Archive for February 15th, 2007

Book Review : My Favourite Autobiography – A Soldier’s Story by Omar N Bradley

February 15, 2007

Book review by Vikram Karve

 

MY FAVORITE MILITARY AUTOBIOGRAPHY

 

A Soldier’s Story by Omar N. Bradley

 

 

 

 

I love reading autobiographies, as there is nothing more inspiring and authentic than learning about the life, times, thoughts and views of a great person in his own words.

 

It’s a lazy hot Sunday afternoon. I browse through my bookshelves and pick out A Soldier’s Story by General Omar Nelson Bradley, one of my favorite autobiographies, and certainly my all time favorite military autobiography. Come Dear Reader, sit with me for a while, and let’s leaf through and peruse this fascinating book.

 

General Bradley (1893-1981) known for his calm and resolute leadership and affectionately called the “Soldier’s General” commanded the largest American combat force in history and rose to be the first Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

 

This is a story, not of my life, but of a campaign…I have sought… to tell a story of how generals live and work at their chosen profession the author says at the beginning of his memoirs which focus on his participation in World War II.

 

Candidly written with remarkable humility in beautiful expressive language it is a wonderful memoir embellished with interesting episodes and lucid characterizations of many renowned military personalities.

 

 In this book I have tried to achieve one purpose: To explain how war is waged on the field from the field command postTo tell a story of how and why we chose to do what we did, no one can ignore the personalities and characteristics of those individuals engaged in making decisions…..Where there are people, there is pride and ambition, prejudice and conflict. In generals, as in all other men, capabilities cannot always obscure weaknesses, nor can talents hide faults…General Bradley writes in his preface which concludes…I could not conscientiously expurgate this book to make it more palatable…if this story is to be told, it must be told honestly and candidly… 

The author writes in a wonderfully readable storytelling style and starts his riveting narrative on September 2, 1943, driving to Messina along the north coast of Sicily when, suddenly, General Eisenhower summoned him to tell him that he had been selected to command the American Army in the biggest invasion of the war – the liberation of Europe from the Germans. He then goes back in time and starts his story with vignettes from his early formative days of soldiering. He describes how, from General Marshall, he learnt the rudiments of effective command which he himself applied throughout the war: “When an officer performed as I expected him to, I gave him a free hand. When he hesitated, I tried to help him. And when he failed, I relieved him”  – isn’t this leadership lesson valid even on today’s IT driven world where delegation seems to be taking a back- seat and excessive monitoring, interference and intervention seem to be on the rise.

 

Rather than encourage yes-men, ego-massage, sycophancy and groupthink, General Marshal sought contrary opinions: “When you carry a paper in here, I want you to give me every reason you can think of why I should not approve it. If, in spite of your objections, my decision is to still go ahead, then I’ll know I’m right”. 

When it was suggested to General Marshall that a corps commander who had an arthritic disability in the knee be sent home rather than be given command of a corps in the field in war, he opined: “I would rather have a man with arthritis in the knee than one with arthritis in the head. Keep him there”.

 

“For the first time in 32 years as a soldier, I was off to a war” he writes on his assignment overseas in February 1943 to act as Eisenhower’s “eyes and ears” among American troops on the Tunisian front in
North Africa.

 

He vividly describes the chaos after the American defeat at Kasserine, the arrival of Patton on the scene who growled “I’m not going to have any goddam spies running around in my headquarters” and appointed Bradley as his deputy, a defining moment which was the first step of Bradley’s illustrious combat career.

 

This is easily the best book on Patton’s stellar role in World War II, complementing General Patton’s Memoirs War As I Knew It and Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago. Though his admiration for Patton is evident, General Bradley writes about his long association with Patton with fairness and honesty and reveals unique and remarkable facets of Patton’s leadership style and character.

 

Sample this – Precisely at 7 Patton boomed in to breakfast. His vigor was always infectious, his wit barbed, his conversation a mixture of obscenity and good humor. He was at once stimulating and overbearing. George was a magnificent soldier. (Can there be a better description?)

 

Bradley vividly describes how Patton transformed the slovenly and demoralized II Corps into a fighting fit formation. “The news of Patton’s coming fell like a bombshell on Djebel Kouif. With sirens shrieking Patton’s arrival, a procession of armored scout cars and half-tracks wheeled into the dingy square opposite the schoolhouse headquarters of II Corps…In the lead car Patton stood like a charioteer…scowling into the wind and his jaw strained against the web strap of a two-starred steel helmet.”

 

General Bradley writes superbly, as he describes how Patton stamped his personality upon his men and by his outstanding charismatic leadership rejuvenated the jaded, slovenly, worn-out, defeated and demoralized II Corps and transformed it into a vibrant, disciplined, fighting fit organization that never looked back and went on winning victory after victory in most difficult circumstances and against all odds.

