192. In Afghanistan
by David Loyn
Respected BBC correspondent David Loyn takes a canter through the history of European intervention in Afghanistan in this book, which argues that the West never learns. Loyn claims that the same mistakes have been repeated again and again since Britain first established diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in 1809. Much of what he has to say is valid but arguing the Afghans have not changed in 200 years is much the same as suggesting the British haven't changed in 200 years either. Although social and political change may have moved slower in Afghanistan it is foolish to suggest there has been no development at all. Afghanistan enjoys the same tribal set-up that once prevented England conquering Scotland by military force. Scotland was, and Afghanistan remains, a mosaic of private fiefdoms in which conquering the capital made little difference because government writ barely extended beyond the city boundaries. The only thing that unites all Afghans is hatred of foreign domination. Scotland was also once, in the mid 1600s, run by religious fanatics, the Coventanters, who are sometimes, and not entirely fatuously, referred to as The Tartan Taliban. It is interesting to note that the British only got their heads out of the backsides in Afghanistan in recent years when Scot Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. Loyn argues after 200 years the time may have come for someone to put the interests of Afghans first. The benighted country has for too long been a pawn in another nation's war. First it was the British and the Russians, then the Russians and the Americans. Throw in the Pakistanis and the Saudi Arabian Islamic extremists, add self-serving and corrupting international aid organisations and you have a sad mess. And let's not forget the Iranians who have seen recent US led invasions of two of its neighbours - Afghanistan and Iraq. This book is a valuable contribution to the discussion of what should be done to help one of the unluckiest nations in the world out of the hole into which we have thrown it.
by Ken Ford and Steven J Zaloga
This offering from Osprey Publishing is actually a compilation of five earlier books about the D Day Landings in June 1944 brought out by the company in its Campaign series. Unlike many books on the topic, it takes a close look at the various units and commanders involved. As with so many Osprey books, it is lavishly illustrated with maps, photographs and artists' impressions of the action. Sadly, especially in the case of the artists' work, the placing of much of this work across two pages means much is lost into the centre binding. The writing is somewhat patchy; there were times when I had problems following the action being described. I also found the use of American spellings in what I took to be a British publication a little irritating. The amount of space given to the American landings also seemed out of proportion. However, perhaps this can be justified, to an extent, by the fact that the landing at Omah Beach came so close to failure. The book also wrongly identifies captured Korean Yang Kyoungjong as being from one of the Soviet Asiatic republics in German uniform. But that said, this was an enjoyable and sensible look at one of the biggest and most complicated operations of the Second World War.
The Dorchester Review, based in Ottawa, Canada, recently published an article I wrote about one of the more eccentric of the British regiments - Victoria's Royal Canadians. Most Canadian historians seem unaware of that a regiment was raised in Canada to fight in the Indian Mutiny.
The Winter Issue of the Scottish American Military Society's magazine The Patriot contains a two page interview with yours truly. I thought the least I could do in return was give them a plug. At a later date, I'll see about either linking to the article or posting a version of the interview on the SMD site.
It’s been a busy few weeks. Last Saturday (Nove. 3) the Scottish Daily Mail published a two page spread under my byline about the 2/10th Royal Scots campaign against the Bolsheviks in northern Russia 1918-1919 titled "The Tsar's Fighting Invalids". I’ve found a link to a site which carries the article but before I post it I want to make sure I’m not sending you somewhere you might regret going. The Daily Mail article let the cat out of the bag when it comes to the fact that I’m working on a new book – working title, Jock and Rorie – Tales of Scottish Soldiers. Read about the Forgotten War
In the News Again
I happened to be checking out the closing-down sale at one of the last remaining locally owned bookshops in Edmonton recently when a newspaper reporter pounced on me as I left and asked me comment on the closure. As a former reporter, I know what a pain grabbing random people on the streets for quotes can be; so I was only too pleased to help. Imagine my delight when the story appeared and I found my quote printed in large type. It made me look like a big deal. There were some genuine big deal Edmonton writers quoted in the story but whoever was designing the page must have just grabbed the first quote they found for the break-out - and luckily for me....
Sadly, the break-out does not appear in the online version of the story but if you're interested Edmonton Journal
In the News
The Scotsman newspaper invited me to put in my tuppence-ha'penny when it published an article about the controversy surrounding the 400th anniversary celebrations in Norway of Battle of Kringen - Scotsman Article
The battle and subsequent massacre of Scottish prisoners in 1612 featured in Scottish Military Disasters.
A new Canadian history magazine The Dorchester Review published a tongue-in-cheek go at the spate of books about How the Scots Created/Invented the country in its launch issue. In an article called How the English Invented the Scots Dr. Chis Champion argued, well, that the Scots are an English invention. Paul’s equally tongue-in-cheek rebuttal can be seen in the second issue of the magazine which is now out. The article, which also includes essays by Canadian columnist John Ivison and London-based writer Hugo Rifkind, is available on line at
Scottish Military Disasters has been launched as an e-book. And it’s now improved.
Preparing the book in e-book format offered the chance to correct some minor errors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worth someone who has the print version going out and buying the e-book,” said author Paul Cowan.
“But in preparing the e-book we’ve corrected a couple of little irritating misprints and one mistake that probably only annoys me and a couple of my relatives.”
The book is one of the first from the Neil Wilson Publishing catalogue to be released as an e-book.
“Neil’s stable of authors includes such giants as Nigel Tranter, so this is a real honour for me,” said Cowan.
“This will make the book far more accessible to readers in Scotland and around the World – and also in certain countries far more affordable.
“I’ve found where it is reasonably priced overseas, it’s been selling like hotcakes.”
Glasgow-based Neil Wilson said the move into e-books was as a result of public demand.
Wilson teamed up with the respected e-book team at the Faber Factory for the conversion to the new format which will make Scottish Military Disasters available on a variety of devices, including most e-readers and mobile phones.
“We will also go online with Apple soon,” he added.
For details of how to buy the e-book version –
The debate over whether Scotland produces some of the finest fighting men in the World could go on for ever. What is certain is that pride in the military is woven into the Scottish psyche and that that pride has been ruthlessly exploited by the British Establishment.
In the popular imagination the Scottish soldier is a kilted infantryman. The infantry are the men who go through the meat grinder in almost every war and Scotland has provided the British Empire with more than its fair share of infantry. In the fighting after D-Day in 1944 a British study suggested that although the infantry made up only 25% of the troops involved; they suffered 71% of the casualties.
(While I can’t put my hand on my heart and say my research for Scottish Military Disasters points to the Scots having the worse military record in Europe, for most of recorded history it hasn’t been very spectacular. People remember Bannockburn because it is one of the few battles against the English that the Scots won. Even when the English were heavily outnumbered, at battles such as Flodden in 1513 and Dunbar in 1650, they still managed to win. Many English, and Irish and Welsh soldiers for that matter, regard their Scots counterparts as a bunch of blowhards who write cheques with their mouths that their battlefield performance fails to honour. The counter-argument goes that the Scots go that extra mile to back up their boasting.)
But where does this Scottish martial pride which encouraged so many young Scots into the infantry during two world wars come from?