Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda Hardcover – 1 Oct 2003
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Likely to jar the conventional wisdom. . . . Keegan is always a pleasure to read for his wit, insight and style. The New York Times Book Review
Bracing, meticulous case studies [by] our greatest modern military historian. Newsweek
Keegan is a . . . treasure. . . . His analysis is as sharp as ever, and it s all written with his characteristic flair. The Christian Science Monitor
Thought-provoking. . . . Keegan s book is a wise corrective, assessing just how useful intelligence has been in battle. The Dallas Morning News"
"Likely to jar the conventional wisdom. . . . Keegan is always a pleasure to read for his wit, insight and style." -The New York Times Book Review
"Bracing, meticulous case studies [by] our greatest modern military historian." -Newsweek
"Keegan is a . . . treasure. . . . His analysis is as sharp as ever, and it's all written with his characteristic flair." -The Christian Science Monitor
"Thought-provoking. . . . Keegan's book is a wise corrective, assessing just how useful intelligence has been in battle." -The Dallas Morning News
-Likely to jar the conventional wisdom. . . . Keegan is always a pleasure to read for his wit, insight and style.- -The New York Times Book Review
-Bracing, meticulous case studies [by] our greatest modern military historian.- -Newsweek
-Keegan is a . . . treasure. . . . His analysis is as sharp as ever, and it's all written with his characteristic flair.- -The Christian Science Monitor
-Thought-provoking. . . . Keegan's book is a wise corrective, assessing just how useful intelligence has been in battle.- -The Dallas Morning News --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Inside Flap
John Keegan, whose many books, including classic histories of the two world wars, have confirmed him as the premier miltary historian of our time, here presents a masterly look at the value and limitations of intelligence in the conduct of war.
Intelligence gathering is an immensely complicated and vulnerable endeavor. And it often fails. Until the invention of the telegraph and radio, information often traveled no faster than a horse could ride, yet intelligence helped defeat Napoleon. In the twentieth century, photo analysts didn't recognize Germany's V-2 rockets for what they were; on the other hand, intelligence helped lead to victory over the Japanese at Midway. In Intelligence in War," John Keegan illustrates that only when paired with force has military intelligence been an effective tool, as it may one day be in besting al-Qaeda. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
"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. The first case study, Nelson and Napoleon, demonstrates this completely, with Nelson getting increasingly outdated information, making some choices based on false assumptions of what he knew, but ultimately prevailing because of a decisive mind willing to take a chance on suppositions based on that intelligence. Keegan does an excellent job here showing the troubles Nelson had to go through to even get what he had.
Other case studies include Stonewall Jackson and his Shenandoah Valley campaign (demonstrating local area knowledge), the chasing of the German surface fleet in World War I (the interception and use of wireless signals), the battle of Crete (how intelligence doesn't always win the battle), the battle of Midway (the breaking of Japanese codes), the battle of the Atlantic (how intelligence was just one part of the defeat of the German submarine fleet), the German V-1 and V-2 rocket campaign against Britain (how human intelligence became very important) and then an evaluation of military intelligence from 1945 to today. He finishes with a conclusion that sums the whole thing up, that war is not won just by intelligence, but by brute force.
The broad examples Keegan uses to illustrate his point takes the reader gently along the path to understanding. He first shows some instances where intelligence was instrumental in helping the winning side succeed in their action (Nelson surprised the French fleet at Alexandria and destroyed it). He then shows us Crete, and how the British knew almost the entire German plan, but misinterpretation of parts of it kept the local commander from deploying his forces correctly, causing the loss of the island even though the Germans lost 40% of their paratroopers. This brutally enforces Keegan's notion that intelligence is nothing without the blood and sweat necessary to make use of it, or how that same blood and sweat given by the enemy can overwhelm even a prepared force.
