We think of the First World War as a slaughter, and the Second as comparatively mild, at least if you stayed away from the Eastern Front. But Bernard Montgomery's feckless plan to invade Germany through the Netherlands (and not incidentally to get American troops under his command) was a debacle as pointless as anything that happened in 1914-1918. The idea was to drop a British airborne division, reinforced by a brigade of Polish paratroops, deep in the Netherlands with the goal of capturing the Rhine bridges at Arnhem. Two American divisions would parachute onto Eindhoven and Nijmegen, capturing their bridges and securing the towns as stepping stones on the narrow, sixty-mile road to Arnhem. Then all Montgomery had to do was send his tanks rolling up this road and in two days capture a front from which he could invade Germany and end the war before Christmas. Of course the Germans turned out to be masters of resupply and reinforcement, creating new battalions from youngsters, oldsters, and convalescents, and sending new tanks from the factory to the front by "blitz transport." The Americans held their positions at considerable cost, but the British airborne division was all but destroyed. And the Dutch were left homeless and starving. The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II is brilliant, detailed, and spares nobody's reputation.
Lords of the Desert is an interesting-but-irritating book. Again, the author is British. Mr Barr's argues that, from 1944 onward, the US was determined to abolish the British Empire so as to seize its oil and other riches for itself. He quotes, with evident approval, Ernest Bevin's declaration to the cabinet in Feruary 1947: "We still have to find a means of holding the Middle East." Holding meant ruling by military force against the wishes of the local population, in this case the Jews in Palestine -- which Britain, in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, had done so much to foster. Allowing a nation to free itself is hardly the same thing as seizing it by force, and much more admirable. Roosevelt and Truman certainly did their best to dismantle the British Empire, but they were, in the words of Barrack Obama, "on the right side of history." Though in the end the US did become something of an imperialist power, in the 1950s there was a considerable difference in the British and American approaches: the Brits by stationing combat troops on foreign soil, the Yanks by deploying spies, money, and military aid. Blue skies! — Dan Ford
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