An Old Army in a New World Order

Baron Dannatt

Baron Dannatt

An Old Army in a New World Order

Dr Frank Ellis crosses swords with Lord Dannatt

Richard Dannatt, Boots on the Ground: Britain and her Army since 1945, vii + pp. 360, Notes, no Bibliography, Illustrations, Index, Profile Books, London, 2016, ISBN 978-1781253809

Dannatt begins Boots on the Ground with some remarkable claims on behalf of the British Army. To begin with, he tells us that ‘The history of Britain is the history of her Army and vice versa’.[1] From the moment when it became possible to talk of a British Army there is something to this claim, though there is the not insignificant matter of English military achievements in wars against the French, Scots, Dutch and Spanish. Another objection is that it has never been the Army, English or British, that has saved England from foreign conquest. That honour falls to the Royal Navy, and in 1940 the honour fell to the Royal Air Force. The third claim made by Dannatt is also far from incontestable: ‘The British army remains the most renowned professional fighting force in the world’.[2] Having read Frank Ledwidge’s Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (2011), for example – and there was nothing small about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan – I am unable to share Dannatt’s optimism. Any such claim by Dannatt would require that he set out the criteria, which, according to him, would justify such a claim. That he fails to do. Undeterred, Dannatt also insists that ‘The Army is the exemplar against which the forces of our friends – and foes – judge themselves’.[3] Are the hordes of over-promoted majors, colonels, and two-a-penny brigadiers and generals really something that other armies want to emulate? Why is a British infantry battalion so top heavy with officers? Why are lieutenants required to command a platoon when a German infantry platoon in World War II was commanded – and superbly commanded – by a senior NCO? It is precisely because the British Army is so top heavy with commissioned ranks that it has never been at ease with mission-led command. Dannatt’s fifth claim states that ‘If the Army and the Armed Forces are diminished, so too is Britain’.[4]  Much of this assertion might plausibly hinge on what is meant by ‘diminished’ but as it becomes possible to do more with less a reduction in manpower seems inevitable. It is also far from obvious that the corollary of such technologically-driven changes ‘diminishes’ Britain. It might lead to a long overdue reduction in the swarms of colonels and major-generals but that would be a good thing.

Dannatt’s story begins with the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945. The United Kingdom, along with the USA, the Soviet Union and France (the French let in through the back door) now assumed responsibility for the administration of occupied Germany. Even before the cessation of hostilities there were clear signs that the ideological divide separating the Soviet Union and the two main Western Allies, Britain and the USA, was going to cause problems. For example, the Soviet Union resented the presence of the British, Americans and French in Berlin. The Blockade was an attempt by Stalin to force the Western Allies to abandon Berlin. The attempt not only failed but also served to

C-54 landing at Templehof

Berlin Blockade, C-54 landing at Templehof

strengthen ties between German civilians and their erstwhile British and American foes. Whatever misgivings the British occupation authorities had about enlisting the services of former National-Socialist officials and administrators such misgivings were not allowed to interfere with getting life back to normal. This policy worked and helped to lay the foundations of the Federal Republic’s astonishing economic recovery. This lesson was obviously not heeded by the US occupation regime in Iraq over sixty years later since the policy of de-Baathification proved to be one of the main factors contributing to the post-invasion insurgency in Iraq. Whatever else he was, Saddam Hussein was not another Hitler.

In the aftermath of World War II, Britain divested itself of Empire. The challenges associated with this decolonisation process were diverse, expensive and diplomatically and militarily challenging. Alongside this process Britain also had to confront the global communist threat, not just in West Berlin and Western Europe, but in Greece and Korea.  India was let go, Palestine was abandoned to the UN and communist insurgents had to be confronted in Malaya. In his section on Palestine, Dannatt cites an article in the Army Quarterly, in which it was asserted that the flogging of four British soldiers by Jewish insurgents was most likely the greatest insult ever inflicted on the British Army.[5] Dannatt passes no comment on this claim but it seems to me that this dubious honour belongs to the collapse at Singapore, with Dunkirk pressing for second place. Perhaps General Percival should have been publicly flogged on his release from Japanese captivity. In the early 1950s, the British Army had to deal with the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. In the 1960s, Britain was confronted with challenges in the jungles of Borneo, the Middle East (Radfan and Aden). By the end of the decade British troops were deployed on operational duty on the streets of Northern Ireland, a deployment which officially ended in 2007, but in 2016 the ‘Troubles’ have not entirely ceased. Meanwhile, in the first half of the 1970s, the SAS waged a successful counter insurgency in Dhofar (Oman).

