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Reviews page 3 of 7

The Generals
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The Generals: From Defeat to Victory Leadership in Asia 1941-45

Constable and Robinson, 2008

In this book Robert Lyman looks at the role of the generals on both sides of the conflict and analyses their influence on the desperate struggle between both sides in what the British describe as 'The Forgotten War'.

 

Military historian Robert Lyman tells the story of the Malaya and Burma campaigns of World War II (1941-45) as experienced by eight of the commanding generals, four of whom suffered devastating defeats. The other four achieved resounding victories. Writing sixty years after the events, Lyman writes with a detachment of judgment and hard-hitting criticism, albeit with humanity and even-handedness, about the leaders on both sides who achieved fame or suffered oblivion in the longest continuous campaign of World War II.

The result is a kaleidoscope of triumph and disaster. While the author concentrates on eight key commanders (Yamashita, Percival, Hutton, Irwin, Mountbatten, Mutaguchi, Stilwell and Slim), he demonstrates how others in high places (eg Churchill, Wavell, Chiang Kai-shek) influenced the destinies of the eight whom he profiles.

The war in South East Asia was basically a different enterprise from the war in Europe and the Pacific, where the invaded were responding to the aggressors. In South East Asia, the invaded were victims not only of war but of history, one side defending the fading empires of European powers, the others seeking to establish a new empire in their place. All the participants were catapulted into a war in which there was no over-arching noble cause. The combatants were strangers in the countries in which they were fighting.

The result was a campaign like no other. The inhabitants were victims or friends of neither side. The commanders had no local allies, but were responsible to their own high commands in London, Tokyo and Washington, where South East Asia was a little understood bone of contention and given low priority.

Lymanís book is basically an analysis of leadership as demonstrated by men of widely different cultures and abilities and experience dropped into parlous, sometimes desperate, situations where they had too little guidance and too little logistical support.

The results were severe tests of leadership in which the individual commanders were much more isolated than their counterparts in the massive campaigns in Europe and the Pacific. Lymanís book, casts new light on a campaign whose history has so far been written only from the victorsí point of view. He maintains a high standard of good writing, careful historical research and pacing and brings a new perspective to the history of the period.

Major Gordon Graham, MC and Bar
November 2008


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