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Reviewed by Ian Shields

This weighty tomb, at nearly 650 pages, came highly recommended with dust-sheet endorsements from Professors Richard Holmes (The Little Field Marshal: A Life of Sir John French) and Andrew Roberts (Napoleon and Wellington : The Battle Of Waterloo—And The Great Commanders Who Fought It), which augured well. Physically, the book is well produced, which helps, and it proved to be both a fascinating and educative read. For once the publicity surrounding the launch and endorsements are accurate. Indeed, I found it hard to put the book down and it took me some time to read only because it demanded, and deserved, careful attention.

It feels almost churlish to criticise this book, although there are a few detractions to this important new work. First, I learnt comparatively little about Manstein the man, other than that he was very much a product of his time and upbringing, and was representative of a class, that has today if not disappeared, then become very difficult to recognise. The detail of which corps, division or battalion formation was moving where and under whose command was almost overwhelming on occasions, leaving the reader to decide whether to keep a very accurate tally of all the units listed, or just take an over-arching view (although I am sure many of my army colleagues would cope easily with these order-of-battle lists!); whichever, it is testament to the depth of research that the author clearly undertook to produce such detail. Perhaps my only serious reservation is that to understand fully the importance of this biography, one must be familiar with the concept and practice of "operational art" and the author does rather presume a high degree of pre-knowledge in this area. This is hardly surprising given that Melvin is one of the British Army's foremost experts on operational art and was involved in the 1990s with Richard Holmes in developing the concepts of "mission command" (I can still remember his lectures on the subject when I was a staff college student) although his own expertise in this field does rather assume a similar level of understanding among his readers, not all of whom may be as expert as he.

However let these comments be placed firmly into context: this book is a stunning achievement. It has been immaculately researched (as evidence by the extensive end notes), is excellently written, and is completely fair and balanced in its judgements. The author devotes by far the greatest part of the book to Manstein's period on the Eastern Front in the Second World War though charts clearly Manstein's early career, involvement in the First World War and through the inter-war period, and his successes in France during 1940. That said, the period that will be of most interest - and controversy to readers - is undoubtedly that time when Manstein was commanding on the southern sector of the Eastern Front.

His successes and failures are treated with both equal attention and judgement in this balanced account, and Melvin does not shy away from criticising his subject when he deems it deserved. He questions carefully Manstein's involvement in, and handling of, Stalingrad, and recognises the ultimate futility of the German effort against the juggernaut that the Soviet armed forces had produced by 1943. Nor does the author duck difficult questions: could Manstein, if he had been afforded the freedom of action he desired, altered the outcome of the War in the East? What was Manstein's relationship to Hitler, and to what extent was he involved in the plot to kill the Fuhrer in 1944? Above all other considerations, the question of the discharge of the war in the East, with its brutality, treatment of non-combatants and, not least, genocide of the Jews, receives full, frank, balanced and non-judgemental coverage. Likewise, Mungo does not avoid the difficult issue of Manstein's trial and conviction for war crimes, discussing the issue fully and dispassionately. Despite what is clearly a very high regard for his subject, the author acknowledges the Field Marshal's shortcomings, not least his refusal to accept blame or criticism for the events on the Eastern Front.

The latter stages of the book, from Manstein's conviction in December 1949 for war crimes to his death in 1973 are considered in only passing detail; Melvin himself acknowledges that this period would probably be worthy of a book in its own right. Given the strength of this book, it is to be hoped that the author himself chooses to undertake such a task at a later date.

In summary, an excellent book full of detail and accurate analysis. This volume does not avoid the contentious issues, nor does it fall into the trap of following popular trends when considering Manstein's guilt and/or contrition. However, this book requires dedicated reading time and deserves no less. Alongside volumes such as Slim's Defeat into Victory, this book should be on the bookshelf on anyone with a serious interest in military command and leadership at the highest operational level.

 

Reviewed by Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

If one is being honest, political memoirs rarely make for exciting reading. Either they are structured badly, taking the reader on a tedious chronological narrative – Bill Clinton's being the best example of this type – or the prose style is somewhat lacking – take Tony Blair's The Journey as a case in point. Whereas I found the first two hundred pages of the Blair book enjoyable and most of the rest fairly turgid, the memoirs of George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States, remain enjoyable throughout.