Counterinsurgency was the dominant theme in British military operations from 1945 but these campaigns were frequently conducted alongside more conventional and unexpected deployments. The Suez crisis in 1956 exposed not just the lingering pretensions to imperial status on the part of Britain’s rulers but also the weakness of any claim that there was some kind of special relationship between the USA and Britain. In fact, American hostility towards British intervention was just the latest example of a less than special relationship and one that was too dependent on the personalities of who happened to be the latest British Prime Minister and US President. The fact that crucial British help in developing the bomb in WWII was not reciprocated until Britain designed and tested her own nuclear weapons speaks for itself. In 1982, Argentina, led by a vicious and corrupt junta, invaded the British sovereign territory of the Falkland Islands, and British forces, against daunting odds, managed to liberate the Islands and re-establish British rule. In the context of the Cold War, the British response to Argentine aggression signalled a determination to defend vital British interests. The message for the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was clear: any Soviet aggression against NATO would also be resisted. As the Soviet empire was finally falling apart, Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait in August 1990. In early 1991, British forces, together with others comprising the US-led coalition, liberated Kuwait. By the end of the year the Soviet Union was no more: the red Moloch was in pieces.

In many of the post-1945 counterinsurgencies involving British troops, ethnic, religious and racial hatreds proved to be powerful drivers of conflict. What happened in India immediately after independence is a reminder that racial, ethnic and religious divisions can be controlled if there is a force willing and able to impose order. When that force losses the will or no longer has the means to impose order, ethnic and racial violence is the norm. Racial diversity as source of conflict is also evident in the Malayan Emergency. The Chinese, successful and intelligent, were resented by Malays. The Mau Mau insurrection was driven by land hunger and made worse by tribal hatreds. It was much the same on Cyprus. Even today, notes Dannatt, Greek and Turks on Cyprus, ‘seem eternally resistant to finding an accommodation with each other’.[6] Why does the hostility between Greek and Turkish Cypriots not tell Dannatt something about the dangers of diversity and forced integration? Religious divisions as a driver of conflict in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, as well as the eternal territorial imperative, require no comment.

According to Dannatt, ‘The end of the Cold War was a civilian, not a military, victory. The break-up of the Soviet empire came as much from within, as from without’.[7] Not quite: if there had been no NATO then the Warsaw Pact would have been able to invade Western Europe and sovietise the invaded and occupied states. That NATO would resist any Warsaw Pact aggression – made quite clear by the British liberation of the Falklands in 1982 – forced the Soviet Union into a battle it could not win: economic efficiency and reform. One has no way of knowing for certain, but what would have been the consequences for Britain and NATO had the British operation to liberate the Falklands failed?

Naive – dangerously naive – ideas about the end of history and the emergence of some New Global Liberal Order which acquired prominence after the Soviet collapse were brutally exposed in Yugoslavia or its remains in the 1990s. In fact, what happened in India provided a clear warning of what was likely to happen. Ethnic solidarity – the fiction of Yugoslavia as a people united – could only be maintained by Tito’s willingness to use force. After his death in 1980, and with the obvious lack of will on the part of Belgrade to impose the fiction of Yugoslavia, religious and ethnic differences which had been suppressed since 1945 erupted. On the question of Bosnia, Dannatt tells us that: ‘The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was said to be made up six republics, five nations, four languages, three religions, two alphabets and one Tito, president from 1953’.[8] Once again, there is a clear and compelling lesson: racial and ethnic diversity are not strengths.

