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The Business Of War

Ed: MAJGEN John Kennedy (580.01/35848)
Publisher: Hutchinson of London
(From the John Laffin Library)

Those who were of the inner councils of the Second World War are faced with a difficult problem. Should they continue to hold their peace, or should they publish some account of the war as they saw it, for the interest of the public and the benefit of their successors?

Sir John Kennedy’s position during the war was both privileged and responsible: he was Director of Military Operation from 1940 until 1943, and thereafter Assistant Chief of the Imperial General Staff until December 1944, by which time all the major strategic decisions of the war had been taken. He was the confidant not only of Ironside, Dill and Brooke, his immediate Chiefs, but of many other leading figures; while his contacts with the Prime Minister were frequent-sometimes cordial, and, on at least one memorable occasion, explosive. Sir John has no sort of axe to grind. He is concerned only to reconstruct the atmosphere of those stormy times as accurately as possible; and we are singularly fortunate in the materials he has to hand which take us being the scenes and into the ‘back-rooms’ of conferences and planning in a way that is both interesting and personal, and enable us to read of intimate discussions and differences before they reached the higher levels. Throughout the war he tossed haphazardly into a steel box copies of the many notes and memoranda which he and his staff prepared from time to time; to these he added scraps of narrative and impressions dictated in his leisure moments. All these are strictly contemporary, and uncoloured by subsequent events.

In 1946 he became Governor of Southern Rhodesia; and in half-hours of leisure and on holidays at the Cape, during his years there, he spun the contents of the steel box into a continuous narrative of the war years. From that narrative this book has been selected, without any dilution arising from afterthoughts.

It might be truer to say that it has been compiled by the selection of omissions-omissions chosen with a view to leaving out what little was dull, all that was repetitive, and everything which might give pain without profit. The residue provides a view from the wings of every theatre of war; of the agonizing exigencies of planning without adequate resources; of the clash of personalities; and of the age-old equation of political and military loggerheads. Whether on-stage or off-stage, Sir Winston Churchill dominates the book.

The selections have been made by Brigadier Bernard Fergusson, whose own war books are well-known, and who was involved, either as a planner or as a participant, in many of the episodes discussed.

June 2008


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