 

There are bits of delightful humor in this book. Commenting on the ingenuity and improvisation abilities of Patton’s staff, the author writes: “…Indeed had Patton been named an Admiral in the Turkish Navy, his aides could probably dipped into their haversacks and come up with the appropriate badges of rank…” Though, at times, the author appears to be in awe of and enamored by Patton’s larger than life charisma, he is candid, dispassionate and, at times, critical when he describes how he was bewildered by the contradictions in Patton’s character and concludes: “At times I felt that Patton, however successful he was as a corps commander, had not yet learned how to command himself.” 

Their techniques of command varied with their contrasting personalities. While the soft-spoken unassuming Bradley preferred to lead by suggestion and example, the flamboyant Patton chose to drive his subordinates by bombast and threats, employing imperious mannerisms and profane expletives with startling originality; and both achieved spectacular results. 

 

Many of us are at a loss for words when asked to qualitatively appraise our subordinates. See how easily General Bradley lucidly evaluates his division commanders, bringing out their salient qualities, in so few words with elegant simplicity and succinctness: “…To command a corps of four divisions, toughness alone is not enough. The corps commander must know his division commanders, he must thoroughly understand their problems, respect their judgment, and be tolerant of their limitations…among the division commanders in
Tunisia, none excelled the unpredictable Terry Allen in the leadership of troops…but in looking out for his own division, Allen tended to belittle the role of others… Ryder had confirmed his reputation as that of a skilled tactician…his weakness, however, lay in the contentment with which he tolerated mediocrity…the profane and hot-tempered Harmon brought to the corps the rare combination of sound tactical judgment and boldness… none was better balanced nor more cooperative than Manton Eddy…though not timid, neither was he bold; Manton liked to count his steps carefully before he took them.”
 Aren’t the author’s understanding, observation and articulation remarkable?

 

 

Throughout the book, we find honest, frank and incisive appraisals of characters in this story – superiors, peers and subordinates – most of them renowned and famous personalities. He writes with candor about the problems of command during the planning of the invasion of
Europe.

From then on the story gathers speed and moves so captivatingly that one is spellbound as one reads the author fluently narrate the events of the campaign with remarkable preciseness and detail, one realizes what an engaging and compelling book this is – it’s simply unputdownable!

 

All important events, turning points, and personalities are vividly described with the aid of maps, charts, pictures and appendices; from D Day (the Normandy Invasion) to the surrender of the German forces. Towards the end of his memoirs General Bradley reflects “Only five years before…as a lieutenant colonel in civilian clothes, I had ridden a bus down Connecticut Avenue to my desk in old Munitions Building… I opened the mapboard and smoothed out the tabs of the 43 US divisions now under my command…stretched across a 640-mile front of the 12th Army Group…I wrote in the new date: D plus 335…outside the sun was climbing in the sky. The war in
Europe had ended.”
 

While this autobiography is a “must read” for military men and students of military history, I am sure it will benefit management students and professionals for it is an incisive treatise on Soft Skills encompassing aspects of Leadership, Communications, and most importantly, the Art of Human Relations Management in the extremely complex and highly stressful scenario of War where achievement of success (victory) is inescapably paramount. It is a primer, a treasury of distilled wisdom, on all aspects of management, especially human resource management.  One can learn many motivational and management lessons from this book.

 

There is nothing to surpass the experience of learning history first hand from a man who lived and created it rather than a historian who merely records it. The Art of Leadership is better learnt from studying Leaders, their lives, their writings, rather than reading management textbooks pontificating on the subject and giving how-to-do laundry lists. 

 

The Art and Science of Management owe its genesis and evolution to the military. Modern Management theories, concepts, techniques and practices emerged from the experiences and lessons learnt during World War II [particularly in The United States of America].  

It’s ironic isn’t it? It was the military that gave modern management principles to the civilian corporate world, and today we see military men running to civilian management institutes to “learn’ management and get the coveted MBA which the sine qua non and all important passport for entry into the corporate world.

 

I love reading stories, all kinds of stories, fiction, fantasy, parables, fables, slice of life. I like Life Stories, biographies, particularly autobiographies, as there is nothing more credible, convincing and stimulating than learning about the life, times and thoughts of a great person from his own writings. It’s called verisimilitude, I think.

 

A Soldier’s Story is a magnificent book. A masterpiece, a classic! It’s enjoyable, engrossing and illuminating. Read it.

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

http://vikramkarve.blog.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Empress Court

February 15, 2007

EMPRESS COURT

By

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

The next time you visit South Mumbai, go to Churchgate, admire the beautiful Art Deco style façade of the Eros Cinema, an architectural landmark, which marks the beginning of the Art Deco district of Oval Precinct; and start walking southwards down Maharshi Karve Road, passing Eros, Sundance cafe to your right, the verdant Oval Maidan across the road to your left.

 

Keep walking past splendid Art Deco buildings like Court View, Queens Court, Greenfield, Windsor, Rajesh Mansion; stop at the T-junction with Dinsha Vachha Road, look across the road and you will see the most magnificent of them all – Empress Court.