‘During the war in Bosnia’, notes Dannatt, ‘neighbour fought neighbour. The country’s population was 44 per cent Muslim, 32 per cent Serb and 25 per cent Croat’.[9] That is why neighbour fought neighbour. Dannatt tells us that ‘Analysts tried to make sense of Bosnia and other conflicts in the post-Cold War world’.[10] Well, these analysts, one of them being Mary Kaldor, cited by Dannatt, did not try hard enough. These wars are all about racial (ethnic if you are squeamish) and cultural identity. They have occurred precisely because central governments were no longer able to impose control. Mass migration encouraged by globalisation as a way of destroying national identity is also a cause. Dannatt is reluctant to admit it. Evidence of Dannatt’s misconceptions here is to be found in the following:

“Ethnic cleansing characterised the conflict in Bosnia. The United Nations describes ethnic cleansing as “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of a given group from the area”.  Families who had lived in villages and towns for generations were either killed, forcibly expelled or fled in terror for their lives.”[11]

Slobodan Miloševic

Slobodan Milošević, on trial at the Hague

So why did this happen? What suddenly changed? Those expelled may have lived in villages and towns for generations but were obviously resented. When it became possible to act on this resentment after the death of Tito, the so-called unifier, violent expulsion was the result. The lesson is that when people are forced to live with the “other” because the state imposes it upon them, they put up with the presence of the “other”. This is not tolerance; it is making the best of a bad job. When an opportunity arises to expel the “other” it will be taken. This is what happened in Yugoslavia after Tito’s death.

Significant for justifying intervention in Bosnia are remarks made by the second-in-command of the Cheshire Regiment, and approvingly cited by Dannatt: ‘What was going on was outside the realms of civilized behaviour…We represented the forces of good and we were surrounded by the forces of evil’.[12] Dannatt then tells us that: ‘Peacekeeping is founded upon consent, impartiality and even-handedness’.[13] There is, unfortunately, a problem with this view. If the peacekeepers believe that they represent the forces of good and that they are surrounded by the forces of evil then they cannot operate with the ‘consent’ of the forces of evil: they must fight and destroy them. The mere fact that the peacekeepers have arbitrarily identified themselves as the forces of good means that they are no longer ‘impartial’. Nor can they permit themselves to be ‘even-handed’, since if you treat the forces of evil the same way as the forces of good you no longer recognise any distinction between the two: good and evil are just arbitrary distinctions. Dannatt more or less – and unwittingly – concedes this point: ‘But by not intervening to stop the bloodshed, UNPROFOR appeared to be colluding in atrocities and war crimes’.[14] This is where the ideological contradictions, on which so-called ‘humanitarian interventionism’ and multiculturalism are based, are exposed. Multiculturalists propagate the false idea that all cultures are just social and political constructs and no one culture is better or any worse than the other, so making it impossible to talk about ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Confronted with the situation on the ground, British soldiers, who, in my experience, do not subscribe to the pseudo-intellectualism of humanitarians such as Tony Blair, have no doubt that much of what they have encountered in Bosnia was evil. The moment a set of ‘actors’, to use the jargon, does something which the peacekeepers on the ground regard as evil and move to stop it, the mission is no longer peacekeeping, as Dannatt defines it, but an act of justified aggression in the eyes of those who define themselves as the forces of “good”. Had the peacekeepers not been there in the first place, they, on the ground, unlike the would-be saviours of the world who sent them there, would not have to make decisions based on good and evil. The moment such a decision is made and acted on – and it is practically inevitable that such incidents will occur and be acted on – the so-called peacekeepers become involved in a war.

1997 was a watershed year in the history of the British Army. In that year Britain acquired a Prime Minister who saw himself as a Messiah figure who would use the resources of the British state and, above all, its Armed Forces to save the world. Although Blair’s fanatical dogoodery provided the justification for a whole series of interventions and invasions, senior British officers who went along with Blair’s utopian follies must bear some responsibility for the disasters of Operation Telic (Iraq) and Operation Herrick (Afghanistan). Dannatt, for example, shows no misgivings about the British Army’s being used to interfere in the internal affairs of other states:

“Consequently, British soldiers would once again be found on the frontline of trouble spots around the world, deployed as United Nations’ peacekeepers rather than as imperial policemen.”[15]

This is somewhat disingenuous on Dannatt’s part. The British Empire may have disappeared but the new empire was US-imposed democratic fundamentalism and globalisation. Thus British troops were still being employed as imperial policeman on behalf of a new and emerging empire; let us call it the New World Order. Britain’s Department for International Development operated as an arm of this new UN/US-sponsored imperialism. Underpinning much of this neo-imperialism was the delusion of the Blair government that Britain should be a force for good in the world.