The prose is engaging, and the structure clearly the subject of much consideration. Bush chose to focus on key 'decisions' in his life and use this as a thematic device to provide the book's content. If this means that a great deal is left out, it makes for a better book. The 'decisions' that Bush opts to concentrate on extend from his decision to quit drinking, running for office, stem cell research, his huge increase in HIV/AIDS support, Katrina, and the War on Terror. Bush is, of course, the subject of much derision but has been widely compared to Harry S. Truman: another man who left office under a cloud but eventually came to be seen as having been right all along. As Bush admits in the book, he is aware of the analogy and hopeful that people may one day view him in the same light as Truman.

When discussing George W. Bush, I always wonder why people hate him so much. The Democrat party stalwarts on the East and West coasts despise him for being a conservative and, even more so, for being from Texas. His background is a reason why the Western European Left hate Bush also. He may as well be from Mars, what with his earthy manner, frontier-speak, cowboy boots, and lack of the moral ambiguity that the cosmopolitan classes think it so necessary to bask in. He is widely lampooned for 'Bushisms', slips of the tongue that often involved making up brand new words. Yet that always seemed to me a consequence of his dislike of speaking to an assembled audience; tellingly, Bush never makes such mistakes when conversing with a single interviewer in a one-to-one situation. Seeing Bush as a moron became the norm, even a sign of one's own sophistication; but one wonders if this was based on evidence or, rather, a reflexive tendency to swallow anything produced by the liberal media and recite it as 'truth'. As is so often the case, then, the lazy thinking of those who read the Guardian and New York Times should be chortled at rather than taken seriously.

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By James Holland

Reviewed by Ian Shields

In this seventieth anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, James Holland's new book that looks afresh at those critical five months in the Summer of 1940 is a timely arrival. This is a long book (over 600 pages of text, together with a further 70 of notes, sources and index) and is very detailed. The book has been well received (Saul David in The Sunday Telegraph on 16 July 2010 describing it as "excellent") and I was very much looking forward to reading it. Good though the book is – and it has many strengths – for me its faults were rather too obvious.

However, let me start by emphasising the book's strengths. The work seeks to put the Battle in a wider context, and although the title suggests just the five month period of May to October 1940, the first third of the book deals with the earlier months of the War, and in particular the fall of France and Dunkirk. Furthermore, he seeks to put the aerial battle in the context of a much wider struggle, including aircraft production and repair, maintaining moral on the home front, the battles on (and under) the sea, and the political conflicts both within the House of Commons and between Britain and America (in this latter instance, the US Ambassador, Joseph Kennedy, is the subject of much criticism by the author). Holland also seeks to bring the narrative alive by telling the story at least in part through the eyes of participants on both sides, and not just aircrew. And he is most certainly to be congratulated for the depth of his research, which has clearly been a gargantuan undertaking.

It is this research with which I have my the first of my difficulties. Holland has made extensive use of the archives, plus some interviews with survivors, although there is always a danger that they have told their stories so many times by now that they may no longer be able to distinguish true memories from imagined. However, the bulk of his sources are clearly secondary, using books and the memoires of others, which he appropriately acknowledges. Next, although the author is good at distilling the story, he is somewhat lacking in critical appraisal or analysis, as witness his lionising of the Spitfire in the closing paragraphs of his book, while his claim that these five months changed world history when arguably there have been many more critical junctures both before and since are largely unsubstantiated. For some his use of the experiences of individuals to bring to the narrative to life will be pleasing, but I found it confusing in parts (he arguably has too large a dramatis personae) and again lacking in objectivity: he too often describes the participants whose stories he is including in glowing personal terms (good looking, muscular, attractive and so forth). Meanwhile, the maps were almost in a 1940's pastiche, and lacked clarity, and his English I found overly casual for his subject matter, being littered with split infinitives and haphazard sentence construction. However, my biggest difficulty is that the author does not stick to his own title, with too much of the book given over to events that were not within the five-month window the title suggests.

While these remarks may appear overly critical, it is important to appreciate what this book is, and what it is not. As an overview of the first fifteen months of the war it is good, and if it had been titled The Battle For Britain, 1939 – 1940 it might have been slightly more honest. There is, however, a place for this book on your bookshelves if you seek a fairly accessible read and a broad introduction to the period that includes what we now call the Battle of Britain. Alongside pleasurable reads such as Rowland White's Vulcan 607, this book holds its own, but although he may seek to emulate Anthony Beevor, James Holland is not in the same league. An enjoyable read and one that does well in linking the aerial battle to wider issues, while this book falls short of serious history it is worthy of consideration for those seeking to explore the events of the Summer of 1940 for the first time, perhaps before moving on to, for example, Richard Overy's book – confusingly also titled The Battle of Britain.

