DAVID FRENCH. Army, Empire, and Cold War: The British Army and Military Policy, 1945-1971.The American Historical Review

About

Authors
S. Ball
Year
2013
DOI
10.1093/ahr/118.3.936
Subject
Archaeology / History / Museology

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Text

of the British Indian Army that was based in Simla, or as it is known today, Shimla. Route books, maps, martial-race handbooks, and statistical studies from 1880 to 1940 are counted among the tools of an “imperial security regime.” To Hevia’s credit, the chapter on the military revolution of the nineteenth century does not follow Geoffrey Parker’s well-trodden path of superior technology. Hevia is more concerned with the reform of military organizations, and he provides European models for comparison with the British.

Those who know the history of the British Indian

Army will appreciate why the author pays considerable attention to Afghanistan as a recurring security issue.

Hevia also urges us to consider a fragmented interpretation of “Asia” as attributed to the British Indian

Army, a sweeping construct painted with broad brush strokes. This rendition fails to integrate influential individuals (such as General Sir Ian Standish Monteith

Hamilton) who wrote about significant cultural shifts such as those embodied in the Russo-Japanese War. In fairness to Hevia, however, the positioning of Afghanistan against a greater backdrop of “Asia” does permit a glimpse of how a theater-based intelligence mechanism runs the risk of warping strategic perception. Not surprisingly, it is in writing about China that Hevia is at his best in terms of comfort level and fluency; no doubt a reflection of his academic specialization. Ultimately, the Afghan thread leads us back to the twenty-first century as the book’s final chapter asks readers to consider historic versus contemporary military intervention in

Afghanistan as seen from the standpoint of state security.

The references to Michel Foucault in the main body of the text tend to date rather than strengthen the theoretical framework of the book, but that is a minor point. A greater criticism is that this book does not consider the continuity of South Asian history from an indigenous or a European standpoint. Afghanistan served for centuries as a base from which to raid Hindustan. The Timurids had used it as such, and as late as the Napoleonic period there were fears of yet another Afghan invasion. This book also neglects the contributions of the East India Company (EIC) to the evolution of British military intelligence in India. Hevia sees the EIC’s post-1857 demise as a watershed and states that “army intelligence as a coherent military discipline did not appear in British India until the late 1870s” (p. 12).

One could argue, however, that the chief difference in the intelligence and information systems of the British military in India during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century had to do with decentralization and civil-military integration. By relying on the East India

Company—a then publicly traded entity—the British government had to a large extent outsourced intelligence to an organization that combined civil and military intelligence for the purposes of regional security.

The origins of the Company’s Secret and Political Department can be traced back as far as the mid-eighteenth century. The EIC’s maps, route books, and exhaustive demographic studies were historically parallel information sources often printed by commercial publishers. The teaching of local languages to EIC personnel was done in its purpose-built schools.

The study of pre-1857 British military intelligence in

India is complicated by what many fail to recognize as four distinct military entities and four distinct military cultures. Each of the EIC’s presidencies (Madras, Bombay, and Bengal) had its own army that could function alone or in combination with sister services. In turn, any or all of those three, could combine forces with the sovereign’s troops—what we know in today’s parlance as the British Army. This composite military picture explains how intelligence specialists from one of the three presidency armies could be placed on the staff of a leading regional commander from His Majesty’s forces; as was the case in Lord Gerard Lake’s 1803 Hindustan

Campaign, when intelligence officers were drawn from the Bengal Army. As for civil-military hybridization, in the Deccan Campaign, the young EIC diplomat Mountstuart Elphinstone served in the field as senior intelligence officer on the staff of Major General Arthur

Wellesley. These segmented intelligence systems of the earlier period were rightly revealed in C. A. Bayly’s Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social

Communication in India, 1780–1870 (2000) as having co-opted preexisting South Asian human intelligence resources.

Fear and criticism aside, it can be said that on balance

Hevia presents us with a detailed and thought-provoking book that will be of interest to those studying imperial information systems, the evolution of professional military education, and the history of the British

Indian Army.

RANDOLF G. S. COOPER

Fellow, Royal Asiatic Society

DAVID FRENCH. Army, Empire, and Cold War: The British Army and Military Policy, 1945–1971. New York: Oxford University Press. 2012. Pp. x, 335. $150.00.

British military historians have not written detailed studies of the postwar British Army as an institution; they have chosen instead to cover elements of its campaigns in Palestine, Korea, Malaya, Kenya, Egypt, Borneo, the Persian Gulf, and Aden. David French lays the blame for the neglect of the sustained study of the army at the door of British popular culture’s fascination with “special forces.” “The veterans of the Fourteenth Army who fought in Burma between 1942 and 1945 called themselves ‘the forgotten army,’ ” French comments, “but that appellation could just as well be applied to the whole British army after 1945” (p. 1). Thomas Hardy is reputed to have said that “peace makes dull reading, but war is a rattling good yarn.” It is a tribute to

French’s skill as a writer that both the thesis of his book and its intricate detail compel interest, built as they are on the indigestible prose of the official record.