Even without the intelligence theme running through the case studies, they are fascinating history. Keegan tells the story completely even as he uses the chapter to illustrate his point. While at times the entire chapter is illustration (the Nelson chapter continually refers to the intelligence that Nelson had received and figured out), other times he seems to abandon the theme and just tell the history (the Jackson chapter and the Battle of the Atlantic). Doing this in the Atlantic chapter reinforces the fact that, while intelligence was important in the fight against the submarine wolf packs, it was the sailors who were the most important in winning this particular battle.
Keegan's research is top-notch, though there are times you wonder about the variety (or lack thereof) of sources he uses for a particular chapter. The number of "ibid" notations can be quite alarming sometimes, though he always uses at least five or six sources for any one chapter. I do notice that there aren't any primary sources (though some of the notes say "quoted in…" so the text he is using as a source may have been using a primary source). While this is an issue, I don't think it's a major one in this case, however. He is not trying to tell a definitive history with his case studies, but instead to use them as support of his thesis about intelligence. Thus, he's not trying to get into the heads of parties involved. Some people may have a problem with that, however.
Keegan's style is very easy for the layman to read. The chapters flow effortlessly, and if you have any interest in the subject whatsoever, you should find yourself intrigued. You may not agree with him, but you will not have any trouble getting through the book. It is not dense at all. It's a thick book, at almost 400 pages before notes and bibliography. However, you will find yourself breezing through it so it doesn't feel that long. Personally, I couldn't put it down, but Keegan always entrances me with his writing. It's no different from any of his other books that I've read, so if you've found that you can't stand his writing, this book won't be any different and you should probably pass on it.
Read this book, and discover just how important intelligence is in warfare, and how sometimes it just isn't enough.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
In a series of case studies starting with the naval operations of Lord Nelson, Keegan argues: "Intelligence, however good, is not necessarily the means to victory; that ultimately, it is force, not fraud or forethought, that counts" (p. 334). Two of the most striking examples he uses are the battles of Crete in 1940 and Midway in 1942. At Crete, the British had accurate signals intelligence telling them what the Germans were going to do and they still lost. At Midway, the Americans had equally good information on what the Japanese intended, but random chance was the key to U.S. victory. The American planes that sank three of the four Japanese carriers were lost and found the enemy fleet by accident at a time when their defenses were ill prepared for another attack.
These arguments are important. We use this book at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College where I currently teach. Keegan's ideas are revisionist but also seem straight forward. The title is accurate. This book focuses only on military intelligence in war. The subtitle is a bit misleading. There is next to no mention of al-Qaeda in the book. Keegan is an exceptionally easy read, but he raises some significant questions which is always a good combination.
His point that intelligence is a tool and not a decisive victory is well made. As is his secondary point that covert action needs to be separated from intelligence gathering.
The only part I disagreed with was his analysis of subversion. He does a solid job analyzing the conflicts he already had, but failed to see the impact and effectiveness of subversion throughout the last 50 years. He honed his scope too thin to really see the impact of subversion (especially with the analysis being near its beginning).
Keegan's book sparked some vigorously dissenting opinions on the value of his argument, as can be seen in other reviews. It has been noted before that Keegan's undoubted powers of description are sometimes stronger than his ability to interpret their meaning. To the extent that Keegan breaks no new intellectual ground in this book, those dissenting opinions are perfectly valid. The effect of "Intelligence in War" to strip away some of the mystique of intelligence in war is likely of value for the general reader, as opposed to the dedicated student of conflict or intelligence. His selected examples place intelligence firmly in context in the chaos that accompanies battle. His point, that intelligence can facilitate success but does not mandate it, may be far less obvious to the general reader than to the dedicated student.
Keegan's prose, as always, is imminently readable. His accounts of the Battle of the North Atlantic and of Crete, including his analysis of the outcomes, are superbly concise, with much nuance. Keegan includes an excellent selection of maps and photographs.
This book is recommended to the general reader looking for a entertaining discussion of just how intelligence can fit into the bigger picture in conflict. Dedicated students of intelligence in warfare will find more challenging fare elsewhere.
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