According to Boutros Boutros-Gali, cited by Dannatt, ‘The time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty [however,] has passed’.[16] If that is the case then this bureaucrat has to explain why the violence erupted in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Ethnic and racial identities are by their very nature exclusive and sovereign and cannot be shared with the “other”. Security for one’s racial and ethnic identity demands a separate territory and, with it, sovereignty. One has to ask why Dannatt has failed to pour acidic scorn all over Boutros-Gali’s sentimental nonsense. The reason is that Dannatt is on the side of the humanitarians and Tony:

“The Rwandan genocide made a powerful case for the international community to take a different approach.  Intervention to save life not only corresponded with the zeitgeist, but also with thinking within the Labour Party.” [17]

Why did – why should – the Rwandan genocide make a powerful case? It had nothing to do with “thinking” in the Labour Party and everything to do with “feeling good” about “doing good”. This Blair “Doctrine of International Community” was and remains a charter for meddling. It would have been a gift to Lenin and Hitler: it is imperialism in new clothing.

Referring to Blair’s “Doctrine of the International Community”, Dannatt summaries the five tests that are to be met before “intervening” (invading and imposing a solution): (i). Are we sure of our case? (Comment: As Blair’s mendacious justification for invading Iraq in 2003 shows, being sure of one’s case is open to abuse. Blair was so sure of his case that he allegedly lied and lied again. Lenin, Stalin and Hitler were all sure of their cases as well. Demagogues like Blair will always find or invent ways “to be sure of their case”; (ii). Are all diplomatic options exhausted? (Comment: exhausting diplomacy as a justification for invasion is itself an act of aggression, and who or what determines that all diplomatic options have been exhausted? Blair? (iii). Can a military operation be sensibly and prudently undertaken? (Comment: what is meant here by “sensible” and “prudent”?  In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan this test was a catastrophic failure. (iv). are we prepared for the long term? (Comment: it is one thing to be prepared or committed to the long term in Northern Ireland which is British sovereign – that word again! – territory, quite another in a place such as Iraq or Afghanistan; (v) do we have national interests involved? (Comment: the consideration of national interest would have excluded any involvement in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, if according to Boutros Boutros-Gali ‘The time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty [however,] has passed’ how can there be something called ‘national interest’? National interest is something narrow and selfish and can only arise from absolute and exclusive sovereignty. So when Blair talks about national interest he means something else. He speaks as one of the self-anointed representatives of the ‘international interest’ or that other liberal fiction, the ‘international community’.  But none of this gives Dannatt a headache.

From other remarks made by Blair, and cited by Dannatt, it is clear that Blair’s desire to interfere in the internal affairs of other states was all about his view of himself as a divinely-appointed saviour of the world. Once again, there are clear and unmistakable inconsistencies in Dannatt’s assembling his material and Blair’s own position. Thus, Dannatt tells us that: ‘For Tony Blair, traditional foreign policy, based on an analysis of national interest, was “flawed and out of date”; it was also “immoral”.[18] Yet only those ignorant of history and military leaders wanting more money for the military, so as to be able to use the British Army as a tool to save the world on behalf of “humanitarian interventionism”, could be impressed by Blair’s dangerous and sentimental ravings. When people protested about the bombing of Serbs Blair let it be known that ‘If you are not careful, the aggressor starts to assume the mantle of victim’.[19] Remind me Tony: who was actually bombing Serbia, the Serbs?