 

Report by Associated Press, December 19, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO - W. Mark Felt, the former FBI second-in-command who revealed himself as "Deep Throat" 30 years after he tipped off reporters to the Watergate scandal that toppled a president, has died. He was 95.

Felt died Thursday in Santa Rosa after suffering from congestive heart failure for several months, said family friend John D. O'Connor, who wrote the 2005 Vanity Fair article uncovering Felt's secret.

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In 732 Charles Martel defeated an army of 90,000 Saracens at Tours, France, ending northward Islamic expansion.

 

By Peter Zeihan

Europe is on the cusp of change. An EU heads-of-state summit Dec. 16 launched a process aimed to save the common European currency. If successful, this process would be the most significant step toward creating a singular European power since the creation of the European Union itself in 1992 — that is, if it doesn't destroy the euro first.

Envisioned by the EU Treaty on Monetary Union, the common currency, the euro, has suffered from two core problems during its decade-long existence: the lack of a parallel political union and the issue of debt. Many in the financial world believe that what is required for a viable currency is a fiscal union that has taxation power — and that is indeed needed. But that misses the larger point of who would be in charge of the fiscal union. Taxation and appropriation — who pays how much to whom — are essentially political acts. One cannot have a centralized fiscal authority without first having a centralized political/military authority capable of imposing and enforcing its will. Greeks are not going to implement a German-designed tax and appropriations system simply because Berlin thinks it's a good idea. As much as financiers might like to believe, the checkbook is not the ultimate power in the galaxy. The ultimate power comes from the law backed by a gun.

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Editor's note: This is the sixth installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

The name "Ukraine" literally translates as "on the edge." It is a country on the edge of other countries, sometimes part of one, sometimes part of another and more frequently divided. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was divided between Russia, Poland and the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, it was divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary. And in the 20th century, save for a short period of independence after World War I, it became part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has been on the edge of empires for centuries.

My father was born in Ukraine in 1912, in a town in the Carpathians now called Uzhgorod. It was part of Austria-Hungary when he was born, and by the time he was 10 the border had moved a few miles east, so his family moved a few miles west. My father claimed to speak seven languages (Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and Yiddish). As a child, I was deeply impressed by his learning. It was only later that I discovered that his linguistic skills extended only to such phrases as "What do you want for that scrawny chicken?" and "Please don't shoot."

He could indeed make himself understood in such non-trivial matters in all these languages. Consider the reason: Uzhgorod today is on the Slovakian border, about 30 miles from Poland, 15 miles from Hungary and 50 miles from Romania. When my father was growing up, the borders moved constantly, and knowing these languages mattered. You were never sure what you'd be a citizen or subject of next or who would be aiming a rifle at you.

My father lived on the edge until the Germans came in 1941 and swept everything before them, and then until the Soviets returned in 1944 and swept everything before them. He was one of tens of millions who lived or died on the edge, and perhaps nowhere was there as much suffering from living on the edge than in Ukraine. Ukraine was caught between Stalin and Hitler, between planned famines and outright slaughter, to be relieved only by the grinding misery of post-Stalin communism. No European country suffered as much in the 20th century as Ukraine. From 1914 until 1945, Ukraine was as close to hell as one can reach in this life.

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Editor's note: This is the final installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman wrote during his travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he shared his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and now concludes with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

I have come home, a word that is ambiguous for me, and more so after this trip to Romania, Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine and Poland. The experience of being back in Texas frames my memories of the journey. The architecture of the cities I visited both impressed and oppressed me. Whether Austro-Hungarian mass or Stalinist modernism, the sheer size of the buildings was overwhelming. These are lands of apartments, not of private homes on their own plots of land. In Texas, even in the cities, you have access to the sky. That gives me a sense of freedom and casualness that Central Europe denies me. For a man born in Budapest, with a mother from Bratislava and a father from Uzhgorod, I can't deny I am Central European. But I prefer my chosen home in Austin simply because nothing is ever casual for me in Central Europe. In Texas, everything is casual, even when it's about serious things. There is an ease in the intensity of Texas.

