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Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda [Abridged, Audiobook] [Audio CD]

John Keegan , Simon Prebble
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Nov 2003
In fiction, the spy is a glamorous figure whose secrets make or break peace, but, historically, has intelligence really been a vital step to military victories? In this breakthrough study, the preeminent war historian John Keegan goes to the heart of a series of important conflicts to develop a powerful argument about military intelligence.

In his characteristically wry and perceptive prose, Keegan offers us nothing short of a new history of war through the prism of intelligence. He brings to life the split-second decisions that went into waging war before the benefit of aerial surveillance and electronic communications. The English admiral Horatio Nelson was hot on the heels of Napoleon’s fleet in the Mediterranean and never knew it, while Stonewall Jackson was able to compensate for the Confederacy’s disadvantage in firearms and manpower with detailed maps of the Appalachians. In the past century, espionage and decryption have changed the face of battle: the Japanese surprise attack at the Battle of the Midway was thwarted by an early warning. Timely information, however, is only the beginning of the surprising and disturbing aspects of decisions that are made in war, where brute force is often more critical.

Intelligence in War is a thought-provoking work that ranks among John Keegan’s finest achievements.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group; Abridged edition (Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 073930755X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739307557
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 14 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 418,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An analysis of intelligence and its use in war 24 Jan 2004
In war, if you know what the enemy is going to do, you've won. Right? That's not necessarily so, as the British showed in the German invasion of Crete. John Keegan's Intelligence in War uses this as just one example of how intelligence is used in wartime and how it's not always the end-all and be-all of how a battle is won. Keegan explores the entire gamut of intelligence and how it's been gathered and used in modern warfare, using examples ranging from Admiral Nelson's chase of Napoleon's fleet on its way to Egypt in 1799 to some World War II examples. He finishes the book by discussing modern techniques that range from Vietnam to the war on terrorism. Put it all together and you have a fascinating book that turns the historical stereotypes on their head.
"Its theme is that intelligence in war, however good, does not point out unerringly the path to victory. Victory is an elusive prize, bought with blood rather than brains. Intelligence is the handmaiden not the mistress of the warrior." Pg 5
Methods of intelligence acquisition range anywhere from "humint" (the acquisition of intelligence through human means, usually spying but also including local knowledge of the area) and "sigint" (the interception of signals, whether radio satellite, or just seeing the semaphore flags). As technology has increased, the use of humint has decreased as more signals, and more ways of intercepting those signals, have been developed. The problem in the past has always been conveying the intelligence found to your superiors before it becomes outdated.
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  53 reviews
56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Point of the book 24 Nov 2003
By J. Wan - Published on Amazon.com
John Keegan is a well known military historian, and the defence editor for a major UK newspaper. In this particular book, he tackles the broad topic of intelligence and war. He uses case studies to help illustrate his points. (These include the 1942 Midway campaign, Nelson's pursuit of the French fleet leading to the Battle of the Nile, and Jackson's Shenandoah valley campaign). As some of the other reviewers have noted, these examples are not new, and some of the points he makes may be quite familiar. But I think in fairness, it should be remembered that while his work may be used to comment upon current policy, the roots of the work is as a history. It is not meant to be a polemic about how defence budgets may be better spent or the ultimate folly of war. While he does offer insights - and perhaps the best observation is that even if one has a great intelligence advantage, that advantage to be decisive must still be converted in some concrete way. The US knowing that the target was Midway was a great intelligence coup, but it still needed a big break when the Enterprise and Hornet's dive bombers managed to find the Japanese carriers while they were in the midst of re-arming. Of note in the later battles, the Japanese were able to determine US intentions (Phillipine Sea, Leyte Invasion) but the disparity in carriers and battle fleets was so great that the insight was almost irrelevant. Intelligence because it often has a short 'shelf life' unless it is acted upon or can be converted into some other tangible advantage can be transient and illusory. A very interesting work, and worth a read - more aimed at history buffs and not for ultra serious academics (who want more details) nor for policy pundits and mavens who are looking for historical 'evidence' to support their particular political and policy positions.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well reasoned explanation 6 July 2004
By Jerry Saperstein - Published on Amazon.com
This history is well timed in the sense that it appeared at a time when certain people were attempting to spread a myth that the United States should have been able to avoid the tragedy of 9/11. Keegan, a military historian of the first tier, examines the full scope of military intelligence and its ramifications.
He convincingly demonstrates that accurate intelligence has almost always been unavailable - and even in the few instances it was available, its impact has not been the decisive element.
Keegan examine Lord Nelson's 73 day quest for the French fleet, relying upon merchants, captured sailors, ambassadors and just about everyone else for information. In the end, it was Nelson's experience and intuition that brought his fleet to battle with the French.
Perhaps his most telling example concerns the Battle of Midway. The Americans had exceptional intelligence and yet, as Keegan shows, the American victory resolved itself to four minutes of good fortune. So it goes in war.
Yes, some governments spend millions and billions on gathering intelligence. No, it is very rare for that intelligence gathering process to produce sucessful results as a norm. War is a business where secrets are not given up easily and are difficult to ferret out.
Keegan maintains that in the end, intelligence isn't a handmaiden to victory in battle, but perhaps a cousin once removed.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foremost Military Historian Critiques Role of Intelligence 28 Dec 2003
By Q. Publius - Published on Amazon.com
Sir John Keegan, the world's foremost living military historian, has written a book which thoroughly examines the role of intelligence in warfare, reaching a conclusion that is sure to tick off the intelligence community: even the best military intelligence on an enemy's forces and plans is secondary to having adequate military forces and planning with which to defeat the enemy. Keegan gives a number of case studies, including the World War II submarine Battle of the Atlantic, Stonewall Jackson's 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign, Admiral Nelson's hunt for the French fleet in the Mediterranean, and the battle of Crete, to show the effect of various degrees of knowledge of the enemy's forces and plans on the outcome of battle. The battle of Crete contributes most to Keegan's conclusion on the usefulness of military intelligence: the commander had a high degree of knowledge of German forces and plans for the batttle, so much so that when the first German paratroopers began to land while he was eating breakfast, he looked up and said: "they're on time." Yet the British lost this battle despite this high degree of foreknowledge of the German invasion plans. Keegan would not deny the importance of military intelligence in future military operations. With the satellite intelligence and codebreaking available today, much can be learned about enemy forces. However despite this foreknowledge, the intention of the potential enemy's command structure can still be unknown: witness the beginning of the first Iraq War, when Iraqi forces were massing on the Kuwait border, yet U.S. intelligence did not believe Saddam would cross the border and invade Kuwait. Technological intelligence capabilities have been overemphasized by the U.S. intelligence community since Carter's Stansfield Turner headed the CIA, to the detriment of even more valuable human intelligence. Keegan's book, as all his books, reaches a reasoned balance: good intelligence is vital, but ultimately the outcome of military conflicts is determined by the skillful deployment of superior military forces--superior not necessarily in numbers, but in training, tactics, weaponry, and most of all, fighting spirit and leadership. Keegan has produced another masterpiece, which all military historians and commanders, and historians of the mysterious arts of espionage, must read--and heed, to their peril if they do not.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite to al Qaida 18 Nov 2003
By Jeffrey L Baker - Published on Amazon.com
I found John Keegan's book well written, although the title is somewhat misleading. In my opinion, this work focuses mostly where Mr. Keegan seems to be most comfortable, in World War II. Even though some of the concepts he describes span across time, I found few take-aways for the current war on terrorism. Additionally, there appears to be more written about the military operations themselves, rather than about the intellgence influence in those ops. I appreciate the fact that Mr. Keegan defends the intelligence community, as all too often intelligence is simply a scape goat for leadership to blame when they make bad decisions. I would recommend this book to any history oriented readers interested in wars during the first half of the 20th Century.
28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wish to argue the point...Again 5 May 2004
By Bjorn - Published on Amazon.com
John Keegan is an amazing writer who makes history accessible and fun to read. He uses careful and exacting research then creates a living world of history into which a reader is thrust. There is no argument in me that this is a fine read. However, as has been pointed out, the case study system makes a great book but a very weak argument. Keegan would have us believe that Intelligence in War has little impact on the actual outcome of the battle, whether it be plethora or dearth. I had a bit of trouble believing that.

