Discussion in 'Staff College and Staff Officers' started by Nibbler, Aug 14, 2006.

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  1. I recently saw a booklist, courtesy of a VIP at Shrivenham. It was his 'you should have read this lot' guide for officers studying at the Defence Academy. It struck me as one of the more sterile and self-congratulatory lists I have seen for some time, rather akin to those writers who say 'oh, but surely you've read 'War and Peace' in the original? (No I bloody haven't, and nor in the translation...)


    Let's see what the group mind can come up with: what are your 'must read' books for officers who claim to think about their profession? A brief description, and 'why', is allowed.

    I'll start with 1 that is often overlooked:

    'Some Desperate Glory' (Edwin Campion Vaughan) An outstanding personal memoir of WWI:

    "This stark WW I diary by a 19-year-old subaltern in the British army begins with an account of his eager departure for the western front, and ends eight months later with an awesome description of the battle of Ypres in which most of his company died. A snobbish, inept and generally insufferable youngster when he joined the frontline regiment, Vaughan was eventually humbled both by the tongue-lashings of superiors and by his ego-shattering experiences in the trenches. He is frank about his fear of death, which renders the material in the latter half of the diary all the more moving, for one discerns that Vaughan is gradually turning into a brave and capable leader of infantry. Some entries are punctuated by mad laughter while, at the same time, a tone of despair becomes more evident. The final line of the diary is no surprise: "I sat on the floor and drank whisky after whisky as I gazed into a black and empty future.""

    If you want to remind yourself of why you should aspire to professionalism, there is no more humbling read. Not often quoted, because of its honesty, it is a superb insight into fear and leadership under stress: if you want to read the thoughts of a young officer hauling himself up by the bootstraps, this is the one.

  2. 'On Killing' - Lt Col Dave Grossman and 'An Intimate History of Killing' - Joanna Bourke

    Didn't agree so much with Joanna, but good old Dave had it right. Exactly what anyone who may have to deal with the psychological act of killing either for oneself or ones soldiers should read. Debunks the myth, answers the questions that everyone should be asking before they enter combat, but don't for fear of being seen a kn0b. Allows leaders to spot those becoming unstable, including themselves, by alerting you to the expected psychological reactions after that adrenalin rush.

    Made me feel better, and I wished I had read it, or been privy to the facts, before I pulled the trigger.

    Off to finish the bottle now. Balanced... totally!!
  3. I'm not sure I agreed with everything he had to say, although he certainly puts forward some pretty convincing arguments!
  4. Sorry if I sounded as zealous as a convert, a bottle of red often does that to me. I wouldn't suggest that all of the content is absolutely right, but it does open the mind to questioning things that are often not mentioned. As a starting point for exploring the issue it is sound - and, I think, less politically biased than Joanna's tome.
  5. Blimey! No one else reads???

    OK, I'll offer another:

    'Winged Victory', by VM Yeats:

    Firmly in the 'realities of war' camp, it is a fictionalised autobiography, written some years after the first war, when the author was dying of TB. If you want to gain a little respect for pilots (I know, I know...), this is the one to read. It was regarded as 'the only book about flying that isn't complete flannel' by WWII pilots, and copies changed hands for up to £5 at that time (which, adjusted against the RPI, equates to some £200 now...)

    It has been described as 'the greatest novel of war in the air'.

    (NB - 'On Killing': Not bad, but I know Dave personally, and so I can't comment... :wink: )
  6. Bad CO

    Bad CO LE Admin Reviews Editor Gallery Guru

    Once a Warrior King by David Donovan. By far and away the best Vietnam book I've read and one with increasing resonance in these troubled times. I still am staggered that it isn't compulsory reading for those studying COIN.
  7. Sun Tzu "The Art of War" Old tried but true
  8. Well, since it would appear that no-one else actually reads anything - do you really think so? I've always felt that it's a collection of BGO's that would be dismissed as puerile, if it were not for the 'eastern wisdom' element...

    I mean, come on:

    'Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.'

    'An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.'

    'So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.'

    No shit, Sherlock...
  9. Not read many on the USMC list; I didn't think the Def Ac list was too bad

    My choices (mainly in Realities of War genre)

    Alamein to Zem Zem by Keith Douglas "gifted, troubled Yeomanry subaltern, poet and artist fights through North Africa in 41/42, later dies in Nromandy")

    Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser (better than all of the Flashman series, authors own story of his soldiering)

    Rules of the Game by Andrew Gordon (this one is on the JSCSC list but nevertheless excellent- uses Jutland and Royal Navy infighting to illustrate eternal tension between "regulator" and "ratcatcher" leadership styles)
  10. I could not agree more with Bad CO - Once a Warrior King is an excellent book, all the more so because of the humble nature of the author.

    Some of my favourites are:

    'Slim, Master of War' by Robert Lyman. This gives an excellent account of the Burma campaign, and an insight into generalship (fat lot of use that will be to me!).

    'Quartered Safe Out Here' by George MacDonald Fraser. This is a very good description of what it is like to be a soldier in a dirty and nasty war. MacDonald Fraser, as mentioned above, also wrote the superb Flashman series of books - Flashman should surely be every ARRSErs true hero! Another MacDonald Fraser book worth readin is 'The Complete MacAuslan' which is a collection of his stories about the world's worst soldier. If you read it you will be able to identify many of the characters contained within it in your own unit today. On a more serious note, MacDonald Fraser also said in the last few years that he still doesn't trust the Japanese (or some such similar sentiment), which just shows quite how he was deeply affected by the war.

    'Mud Blood and Poppycock' by Gordon Corrigan. This debunks many of the myths surrounding the First World War. It is not a particularly challenging read, but worth it nonetheless.

    Two other books that were recommended to me for Shriv were reference books:

    'The Greenhill Dictionary of Military Quotations' edited by Peter Tsouras. This is a wonderful book, which is worth having for including bon mots in essays and SRD handouts. It is also a very interesting book to be able to browse whilst having a dump!

    'The Oxford Companion to Military History' edited by Richard Holmes. This is just a great book, with bags of useful info on a whole range of subjects, all usefully cross referenced.

    I would heartily recommend all of the above books to anyone going to Shriv, but it must be remembered that the best way to succeed on a course there is to stick to the very wise advice of "no lead, no read!"
  11. Milligan's description of the 'phantom hose pipe knotter' is a classic...

    For those who haven't read it, the poor conscripts in North Africa were surprised by how cold it got at night - to the extent that they hated leaving their blanket rolls for a piss. One guy in his unit realised that you could slip the radiator hose from their vehicles over your knob, and train the thing out of the blankets (downhill!), and thus relieve yourself without disturbing your precious warmth... (been there?)

    Milligan's response was to sneak around knotting/blocking them, so that unfortunate soldiers experienced 'blowback'....... :D
  12. At the risk of getting of everyone falling about laughing - how about reading some pams?

    I'll get my coat.
  13. Anything by Lt Col David Hackworth. A truly amazing US Army legend. From commissioning out of the ranks in Korea to commanding Battalions in Vietnam he bacame the most decorated US Officer after WW2. Particularly "Steel my Soldiers Hearts" his account of training a battalion from hopeless to hardcore in Vietnam.
    He is able to motivate his soldiers and junior officers, understands their needs and the mission whilst at the same time f*cking off the tools in Brigade and Div HQ who are foccussed on body counts and the statistical approach to "victory".
    His "Hackworth's Rules" should be given to all OCdts at RMAS!