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Customer Review

55 of 69 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The case for the defence, 28 Jan. 2005
This review is from: Mud, Blood and Poppycock: Britain and the Great War (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS) (Paperback)
There's a lot worth reading in this book for anyone seriously interested in WW1. The author brings his military experience into good use in describing a lot of things many authors take for granted the reader knows - the structure of armies, the various ranks, how trenches were constructed, and so on. For someone like me who has never done any form of military service, this was very enlightening.

Also his analysis of army records to find out how soldiers actually did in the trenches - their rotas, use of reserve lines, R&R etc -was, to me, completely new. (He does, however, cite them uncitically, assuming that the records reflect the reality, which may not always be true)

So why the modest rating?

Firstly, this is not a well-written book. I found the author's style stiff and stuffy, with his attempts at humour all falling flat.

More serious, though, is that the author seems hell-bent to defend absolutely everything the army did in WW1. I have long been a convert to the "revisionist" view of WW1 - I agree entirely with the author that the "lions lead by donkeys"/"senseless slaughter & stupid generals" view of WW1 should be consigned to the dustbin of history - but time after time, the author seems to simply ignore any evidence contrary to his book's thesis.

I could cite many examples of this, but three will suffice:
(1) In the "Kangaroo Courts" chapter, the author apparently rubbishes any claims of misjustice. He partially does this by one of the oldest tricks in the book, i.e. putting up a straw man to demolish, in this case the cases of three executions "often cited" as unjust. The author rubbishes them and proceeds, with faulty logic, to virtually dismiss all claims of injustice. (The last case, the "Stone case", was recently featured on a TV documentary; it was interesting to see some of the facts that the author left out, particularly the correspondence between Haig & his generals clearly stating the view that there was a need to "made an example of" some men.)

(2) In the section on the Somme, the author glosses over the disastrous first day of the campaign, ignoring all the evidence of strategic confusion and tactics based on hope rather than experience. Read Huw Strachan or John Keegan's books on this for a contrast.

(3) In a lighter mode, read the section on the infamous General Cameron Shute and marvel at the naivety with which the author dismisses Shute's critics by pointing out how much training he'd had, then search the Internet for some naval documentation on Shute.

The author seems to have prejudices which often sppear to come to the surface - his low regard for Australians & the Irish, and his soldier's incomprehension about political realities is a recurring feature.

Personally, I doubt if this book will make many converts to the "revisionist" cause, as it is too blatantly biased. Try Gary Sheffield's "Forgotten Victory" instead.
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