The Rhodesian War - Fifty Years On

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  • Author:
    Paul Moorcroft and Peter McLaughlin
    This book, first produced in 1982, has been updated in a number of editions over time. This is the update for the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Ian Smith, the then Prime Minister of Rhodesia. The authors both have an interest, being variously, academics, journalist, advisers and instructors in the region and elsewhere. The 50th Anniversary edition has a new foreword written by Paul Moorcroft, which offers a very concise update of how the 15-year conflict may be viewed. Indeed, some say that a study of the Rhodesian experience is essential to those who study guerrilla warfare and the utility of force to solve, ultimately, political problems.

    The original book was titled Chimurenga, and was written by the authors from material available at the time. Since then, it has “become a standard text on counter-insurgency”. It has been updated and the authors have tried to maintain a balanced account, although they note that over time, some of the details in the book have been challenged. As Foucault, Schivelbusch and Benjamin (and others such as Churchill) have said “history is written by the victors”, so in some ways this is an account that reflects the bias of the authors.

    That said, the book is well structured and does try to tell the story of the conflict from both sides. To have produced a book that conveys the complexities of the regional conflict in only 10 chapters and 200 pages is an act of synthesis that others may have had difficulty with. The book, as you would expect, takes a chronological approach to the conflict. It starts with a long sweep from 1890 to 1965, exposing the roots of the conflict and covering the early years. The next section of the book looks at the combatants and their weapons, then, in a section titled “the climax”, the authors turn their attention to the concluding stages on the national and international stage.

    The chapters are short and use clear language, although at times I had difficulty in following which guerrilla party was what, mainly due to the similar titles. It left me wondering whether the Monty Python team drew inspiration from this for their titles of political parties in “Life of Brian”. By the end of the book, however, I was more comfortable with this. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. I found that it gave me an insight into a conflict that had parallels in other parts of the world in the superpower proxy wars of the later 20th century.

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  1. gam47
    There are superior texts available on the study of the counter-insurgency war in Rhodesia. While the Fire Force tactics and external operations worked to a certain extent, by 1979 the country only survived by South African help, be it military equipment and combat units, hard currency, logistical support for both the military and the actual national economy. And even so it is now estimated by the SEP 1979 the Government only controlled some 30% of the country, from a high of some 260,000 whites in 1973, by 1979 there were only 90 thousand, which included a substantial number of foreign personnel serving in the military and security industry. The shortages of everything was massive, approached by a lady on the tarmac of Salisbury airport whilst loading Puma's with loads for assembly points for the Terr's. she asked for some nice soft toilet paper - the standard British Army bog roll!!! The actual toilet paper in use in the country was made for bamboo, and it felt like it. Ti logistically support those terrorist assembly points, the RAF C-130 force had to fly non-stop into the Republic of SA in order to feed, clothe and provide the necessities for living. When the SA's removed all their equipment, some 52 helicopters (12 SAAF Puma and 40 odd Alouette III) and ten C-47 Dakota's departed in one hit, or the entire basis of the Fire Force. Once the SA's removed their support, there was no future.
  2. W21A
    First para, last line - utility or futility - gen question.
    1. dockers
      The book implies futility. The difficulty is in matching political action and military action to achieve the aim. The authors seem to show that political action in this case did not impact on the native population and re-trenched the whites.
      dockers, Aug 30, 2016
      W21A likes this.