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HOW TO FIGHT A WAR by Mike Martin reviewed in FAZ on14th August 2023

A very positive and important review of HOW TO FIGHT A WAR by Mike Martin published in FAZ

The text is below in English, supplied by the newspaper.

Last week world audiobook rights were sold, further to Chinese, South African and Indian deals.

Orchestra with highly specialised actors.

Mike Martin presents a handbook on how to fight wars - and ideally win them. Whoever reads it sees the Ukrainian counter-offensive differently.

By Lorenz Hemicker

Books are like election campaigns or military offensives. Whether they "ignite" depends on many variables that can hardly be influenced. There is no doubt that Mike Martin's "How to fight a war" comes at the "right" time. The book has become a compendium of enormous clarity and vividness, with the help of which much of what penetrates through the thick fog of war from Ukraine can be deciphered, but which is all too often short of breath and rarely commented on in depth on social media. In Martin's book it is different. The perspective chosen by the former army officer, war researcher and liberal democratic politician already contributes to this. He puts the reader in the role of a military commander-in-chief. His manual should help him to understand what he needs,

In order for the reader to understand what is necessary for this, Martin chooses a plausible approach: at the beginning, in a kind of best-of of war research, he enlightens the reader about principles that have been forgotten in Western societies in recent decades: wars are the continuation of politics, violence is a method of continuing communication by other means. Peace and war are not binary, but a continuum in which one condition always carries the possibility of the other. War is not a rational act, warfare is art and science at the same time. In the nine chapters of his book, Martin then lowers the flight altitude further and further until the reader literally finds himself in a man-to-man fight. Martin's tone always remains sober, realistic, and it quickly becomes clear why war represents the greatest imaginable risk for a nation. Because the effort involved in waging a war is enormous and the outcome is never certain, Martin pleads for the toughest possible training.

Martin points out that most mistakes are made before the first shot is fired. Clever strategies in which goals, plans, and means for different courses of events are aligned are rare, he writes. For the author, this also includes situations in which large personal losses have to be accepted. In fact, in the ears of some Western readers who are used to peace, it may sound almost barbaric that Winston Churchill, as British Prime Minister, sacrificed an entire brigade with around 4000 soldiers in Dunkirk in 1940 in order to bring hundreds of thousands across the English Channel to safety from the Wehrmacht and so on to enable the continuation of the war against the Nazis in the first place.

The fact that a clever strategy alone is not enough becomes clearer and clearer in the following chapters. Martin shows how gigantic the supply requirements of military units are. For an armored division with high ammunition and fuel consumption, it can quickly amount to hundreds of shipping containers per day, the author says. Without the steady flow of hundreds of thousands of items, most notably fuel, ammunition, spare parts, water, and food, as is quickly apparent, any army is in danger of falling apart.

Of course, this also applies to troops that have poor morale, whose leaders are corrupt, in which there is poor discipline or in which camaraderie is a foreign concept. And it also applies to armed forces in which the training was sloppy. Martin pleads for the toughest possible training, which every soldier should have experienced at least at group level. Because, according to the Afghanistan veteran, the tougher the training, the better prepared the soldiers are for combat. Every soldier must be familiar with the most basic, most brutal forms of warfare. So with killing.

For many, the war in Ukraine is closer than the straits in Taiwan.

Regardless of this, Martin also works out that an army is also an “orchestra” with some highly specialized players, starting with a tank crew (six months) and a helicopter pilot (usually three years) to a general who works in the It usually takes a good quarter of a century to successfully complete the tasks assigned to it. When considering the military dimensions, Martin attaches particular importance to the country. Due to human nature, it is the dimension in which wars are won and lost. Martin describes the influence of weather and topography. He describes what exactly makes infantry, tanks, and artillery a "highly effective triad" and why it's so difficult to balance them properly. The fact that the descriptions of the other military dimensions and those of weapons of mass destruction offer less insightful information is hardly relevant. After all, the war in Ukraine is closer to many readers than the Taiwan Straits.

In the last part of his book, Martin brings together the previous findings and concentrates on the conduct of the war itself. He describes why the balance of power between the conflicting parties is so important, and why gaining ground can become a troop glutton without any losses to one's own. Martin explains why the Russian armed forces rely more on attrition attacks than the Ukrainians. Above all, however, his explanations make it understandable why the changes in the front (aka gains in terrain), which are always a major focus, mean as little for the military success of the Ukrainian offensive in the end as possession of the ball in soccer.

The end of the Russian invasion cannot be predicted with Martin's handbook. But if you only want to read a book about warfare, "How to fight a war" will give you a good key to understanding it.

Mike Martin: How to fight a war. C. Hurst & Co Publishers, London 2023. 272 pp., £22


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