Monday, December 23, 2019

The Arab Revolt: 1916-18 (Five Stars)

This was a really good book in that it provided an excellent overview of the Revolt, not just from the perspective of Lawrence and the British but also the French, the Ottomans and the Arabs themselves. It provides context of the Arab war effort, both of its regular and irregular forces, and of the politics within the Arab leadership. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and the maps, photos and original artwork really make it stand out as a book on the topic, despite its small format.

The RAF and Tribal Control (five stars)

In my studies of airpower and, conversely, the creation of improvised antiaircraft weapons, I have often come across references to the post-WWI use of airpower by the British to maintain control over their Empire. In discussing the employment of aircraft against technologically-backward people of Africa and the Middle East the sources I read mentioned very little about the use of the RAF’s methodology, other than giving the impression that the British simply bombed tribes into submission. As it turns out there was more to it than that, and the process helped to shape many of the notable RAF airmen of the Second World War.

Newton’s book looks at the doctrinal origins of using airpower for the policing of the British Empire as well as the political decisions and financial factors which led to employing airpower against indigenous peoples on the frontiers. Following the end of the Great War the newly-independent Royal Air Force had to make itself relevant to the needs of the British Empire, needs which did not necessarily require large numbers of fighters to prevent bombing attacks or great numbers of bombers to strike at ports or supply bases. The British Empire, with territories around the world (which now included recent mandates from the German and Ottoman Empires), required a solution to the problem of primitive tribesmen who lived beyond the easy reach of British ground troops and who defied the British and their colonial governments. Airpower seemed to hold the promise of policing such populations.

The guns had hardly gone silent on the Western Front when the RAF began touting the idea of Air Control. The doctrinal basis of the idea had barely been discussed before it was tried in Somaliland, Iraq and India’s North-West Frontier. Backed up by British soldiers and colonial levies and provided intelligence and guidance by RAF Special Service Officers (SSOs) traveling in armored cars, airpower could be used to coerce natives into cooperation, if not submission.

Thanks to SSOs, who traveled among the indigenous population and communicated the desires of the Colonial administrators in the native language, the desired outcome was communicated to the leaders of various tribes. If the tribesmen understood but continued to defy the government, then the intelligence gained by the SSOs would be used by the RAF to “buzz” the domiciles of the key “targets,” or leaders, that the government wished to influence. And if all else failed, the SSO would provide warning to the group that the aircraft would be back to bomb and strafe. This resulted in what the British called a “reverse blockade,” a situation in which the locals evacuated their village and residences to travel out to the desert or nearby caves while British planes destroyed some homes, scattered livestock and burned crops. After living under extremely uncomfortable conditions the tribesmen would make the leader comply with British demands so life could go back to normal.

Indeed, much of the actions of the RAF echoes 21st Century warfare: the need to communicate directly with “targets” prior to taking action could be described as a Key Leader Engagement (KLE), the occasional use of airborne leaflets could be described as an Information Related Capability (IRC), the use of “buzzing” as a Non-Lethal Effect and the use of strafing and bombing of raiders as Lethal Effect. Anyone who has spent time discussing Targeting methodology would recognize many elements of the British Air Control scheme.

This is not to say that policing the Empire via airpower did not see its share of setbacks. First of all, the elimination of British ground troops wasn’t possible. Garrisons were needed but these were much smaller than if the British Army had sole charge of policing. Another element of Air Control saw the need to place the RAF in charge of the overall effort; in situations where the Army was in charge the effort to control indigents came down to “boots on the ground,” with the RAF doing close air support. Finally, the British were unable to use Air Control in Palestine, where conflicts happened in urban settings rather than in the wide open spaces. Riots between Jewish and Arab settlers did not provide targets for the aircraft, at least not without creating large numbers of civilian casualties and collateral damage.

Indeed, one thing that RAF and Tribal Control makes clear is that the use of kinetic action, i.e. bombing and strafing, was actually employed sparingly. The desire of the British was provided through Communication, the occasional demonstration of bombing and strafing lent Credibility to British threats and the Capability that the British maintained, not just in military hardware but also in civil and military targeting processes and permissions, brought the reality of airpower to bear.

In the case of the British, Air Control was about maintaining the peace, not fighting a war. The British rapidly learned the benefits of using kinetic assets in non-kinetic ways to achieve peace as a desired outcome.

Marketing the Blue and Gray (Four Stars)

Newspapers were the main media of the Civil War era, and in fact the most important. Printed daily for the most part, and with access to the network of telegraph stations throughout the North and South, the newspaper provided war news, political developments, entertainment information... and advertising. American newspapers had transitioned from a subscription base which paid the bills to ad revenue.

While advertisements were not as creative as they are today (based upon the use of existing type) they made the most use of what they had. The author provides descriptions and examples of how small shops would advertise wares. He also does an excellent job of showing how ads would be written to reflect recent battlefield successes and how southern ads emphasized the "Confederate nature" of the products being sold. Overall, a good book.

The Australian Army at War: 1976-2016 (four stars)

Australia has a well-earned reputation for being tough fighters. This has translated into the modern era as an ability to make a difference in peacemaking and peacekeeping throughout the world since the 1970s. This book looks at the fighting men who participated in these actions as well as the equipment they have been issued in order to accomplish these missions, which have literally taken them all over the world. I found the political and economic information to really put the overall state of the Australian Army in context. A valuable overview of the topic, well-illustrated.

