bigbananaslug (bigbananaslug) wrote,

Review: Churchill's First War by Con Coughlin

Winston Churchill was one of the great figures of the first half of the 20th century. Winston Churchill fought in Afghanistan and wrote his first book, "The Story of the Malakand Field Force," about the campaign. Churchill did poorly in school, and barely graduated from Sandhurst, the Royal military academy. His famous father, Lord Randolph Churchill had just died from syphilis and his mother, American belle Jenny, was enmeshed in love affairs and London society. In the hope of getting some experience in war, Churchill and his mother find him a posting to a cavalry regiment in Southern India. Once there, he wangled an appointment as an aide-de-camp to the commanding general of the Malakand Field Force in the tribal area known as Pashtunistan, now the modern border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pashtun tribesmen sound disturbingly familiar. Reading his book, one wonders desperately why we were ever stupid enough to go into Afghanistan in 2001. Churchill wrote about the Talib-ul-ani, who are literally the ancestors of the modern Taliban. These were the mad mullahs that the British Raj fought in the 19th century, and their great grandchildren are the mad mullahs that NATO is fighting in 2013. The tactics are the same, allowing for the fact that we have drones and high powered aerial bombardment...and the results are the same too. First NATO (or the British) takes a village. Then the Talib take it back. Lather, rinse and repeat. Coughlin explains why the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, had no choice but to defend his guest, Osama bin Laden, because of the custom of sanctuary in Pashtunistan.

This is also a fascinating look at the very young Winston, who, chronically short of funds, tries to wheedle his way into every action because he believes that medals, commendations and being mentioned in dispatches is the way to a high flying political career, such as his father had before syphilis killed him. Winston, very much his mother's son, uses her influence and contacts to become friendly with senior officers, usually with some benefit to his career. He is brave, and willing to be shot at. He understands the military virtues, as he showed when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, and later Prime Minister, because he had personally lived those virtues.

Winston was affected by the deaths of his friends, his comrades and the Indian soldiers that he witnessed. His attitudes toward India-- which caused him to be an inverterate foe of Gandhi and Nehru as they fought for Indian independence-- hardened during his time as a cavalryman in Southern India.

This is an excellent look at the maturing Winston Churchill, and a chilling preview of what will happen in Afghanistan as the NATO forces withdraw.

All in all, a terrific book. Churchill's First War: Young Winston at War with the Afghans
Tags: biography, con coughlin, history, winston churchill

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