A revelatory, explosive new analysis of the military today.
Over the first two decades of the twenty-first century, Britain has changed enormously. During this time, the British Army fought two campaigns, in Iraq and Afghanistan, at considerable financial and human cost. Yet neither war achieved its objectives. This book questions why, and provides challenging but necessary answers.
Composed from assiduous documentary research, field reportage, and hundreds of interviews with many soldiers and officers who served, as well as the politicians who directed them, the allies who accompanied them, and the family members who loved and — on occasion — lost them, it is a strikingly rich, nuanced portrait of one of our pivotal national institutions in a time of great stress.
Award-winning journalist Simon Akam, who spent a year in the army when he was 18, returned a decade later to see how the institution had changed. His book examines the relevance of the armed forces today — their social, economic, political, and cultural role. This is as much a book about Britain, and about the politics of failure, as it is about the military.
‘Akam’s beautifully written, from the inside out, account of the British Army’s reluctance to engage with the realities of recent small wars, in Afghanistan in particular, is a must-read for every serious student of modern military history. At one level, it explains how and why we managed to turn victory over Al Qaeda in Afghanistan into defeat at the hands of the Taliban. But this book is about much more than the army in Afghanistan — it is a parable about failure, the failure of a revered institution, with a proud history and an uncritical public, to come to terms with a changed and changing world.’
Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British ambassador to Afghanistan
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‘Simon Akam delivers a devastating indictment of Britain’s military chiefs for overseeing the shocking decline of the nation’s armed forces. His book is compulsory reading for every patriot.’
Tom Bower, biographer
‘Simon Akam has written a perceptive, challenging and passionate book that looks at modern soldiering. In doing so, Akam provides an invaluable look at how the British Army works — and how the changing world in the 21st century is asking new and complex questions for soldiers and military strategy alike.’
Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads
‘This brave, absorbing and prodigiously well-researched tour de force renders every previous account of the British Army in its disastrous recent campaigns obsolete. Akam makes an unanswerable case that we are no longer very good at fighting wars, building his arguments with panache and good sense. In doing so he has done his country, and the army, a great service — although the Generals may not see it quite that way just yet. Put away the self-serving autobiographies and the obsequious histories of in-house academics; this is the definitive account of the British Army in its 21st Century misadventures.’
Frank Ledwidge, author of Losing Small Wars
‘Akam is an angry young man and the book is better for it.’
‘A blockbuster critique … with heaps of evidence.’
Matthew Paris, The Times
‘A passionate book.’
Max Hastings, The Sunday Times
‘It’s compellingly written — I got through all 500-plus pages in two sittings – and it is certainly worth the effort.’
Adrian Weale, Mail on Sunday
‘Detailed and well structured.’
Anthony Loyd, New Statesman
‘Impassioned … It is a valuable addition to analysing the past, present and future of a venerated institution.’
Kim Sengupta, The Independent
‘A blistering account … Akam’s research, including interviews with 260 individuals, is formidable.’
Richard Norton-Taylor, Declassified UK
‘A scathing account of the British army in the years after 9/11 … Akam has not just done his homework, interviewing 260 people, but also shows his working in 89 pages of footnotes, full of forensic detail — and delicious gossip.’
Shashank Joshi, Spectator Australia
‘Akam makes many important points and reports in depth on officers’ recollections of specific episodes.’
Helen Parr, Prospect