Any doubts about whether Dannatt accepted Blair’s reasons for bombing other countries are easily dispelled. Note the following from Dannatt on Kosovo:

“The avoidance of a humanitarian catastrophe had provided the moral justification for NATO’s actions in Kosovo, even if they were still technically illegal under international law.”[20]

So we have here a clear admission that even if illegal under international law, Blair’s feelings-led foreign policy initiatives were permitted to ignore international law, corrupting NATO in the process, since NATO was not founded so as to be used as an instrument to impose the ideology of humanitarian interventionism. The consequences flowing from Blair’s personal desire to be fêted as a redeemer – like Hitler after the Anschluß – proved far reaching indeed. For Hitler it was the belief in his will power to save the day; for Blair it was his insensate desire to save the world. Kosovo convinced Blair and his American masters that Iraq, too, could be “saved”. One other consequence of intervention in Kosovo and later Iraq was that it encouraged President Putin to act in the same way. If NATO and the West could impose solutions to suit themselves then so could Russia. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was one such move and it, too, could be justified as “humanitarian interventionism”. There was no British minority in Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan.

The trouble with using human rights as justification for invasion is that the notion of so-called “human rights” is not universally shared. What Dannatt calls a Responsibility to Protect (R2P) offers a very convenient pretext to invade sovereign states. Indeed, it should be called Reason to Invade (R2I). He says that R2P was used to justify the Anglo-French intervention in Libya, an intervention that has turned out somewhat ingloriously. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report on British intervention in Libya (September 2016) makes grim reading for the would-be saviours of the world. With one eye on this Foreign Affairs Committee Report, Dannatt warns us:

“One of the lessons learned from the West’s twenty-first century discretionary wars is that the removal of strong, albeit dictatorial, leaders and their regimes by external intervention demands post-conflict commitment to ensure stabilisation. Such plans were absent in both Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2010, leading to political chaos and the breakdown of security, which ultimately affected the wider region.”[21]

Muammar al-Gaddafi

Muammar al-Gaddafi

This is pure evasion on Dannatt’s part. It should not have required the post-invasion collapse into insurgency in Iraq to have caused the penny to drop – that is – that sufficient post-conflict planning should have taken place before the invasion. True, US forces had not been confronted ‘by Stalingrad-on-the-Tigris’,[22] but they were very soon to be confronted with Soviet-style partisan-war-on-the-Tigris, and they, too, were ill prepared to deal with it. Concerning what happened in Libya in 2010, there are no excuses at all. Dannatt has obviously forgotten the British Army maxim: prior planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance. The reason there was no planning for the post-invasion conflict was because it was assumed by Bush and Blair that having effected regime change Iraq would in some unexplained way experience peace and prosperity. Moreover, Dannatt’s position on page 356 of Boots on the Ground is clearly inconsistent with earlier remarks that ‘The intervention in Libya was a tactical success, but its long-term strategic effect was hard to determine’.[23]  Nor does it ever seem to have occurred to the doctrinaires of ‘humanitarian interventionism’ that if Blair and his US masters can go around the world intervening in the name of the good, the time might come when a coalitions of states will decide to intervene in Britain to enforce a vision of their good; and this does not necessarily mean military action. Massive funding of terrorist groups would also count as intervention.

The disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan raised very serious questions about the nature of the Military Covenant, the duty owed by the nation to the Armed Forces. The Military Covenant, a worthy idea, breaks down when one comes to the idea of the “Nation” and what in the twenty-first century is to be understood by the “nation”. The idea of the “Nation” encapsulated in Major-General Sebastian Roberts’s essay, cited by Dannatt, is critical to the Military Covenant and is under direct attack from liberal totalitarians and xenophile fanatics who, like their mentor, Lenin, hate the very idea of the exclusive, sovereign, unique nation. If there is no unique “national interest”, and, if according to the likes of Boutros Boutros-Gali, there is no longer any sovereignty, the Military Covenant can enjoy no special status. The Military Covenant derives its moral force from this entity known as “nation”. Where the nation and national identity are mocked, derided and subverted by multiculturalism, as has been the case in English schools for some time, there can be no national identity – a multicultural national identity is a grotesque contradiction – and consequently the Military Covenant has no validity. It is one thing to expect that soldiers should lay their lives on the line for the “Nation”, as they did between 1939 and 1945, but quite another to expect soldiers to die for multiculturalism and globalism whose ideologues are hostile to the nation state, and the very notion of an exclusive national identity. Dannatt and Roberts show no sign that they have grasped this fact.

