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4.0 out of 5 stars Great recruiting poster, shame about the man himself, 7 Oct 2013
This review is from: KITCHENER: Portrait of an Imperialist (Hardcover)
I got this book from the library, intending to read only as far as 1899 as background information for writing a historical novel. But I ended up reading the whole thing, so mesmerised did I become with how horrible a man was Kitchener.

It's important to know that the author is an aristocratic former British army officer, a child during World War One, and something of an imperialist himself. So the book's sub-title doesn't signify criticism of Kitchener. The author most certainly is not a modern left-wing anti-militarist!

But what does the author really think? Repeatedly this book presents detailed anecdotes about Kitchener which are told deadpan and without comment but which are utterly damning according to my values. Yet typically they are preceded or followed by bland generalisations in support of Kitchener. Some sample anecdotes: how Kitchener, like the nastier sort of Roman emperor, had a captured Mahdist leader dragged by horses and whipped round town. How he dug up the Mahdi's skull as a trophy. How he schemed to deport permanently from South Africa to Indonesia those Boer women and children who survived the epidemic-ridden concentration camps, where he had confined them after burning their homes. How he stole art objects wherever he went. Or how, as army commander in India, he spent all his energies undermining the civilian British leadership because he simply had to be top dog.

It's only on the subject of Kitchener's disastrous, repeated blundering during World War One, hidden from the adoring public, that the author supplements eye-opening factual anecdotes with explicit and strong condemnation of Kitchener.

I'm still unsure where the author stands on a number of things. As the book describes, a fierce cult of hero-worship formed around Kitchener (still sometimes evident) and maybe it is this which makes him pull his punches. What he reveals, however, gives the impression that Kitchener would have made a promising top officer for the Third Reich - in black uniform or green - but for one discordant trait. He was such a domineering bully that he'd have got into trouble for hassling for the Fuhrer job for himself.
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