January Book Reviews
By Prof. Rick Norton
Greetings to one and all. I hope everything is going well for you and yours. And that
your holidays - if holidays you've had - were pleasant. There is no theme to this month's book reviews, just the four works that I've read most recently. All were new to me, if not exactly newly published. So, let's get to it:
"Pancho Villa's Revolution By Headlines," by Mark Cronlund Anderson, (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000) 301 pages, ISBN: 0-8061-3172-1
Recently the colonial wars onelist had an interesting discussion about Pancho
Villa. One of the central questions revolved around whether Villa was a revolutionary
leader or a border-crossing bandit. The short answer is that he was both and I leave it for each of you to decide which Villa was the "true" Villa. Still, before Pancho started
raiding across his northern border, killing U.S. citizens and stealing their property, there was a time when he was respected and admired by a large percentage of the people and leaders of the United States. In large part, that favorable impression was formed through stories written by the press and carefully nurtured by Villa.
If this book isn't Mark Anderson's dissertation placed into print, I will be
surprised. The work explores Pancho Villa's and other key figures' of the Mexican
Revolution attempts to influence the foreign policy of the United States through the use
of the press. In this Anderson succeeds. He also examines the power of certain national and racial stereotypes present in the United States at the time. Although this may sound academic or esoteric to some, the book is quite readable. A significant number of editorial cartoons from the time are also presented which makes for a diverting and entertaining addition to the main argument.
Anderson charts Villa's attempts with skill and very well researched data. He
demonstrates how Villa overcame opposition and stereotype to gain increasing public
approval, only to lose it. Although Anderson never spells out the obvious, the book
makes clear that Villa's brief popularity was based on three main factors. First, Villa was able to portray himself as brave, dedicated and humble. Second, he followed a "hands-off" policy toward the United States, its citizens and its property. Third, he won battles.
When Villa stopped winning, he had to put the squeeze on Americans for funds, and his
actions eventually destroyed the populist image he had put together.
Would I recommend this book for gamers? No. There is nothing in it that relates
to the battlefield. When all is said and done the book focuses on a small aspect of the
Mexican Revolution that took place in a limited period of time. Save your money.
Would I recommend it for someone who wanted to specialize in Mexican history of this
period? Yes, but only after you have built a comprehensive library addressing more
mainstream historical aspects of the period.
The next review drops us into the American Civil War.
"An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman alias Pvt.
Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862 - 1864," Lauren
Cook Burgess, ed. (Pasadena, MD: The Minerva Center, 1994) 110 pages, ISBN: 0-
The first complaint I have with Lauren Cook Burgess' book is the selection of the
title. Pvt. Wakeman was, all in all, a very common soldier. And therein lies the main
interest of this book. Because if Pvt. Wakeman had not been a woman, there would be
nothing in these letters compelling enough to warrant publication. It simply wouldn't
We know today that at least several hundred women served in the armies of both
the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. They did so for a variety of
reasons: some from fidelity, others from avarice, some from patriotism and others, just to
There is nothing to indicate that Rosetta Wakeman was especially patriotic, or
rather if she was, she did not write home about it. There is a great deal to suggest that
Sara was tired of her life on the farm and that she was possessed of a burning
independence. At the same time she was looking forward to coming back home; a
dichotomy that anyone who has spent any time with military personnel will recognize.
Military life suited Rosetta. She spent the majority of her war on garrison duty in
Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, VA. She prided herself on her soldier's skills, sent
money home, asked incessantly about the farm and town, consumed all the tobacco she
could be sent and frequently asked for food. She evidently quarreled with her parents
from time to time and at least once did something that she felt was sinful. (The reader is
given no clue as to what this transgression could have been.)
Rosetta's military life changed when her regiment was sent to New Orleans in
order to participate in the Red River campaign. She saw combat, (light by the standards
of the day, but real fighting none the less) and acquitted herself competently. Then, like
so many others, she became sick with the family of maladies that were given the term
"chronic diarrhea." She died and is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery, Louisiana.
Either her true sex was never discovered by Army personnel, or, if it was, the fact was
Is this a book for gamers? Not even close. How about for Civil War buff? That's
a tougher call. If you think the work is going to add anything of substance to your
collection, then no. There is no new history here. But yet I was glad to add the book to
my collection, feeling it was more complete as a result.
Haveing veered into the American Civil War; let's get back to something that anyone would
agree is completely colonial.
"Bobs: Kipling's General: The Life of Field-Marshal Earl Roberts of Kandahar, VC," by W.H. Hannah, (London: Leo Cooper, 1972) 263 pages, ISBN: 0-85052-038-x.
Hannah likes Bobs. It's important to state that up front, because this is supposed to be a biography. In fact, Hannah loves Bobs. As a result, he is much less objective than a good
biographer should be. The book is well written, informative and there is a wealth of
information for those interested in the history of the British in India and for the war
gamer. But, the problem is that Hannah is crazy for Bobs, and has a tendency to
romanticize some of his accounts.
