Top positive review
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Better than it looks
on 2 August 2007
This book has the misfortune to physically resemble those quickie military-porn books that are aimed at a certain sort of emotionally weird male - Special Forces recognition guides, glowing journalistic accounts of SAS missions you've never heard of, that kind of thing. That's a shame, as it's in fact an extremely interesting account of how certain military operations went badly wrong (or spectacularly right) because of how intelligence was either gathered, distributed or interpreted.
The author is a retired British Army Colonel with 20 years' intelligence experience, and while his literary style isn't always totally assured ('seeds' tend to be 'sown', if something is obvious then it tends to be 'blindingly obvious' and so on), his analysis of the various operations he talks about is always stimulating and sometimes eye-opening. What's refreshing about the book is that it's about failure, not about success; so the author can suggest that if Stalin hadn't ignored the mountain of evidence that the Nazis were about to invade the USSR in Operation Barbarossa, then the Russians could perhaps have felt very differently about their WW2 Allies who'd passed on a lot of the intel in the first place, and post-WW2 Europe could have looked very different in turn. Forensic argument like this is one of the big strengths of the book.
Similiarly refreshing is his extremely low opinion of that fondly-remembered minor royal, Lord Mountbatten, whose murder by the IRA I clearly remember from my teen years. Hughes-Wilson is unsparing in his criticism of Mountbatten's vanity, arrogance, duplicity and incompetence in relation to the botched Dieppe raid in 1942. He is equally right about Robert McNamara, without whose stewardship the US invasion of Vietnam could have ended much sooner.
I recommend this book not only to military geeks but also to anyone who enjoyed Norman F. Dixon's classic 'On the Psychology of Military Incompetence', to which this ought to be provided as an essential appendix. (One more thing. Re the title, shouldn't that be 'Covers-Up' rather than 'Cover-Ups'?)