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The battle for Afghanistan

October 30, 2015

Whoa, what a story!  “Return of a King: the battle for Afghanistan” is the true story of grand conceit and chicanery under the British Government and its corporate puppy, the British East India Company, in late 1830s British Colonial India.  The first British War for Afghanistan, 1839-42, was a military disaster so terrible and so disgraceful it makes Custer’s Last Stand look mild. 

The author, William Dalrymple, is a British historian specialising in Colonial Asia. He has an easy completely modern writing style, but is skilled enough to give depth, context and analysis and never lose the thrill and momentum of his tragic narrative. He gives life to the people who made the decisions, their delusions and failings and the impossible situations that engulfed them. We hear of men and women who knew the truth in advance but were ignored and could only watch the horror ignite. 

afghan womanAnd to think that this was the culture of British military government at the very time that colonial New Zealand was also being maneuvered toward the Treaty of Waitangi at the instigation of naval Captain William Hobson.  Oh, they were very good! 

The book includes many beautiful portraits and artists’ impressions of crucial people and events. Of course, there was no photography at this time to give us any actual views, which is probably a blessing.  There is a rather long introduction covering all the leading actors in the conflict which is a little off-putting to wade through initially. But Dalrymple is thorough and the material is valuable to help the reader clarify the intricacies of the story to come.  

 So, if you want a window on the anatomy of incompetent administrations and their ugly consequences, on the helplessness of the common soldier or political agent, on the bloodthirsty militarism of post Napoleonic Europe and on the proud but vengeful culture of Afghanistan and central Asia in those old, though not so long ago, days of international Empire building at the point of a bayonet, read this account and weep.

 Thankyou Mr Dalrymple, lest we should ever forget.   


Julian McKean



From → Non-Fiction, Review

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