So many books to read, so little time.

Archive for October 24th, 2008

Books That Should Exist, But Don’t: The South African Military

with 11 comments

Millions and millions of books. Even in the history field, thousands and thousands. Usually monographs on pretty narrow topics. But amidst all that, despite the numbers, you sometimes find that a book you want just does not exist.

Books which should exist, but don’t, deserve a special place in the antilibrarium. I offer one example here.

I got thinking about South Africa recently, due to a perusal of Ralph Peters’ remarkable essay The Lion and the Snake. And it occurred to me that I knew less about the South African military than I’d like. It is a remote corner of the Anglosphere which I’d like to know more about, and being me, I wanted to start from the military angle. I went looking for something like Granatstein’s history of the Canadian Army, Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace , or this collection of essays on the military history of Ireland. I found remarkably little. There are unit histories, and a series of official (or semi-official) histories of South Africa in the Second World War, and some books about the South African Army from the 1980s, and a few other odds and ends, such as this short essay, and this interesting list of books (click on “literature”). So there is a fair amount of material out there, but nothing comprehensive. I want someone else to do the research, the heavy lifting, and put the whole thing together for me, with a nice annotated bibliography.

Despite substantial searching, I am forced to conclude with regret that there is no one volume history of the South African armed forces, or military history of South Africa. I think we are too close to the transition from the apartheid regime to the successor regime. Old wounds are still open.

Still, too bad. It would be a very fascinating story, told as a continuous narrative. Lots of military, political, cultural and racial drama. The Dutch settlement, the British capture of the Cape, the Zulu Wars, the Boer War, South African expeditionary forces in both world wars, the Cold War era struggles against guerillas in adjacent countries, The military’s involvement in sustaining the apartheid regime, the clandestine nuclear program, the current ambiguous situation, including the virtual privatization of important segments of the South African Army into mercenary bands for hire, and some predictions and guesses about what the future might hold. What a tale. Even if it covered only the 20th century, starting with independence, after the Boer War, it is a story which would certainly have a lot of interest and lessons. It belongs in one volume. I hope someone writes it.

I close by opening the floor to our readers: Do you have any book recommendations about South Africa, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, etc., not necessarily limited to the military angle.

More generally, it would be good to hear about other books that should exist but don’t. I can think of a bunch of them, but that will be for another day.

(Originally posted on ChicagoBoyz.)

Wow. I don’t think this Wikipedia article existed when I first wrote this post. Good to see it. Still, a book would be better … .


Written by lexingtongreen

October 24, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized