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2017 - War With Russia by Richard Shirreff

Supposedly the account to beat all accounts, by the man who knows, this tome comes up wanting in almost every single manner of description. With anything as conceptually nuanced as the developing face-off between superpowers, creating a scenario which fits the initial template takes some formulating, and this one, with evil Mr Putin moving his chess-pieces into the Baltic States and the righteous West checkmating him on his own terms, is critically bordering on the ridiculous.

Shirreff's characterisations are woefully sub-Clancy. All his Russians are unfeeling, granite-faced, monolithic robots or vodka-soaked, bumbling incompetents, whilst allies (including our friends in the Baltics) are cut from carbon steel, oak and muscle and fundamentally pure at heart and mind, and there's even a frisson of romance in there to add spice to a shambolic development. The sub-plot, that which says those horrid, asset-stripping politicians haven't been listening to their senior military staffers rolls out underneath which results in the UK sending HMS Queen Elizabeth (fresh from sea trials and with nil LitM capability workup, and effectively unsupported and unescorted) to her premature watery end on the Baltic seabed as a touchstone. With Shirreff's wisdom and experience in the corridors of NATO military strategy, for this reviewer (a modest, clanky senior rate from the nondescript end of RN service) to blow holes in the plot and question why the political and diplomatic options were never entirely exhausted before the shooting starts is anyone's guess. The UNSC and the machinations outwith the UN hardly ever gets a mention, neither does any real UK Cabinet decision making involving high-level manoeuvring and options to take the nation forward with our Yank counterparts, into a toe-to-toe and possible nuclear destruction. It's a tough call is war, you know. It seems like Shirreff actually wants us to stagger headlong into a better-equipped enemy and end up with a bloody nose and universal humiliation. Surely the recent Dunkirk movie gives us that?

So, the solution is another nod to movies like Independence Day and lies in the hands of the more geeky mortals in the dark offices of productivity, power and policy. This is against Russia, possibly one of the most malevolent and technically adroit users of information technology and it's counter-uses and who have if we are led to believe anything near the truth, artfully hexed last year's US Presidential Elections. Sew that into marauding forest guerillas (Ewoks, anyone?) and the story builds to a climax involving one unspectacular and unresolved gunfight ... and then its all over. Endex. Return and stow all gear. I thought someone had done that old matelot trick of ripping out the last two pages of a shitkicker to piss me off.

This book is obviously written for those who care little for detail or content, watch Movies for Men and possibly have never served in uniform. It's a shame, because it comes badged with authority but has even the vaguely knowing reader turning each page smiling at it's lack of anything real and believable. It was recommended to me as a good yarn and the title gave me a sense I might be reading something powerful, visionary and thought-provoking, which it simply isn't. It's clumsy, Bravo Two Zero Lite in places and tells me that little of its content is anywhere near possible even with the greatest imagination. If it is meant to worry us into what we might face, it fails ... and if it is a pop at the political elite at their profligate, crass neglect - whilst burying a £3.5Bn UK military asset in it's plot - then it fails yet again.

Oh, and finally ... no Royal Navy ship ever goes to 'General Quarters'. I'll just leave that one there.
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