Arrogant Armies: Great Military Disasters and the Generals Behind Themby James M. Perry
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
"Nothing goes wrong quite so dramatically as a disastrous military expedition."--from the Introduction
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
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.
- Turner Publishing Company
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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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