Here, for example, are some of Dannatt’s thoughts on the Military Covenant:

“The perception (sic!) grew that soldiers were being short-changed, whether on the front line or back in Britain. Particularly controversial were the issues of force protection such as the supply of body armour and, with the closure of military hospitals, the medical treatment for the wounded on civilian wards in NHS hospitals. In addition, in both Iraq and Afghanistan a shortage of helicopters and the use of lightly armed armoured vehicles came to symbolise cut-price conflict. The successful prosecution of both campaigns was being hampered because the Army was not being “sustained and provided for” as the Military Covenant demands. Although the Government was only too happy to deploy the Armed Forces as an instrument to implement its global ambitions, it appeared unwilling properly to fund them.”[24]

I am not aware that any senior officers resigned in protest, so forfeiting knighthoods, gongs, peerages, lucrative post-career opportunities and losing publicly funded education for their children in good private schools. More fundamentally, senior officers – Dannatt was one of them – who advocated the intervention on-the-cheap doctrine of “Go First, Go Fast and Go Home” (and look good and feel good and get well and truly bogged down) had clearly failed to think through the possibility that invading Iraq and Afghanistan would not be short-term commitments and going there fast would not mean going home any time soon, with all that that meant for manning and equipment. Primary responsibility for the disasters of Operation Telic (Iraq) and Operation Herrick (Afghanistan) rests with Blair who, having got away with Sierra Leone and Kosovo, and having succumbed to his own narcissist propaganda of being the Redeemer of the World, believed that regime change in Iraq (illegal in international law), would go just as smoothly, and so recklessly committed Britain to major wars for which she was not prepared. There are parallels, once again, with Hitler: lightning diplomatic and military victories in Western Europe convinced the Führer that the Soviet state would collapse just as quickly; likewise, Blair, seduced by his own grotesque brand of liberal totalitarian rhetoric, thought that all he had to do was to kick in the door of Basra Palace and the Iraqi edifice would collapse and that he would be loved and adored. Hitler at least did the decent thing in his bunker. Blair, realising that he had created multiple disasters and a humanitarian catastrophe, deserted his post and the soldiers he had sent to be killed and maimed, leaving the mess for Brown and Cameron. Blair’s deserting his post under fire tells you all you need to know about what the Military Covenant meant to him.

Invasion of Iraq

Invasion of Iraq, American reconnaissance forces

Dannatt’s excuse for the deafening silence of senior officers when confronted with Blair’s megalomania is the following: ‘Convention requires that serving soldiers should never go public with their concerns. Sir Mike [Jackson] followed long-standing British civil-military conventions and lobbied ministers behind firmly closed doors’.[25] Well maybe it is time to jettison this convention in the light of what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan: and, in any case, Jackson could have resigned. Soldiers were being sacrificed on the field of battle, so why not sacrifice a few in Whitehall. Of course, in defending Jackson, Dannatt is really defending his own silence, since he presided over Iraq and the redeployment to Afghanistan.

If ever there was moment for Dannatt to have beaten the drum on behalf of the Army it was the issue of the anti-malarial drug, Larium, and its dangerous side effects. Dannatt has confided that having seen the effects of the drug on his son, he refused to take it. Had some private soldier in the Rifles refused to take the drug he would have been guilty of a disciplinary offence. Dannatt also shows himself firmly on message when it comes to some of the Labour causes imposed on the Armed Forces. Note, for example, the following on the decision to allow women to serve in close combat roles:

“What perhaps should be remembered is that many men are ruled out of a frontline infantry role because they are unable to meet the gruelling physical standards demanded. Tests assessing physical capability should be gender-blind, but with no allowances made. The frontline of combat is no place for passengers or for the “weaker sex” of any gender.”[26]

