Arrogant Armies: Great Military Disasters and the Generals Behind Them

Arrogant Armies: Great Military Disasters and the Generals Behind Them

by James M. Perry
     
 

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"Nothing goes wrong quite so dramatically as a disastrous military expedition."--from the Introduction

ARROGANT ARMIES

Spanning more than two hundred years of martial adventurism, aggression, and outright blundering, Arrogant Armies chronicles the profoundly misguided and utterly calamitous military expeditions of the great empire builders and

Overview

"Nothing goes wrong quite so dramatically as a disastrous military expedition."--from the Introduction

ARROGANT ARMIES

Spanning more than two hundred years of martial adventurism, aggression, and outright blundering, Arrogant Armies chronicles the profoundly misguided and utterly calamitous military expeditions of the great empire builders and overconfident expeditionary forces. From colonial America to South Africa, from Mesopotamia to Khartoum, an extraordinary number of presumably superior armies grievously underestimated native forces.

Using contemporary newspaper accounts, military memoirs, diaries of soldiers who fought in the battles, and other firsthand letters and papers, noted journalist James Perry brings a sense of urgency and immediacy to these historic defeats. At times devastating, at times hilarious, his vast panorama of human folly is peopled by frightened soldiers, zealous native resistance, and, of course, a colorful gallery of arrogant, often inept officers. Many of them received their ultimate comeuppance in these battles: Generals Edward Braddock, Charles MacCarthy, William R. Shafter, Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, Charles "Chinese" Gordon, William George Keith Elphinstone, Manuel Fernandez Silvestre, and others.

What is most remarkable about Arrogant Armies is the cumulative power of these ironic encounters. Black humor, brutality, staggering incompetence, and genuine drama come together with devastating force. In Arrogant Armies Perry casts a sharply critical eye on what he describes as the "small wars, what Kipling called the 'savage wars of peace.'" It is fascinating history and a compelling commentary on politics and "the dark side of the human race . . . its deadly preoccupation with war."

"As one of our nation's top political reporters, Jim Perry has covered his share of political disasters. Now he has turned his skills to this sad but brilliant chronicle of military disasters. In the process, he has produced a classic."--Sander Vanocur The History Channel

"Jim Perry has long been one of America's great political reporters. This has been perfect training to write this marvelous book, Arrogant Armies. Having covered more than a few contemporary political disasters, Perry is able to brilliantly, often hilariously, capture the worst military blunders of the past several hundred years. These fiascoes span the globe from the Middle East to Southeast Asia to Haiti, and chronologically from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. There are common characteristics: commanders afflicted with drunkenness, debauchery, arrogance, and often just plain stupidity. With vitality, a sense of irony and history, Jim Perry gives you a battle-side seat at these debacles."--Albert R. Hunt Executive Washington Editor Wall Street Journal

"Jim Perry has done, in Arrogant Armies, what he has always done. He has told us stories we haven't heard before. He has explored an unmined vein of history with enthusiasm, skill, and style. History buffs will delight in Arrogant Armies. I'm not so sure, however, about the generals."=Roger Mudd The History Channel

