Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/April 2012/Book reviews

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His Majesty's Opponent - Sugata Bose

Subhas Chandra Bose

2/5 stars

By Bomzibar

His Majesty´s Opponent is a biography of Indian National Congress and later Indian National Army leader Subhas Chandra Bose, who is reverentially called Netaji in India. The biography was written by Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard University, Sugata Bose, who is a grand-nephew of the book's subject. And with this familiar relationship comes, in my eyes, the greatest problem of this biography. It starts with a great homage paid to Netaji and his legacy in today's India, and after this some of the fears I had came true. The whole book is an uncritical narration about Subhas Bose based on material held by the clearly pro-Bose Netaji Research Bureau. Sugata Bose avoids interpreting the actions of Subhas, possibly because he fears he would have to paint a darker image about the inspirations and motives that drove him to his actions. A good example of this is the description of Mahatma Gandhi. It turns from positive to negative to positive, depending on whether Gandhi and Bose agreed or disagreed with each other. The same can be seen with Bose's long-time admiration for the Stalinist Soviet Union and his cooperation with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Such commonalities in ideology are commonly ignored by the author.

Beyond this the pure content of the book can be seen as useful if the reader already is informed about the British Raj and the Indian Independence Struggle, otherwise he has to read it in a suspicious way. The readability of the book is further hindered by the fact that about a third of the entire text is cited to letters Bose wrote.

The contents of interest to military historians are among the better parts of the book, which presents good information about the buildup of the Indian National Army in Japanese-conquered Southeast Asia, including how this force was recruited, trained, equipped and funded from volunteers the large Indian diaspora and prisoners of war in the region. Sadly again, the Indische Legion of Nazi Germany, founded by Bose and others, is only described briefly and the parts of the Indian National Army founded before Bose's arrival in Southeast Asia are only said to be corrupt and ineffective. While the motives of the INA for joining the fight are presented in a positive light, the actual combat operations are not. Military failures and inefficiency are attributed to the Japanese forces. This clearly seems to have happened because Sugata Bose mainly used pro-Bose sources.

All in all, this book is in parts a good addition to the literature dealing with the events it covers. I have read worse books but I expected more from a Harvard professor's book, published by the university.

Articles this book might be useful for: Indian National Army, Subhas Chandra Bose, Battle of Imphal and other military actions in Burma after this, various Indian and Japanese military personnel bound to the INA.

Publishing details: Bose, Sugata (2011). His Majesty´s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India's Struggle Against Empire. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-04754-9. 

Corps Commanders: Five British and Canadian Generals at War

Guy Simmonds

4/5 stars

By Hawkeye7

Corps Commanders is a series of biographical essays about five men who commanded corps that included Canadian troops: Brian Horrocks, John Crocker, Guy Simonds, Tommy Burns and Charles Foulkes. Of these, only Horrocks and Simonds have been well-covered by biographers.

For a long time Canadian military history was not a popular subject. There was also some initial reluctance to look too closely at the Second World War, when the Canadian Army's performance was disappointing in many respects, with high casualties not justified by results, and a number of generals being relieved of their commands. The audience was therefore limited, and history had to wait until the Canadian population reached a critical mass where it could sustain a market by itself. Ironically, the new generation of Canadian military historians like John A. English and Terry Copp who started rolling over the rocks proved as good as any in the world, and their work soon attracted an international audience as well.

A corps is an interesting military formation in that it is the largest formation that is still primarily a fighting rather than administrative grouping. A corps usually has few organic units, consisting of two to five divisions that are assigned depending on the mission at hand. This makes it a difficult command to manage. Somehow, a corps commander must impose his will on subordinates with whom he may be unfamiliar. Since he has command of all the fighting arms, it is a technically complex and demanding job. How these men coped is the subject of the book, which delves deeply into the details of several battles, and the arcane art of command. The book examines their personal strengths and weaknesses.

This is not done to merely provide biography. The book points to the military systems that produced these men. Here the limits of the Canadian Army become all too apparent. There was a pool of only 450 regular officers in 1939, of whom only about 45 had staff college training, including all three officers covered here (and the two British generals as well). The art of command was not practiced; the job of the regulars was to train the Militia. With the enormous wartime expansion of the Canadian Army, the result should have been predictable, but came as a shock to Canadians.

This is a solid, thought provoking work. Your enjoyment may depend on how much you like reading about battles.

Articles this book might be useful for: John Crocker, Guy Simonds, Tommy Burns, Charles Foulkes
Publishing details: Delaney, Douglas E. (2011). Corps Commanders: Five British and Canadian Generals at War. Vancouver, British Columbia: UBC Press. ISBN 9780774820899. OCLC 693657730. 

The Command - Marc Ambinder and D. B. Grady

Emblem of the Joint Special Operations Command

4/5 stars

By Nick-D

The Command is a short ebook describing the United States military's elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). It covers JSOC's history, structure, roles and likely future developments and was written by two journalists.

Given the poor quality of most books on special forces, I didn't have high hopes for this book. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. The Command provides a surprisingly detailed account of JSOC's history and capabilities, and the authors have generally avoided the mythology that infests this genre. For instance, they discuss the torture of prisoners by JSOC personnel in Iraq (though I wasn't convinced by their exoneration of the then-JSOC commander Stanley A. McChrystal of at least partial responsibility for these abuses) as well as other legally dubious activities undertaken by the command. The description of JSOC's role is also quite good, though it's never exactly clear what it is that the unit does - a detailed example of a typical JSOC operation would have been helpful in illustrating this. I found the discussion of how combat experiences in the Iraq War led JSOC to cooperate and share information with conventional Army units for the first time to be particularly interesting.

The Command isn't perfect though. The authors' sources appear to have been more willing to discuss JSOC's successes than its failures, and as a result they tend to focus more on where things have gone right for the command then where things went wrong. At times this can undermine the book's analysis; for instance, the authors describe how JSOC is currently building an organisational structure that appears to duplicate already existing intelligence agencies (especially given the extent to which the command apparently cooperates with conventional units), yet they don't raise the potential problems this could cause. Some of the prose is also untranslated military jargon which will make little sense to many readers.

I found The Command to be an worthwhile read, and it will be of interest to military historians who want to educate themselves about the ways in which modern wars are being fought. The book is also a bargain at its current price.

Publishing details: Ambinder, Marc, Grady, D.B. (2012). The Command: Deep Inside the President's Secret Army. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley. 

Recent external book reviews

Platt, Stephen R. (2012). Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom : China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0307271730. 

Macintyre, Ben (2012). Double Cross: The True Story of The D-Day Spies. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 1408819902. 

Ekins, Ashley; McNeill, Ian (2012). Fighting to the Finish: The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1968–75. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 9781865088242. 

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