Without going into the obvious problems arising from Dannatt’s conflation of “sex” and “gender”, it is clear that men and women are not differentiated by “gender” but by primary, secondary and tertiary sex differences. The feminist use of the term “gender” is a device to blur and often to deny the physical and psychological differences separating men from women. I seem to recall that of the circa 7,000 women in the British Army only about 400 were able to meet the minimum standards for service in frontline units. Such low numbers do not justify a policy of placing women in infantry units, even if some men cannot meet the standards required. Given the ideological pressure from feminists, from within and outside the Army, tests assessing physical ability for women will not be sex-blind. The overwhelming temptation will be to assess the physical performance of women in comparison with other women only and not with the more demanding standards applied to men. In the US armed forces, this is known as “gender streaming”. This will be done for propaganda purposes and it is only a matter of time before we are told that some woman has passed P Company. Given that there remain clear distinctions in sporting events for men and women and given that Dannatt expects the British Army to conform to the standards of civilian life then there can be no good reason for permitting women to serve in close-combat roles. The frontline of combat is no place for experiments in feminism. None of these objections prevents Dannatt from advocating that: ‘As the make-up of the British population becomes more diverse, so too should that diversity  be reflected within the overall ranks  of the Army’.[27] What matters is surely commitment and ability. The British Army should not under any circumstances succumb to the fallacies and distortions of US-style affirmative action. Given Dannatt’s cheerleading for diversity in the British Armed Forces, it strikes me as significant that in his summary of the EOKA terrorist campaign on Cyprus, Dannatt reminds us that Catherine Cutcliffe, the wife of Royal Artillery Sergeant Cutcliffe, was shot dead while shopping in Famagusta, yet ignores the ritual murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of London by an immigrant from Nigeria. Does Dannatt really believe that diversity is some kind of benefit? It may well be, as Dannatt claims, that Sikhs in Britain would like to see a Sikh regiment in the British Army, alongside the Gurkha Regiment, but it will not happen since Muslims would demand the same concession.

Boots on the Ground is a disappointing read. The various campaign summaries are useful but could easily have been written by an A Level history student. The critical weakness is the author’s reluctance to confront the dangerous and naive policies exploited by Blair to intervene in, and to invade, other states. What emerges from Dannatt’s book is just how adept senior officers are at creating myriads of task forces, assessment committees and rapid reaction rackets to bamboozle politicians (and the public) and to delay change. The British Army maxim comes to mind: ‘Bullshit baffles brains’. The Tory MP and historian, Alan Clark, was one of the few politicians to see through these scams, though his solution, a Stalin-like purge of the British Army, was over the top, well slightly. Boots on the Ground also reveals a worrying lack of intellectual independence and a capacity for analysis. Dannatt shows himself to be far too compliant, too willing to accept, rather than to resist, various dangerous trends, such as “humanitarian interventionism”.  In these very uncertain times – ever was it thus – the British Army requires generals with the intellectual talents and independence, the breadth and depth of knowledge, and the moral courage of the likes of Walter Walker, Frank Kitson, Farrar “the Para” Hockley and John Hackett. At the moment we do not have such men, and we have not had them for some time.

© Frank Ellis 2016

DR FRANK ELLIS is a former soldier and academic. He is now a military historian. His latest book is Barbarossa 1941: Reframing Hitler’s Invasion of Stalin’s Soviet Empire, University Press of Kansas, 2015


[1] Dannatt, p.3
[2] Dannatt, p.3
[3] Dannatt, p.3
[4] Dannatt, p.7
[5] Dannatt, p.33
[6] Dannatt, p.99
[7] Dannatt, p.194
[8] Dannatt, p.220
[9] Dannatt, p.221
[10] Dannatt, p.221
[11] Dannatt, p.223
[12] Dannatt, p.225
[13] Dannatt, p.225
[14] Dannatt, p.226
[15] Dannatt, p.219
[16] Dannatt, p.230
[17] Dannatt, p.230
[18] Dannatt, p.231
[19] Dannatt, p.240
[20] Dannatt, p.242
[21] Dannatt, p.356
[22] Dannatt, p.276
[23] Dannatt, p.345
[24] Dannatt, pp.313-314
[25] Dannatt, p.315
[26] Dannatt, pp.352-353
[27] Dannatt, p.358

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