On my return, some friends arranged a small dinner with some accomplished and distinguished people to talk about my trip. I was struck by the casualness of the conversation. It was a serious discussion, even passionate at times, but it was never guarded. There was no sense that a conversation carried with it risk. I had not met some of the guests before. It didn't matter. In the region I was born in, I feel that I have to measure every word with care. There are so many bad memories that each word has to be measured as if it were gold. The simplest way to put it, I suppose, is that there are fewer risks in Texas than in Central Europe. One of the benefits of genuine power is speaking your mind, with good humor. Those on the edge of power proceed with more caution. Perhaps more than others, I feel this tension. Real Texans may laugh at this assertion, but at the end of the day, I'm far more Texan than anything else.

Or perhaps I speak too quickly. We were in the Kiev airport on the way to Warsaw. As I was passing through security, I was stopped by the question, "Friedman? Warsaw?" I admitted that and suddenly was under guard. "You have guns in your luggage." For me, that statement constituted a near-death experience. I looked at my wife, wondering what she had done. She said casually, "Those aren't guns. They are swords and daggers and were to be surprises for my husband." Indeed they were. While I stood in mortal terror, she cheerily chatted up the guards, who really couldn't make out what she was saying but were charmed nonetheless by her complete absence of fear. In my case, the fear came in layers, with each decade like another layer in an archaeological dig. For her, memory is a much simpler thing.

The region I visited is all about memories — never forgetting, never forgiving and pretending it doesn't matter any more. Therefore, the region is in a peculiar place. On the one hand, every past grievance continues to live. On the other hand, a marvelous machine, the European Union, is hard at work, making the past irrelevant and the future bright. In a region not noted for its optimism, redemption is here and it comes from Brussels.

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Editor's note: This is the fifth installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

We arrived in Istanbul during the festival of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael on God's command and praises the God who stayed his hand. It is a jarring holiday for me; I was taught that it was Isaac whom God saved. The distinction between Ishmael and Isaac is the difference between Hagar and Sarah, between Abraham and the Jews and Abraham and the Muslims. It ties Muslims, Jews and Christians together. It also tears them apart.

Muslims celebrate Eid with the sacrifice of animals (sheep and cattle). Istanbul is a modern commercial city, stunningly large. On this day, as we drove in from the airport, there were vacant lots with cattle lined up for those wishing to carry out the ritual. There were many cattle and people. The ritual sacrifice is widely practiced, even among the less religious. I was told that Turkey had to import cattle for the first time, bringing them in from Uruguay. Consider the juxtaposition of ancient ritual sacrifice so widely practiced that it requires global trade to sustain it.

The tension between and within nations and religions is too ancient for us to remember its beginnings. It is also something that never grows old. For Turkey, it is about a very old nation at what I think is the beginning of a new chapter. It is therefore inevitably about the struggles within Turkey and with Turkey's search for a way to find both its identity and its place in the world.

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Editor's note: This is the fourth installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

Moldova is a country in need of explanation, two explanations in fact. First, there is the question of what kind of country Moldova is. Second, there is the question of why anyone should care. Oddly, I went to Moldova thinking I knew the answer to the second question but not the first. I came away unsure of either. Let's begin with the second question: Why does Moldova matter?

The second article in this series, "Borderlands," described the re-emergence of Russian regional power following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russian national security is dependent on two countries that became independent following the collapse. Belarus is the buffer between Russia and Europe on the North European Plain. Ukraine is the buffer between Russia and the Carpathian Mountains. From the Russian point of view, dominating these countries is less important than Europe and the United States not dominating them. The Russians have achieved this and perhaps more.

Ukraine is Russia's southwestern anchor and its Achilles' heel. It is difficult for Russia to be secure without Ukraine both for economic and strategic reasons. Russia would be hard to defend if Ukraine were under the control of a hostile power. What Ukraine is to Russia, Moldova is to Ukraine. It is a salient that makes Ukraine difficult to defend, and if Ukraine can't be defended Russia can't be defended either. Or so my reasoning went at the beginning of my visit.

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Editor's note: This is the seventh installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman is writing as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he shares his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and will conclude, in the next installment, with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

To understand Poland, you must understand Frederic Chopin. First listen to his Polonaise and then to his Revolutionary Etude. They are about hope, despair and rage. In the Polonaise, you hear the most extraordinary distillation of a nation's existence. In the Revolutionary Etude, written in the wake of an uprising in Warsaw in 1830 crushed by Russian troops, there is both rage and resignation. In his private journal, Chopin challenged God for allowing this national catastrophe to happen, damning the Russians and condemning the French for not coming to Warsaw's aid. Afterward, Chopin never returned to Poland, but Poland never left his mind.