As most of you probably know there were two generals in the Victorian period
that towered above all the others. One was Wolseley and the other was Roberts. You
can still spark polite debate about which was better. You get no points for guessing
which Hannah favors.
And this really is a problem in several ways. First, Roberts, who went by the
name of "Fred," a fact not mentioned in this book, is portrayed as being almost
unnaturally correct. He never appears to make a mistake. In real life no one is this
perfect and Roberts certainly wasn't. Hannah also glosses over elements in Roberts' life
that cry out for deeper examination. For example, the future field marshal was raised in
England while he father was in India. This went on for decades and must have left an
impression on the boy. Yet the author all but ignores this aspect of Roberts' personality.
Additionally, Hannah all but condones Robert's deliberate efforts to seek promotion and
glory through the cultivation of powerful people and service in the quartermaster branch.
(Which at the time was concerned with much more than logistics.) This let him seek
active service and display his courage but he also avoided the burden and responsibility
of junior and mid-grade command. Best of from Roberts' view, he could remain in the
line of sight of powerful men who might be helpful to him.
Unquestionably brave and able, Roberts won his Victoria Cross in the Mutiny,
and, as a strategic leader, brilliantly commanded troops in the field during the Second
Afghan War. Both these events are described in the work and there is material for war
gamers. (For example, Hannah reports that many Afghanis wore "blue and white"
garments. For those of us who are building forces for use in games on the Northwest
Frontier, that's an interesting tidbit.) The Boer War is also well covered, but again, the
controversial bits are left on Kitchner's doorstep.
But some of the controversy that Roberts incurred on his own is also overlooked
or brushed aside. For example it was claimed that he improperly executed a number of
Afghans after re-taking Kabul. The record is by no means clear and Bobs may well be
innocent, but Hannah gives the incident scant attention. A more legitimate biography
would have laid out the known facts, competing interpretations of those facts and then
presented the author's opinion with appropriate justification.
So a good enough book if there is nothing better and your local library is not well
stocked with more interesting volumes. And the general history in the book is okay. But
it is a long way from being a must have. I'd suggest you'd be better off getting "Forty One
Years in India," Roberts' autobiography, if you can find it.
And now we go to Ireland.
"The Black and Tans," by Richard Bennett. (Boston: Houhgton Miflin Company, 1960)
228 pages, ISBN: Unknown.
If you have studied the collective series of rebellions, resistance, and conflicts
that have marked the relations involving Ireland and Britain you will have rapidly learned
that memories are long and slights are not forgotten or forgiven. Thus it is hard to find
dispassionate writings on the subject. In an odd way, one of the best litmus tests in that
regard is to see how offensive both sides find a work.
Using that strange yardstick, "The Black and Tans" is a relatively balanced book,
but if it does tend to favor one side, that would be the British. I base this opinion on the
fact that the atrocities perpetrated by the "tans" are not as precisely documented as those
against the "tans." (But some of the latter are not routinely found in other accounts.) Like
I said, this is a challenging area. This is not to say that such actions are completely
ignored, just that they are presented in a slightly less condemnatory light.
The book's format is simple enough. Bennett discuses how IRA successes against
the local police forces and the Royal Irish Constabulary led to the perceived need of
greater striking power and how young men were recruited into the organization that
would become known as the "Black and Tans," or simply "Tans." He also discusses,
although one could wish for greater detail, the formation of the "Auxiliaries," ostensibly
police cadets, but in reality former officers from the first world war who were out of
work and desperate for a job. Once in the job they quickly established a reputation for
undisciplined savagery and drunkenness.
The book covers the ineffectual attempts made by British authorities in trying to
catch leaders of the IRA and break the IRA's resistance. It's too bad there is not more
detail on the tactical aspects of these actions, but there are still plenty of scenario
provoking ideas. Beware, if you are a Vietnam-era veteran, you may find yourself
increasingly sympathetic to the British predicament. The IRA, after all, shared much in
common with the Viet Cong.
The book has twenty-two pages of photos, some of which I had not seen before.
Some are especially good at showing uniform details of the "auxxies," and there is a neat
shot of an armed patrol, complete with Lewis gun, riding in a truck. There are also
pictures of armored cars, tanks guarding buildings, and troops working crowd control.
My personal favorite is a shot of Countess Markievicz, when she was serving as Minister
of Labour to the Dail. (The IRA's shadow government to use a common term.) She is
chatting with Cathal O'Shannon and is an example of revolutionary chic, (Skirted version
of the IRA uniform, tricolor armband and Sam Browne belt with pistol.)
I'd recommending acquiring this book, if Ireland and the Rising comprise your
major area of interest. Otherwise put it on your "I'll read it if I find it list."
That's it for this month.