History

Auftragstaktik – Mission Tactics

I love layman level discussion of military strategy and tactics. This is a fascinating example.

But as a layman I have no idea whether he is talking cobblers :)

I have done, and still do a bit of wargaming in my time. More recently I have moved to the big live action stuff. Last summer I had to direct a challenging combined assault of 60 vs 40 using untried, undisciplined amateurs. But I can see where Moltke was coming from with Auftragstaktik. It’s far easier, and you are more likely to have success, with well trained people who will act on their own initiative to deliver the results you want, than to sit down and try and micro manage them with a complex and cumbersome set of orders.

Three books

A Mexican politician is in trouble after flunking a question on “three books that have left a mark on your life”. It is not actually as straight forward a question as it seems. How many people feel that particular books have made a mark on their lives? And can you narrow things down to 3?

I had a quick think and picking the first 2 was easy. Coming up with a 3rd took me a few more minutes. It’s a good thing I wasn’t put on the spot in a live interview. Anyway, my three are:

  • The History of the WorldJ.M. Roberts – I read this one around 1990. As well as being a fascinating tour of where we came from, it really opened my eyes to how the world works. And in its social history elements probably did more than anything else to make me an atheist. I am re-reading the most recent version (5th edition, published last June) on my Kindle at the moment, and discovering new things in it all the time. That isn’t surprising of course when a book covers so much ground.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond. I picked this book up in Dallas airport on the way to Chile in 2001. If the History of the World talks about how European civilization went out to conquer the world, GG&S is why it happened that way and why Africans or Americans didn’t come to subdue the “Old World”. More people really should read this book, if just to see how small thing, like pigs, wheat, and chickens made the world the way it is.
  • Demon Haunted World – Carl Sagan. This one was the last of the three I decided on. I am not 100% sure where or when I picked up this one originally. I think I was working in Nenagh and got it in Limerick around 1997/1998. I had always been of a curious but skeptical nature (my mother can tell you stories). But this book opened my eyes to the simplicity and beauty of the scientific method. I got to see how it isn’t as much a tool for finding answers, as for checking which ones are good, and which ones are bad. The book also helps explain why so many people believe in nonsense – often it’s because they know no better. It introduced me to the joy of being a skeptic – of being able to look at the world with unclouded eyes, appreciating the real beauty rather than some made up nonsense, usually being peddled by someone with an agenda to push, or a product to sell.

Now not all of these are readily re-readable, and they may not be the best for covering their subject matter. But each one profoundly change my mindset and opened my eyes. And if they didn’t change my mind directly they have led me to other books that have made me who I am today.

Aren’t books great that way?

The Great Game

I recently finished reading Peter Hopkirk’s “The Great Game”. It’s the account of the rivalry between Britain and Russia in central Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s an excellent account of the machinations between two Empires in a region that continues to be unstable. The book is a classic excellent history as well as being an eye opener to the region. Funnily enough it was recommended to me by my father in law, who in the 80′s was himself a minor player in the ongoing great game in Afghanistan.

I wanted to pull out one passage though that made me smile. If you have a copy, go to the last paragraph of the chapter “The freeing of the Slaves”. Bearing in mind the book was originally published in 1990:

As for the modest Abbott, who had paved the way for Shakespear’s feat, he was to receive scant recognition. His rewards were to come much later in his career, though. Not only was he knighted and made a general, but a garrison town – Abbottobad, today in Northern Pakistan – was named after him. But all that lay far in the future, however.

It’s funny how 6 months ago no one could have told you where Abbottobad is, but now it will always be remembered as the place where another chapter for the great game drew to a close with the execution of a notorious player.

Abbott will be remembered for a bit longer, if just for his name. And the Great Game will continue…