Poland finally became an independent nation in 1918. The prime minister it chose to represent it at Versailles was Ignacy Paderewski, a pianist and one of the finest interpreters of Chopin. The conference restored the territories of Greater Poland, and Paderewski helped create the interwar Poland. Gdansk (the German Danzig) set the stage for Poland's greatest national disaster when Germany and the Soviet Union allied to crush Poland, and Danzig became the German justification for its destruction.

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Editor's note: This is the third installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

In school, many of us learned the poem Invictus. It concludes with the line, "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." This is a line that a Victorian gentleman might bequeath to an American businessman. It is not a line that resonates in Romania. Nothing in their history tells Romanians that they rule their fate or dominate their soul. Everything in their history is a lesson in how fate masters them or how their very soul is a captive of history. As a nation, Romanians have modest hopes and expectations tempered by their past.

This sensibility is not alien to me. My parents survived the Nazi death camps, returned to Hungary to try to rebuild their lives and then found themselves fleeing the communists. When they arrived in America, their wishes were extraordinarily modest, as I look back on it. They wanted to be safe, to get up in the morning, to go to work, to get paid — to live. They were never under the impression that they were the masters of their fate.

The problem that Romania has is that the world cares about it. More precisely, empires collide where Romania is. The last iteration was the Cold War. Today, at the moment, things seem easier, or at least less desperate, than before. Still, as I discussed in Borderlands, the great powers are sorting themselves out again and therefore Romania is becoming more important to others. It is not clear to me that the Romanians fully appreciate the shift in the geopolitical winds. They think they can hide in Europe, and perhaps they can. But I suspect that history is reaching for Romania again.

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Editor's note: This is the second installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

A borderland is a region where history is constant: Everything is in flux. The countries we are visiting on this trip (Turkey, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Poland) occupy the borderland between Islam, Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. Roman Catholic Hapsburg Austria struggled with the Islamic Ottoman Empire for centuries, with the Ottomans extending northwest until a climactic battle in Vienna in 1683. Beginning in the 18th century, Orthodox Russia expanded from the east, through Belarus and Ukraine. For more than two centuries, the belt of countries stretching from the Baltic to the Black seas was the borderland over which three empires fought.

There have been endless permutations here. The Cold War was the last clear-cut confrontation, pitting Russia against a Western Europe backed — and to a great extent dominated — by the United States. This belt of countries was firmly if informally within the Soviet empire. Now they are sovereign again. My interest in the region is to understand more clearly how the next iteration of regional geopolitics will play out. Russia is far more powerful than it was 10 years ago. The European Union is undergoing internal stress and Germany is recalculating its position. The United States is playing an uncertain and complex game. I want to understand how the semicircle of powers, from Turkey to Poland, are thinking about and positioning themselves for the next iteration of the regional game.

I have been accused of thinking like an old Cold warrior. I don't think that's true. The Soviet Union has collapsed, and U.S. influence in Europe has declined. Whatever will come next will not be the Cold War. What I do not expect this to be is a region of perpetual peace. It has never been that before. It will not be that in the future. I want to understand the pattern of conflict that will occur in the future. But for that we need to begin in the past, not with the Cold War, but with World War I.

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Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

The most common starting point when analysing international politics is to argue that decisions are framed by 'national interests' and 'reasons of state'. Academics, analysts, and journalists alike do it. The basic assumption here is that the external forces exerting themselves on states (usually connected to security) are the key factors in determining what a government chooses to do, and not do, in its foreign policy. Only a fool would deny the importance of challenges from other powers, the threat of refugee flows, and the need for a secure neighbourhood. However, other perspectives do exist. One of the more persuasive centres upon the domestic high politics of foreign affairs. By that I mean the way in which domestic political pressures and ambitions can influence decisions taken in foreign policy.

In this framework, foreign policy should be seen as not only a device for safeguarding national interests, but also as a means of advancing the personal agendas of political leaders – perhaps irrespective of what that might mean for those broader 'national interests'. A recent STRATFOR essay speculated that Barack Obama may choose to escape from his domestic political problems by focusing on the realm of foreign affairs, using his constitutional freedom of action in that realm to make a bold move. The purpose would be to rebuild his credibility, appear tough and 'Presidential', and seek a high-stakes 'win' that might just be enough to turn the electoral tide and secure Obama a second term in the White House. How would he do this? By waging a successful war against Iran.

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