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
As the senior political writer for the Wall Street Journal, Perry has seen his share of losers on the campaign trail (including the senator he portrayed in Barry Goldwater). But, apparently hungry for more, he now has gone to war, visiting some of the great military disasters, and the officers who engineered them. Perry's crew is motley but, other than in his conclusion, is limited to British, American, Italian, Spanish and French generals from the mid-1700s until the early 20th century. The conclusion offers a few pages on the U.S. experience in Somalia and closes movingly with the names of the 18 Americans who died there in two days in October 1993. One might wish for a longer study covering more and bigger battles, one that includes clashes like Dien Bien Phu, which drove the French out of Vietnam and set the stage for American involvement there. But the 11 tales Perry tells will have readers shaking their heads. Here is America's Major General William R. Shafter, for instance, decried as 'criminally incompetent' by Teddy Roosevelt, guiding troops into a major debacle during the Spanish-American War; and here is Britain's General Edward Braddock marching off during the French and Indian War into Indian-occupied forests with his troops wearing bright red coats and making much noise. These soldiers never bothered to find out the lay of the land and were slaughtered. Braddock's bloody incompetence is typical of Perry's chronicles, which will leave readers sated with confirmation of stupidity in high places.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As the senior political writer for the Wall Street Journal, Perry has seen his share of losers on the campaign trail (including the senator he portrayed in Barry Goldwater). But, apparently hungry for more, he now has gone to war, visiting some of the great military disasters, and the officers who engineered them. Perry's crew is motley but, other than in his conclusion, is limited to British, American, Italian, Spanish and French generals from the mid-1700s until the early 20th century. The conclusion offers a few pages on the U.S. experience in Somalia and closes movingly with the names of the 18 Americans who died there in two days in October 1993. One might wish for a longer study covering more and bigger battles, one that includes clashes like Dien Bien Phu, which drove the French out of Vietnam and set the stage for American involvement there. But the 11 tales Perry tells will have readers shaking their heads. Here is America's Major General William R. Shafter, for instance, decried as "criminally incompetent" by Teddy Roosevelt, guiding troops into a major debacle during the Spanish-American War; and here is Britain's General Edward Braddock marching off during the French and Indian War into Indian-occupied forests with his troops wearing bright red coats and making much noise. These soldiers never bothered to find out the lay of the land and were slaughtered. Braddock's bloody incompetence is typical of Perry's chronicles, which will leave readers sated with confirmation of stupidity in high places. (May)
Library Journal
Perry, a political writer for the Wall Street Journal, discusses in detail a dozen small wars that occurred during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries involving England, France, Spain, Italy, and the United States. The most embarrassing military defeats experienced by those countries, these wars were all mounted against "inferior cultures," and, as the title suggests, the egos involved contributed to the defeats. The majority of the campaigns that Perry discusses here took place on the African continent: the first Ashanti War in 1924, the Boer War, and the wars with Egypt, Ethiopia, and Morocco. The North American theater is also represented with the French and Indian War and the Spanish American War. Perry ends with a discussion of the American mini-disaster in Somalia in 1994. Written in a conversational tone, his book is recommended for all collections, including young adult.-David Lee Poremba, Detroit P.L.
School Library Journal
YA-A compilation of insightful accounts of military expeditions that went awry during two and a half centuries of colonialism. Perry starts with British General Edward Braddock's thrust into the Ohio Valley during the French and Indian War with his soldiers attired in flaming red jackets. A few of the subsequent operations included are General Gordon's loss of Khartoum in the Sudan, Italian General Baratieri's defeat in Ethiopia, and General Townshend's failure in the Mesopotamian campaign during World War I. Terry's last full chapter tells of General Silvestre's Spanish troops battling native Rifs in Morocco between 1921-26. A short account of recent involvement in Somalia concludes the book. In each instance, the imperial forces ignored the natives' thirst for independence until too late. The resulting horror of war, loss of life, and degradation of both conqueror and conquered was devastating and terrible. This collection of failed military missions is a valuable source of information for research on military history. The index is adequate but the glaring defect of the book is the lack of any maps. There are a few illustrations but the paucity of them considerably weakens the study.-Peggy Mooney, Pohick Public Library, Burke, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A kind of Hall of Fame of major military blunders committed by overconfident commanders and politicians.

Wall Street Journal reporter Perry awards most of the booby prizes to pompous British officers who looked down on "inferior" native peoples in the heady days of empire. Some Spanish, Italian, French, and American disasters also make the list. The author combs primary sources, such as diaries, letters, memoirs, and news reports, to create some exotic, fascinating tales of idiots (Perry's word) responsible for an appalling loss of human life. We read of Braddock's defeat at the hands of French and Indians (who used guerilla-like tactics against the regimented British troops) in the Pennsylvania wilderness (1765); the destruction of General St. Clair's army (178990), the worst defeat ever inflicted by Indians on an American army; the thrashing inflicted on the French by liberated slaves in Haiti (17931804); and such British debacles as Afghanistan (183942), the First Boer War (188081), and the fall of Khartoum (188485). Also, Perry recounts the Italian catastrophe at Adowa, Ethiopia (189596), American general Shafter's incompetence in the Spanish-American War (1898), the bungled Spanish War of conquest in Morocco (192126), and the American mini-disaster in Somalia (199294). Perry argues that these military failures had many common factors: the hubris of commanders, contempt for native soldiers and guerrillas, bad intelligence, over-reliance on advanced equipment, and incompetent military and political leadership. In most cases, the best armies of the times were defeated by mobile, lightly armed natives.

A study of historic episodes and characters that should be of interest to readers at a time of military adventures in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. It should also be required reading for military cadets, politicians, and the bureaucrats who typically direct wars from a safe distance.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780470347058
Publisher:
Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
05/02/2008
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
314
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

JAMES M. PERRY is Senior Political Writer for the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of three books about American politics: Barry Goldwater: A New Look at a Presidential Candidate; The New Politics: The Expanding Technology of Political Manipulation; and Us & Them: How the Press Covered the 1972 Election. Mr. Perry lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

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