory, where the current idea of writing history is to gather a collection of interviews of leading players and stitch them together to make a narrative.

View full article here

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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 1:14 pm 

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I have a feeling I shall return to this theme.


Strangely, so do I. :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 3:12 pm 

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Dr. North,

I'm afraid that this is just one more example of a major problem of modern life.

Speed kills

It would take way too long to do a properly researched history and you would miss the market for this genre. You have to get the "goods" on people while they're still around to squirm from your attack, and while publishers and customers are still willing to pony up the bucks.

In some cases you have to act quickly on the basis of incomplete information. Writing history isn't one of them.

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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 5:26 pm 

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"History is written by the victors." W.S. Churchill, 1945(?)

"If you don't happen to have won, History is written by those with a guaranteed advance from Bloomsbury Publishing PLC." S. Gall. 2012


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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 5:58 pm 

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Quote:
Almost the entire chapter is based on Gen. Dannatt's book, Leading from the front, with 19 separate references. The bulk of the rest is his testimony to the Chilcot inquiry and a few press articles, followed by just over two pages largely based on an interview with Gen Jackson.


This is appallingly lazy and British-centric,even a 6th form A level history student would be expected to cover a wider material source than that.It appears typical of the dumbing down we get from the media.

Thanks for the tip off,will avoid it on the book stands


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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 6:03 pm 
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vincent wrote:
Quote:
Almost the entire chapter is based on Gen. Dannatt's book, Leading from the front, with 19 separate references. The bulk of the rest is his testimony to the Chilcot inquiry and a few press articles, followed by just over two pages largely based on an interview with Gen Jackson.


This is appallingly lazy and British-centric,even a 6th form A level history student would be expected to cover a wider material source than that.It appears typical of the dumbing down we get from the media.

Thanks for the tip off,will avoid it on the book stands


The next chapter, covering that later part of the war, is based entirely on interviews with Gen Richards. No other source is quoted.

As a source book, it does thus have its uses. You will get a very clear idea of the message Gen Richards wants to project. But I wouldn't call it history.

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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 6:32 pm 

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RAENORTH wrote:
vincent wrote:
Quote:
Almost the entire chapter is based on Gen. Dannatt's book, Leading from the front, with 19 separate references. The bulk of the rest is his testimony to the Chilcot inquiry and a few press articles, followed by just over two pages largely based on an interview with Gen Jackson.


This is appallingly lazy and British-centric,even a 6th form A level history student would be expected to cover a wider material source than that.It appears typical of the dumbing down we get from the media.

Thanks for the tip off,will avoid it on the book stands


The next chapter, covering that later part of the war, is based entirely on interviews with Gen Richards. No other source is quoted.

As a source book, it does thus have its uses. You will get a very clear idea of the message Gen Richards wants to project. But I wouldn't call it history.


The book title should maybe have the subtext ,"Where the British Army High Command thought it all went wrong" then.


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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 8:01 pm 
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vincent wrote:
The book title should maybe have the subtext ,"Where the British Army High Command thought it all went wrong" then.


Yes ... Fairweather did Iraq for them ... now Sandy Gall does a whitewash on Afghanistan.

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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 9:16 pm 

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I have just read far too much on Iraq and Afghanistan not to realise that we WERE indeed defeated in Iraq and WILL be defeated in Afghanistan.

Generals have to in the end obey orders or resign and in my opinion very few if any got even close to resigning.

However the the culpability of the Top Brass aside the real people responsible for our failures in both countries are our politicians and in particualr one man Tony Blair.

I'm not a religious man but I really do hope and pray in my life time Tony Blair is held accountable for his part in these disastrous wars.


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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 10:11 pm 

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Location: Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, England
vincent wrote:
... Thanks for the tip off,will avoid it on the book stands


If you're interested in the subject you should not avoid Mr Gall's book, nor, if you are interested in history, should you take Dr North's word on the value of Mr Gall's book. I'm sure I'll draw a lot of flack, here, from devoted subscribers to EUR, with little if any background in history, but as someone with fond memories of studying, at post graduate level, under people who were, and amongst those still living, are, noted and honoured in their fields, I would observe that those who write history are those who make history and those who come later to the study of history must make sense of what is available to them if they are to do the same. Mr Gall's work will be as important to historians seeking a balanced view of our time, five hundred years hence, as Dr North's, and Dr North's criticisms of Mr Gall's work will be seen in the unimaginable contexts then prevailing. Those historians may have available primary source material not available to either Dr North or Mr Gall now.

I look forward to reading Dr North's work and have no wish to read Mr Gall's but, in the interests of balance, I would, as an historian manqué, advise any budding historian lacking the experience of his inspiration not to allow his peculiar preferences to determine his reading. Read anything and everything available to you that is relevant and make up your own mind, and if you decide, for yourself, that Dr North's version of events is more credible, notwithstanding his criticisms of others, than others make your mark on history. Whatever you decide, please, please, please do not try to influence historians five hundred years hence by throwing yourself at the feet of those who hope to make history now.

Please, please, please do not jump to the conclusion that in posting this I am attacking a man more successful in history than I. I am not.


