Monday, April 19, 2010

Bugles and a Tiger, by John Masters

Bugles and a Tiger: My Life in the Gurkhas (Cassell Military Paperbacks)I've always been somewhat fascinated by the Gurkhas, reputedly the toughest warriors around for the last hundred years or so, so I was glad to gain a bit more Gurkha-lore by reading Masters' tale of his service with the Prince of Wales Own Gurkha Rifles in the 1930s. Masters went on to a career as a novelist, and it's evident by his turns of phrase that he had both a narrative and descriptive gift.
Masters led his men against the Waziri tribes in that part of India that today has become Pakistan, which rings a familiar tone with what's happening with U.S. forces today. I'd like to quote, verbatem, a passage from the book that also sounds uncannily familiar for our soldiers, where Masters gives first the military wisdom, and then follows with the civil government's opinion on the battles they were fighting.
"Get there fustest with the mostest men.
Do not get there at all until we have referred the matter to the Governor-General-in-Council, which will take months.
Shoot first, shoot fastest, shoot last, and shoot to kill.
Do not shoot unless you have been shot at, and then try not to hurt anyone, there's a good chap!
Mystify, mislead and surprise the enemny, then never leave him a moment to gather himself again, but fall on him like a thunderclap and pursue him to his utter destruction, regardless of fatigue, casualties, or cost.
Announce your intention to the enemy, in order that he may have time to remove his women and children to a place of safety - and to counter your plan. At all events stop what you are doing as soon as he pretends to have had enough, so that he may gather again somewhere else.
Casualties, damage, losses, cost, are only some of the many factors to be considered when making a battle plan. If any factor is given undue weight, the plan is likely to fail.
Pardon us, but you plan does not interest us. We are happy to say that that is your business. However, casualties cause questions in the House, damage brings complaints in the Assembly, losses get into the newspapers, and cost we cannot stand...Remember all that, and get the war over quickly."

Some things never change.

This isn't a terribly exciting read, though Masters does describe on battle he fought in with great detail, but it does contain a lot of background on the British Army's time in India, some Indian customs and festivals, the Gurkha culture, and some perspective on the tribal warfare that's still going on in the remote mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Just something a little out of the ordinary for me.

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