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SOLDIERS by John Keegan


A History Of Men In Battle

by John KeeganRichard Holmes

Pub Date: March 1st, 1986
ISBN: 1568521103
Publisher: Viking

A companion piece to an upcoming BBC TV series of the same title from the authors of, respectively, Six Armies in Normandy and Acts of War. The profusely and imaginatively illustrated text represents a contribution to the bloody, hellish history of war, primarily for its compassionate appreciation of the battlefield experience. Keegan and Holmes (both members of the Sandhurst faculty) eschew a strictly chronological approach, canvassing instead the evolution of weapons and their users. According to the authors, soldiers—warriors who fight for pay—"are comparative latecomers to the field of human conflict." Among the survivors of this exacting trade, they point to the infantryman whose ancestry includes Mesopotamian spear carriers, Roman legionnaires, French poilus, and American GIs. Foot soldiers have endured down through the ages to fight in Vietnam, the Falklands, and Afghanistan. Their mounted counterparts, Keegan and Holmes show, have proved more vulnerable. Horsemen dominated the world's battlegrounds for many centuries, and Russia's Marshal Koniev had six divisions under his command during the final stages of WW II. But muskets, then cannon and machine guns have long since limited cavalry's role. Eventually, tankers became the military's mobile strike force; in turn, however, their tactical utility has been curbed by the march of technology which produced fragmentation warheads "dispensed by aerial bomb, missile, and artillery shell." In the meantime, the already lethal state of the ordnance art has advanced to the point where latter-day gunners can deliver nuclear as well as high-explosive payloads at intercontinental range, Also covered are the routinely courageous exploits of airmen and combat engineers—"the stagehands of the theatre of operations, without whose brave and laborious efforts armies could scarcely find the means to come to grips with each other." Nor do Keegan and Holmes scant the contributions of rear-echelon supply specialists who attend to logistics and of commanders whose awful responsibility it is to be both wise and bold in the expenditure of life. In addition to detailing the many ways in which man has done battle, the authors bear constant witness to the high price of armed conflict. Their humane regard for both victims and victors is explicit in a separate chapter on casualties, which tells graphic terms just how dreams of glory can end in gore. A thoughtful, focused study of warfare, brimful of front-line insights and intelligence.