This compendium of military mishaps shows how poor decision-making often leads to catastrophe. In a series of short chapters ideal for subway rides and waiting rooms, Michael Coffey
shows how even relatively small misjudgments have become historical turning points. Many of his topics are familiar, such as how the Treaty of Versailles ending the First World War laid the groundwork for an even larger conflict 20 years later. Hitler's military miscalculations--thinking the British would negotiate a peace after Dunkirk, invading Russia, declaring war on the United States--receive prominent attention. Allied leaders also committed plenty of blunders, such as the collapse of British defenses in Singapore and Malaysia, the fruitless bombing of Monte Cassino in Italy, and premature attempts to liberate Arnhem (the subject of the film A Bridge Too Far
). More recent events receive coverage, too, including the Bay of Pigs, the disastrous mission in 1980 to free American prisoners in Iran, and Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Some sections are much stronger than others, and readers already familiar with certain wars probably won't learn much from their coverage. Yet Coffey calls attention to an important consideration: mistakes are endemic in war, and victory often goes not to leaders who execute brilliantly planned maneuvers but those who simply avoid error. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
From the chauffeur's wrong turn that helped start WWI to the (unexploded) nuclear bomb that the United States Air Force once dropped over Spain, this engaging set of brief cautionary essaysAa companion volume to a History Channel seriesApresents some important and some amusing errors of wartime (and Cold War-time) judgment and execution. Coffey (The Irish in America), managing editor of PW, covers about two score blunders, in chronological order. The earliest concerns that swerving chauffeur (who accidentally brought Archduke Ferdinand face-to-face with his assassin); the latest is Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. About half the others concern WWII. Lost Luftwaffe pilots in 1940, though instructed to hit only military targets, panicked and let bombs go over London: thus did the blitz unintentionally begin. Later, in the Pacific theater, British "naval commanders blundered by underestimating air power's threat to major warships," and hence lost the Malaya peninsula, Singapore and two important battleships. Coffey's set of snafus and misjudgments extends, quite deliberately, from the nearly comic to the truly awful: some killed a few people and embarrassed top brass, while others (such as the Japanese loss at Midway) arguably changed the course of world events. A few of the errors (e.g., the Battle of Stalingrad) are staples of most textbooks. Others are less familiar, and less horrific than ironic: when the Allies decided to bomb the 1500-year-old Abbey of Monte Cassino in Italy, they created precisely the shelter for German troops they intended to destroy. (The devout local German commander would not install his troops in an intact monastery, but had no qualms about occupying its ruins.) Like the best general history volumes, Coffey's book, in clean, muscular prose, expertly informs as it artfully entertains. (Aug.) FYI: The History Channel's Great Military Blunders of the Twentieth Century begins its 26-week run in August.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.