BEYOND THE KHYBER PASS: The Road to British Disaster in the First Afghan War by John H. Waller

BEYOND THE KHYBER PASS: The Road to British Disaster in the First Afghan War

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History evolves in circles, never in straight lines--as the Soviets are learning every day. This truth is demonstrated with a great narrative skill and political understanding in this new book by the author of Gordon of Khartoum (1988). It is Waller's ability to paint a picture, as well as tell a story, of why and how the British fought the Afghans that makes the volume such a success. As with most wars, the First Afghan War (1839-1842), Waller demonstrates, came about because events took on their own momentum. Tactics and courage that had vanquished German, Russian, Indian, and Frenchman were useless and redundant in the rocky passes of Kabul. By the time the British wanted to withdraw from the area, they couldn't. At the end of the conflict, the most humiliating of the century for London, the British had lost pride, face, and 15,000 men--the same number of casualties inflicted upon the Soviet Union a century and a half later. The example and precedent of British vulnerability led to uprisings in other parts of the empire: ""The xenophobic and devoutly religious tribes, whose way of life was intertribal guerrilla warfare and whose God and Prophet stood staunchly behind each of them, momentarily abandoned their own blood feuds to declare Holy War against the infidel."" Waller concludes that we should long ago have learned to profit from history--but probably never will. His book, military history at its most immediate and tantalizing, offers lessons worth heeding.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1990
Publisher: Random House