The Desert Generals
The Desert Generals
The theme of this book is the struggle of individual will against circumstance. The subject matter is human character. In these five uncommon men during the Desert Campaigns, as in the condensed action of a tragedy, were displayed nobility, frailty, resolution, loyalty, indecision, vanity, fear, simplicity, selfishness, greatness and littleness. The creation of literary portraits of living men is both easier and more difficult than with the dead. Some things that are known cannot be written; other things will not be known until death has opened all private records. Yet to meet and talk with the subjects of the portraiture and with their friends and colleagues is to gain vivid and detailed impressions that no correspondence of the dead, however copious, can yield. The shaping of these various impressions into accurate pictures is a complex process. They have to be balanced against one another, against the author's own judgment of the main subjects, and against his own impression of each witness.
Apart from human character, the Desert Campaign has other fascinations. There is the pleasure of seeking out the truth; there is the excitement of watching two men fight a battle, possibly the most complete human activity, since generalship involves all the intellectual, physical and moral power in a man. Historically, the Desert Campaign constitutes the last act of the British Empire as a great independent, and united, power. It ironically epitomises the suicide of the old Europe: today neither German, Italian nor Briton controls the Middle East for which they fought so bitterly. Again the Desert Campaign reveals clearly the twentieth-century national characters and talents of Germany and Britain -- and confounds accepted images. The methods of thinking, organising and fighting of each side also adumbrate their industrial and commercial methods in the post-war era.
Yet, above all, the Desert Campaign of 1940-43 is an addition to the great epics. It is the story, set in the wasteland, of how the men of ten nations strove for victory amid the mechanical tumult of a kind of battle never seen before, and likely never to be seen again. CORRELLI BARNETT