The Story of the Malakand Field Force
|LC Class||DS392.N67 C48 2010|
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The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War was an 1898 book written by Winston Churchill; it was his first published work of non-fiction.
It details an 1897 military campaign on the Northwest Frontier (an area now part of Pakistan). Churchill participated in the campaign as a second lieutenant in the cavalry; he volunteered for the posting, having become bored of playing polo in India.
Moving through the land mostly by political care[clarification needed], and paying local khans to support them, they moved into the mountains to fight an essentially punitive campaign against the Pashtun tribes, in response to repeated brutal armed raids on the villages of the Plains of India. Crops and houses were burnt, wells were filled with stones, and the occasional firefight broke out in the mountains. This campaign effectively neutralised the aggressors for several decades.
Churchill described the fanaticism of the tribal warriors as a culturally- and religiously-cultivated instance of a tendency that lurks within all human persons:
Every influence, every motive, that provokes the spirit of murder among men, impels these mountaineers to deeds of treachery and violence. The strong aboriginal propensity to kill, inherent in all human beings, has in these valleys been preserved in unexampled strength and vigour. That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword--the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men--stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism.
The Indian government was concerned about where the frontier of India should be. The Russian frontier had advanced in a few decades to the Pamirs, and there was real concern that a force of cossacks could traverse the Hindu Kush and invade India. To resist this the Forward Policy held that the passes should be held by the Indian government through its vassals. A recent uprising in Chitral, arising from a series of dynastic murders, had more or less accidentally led to a campaign to relieve the British garrison there. In the aftermath of the campaign a substantial force held the road, based at the Malakand, and subsidising local rulers. The peaceful conditions improved the lot of the Pashtuns, but eventually an uprising occurred, and the camp was attacked.
In the book, Churchill observes the incredible killing power of the new breech loading weapons. The Pashtun tribesmen, sure of victory by numbers and simply overrunning British camps, were cut down en masse by the repeating rifles of the British Imperial forces. Six-foot-high piles of bodies are described outside the fire trenches surrounding the temporary Brigade camps.
His experiences in this campaign meant that, unlike most military thinkers of the time, he could better understand the stalemate of WWI trench warfare. This undoubtedly influenced his choice to invest government research and funds into the development of the tank via the Landships Committee when he was First Lord of the Admiralty.
Churchill also came to believe that British imperialism could be used to establish the rule of law, promote commerce, and eventually encourage the development of stable political institutions in these regions. In sum, he maintained that the British Empire was a civilizing empire, capable of improving the physical and moral conditions of the uncivilized.
- Emmert, Kirk (1981). Statesmanship: Essays in Honor of Sir Winston Spencer Churchill. Durham: Carolina Academic Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0-89089-165-6.