2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
john, 21 Feb 2012
I have just read this book, The Ministry of Defeat, and without any sense of modesty, I'd like to summarise thoughts that occurred to me while reading it. Some are observations, some are questions; in no particular order. In doing so, few matters might be settled by any reply readers of this review, and perhaps Dr North might give. I have a great admiration and much appreciation that Dr North has taken the time and effort to produce this record of events, together with an analysis of why things turned out as they did. I just hope that people more influential than me take the time to read it; and act on some of the issues that are raised in the book.
I've put my points in bullet form for brevity, since I'm sure it's quite tedious having to wade through pages of prolix.
1. I think the book is well-written and I'm surprised that it took me so little time to read it in its entirety. I have several other books, started several years ago, which are still to be finished.
2. I found the dispassionate narrative quite emotional at times, if that's not an oxymoron. But for me, it's true that reading of the needless death of young men and women, and the very many more who have been mutilated is very upsetting; especially since many if not most could have been avoided. I'm not dewy-eyed about our armed forces, and though I have no direct connection with them, over the years I have met ex-servicemen and members of their families and they have all, in my opinion been exceptional people, from squaddies to naval officers and engineers in the RAF. There's something solid and dependable about them. I'm not sure if it's the discipline of the forces that turns them so, or that it's that kind of person who is attracted to the services. Whatever, thank God we still have them to protect us.
3. Reading the book brought back to me my first impressions of Muqtada al Sadr, soon after we had invaded Iraq. I think I recognised him, even then as an unknown muslim cleric who was being dismissed in press reports as someone insignificant; playing on the prestige of his late father as I recall. He seemed dangerous, and if my memory serves me, he was directly responsible for the killing of one of his opponents; possibly in a mosque. And he was not brought to justice for this action. I remember thinking then and the question still stays with me : Why don't we kill this man before he does any more damage. I wonder if this was ever considered and if so why was it not carried out? If it wasn't, why not; have we eschewed such actions in this `modern' era?
4. Just as the `phone hacking' scandal was the culmination of an incestuous relationship between the press, the politicians and the police, it seems to me that the same unhealthy relationship existed, and probably exists, between the press, the politicians and the MOD. If so, then I wonder what it would take for this to receive the same level of exposure and investigation as the hacking of phone calls?
5. And on that subject, what would it take for senior figures; decision makers; in the MOD, the government, parliament, the press, and the bbc by the way, and civil service to be brought to account. The likes of Blair and Brown should certainly be made accountable. In my view, until we start to punish those who act in such a reprehensible way, then nothing is going to change. If I'm not mistaken, I think this is reflected in Dr North's comments in the Epilogue.
6. Having read the book, it also brought back to me the feeling of humiliation I felt; even with the sparse reporting of events; at the time of our withdrawal from Basra to the airport. That must have been an extremely unpleasant experience for our ordinary servicemen and women. I have been told that our guys were called The Borrowers by the Americans because of how unprepared they were; that must have been a blow to morale right from the start. They had to buy their own desert boots for example. I suspect it will take a while before our allies take us seriously in the way we arrange things. It will be similar to the situation when Philby defected; I believe the Americans immediately stopped exchanging information with us. Well now they'll ignore any advice we might offer; or am I being too negative?
7. The comments in the last chapter, about roads in Afghanistan - perhaps if we were still taught proper history; perhaps about the Roman Empire; the decision makers might have held the task of building roads in higher regard.
8. Is there any evidence that the senior ranks in our services have started to learn lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan, and more importantly, the almost criminal way they have spent our money to satisfy their own fantasy projects? For all their faults, the Americans appear to learn faster than we do, on all fronts. I suspect that we need to be learning from them, and not vice versa.
9. I wonder if the imminent Europeanisation of our defence forces means that we will never again be able to learn any lessons; because the planning, organising, control and procurement activities will inevitably be subsumed into the bureaucratic maze of the greater EU machine?
10. If so, then I suspect that with a combined defence organisation (British and French) we could never again fight an Iraq war and we almost certainly would not be able to mount a defence of the Falklands because the French would not permit it.
11. How were Messrs Jackson, Dannat and Stirrup ever promoted to such high ranking positions? They appear to me to be the biggest culprits in all of this mess. And it goes back to my observation above that the relationship between the politicians and the armed services was too incestuous. As a minimum, there should be someone or some persons seconded by the government (perhaps the new Office for Budget Control or whatever they are called) to the respective departments in the services to monitor how the money is being spent; and report back to parliament which should have the power to veto any stupid decisions before they cost too much. Or is that being naïve and assuming that yet more bureaucracy will solve this problem?
12. So, to restate my question in another way : was the promotion the three gentlemen mentioned above another symptom of the process that saw the appointment of Mr Ian Blair to the head of the Metropolitan Police; because he also was unfit for the position, in my opinion.
13. Finally, I wonder if the currently discussed changes to the Freedom of Information Act (hopefully it won't be weakened, but I'm not holding my breath) would mean that such a book as this one couldn't be written in the future, because the putative author would be denied access to even more of the information than has been used in producing this fine record of events in Iraq?
A fine book that is worthy of as great an audience as possible. Congratulations, Dr North.