Churchill's First War: Young Winston at War with the Afghans

Overview

Churchill's First War by Con Coughlin is a fascinating account of Winston Churchill's early military career fighting in the 1890 Afghan campaign, offering fresh and revealing parallels into today's war in Afghanistan

Just over a century ago British troops were fighting a vicious frontier war against Pashtun tribeman on the North West Frontier—the great-great-grandfathers of the Taliban and tribal insurgents in modern-day Afghanistan. Winston Churchill, then a ...

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Churchill's First War: Young Winston at War with the Afghans

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Overview

Churchill's First War by Con Coughlin is a fascinating account of Winston Churchill's early military career fighting in the 1890 Afghan campaign, offering fresh and revealing parallels into today's war in Afghanistan

Just over a century ago British troops were fighting a vicious frontier war against Pashtun tribeman on the North West Frontier—the great-great-grandfathers of the Taliban and tribal insurgents in modern-day Afghanistan. Winston Churchill, then a young cavalry lieutenant, wrote a vivid account of what he saw during his first major campaign. The Story of the Malakand Field Force, published in 1898, was Churchill’s first book and, a hundred years later, is required reading for military commanders on the ground, both British and American.

In Churchill's First War, acclaimed author and foreign correspondent, Con Coughlin tells the story of that campaign, a story of high adventure and imperial success, which contains many lessons and warnings for today. Combining historical narrative, interviews with contemporary key players, and the journalist’s eye for great color and analysis, Churchill's First War affords us a rare insight into both the nineteenth-century "Great Game" and the twenty-first-century conflict that has raged longer than World War II.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
11/18/2013
Before Winston Churchill became a national hero after his escape from a prison camp in South Africa during the Boer War, he wrote The Story of the Malakand Field Force about his time serving in Afghanistan in 1897. Coughlin (Saddam) confirms the importance of this moment in Churchill’s career and its relation to the present day, with fascinating and enlightening results. When an Afghan official told a NATO official, “You blew up our market,” the reference was not to a recent event, but instead to the 1842 incident when British forces destroyed Kabul’s central bazaar. Coughlin’s account also works as a portrait of power, privilege, and gossip in late Victorian England. He describes a deeply ambitious Churchill who, with the help of his mother, was eager to create a persona that could land him a place in politics back in Great Britain. Assigned by the Daily Telegraph to write dispatches from the front (thanks to the help of his mother), Churchill laid the groundwork for what would be his storied career. Coughlin examines the elements of Churchill’s life that later took the form of a legendary prime minister, but he also provides a history of Afghanistan that reveals the origins of its modern struggles. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
Churchill’s First War is shortlisted for the Paddy Power Political History Book of the Year Award 2014

“Coughlin’s portrait of the Pashtun warriors the British fought with dubious success and the parallels he draws with the United States and nato’s struggle against their descendants are downright unnerving.” —Foreign Affairs

“[Coughlin] has given us a fascinating portrait of a young man who knew what he wanted in life, and set out to achieve it with the relentlessness and determination that would later make him a legend. The book will be of particular interest to those who have fought in the most recent Afghan War. The Talib (students) that Churchill fought are the forerunners of today’s Taliban.” —Washington Times

“An absorbing youthful biography” —Kirkus

"A fascinating book, especially for those not versed in the history of the region.  Recommended." — Library Journal

"Coughlin examines the elements of Churchill's life that later took the form of a legendary prime minister, but he also provides a history of Afghanistan that reveals the origins of its modern struggles." —Publishers Weekly

"Reading this book is both an indulgent pleasure and a genuine education." —Times Literary Supplement

Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-07
Daily Telegraph executive foreign editor Coughlin (Khomeini's Ghost: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam, 2009, etc.) infuses many of the celebrated traits of Winston Churchill (1874–1965) with a charming naïveté as he set out as a young man to reclaim his family's good name. Churchill's determination to become a soldier played out against the illustrious legend of his distinguished grandfather, the first Duke of Marlborough, and the disgrace of his own father's tarnished reputation as a hotheaded Tory statesman. As a boy, Churchill was obsessed with his collection of toy soldiers lined up in correct formation; he gleaned that "proving personal courage on the field of battle was a prerequisite for the pursuit of a career in politics." Getting into the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, on the third try did not win his father's approval, yet joining the cavalry proved his greatest joy. In choosing the elite 4th Queen's Own Hussars, he got a smart uniform and a commanding officer, Col. John Brabazon, who agreed to take on young Winston as a favor to his well-connected mother. Coughlin's bifurcated work moves between a winning biography of Churchill and a tortured catalog of Afghan history led by the precursors to the Taliban. Allied with his spendthrift mother to advance his career, Churchill tried to figure out how to achieve personal glory as quickly as possible, first in Cuba, then India. While his service with the Malakand Field Force quelling tribal resentment that erupted over the arbitrary Durand Line only lasted six weeks, his dispatches about the campaign published in the Daily Telegraph were remarkable and made his name as "knight of pen and sword." Current soldiers in Afghanistan still read Churchill's thoughtful account of civilization and tribal intractability. An absorbing youthful biography and a messy history lesson that holds eerie pertinence today.
Library Journal
11/15/2013
During much of the 19th century, the British fought bitterly against the Afghan Pashtun tribesmen in the North West Frontier of India (now Pakistan), bordering Afghanistan. The climax was the Siege of Malakand in 1897. A young cavalry lieutenant, Winston Churchill, had wrangled an assignment there, hoping that the war experience would further his fledgling political career. The British won the battle, and Churchill published his first book, The Malakand Field Force (1898). His brief military encounter netted him personal fame and a bit of "fortune" from book sales and launched his engagement in the British political arena. Coughlin (defense editor, Telegraph, London; Khomeini's Ghost: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam) has written a marvelous account of Churchill's first encounter with warfare and further illustrates that the West's current struggles with the tribesmen of Afghanistan and Pakistan have a long and tortured history. When British troops joined the NATO coalition against the Taliban a few years ago, they must have felt it was déjà vu all over again. History, Coughlin shows, has a habit of repeating itself when foreign powers forget to learn the lessons that it teaches. VERDICT A fascinating book, especially for those not versed in the history of the region. Recommended.—Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250043047
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 163,403
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

CON COUGHLIN is the executive foreign editor of The Daily Telegraph and a world-renowned expert on the Middle East. He is the critically-acclaimed author of several books, including the international bestseller, Saddam. He appears regularly on television and radio in the United States and the UK to comment on international security issues.

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