Now if that was all of my review, everyone could just tell me to bug off. But I wish to explain exactly why I had trouble with Keegan's argument. As of right now I am a college student studying Military History. So I know my field pretty well. I can think of a few case studies where Keegan would be proved wrong...Case in point! The use of the Navajos language as a code by the American forces in the Pacific Theater gave us a distinct strategic and tactical advantage over our enemy, translating directly into lowered casualties and surprise (I think...I am after all a student still and absolute sentences like this are bad bad bad...). While Keegan would point out that armed force was still required to complete objectives, this event was an intelligence coup of some proportion and should not be ignored. I would also have liked to see an explanation of how Cold War Intelligence, especially that collected by nuclear subs, could be explained as being useless.

Keegan could not have included all of this...so its basically silly for me to demand it. But when a writer makes a thesis, he or she should be careful about how certain they are. I think Keegan would have benefited from someone giving him a counter argument, even if it would have weakened his argument...

But I have a thesis of my own. I make it for all of Keegans books, although I have only read two, this one and The Face of Battle. Keegan's supposedly faulty arguments aside, read these books for the amazing descriptions and analysis of war...you will not be sorry.

A Further Note...added in my old age. Having graduated college and grown a little, as well as re-reading Keegan's book, I find I was overly cirtical of Keegan and his thesis. While I still feel that his final claim that intelligence ALONE cannot win a battle is pretentious, I do not do believe so because he is wrong. I do so because this statement is much like me saying that a flower cannot grow without sun. Obviously this is true. But this statement is also very much a singular and direct statement, covering little ground. Were I to say instead that a flower, given less sunlight but all other things remaining equal, will grow slower than a well lit counterpart, I would be making a factual but arguable statement. Thus, had Keegan said that a singular battle, fought twice, once with intelligence and once without, would have ended the same in both cases, he would be making a arguable statement. Keegan does not. He simply states that, at least in his case studies, the addition or dearth of intelligence had little real impact and the "battle" was decided by luck or force of arms. And, as much as I try nto disect this statement, I have yet to find a large enough number of campaigns or battle where intelligence alone was the deciding factor. So, if my rant has become as unclear to you as to me, I make the following summary. Keegan is right because he states an obvious and inarguable fact. Simple battlefield intelligence, considered alone, cannot win a fight. I would argue though, that intelligence can give a uncalcuable advantage to one side or the other depending on its use and pertinence, armed forces aside.
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