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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 10:44 pm 
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WilliamGruff wrote:
vincent wrote:
... Thanks for the tip off,will avoid it on the book stands


If you're interested in the subject you should not avoid Mr Gall's book, nor, if you are interested in history, should you take Dr North's word on the value of Mr Gall's book. I'm sure I'll draw a lot of flack, here, from devoted subscribers to EUR, with little if any background in history, but as someone with fond memories of studying, at post graduate level, under people who were, and amongst those still living, are, noted and honoured in their fields, I would observe that those who write history are those who make history and those who come later to the study of history must make sense of what is available to them if they are to do the same. Mr Gall's work will be as important to historians seeking a balanced view of our time, five hundred years hence, as Dr North's, and Dr North's criticisms of Mr Gall's work will be seen in the unimaginable contexts then prevailing. Those historians may have available primary source material not available to either Dr North or Mr Gall now.

I look forward to reading Dr North's work and have no wish to read Mr Gall's but, in the interests of balance, I would, as an historian manqué, advise any budding historian lacking the experience of his inspiration not to allow his peculiar preferences to determine his reading. Read anything and everything available to you that is relevant and make up your own mind, and if you decide, for yourself, that Dr North's version of events is more credible, notwithstanding his criticisms of others, than others make your mark on history. Whatever you decide, please, please, please do not try to influence historians five hundred years hence by throwing yourself at the feet of those who hope to make history now.

Please, please, please do not jump to the conclusion that in posting this I am attacking a man more successful in history than I. I am not.



The book indeed does have value, for precisely the reasons stated. One, however, needs to read it with great caution. The problem though is that the unwary will not realise how distorted the content is, and may accept the arguments at face value.

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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 11:17 pm 

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"It explains the military incompetence which has again and again startled the world. Since the fifties every war in which England has engaged has started off with a series of disasters, after which the situation has been saved by people comparatively low in the social scale. The higher commanders, drawn from the aristocracy, could never prepare for modern war, because in order to do so they would have had to admit to themselves that the world was changing. They have always clung to obsolete methods and weapons, because they inevitably saw each war as a repetition of the last. Before the Boer War they prepared for the Zulu War, before the 1914 for the Boer War, and before the present war for 1914. Even at this moment hundreds of thousands of men in England are being trained with the bayonet, a weapon entirely useless except for opening tins. It is worth noticing that the navy and, latterly, the air force, have always been more efficient than the regular army. But the navy is only partially, and the air force hardly at all, within the ruling-class orbit."
From The Lion And The Unicorn, George Orwell, February 1941.

Since then, the Navy and RAF have caught up.


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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Wed Feb 08, 2012 12:45 am 

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Entering wars without a clear end goal will always end badly.
Spending lives and treasure on such intangibles as 'security', peacekeeping' and even 'freedom' is foolish.
You can be sure any insurgent you ask will have a very similar answer to what they are trying to achieve, and are heavily subscribed to it.

Also, politicians will use the ambiguity of objective to tailor everything, including the narrative of (imagined) progress to suit their own agenda du jour.

It's a tough one. Military absolutely needs to serve the people (via government) but what to do when the government is chronically useless?


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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Wed Feb 08, 2012 5:37 am 
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For once I find myself agreeing with William Gruff whose supplicant tone is very different from that of his previous posts.
An epiphany mayhap or a Damascene experience…we can but hope.
History is very choosy; much depending on who is explaining it & the tendency is to ignore and/or belittle those with whom one disagrees; the reasons extending from bad research to personal political persuasion to outright jealousy.
A classic case is that of David Irving, like him or not, an historian whose name is synonymous with personal research & leaving no stone unturned. Some of his opinions are anathema to a large section of society & quite understandably so but, his position as a must-read historian is unassailable and he must be read together with others whose views are not his.
Of interest too is M.G.Watson’s account of Irving’s being ‘banged up’ by Austria…(”The Accidental Martyr”)…which gave the World the original bone of contention.

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 Post subject: Re: Worse than I thought
PostPosted: Wed Feb 08, 2012 6:20 am 
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permanentexpat wrote:
For once I find myself agreeing with William Gruff whose supplicant tone is very different from that of his previous posts.
An epiphany mayhap or a Damascene experience…we can but hope.
History is very choosy; much depending on who is explaining it & the tendency is to ignore and/or belittle those with whom one disagrees; the reasons extending from bad research to personal political persuasion to outright jealousy.
A classic case is that of David Irving, like him or not, an historian whose name is synonymous with personal research & leaving no stone unturned. Some of his opinions are anathema to a large section of society & quite understandably so but, his position as a must-read historian is unassailable and he must be read together with others whose views are not his.
Of interest too is M.G.Watson’s account of Irving’s being ‘banged up’ by Austria…(”The Accidental Martyr”)…which gave the World the original bone of contention.


Irving is a good example. His histories are frequently biased ... but he can see the "line" he is taking, so at least you know what you are in for. But at the same time, he covers some ground that other historians do not, so it would be foolish to ignore him.

What I find objectionable with him is that he lards his factual accounts with inferences, but tucks those inferences into his narratives as if they were fact - there is no clear distinction. Thus you find yourself happily reading along and suddenly you run out of fact and are into unsupported territory. But it is done so subtly (sometimes) it comes as quite a jolt.

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