Roughshod Through Dixie (five stars)

In April 1863 General Benjamin J. Grierson launched a cavalry raid deep into Mississippi. His mission: to distract the Confederates from General Grant's end run near Vicksburg (which would lead to its capture a few weeks later) and to destroy vital railroad track and stock needed to rush reinforcements to oppose the Federal landing once it was recognized for what it was. Grierson's Raid had all the elements to make it a success: it's own deception operation to make the Confederates believe the raid was still ongoing, light artillery for shock value, veteran troops and good weapons. This Osprey book does an excellent job of laying out the planning of the raid, the progress of the operation, its successes, its failures and its conclusion. Illustrated with photographs, original artwork and maps, this book is a great supplement to histories which only lightly touch on the subject while discussing the Vicksburg campaign in its own right or as a stand-alone book retelling this story of courage, fortitude and leadership.

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attack on the United States (two stars)

I was extremely disappointed in this book as it was recommended to me by several sources. I thought that it would be written in a factual style but instead it reads like a New York Times op-ed, which is a pity because the story has so much potential.

It starts with the DPRK shootdown of a South Korean airliner (Trump's fault). The South Koreans respond with a limited attack employing ballistic missiles, and the United States fails to take steps to de-escelate the situation (Trump's fault). Poor Kim Jong Un is hesitant about responding with nuclear weapons until they see a tweet sent by the President that seems to imply that this is the beginning of regime change in North Korea (Trump's fault). Following a nuclear attack on targets in South Korea and Japan the President failed to react properly because "he didn't believe that the North Koreans had missiles that worked "(Trump's fault). This time DPRK ICBMs hit the United States but miss the President as he has already gone airborne and the missile his another town instead of his compound in Florida (Trump's fault).

This book simply OOZES with contempt for the President. Every democrat talking point made up during the first half of the President's first term is used: he's a bully, he throws temper tantrums, he's a womanizer, and he can't handle bad news. In a scene that parodies the "football" clip from the movie Dead Zone Trump tries to launch a nuclear attack on both North Korea and China (in the end, cooler heads prevail and why we we do such a thing anyway?). The book talks about Trump's "legal problems" without actually naming them (must be bad, though!) and once he gets an idea in his head he stubbornly refuses to get rid of it.

The Conclusion basically addresses the desperate need for Free Health Care. And in case there is any doubt as to how stupid and rotten Donald Trump is the very end includes an April 2nd, 2023 statement by the former president (he decides not to run for a second term following the nuclear strikes on America) which is full of misspellings, references to Fake News, Hillary's defeat in 2016 and the Deep State.

The morale of this story? 1.4 million American deaths would be a small price to get rid of Orangeman.

Rebel Richmond (Five Stars)

Richmond’s role as the capital of the short-lived Confederate States of America has been the subject of many books, not least of which were first-hand accounts of rebels who spent the war in Richmond either as civilians or in the Confederate government. More recently, there has been Sword Over Richmond (which is more about the Peninsula Campaign than the besieged city), Curiosities of the Confederate Capital (which simply highlights a few of the more unusual events that took place in Richmond during the war) and Ashes of Glory. Of these three, Ashes most resembles Rebel Richmond, the new book by Stephen V. Ash, because of its detail and use of vignettes to illustrate certain aspects of life in Richmond during the war. However, it is Ash’s approach to the topic that I think is the better one.

Rebel Richmond concentrates on the human aspects of life in the city. It is one thing to discuss runaway inflation; it is another thing entirely tell the reader what this meant to government clerks and workmen when simply getting food to feed your family seemed impossible. It is one thing to talk about the housing shortage; it is another thing to discuss the horrible options that many newcomers were left with when vainly trying to find a decent place to live. It is one thing to expound on the horrors of war; it is another to describe a loved one’s slow, painful death due to combat injuries. Ash’s writing really makes life in wartime Richmond real to the reader.

It was the unfortunate geography of the Civil War which saw the capitals of the U.S.A. and the C.S.A. a little over a hundred miles of each other. Washington D.C., of course, had straddled the middle line of the country since it was made the capital but the Confederacy made the conscious decision to locate their capital in Virginia (once that state seceded). This doesn’t make much sense at first glance but as explained in Rebel Richmond the city was recognized as a key asset to the successful prosecution of the war: it was a key rail junction (five railways served Richmond, but did not connect to each other), it contained a large percentage of the South’s industrial base (including the only facility able to make cannon or armor plate) and the state itself added “gravitas” to the cause, having been the home of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. In hindsight, military necessity would seem to dictate locating the capital away from the enemy frontier… possibly New Orleans or Atlanta. The selection of Richmond as the capital meant that a huge burden was placed on the city, first as a military base, then later as a frontline fortress.

In effect, the Confederacy recognized that the loss of Richmond would have strategic implications in any case. By doubling down and making the city the capital of the new country the Confederates guaranteed that the member states would provide all the resources they could to protect the primary front of the war. And who is to say they were wrong? As it happened, both New Orleans and Atlanta fell before Richmond did. It is telling too that when Richmond did fall, it’s loss fulfilled the prophecy of doom and ended hopes for a Confederate States of America.