In fiction, the spy is a glamorous figure whose secrets make or break peace, but, historically, has intelligence really been a vital step to military victories? In this breakthrough study, the preeminent war historian John Keegan goes to the heart of a series of important conflicts to develop a powerful argument about military intelligence.
In his characteristically wry and perceptive prose, Keegan offers us nothing short of a new history of war through the prism of intelligence. He brings to life the split-second decisions that went into waging war before the benefit of aerial surveillance and electronic communications. The English admiral Horatio Nelson was hot on the heels of Napoleon's fleet in the Mediterranean and never knew it, while Stonewall Jackson was able to compensate for the Confederacy's disadvantage in firearms and manpower with detailed maps of the Appalachians. In the past century, espionage and decryption have changed the face of battle: the Japanese surprise attack at the Battle of the Midway was thwarted by an early warning. Timely information, however, is only the beginning of the surprising and disturbing aspects of decisions that are made in war, where brute force is often more critical.
Intelligence in War is a thought-provoking work that ranks among John Keegan's finest achievements.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
According to Keegan (The First World War), there is a good reason why "military intelligence" is so often described as an oxymoron: inflicting and enduring destruction often has no room for reflection, just retaliation. But retaliation tends toward attrition, and attrition is expensive; thought, for Keegan, offers a means of reducing war's price, taking commanders and armies inside enemy decision-action loops, helping identify enemy weakness, warning of enemy intentions or disclosing enemy strategy. Keegan offers a series of case studies in the operational significance of intelligence, ranging from Admiral Nelson's successful pursuit of the French fleet in 1805, through Stonewall Jackson's possession of detailed local knowledge in his 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign, to the employment of electronic intelligence in the naval operations of WWI and its extension and refinement during WWII. For that conflict, Keegan expands his analysis, discussing intelligence aspects of the German invasion of Crete, the U.S. victory at Midway and the defeat of the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic. To balance an account heavily focused on technology, he incorporates a chapter on the importance of human intelligence in providing information on the Nazi V-weapons. Keegan concludes with a discussion of post-1945 military intelligence that stresses the difference between a Cold War in which the central targets of intelligence gathering were susceptible to concrete, scientific methods, and more recent targets that, lacking form and organization, require penetration through understanding. That paradigm shift in turn is part of Keegan's general argument that intelligence data does not guarantee success. This book shows that the British need not have lost on Crete; that the American victory at Midway was not predetermined. At a time when armed forces tout the "information revolution," Keegan writes in the belief that the outcomes of war are ultimately the result of fighting.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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October 20, 2003
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Excerpt from Intelligence in War by John Keegan
Knowledge of the Enemy
"No war can be conducted successfully without early and good intelligence,ý wrote the great Duke of Marlborough. George Washington agreed: ýThe necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further argued.ý No sensible soldier or sailor or airman does argue. From the earliest times, military leaders have always sought information of the enemy, his strengths, his weaknesses, his intentions, his dispositions. Alexander the Great, presiding at the Macedonian court as a boy while his father, Philip, was absent on campaign, was remembered by visitors from the lands he would later conquer for his persistence in questioning them about the size of the population of their territory, the productiveness of the soil, the course of the routes and rivers that crossed it, the location of its towns, harbours and strong places, the identity of the important men. The young Alexander was assembling what today would be called economic, regional or strategic intelligence, and the knowledge he accumulated served him well when he began his invasion of the Persian empire, enormous in extent and widely diverse in composition. Alexander triumphed because he brought to his battlefields a ferocious fighting force of tribal warriors personally devoted to the Macedonian monarchy; but he also picked the Persian empire to pieces, attacking at its weak points and exploiting its internal divisions.
The strategy of divide and conquer, usually based on regional intelligence, underlay many of the greatest exploits of empire building. Not all; the Mongols preferred terror, counting on the word of their approach to dissolve resistance. If duplicity enhanced their terrible reputation, so much the better. In 1258, appearing out of the desert, Hulagu promised the Caliph, spiritual leader of Islam, ruler of the Muslim empire, his life if he would surrender Baghdad. As soon as he submitted, he was strangled and the horde moved on. The Mongols, however, as a wide-ranging nomad people, also knew a great deal and, like all nomads, when not on campaign, were always ready to trade. Markets are principal centres for the exchange of information as well as goods, and it was often a demand of maraudersýby the Huns of the Romans, frequently by the Vikingsýthat they should be allowed to set up markets on the borders of settled lands. Commerce was commonly the prelude to predation. Trade may follow the flag, as the Victorians comfortably affirmed, but it was quite as often the other way about.
Empires in the ascendant, to whom nomads were an irritation rather than a threat, adopted a different attitude. They gave and withheld permission to trade and hold markets on their borders as a deliberate means of local control.1 They also pursued active ýforwardý policies. The pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty not only constructed a deep belt of forts on the border between settled Egypt and Nubia but also created a frontier force and issued it with standing orders. Its duty was to prevent Nubian incursions into the Nile Valley but also to patrol into the desert and report. One report, preserved on papyrus at Thebes, reads, ýWe have found the track of 32 men and 3 donkeysý; nearly 4,000 years old, it might have been written yesterday.