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The Good Soldier: A Biography of Douglas Haig Hardcover – November 8, 2007
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Based on the introduction, Gary Mead's biography of Haig would seem fit into the "redemptive" side of the Haig debate. Yet in many ways it transcends such labeling, offering the most judicious account of Haig's life yet published, one interspersed with critical assessments that offer a well-rounded view of Haig's personality and career. Mead endeavors to correct many of the myths that have formed around his subject, noting, for example, his embrace of new technologies such as the tank and the airplane as they began to appear on the battlefield. Yet at the same time he proves perfectly willing to criticize Haig for his stubborn belief in the viability of cavalry and his preference for officers who shared his views rather than those who might have introduced a healthy tone of dissent into discussions over operations.
All of this makes Mead's biography well worth reading, though it is not without its flaws. Perhaps the most glaring is the lack of explanation for how Haig came to assume such a prominent position in the army.Read more ›
'The reputation of Douglas Haig (1861-1928) , who commanded the BEF from mid-1915 to the end of the Great War has been one of radical extremes, ranging between, as The Times Literary Supplement put it in its review of the original 2007 edition of this book “Hagiography and donkeydom”. Journalist and historian Mead gives us a more nuanced Haig, an intelligent, seasoned veteran and military administrator, well aware of the many innovations in military practice, including the machine gun. But also a man rather lacking in imagination, and overly optimistic, particularly about the possibility of the long-desired “breakthrough” and the imminent collapse of the German Army. Haig ran a tightly controlled staff, discouraging dissent, while disliking virtually everyone who was not British and Protestant, and thus virtually all of his allies. Despite these faults, Mead notes that Haig strongly supported new technologies and tactics, including aviation and the tank, and was more concerned about the welfare of his troops than most Great War commanders. Mead also reminds us that many of the blunders attributed to Haig were due to the inherent flaws of the British Army, and most notably to its painful change from the small highly professional force of 1914 to the raw mass citizen army of 1916, and then to the highly sophisticated veteran force of 1918, the most able army in the world. So Haig emerges as a rather able commander who for much of the war was both overly optimistic and expected too much from the tools that he had to work with, but who finally got it right. As he tells us about Haig, Mead also contributes to the refutation of some of the continuing myths of the war, such as the endless rows of stoic Tommies marching forward with fixed bayonets on the first day at the Somme. "The Good Soldier" is a necessary read for any serous student of the Great War.'
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