FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Kruse's Keys: Read "African Kaiser" To Learn an Untold Chapter of WWI History

Standard Disclaimer: For every “great” thing/development done by a colonial power in Africa, myriad awful things (like genocide, theft, and rape) were carried out by the same power. It’s an unfruitful task to judge past historical figures strictly against our evolving modern standards. Rather it’s usually more productive to attempt to judge their actions with the prevailing standards of the day (what were the standard--albeit flawed--views and how did the person accept or fight against them) and then baseline this analysis against general good and evil.

While there are various colonial leaders who exhibited brilliance in their fields or who have been reported to have been widely loved by the local populace, it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that in many cases, the local populace didn’t have much of a choice. Facing overwhelming military power, they could either fight back or resign themselves to getting the best deal they could. This was likely a choice faced by many who eventually became Askari (soldiers) for different colonial powers. In Germany’s case, those Askari members of the Schuztruppe were better paid than the locals in the armies of the other colonial powers. Under Lettow-Vorbeck’s leadership they were also the most effective guerilla army in history (conversely, without their sacrifice and discipline Lettow-Vorbeck would have been defeated handily). End Disclaimer.

It quickly becomes apparent in the impressive tome, 
African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, that author Robert Gaudi is a bit of a von Lettow-Vorbeck fanboy. But this admiration is not without merit as the reader quickly learns the insurmountable odds faced by the German general fighting alone (i.e., without logistical support) and unafraid in German East Africa during World War I. While the general ends his four-year struggle in unconditional surrender at the hands of the British (after being ordered to following the actual Kaiser’s abdication), he completed his military service as a victor, having succeeded in his mission of pushing Great Britain to expend immense treasure and forces in its pursuit of his small army of guerrilla fighters.

This pursuit was one which spanned the continent and included the longest naval battle in history (9 months) as the British blockaded the Rufiji delta in pursuit of SMS Konigsberg. While the battle ended with the destruction the German cruiser, it took several British ships away from their broader mission of destroying axis commerce around the continent for nearly a year. While much of the book carries an army-centric focus, Gaudi’s thorough depiction of this fight is a notable one for naval enthusiasts as we see one of the first uses of aviation in maritime warfare. Critics of this book point out Gaudi’s inaccuracy in his varying descriptions of SMS Konigsberg as a battleship when it was really a cruiser, but honestly, I am in the Navy myself and I took his shifting descriptions as more of an artistic license in attempting not to be overly repetitive.

And indeed this naval battle is emblematic of von Lettow-Vorbeck’s overall strategy: to execute a fighting retreat in which he is never defeated or captured. In this guerilla campaign he was wildly successful and stands as the only undefeated Axis general of World War I.

Historian Edwin Palmer Hoyt described Lettow-Vorbeck’s campaign as “the greatest single guerrilla operation in history, and the most successful." He did this largely by eschewing the traditional army tactics of the previous century and decentralizing his command in order to attack British supply chains and force them to commit greater and greater forces. His success did come at a high price, however, as his highly disciplined, nail-tough Askari forces (porters and soldiers) died in untallied numbers (although much less proportionately than their adversaries). There’s much evidence though that he was widely respected by his men as seen in a return trip to Tanzania later in his life as an 80 year old retiree in which he was greeted with cheers by again former soldiers and hoisted above their heads.

Despite this being Gaudi’s first book, this lengthy book (18 hours on Audible!) flies by on the strength of his story-telling and narrative prowess. The author also ties up Lettow-Vorbeck’s life story neatly with a well-researched retelling us his life-long quest for love and notably his distaste for Hitler which culminated in his telling Hitler to “go F*** himself” when the genocidal dictator offered him an ambassadorship. 

And if this last tidbit doesn’t pique your interest in the leader, I am fairly certain he’s the only general with a dinosaur named after him: the uncatchable lizard, aka, the dryosaurid species Dysalotosaurus lettowvorbecki was named after him after discovery of its fossils in Tanzania.

*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
See our 2018201720162015 and 2014 Reading Lists.

Key Takeaways (more notes are coming but one of the challenges with audiobooks is that notes are difficult. There's a 'save clip' function on the Pocketcasts app but you still have to go back and listen to all the clips):

Chapter 1: Aggressive and completely self-supportive, famed schutzstruppe--first racially integrated army in modern history.  

Chapter 8: SHaka Zulu--african hitler?
Chapter 8: herroro vs. hottentot genocide (4 phases, each 12 years)  
Chapter 8: First german colonialists stole herroro women and raped and fathered children.  This set off a huge rebellion led by samuel Maharero, the supreme chief of the Herero, led a rebellion against German rule.
Chapter 9: Heinrich Ernst Göring story about him forbading alcohol and fornication whose daughter killed her own baby when she became pregnant rather than face his wrath.
Chapter 11:  Kiboko day, men chosen at random to be whipped.  See more in this excerpt here.  
Chapter 11: German elections  in fall 2006 sweep conservative out of power--colonial political play major role
Chapter 11: progressive regime changes colonial outlook to compassionate caretakers (post genocide) Schnee’s agenda
Chapter 12: More notes forthcoming...

Key References (For Further Study):

Key References (for further study): For the life of me, I can't get the book covers to line up in an ordered manner--I eventually just gave up.


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