The Changing of the Guard by Simon Akam

ARRSE Rating
5.00 star(s)
In years to come, people who want to know what the British Army was like in the first twenty years of the 21st century will start with Simon Akam’s controversial masterpiece “The Changing of the Guard - The British Army since 9/11”. Stunningly well researched it brings together evidence from a huge number of players at all levels to explain the failures in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is a must read for anyone with an interest in the contemporary British Army.

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Structured around 5 sections, it starts with the author’s own experiences of the Army during a 12 month gap year commission with the Scots DG and then follows the Regiment as they deploy on Op TELIC This focus on individuals from key organisations, continues through every chapter and is used to bring to life events that might otherwise be a little dry, or difficult to understand. This has the impact of making the book extremely readable and I finished the entire 700 pages in under 3 days.

Many opinions have been given extremely candidly, and perhaps controversially, as can be clearly seen in the sections covering the 42/45 Cdo tour that resulted in the conviction of Marine A or the situation in 2007/08 Iraq that led to the Charge of the Knights. I’m sure that there will be named people who will be extremely unhappy with the way that their contributions have been portrayed and it is notable that publication has been delayed for years due to legal concerns which resulted in a change of publisher. On the other hand, the book repeatedly shows how very few senior people have been held accountable for operational failures so perhaps this is the only way that will ever happen.

Possibly the most impressive part of the book is the authenticity that it possesses. Although it comes to many deeply critical conclusions, The Changing of the Guard has the feel of a work that was written by an insider with a profound understanding of the Army mindset. Military folk, like me, are a demanding audience so this is no mean feat but there are also very few three letter abbreviations, no wiring diagrams and succinct explanations for most topics which makes it accessible to a much wider audience.

Simon’s book is also really important due to the excellent job he makes of bringing many of the failings of the Army, and wider MOD, into the bright light of day. I’m sure many of us who served during this period shook our heads in despair at the lack of continuity created by 6 monthly Bde handovers or the incoherence of the blank UOR cheque book but I can’t think of anywhere else where they are written down in such a coherent fashion. The Changing of the Guard should be sent to every senior officer and politician not to mention featuring prominently on the reading lists of our training academies.

I consider myself incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to read this ahead of the general publication and am sure the majority of ARRSE users will get as much from it as me. If you haven’t already realised then this is 5/5 stars - you should all go and get a copy to read!



One slight postscript is that ARRSE is included, most notably during the events which contributed to Piers Morgan’s career change at the Mirror. The founding of the site is also covered in some detail and if you really want to know who Good CO and myself are then you can find out.

 
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Yarra

War Hero
Mind you the choice of picture might give an idea of who in the UK does have some 'soft influence' (not power) with the US.
I think it is interesting to reflect on the fact that the UK does retain real soft power. However, this soft power has often been undermined by poor political leadership.

The GWOT was a case in point; in the run up, because of CORPORATE, BANNER, GRANBY, PALLISER, ALLIED FORCE, DESERT FOX etc, we had created an acceptance that we were a very effective military. This was hubris, but based on real operational outcomes - I don't recall much questioning of the prevailing orthodoxy. The troops moncked about crap kit (A1, Klansman, etc), but we got the important stuff right and SDR promised jam tomorrow. The moment they flew the planes into the Towers, we knew we were at war - we were the indispensable ally. The playing of the US Nat Anthem at Buck P just underlined the fact.

But that's when it started to go wrong: GW1. limited objectives, clear casus belli, unequivocal leadership on both sides of Atlantic. Twin Towers. casus belli, but with who? open-ended objectives driven by political ideologues (Neo-Cons).

Then enter stage left, Blair. A PM unable to grip his Chancellor, unable to distinguish clear UK geo-political objectives and riding the tail of the Neo-Con dragon. We lacked influence at the crucial point (arguing for an effective PhIV), because Blair was too weak to smack down Brown. We lacked influence at the crucial point because we were not ruthlessly clear what OUR vital national interest was; the indispensable ally, but at what cost? The British Army's reputation was just collateral damage in Blair's catastrophically arrogant mis-judgement. No wonder we don't get mentioned in Gates's tome, he was brought in to fix an avoidable mess, that we abdicated ourselves from, before that mess was ever a fully staffed 'plan'.

BREXIT and our response to COVID are similar forks in the road (to perdition or the sunlit uplands?) -what price to our precious soft power? If we act ruthlessly in OUR interests, at least we have a fighting change of shaping our future. To rely on other more powerful actors is asking for trouble - analogous to going on a road trip into the outback, without a map, or secure water supplies and with our driver on mind altering drugs.
 

Yarra

War Hero
Hmmm...not sure about Gap Yah books like these.

After all, The Junior Officers Reading Club (by the young Oxford-educated barrister looking to pep up his CV) was overall a decent read with some accurate Iraq/Herrick dits, but it suffered from its incredibly pompous tone, huge amount of chippiness and overly-dismissive manner to the glorious RAF (!)

Might wait until its in the £1 bin.
I have to agree about the general tone of JORC.

It was clichéd, facile and a little too cock sure of itself. But, the dits were great for those who could directly relate to them and a useful read when taken in the context of the other narratives available at the time (and subsequently).

You can have my copy for 75p
 
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The totality of Gates’ view of our contribution to the Iraq War...
 
Having finished the chapter on ambulance chasing lawyers, two thoughts struck me
Is Shiner still a Cnut
There’s a lot of Cnuts in the MOD
 

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