 

Pause for a moment to appreciate the splendid pista green building with its exquisite façade. Then cross the road, walk through the elegant entrance, climb up the wooden spiral staircase to the second floor and ring the doorbell. If you had come just a few days earlier, I would have opened the door – for this is the place where I spent the six best years of my life. Oh yes! How can I ever forget

Empress Court

– the best house I have ever lived in!

 

Let’s go in. A huge hall, dining room to the left, drawing room to the right, airy windows and a cute circular balcony. Stand in the balcony and admire Mumbai University’s Rajabai Clock Tower right in front of you across the Oval, the High Court to its left and Old Secretariat to the right; all Gothic style majestic structures in stone.

 

Walk through the airy cool rooms, each with a balcony with excellent views. Open the doors and windows and enjoy the refreshing sea breeze. It’s heavenly. Words cannot describe the blissful delight I felt when I lived here. Close your eyes and think of GB Mhatre, the architect who crafted and designed this elegant apartment house.

 

Empress Court, facing the Rajabai Clock Tower, on the western side of the Oval, is a part of the heritage Fort precinct. The lush green Oval Maidan, a Heritage Grade I precinct, an open space colonial pattern esplanada of scenic beauty, acting as a buffer between two architectural period styles – the Gothic buildings of the Mumbai University, Bombay High Court and Old Secretariat to the east and Art Deco district to its west.

 

The location of

Empress Court

is ideal. There is the Oxford Bookstore next door where I spent delightful hours browsing books on elegant orange rocking chairs, refreshing myself with delicious cups of invigorating teas in the Cha Bar. Just a short walk and you are at

Marine Drive

. The Business and Art districts, education, museums, sightseeing, shopping, good food, entertainment, night life, clubs, sports, bus and railway stations – everything is so nearby. You’re right in the centre of everything that’s happening in Mumbai.

 

I shall never forget the clock atop Rajabai Tower which woke me up at six every morning, the metamorphosis at sunrise as the sun rose every morning between the tall BSE building and the Clock Tower, the soothing green Oval maidan, football matches at the Cooperage, and the calm tranquil sunsets on Marine Drive.

 

Thank you Empress Court

! I shall always cherish the six years I spent with you – the best years of my life in the best place I have ever lived in.

   

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

 

History of Poona – a book review by Vikram Karve

February 15, 2007

Book Review

 

A LOCAL HISTORY OF
POONA AND ITS BATTLEFIELDS

By

COLONEL L W SHAKESPEAR

 

[MACMILLAN AND CO.
LONDON 1916]

 

Reviewed by Vikram Karve

 

 

 

It was indeed my good fortune to chance upon this engrossing book on Pune (
Poona), the city I was born and live in. I enjoyed reading this book. Let me tell you about it.

 

Dear Reader, before you read on, please bear in mind that this 1916 vintage book was written for “present-day residents” of Poona by Colonel L.W. Shakespear, who at that time, in 1916, was the AQMG 6th Poona Division, and apparently an eminent military historian who also wrote “History of the 2nd KEO Goorkhas (sic)” and “History of Upper Assam and the North-East Frontier”.

 

Things change, a lot of water has flown down the Mula and Mutha, the anglicized Poona is now known as Pune (its original Maharashtrian name) and if you want to truly enjoy this delightful book, close your eyes for a while and transport yourself ninety years back in time from the chaotic Pune of today to the Poona of 1916 in order to enable you to lucidly see in your mind’s eye its glorious heritage so vividly portrayed by the author.

 

Eschewing long-winded prologue, the author, a military man, succinctly states his objective right in the beginning on the first page: “ It is not intended to go deep into dynastic matters, but only to touch on the locality’s earliest days, and then turn to more modern times; calling up items of interest which may make their sojourn here, and perhaps their outings, of greater value to present-day residents.”  This is not a definitive work and the reader must keep in mind the author’s intent and point of view for a better understanding of this book.

 

Tracing the genesis of Poona, Shakespear concludes: “From about A.D. 230 to A.D. 500 no specific information is found concerning this locality; but there is reason to believe that … Poona was ruled by the Ratta clan, which… became sufficiently powerful as to be styled “Maharashtra”, or country of the greater Rattas, from whence the… name Maharatta. The next few pages sketch, in a perfunctory manner, the period till the advent of English troops in 1722 and building of the first Residency west of the Mutha river, at its confluence or Sangam with the Mula river, for Mr. Mostyn, the first British Resident. There is an illustration, of an old-time painting by Henry Salt, depicting the Mula-Mutha Sangam, the City, and Parbatti (Parvati) Hill in the background that gives a good idea of the extent of Pune city before the Bund was built across the river followed by a wooden bridge near the Sangam.

 

“This brings us to the period when
Poona began to possess a personal interest for the English” the author writes and than takes the reader on a series of “rides” or “outings” to vividly describe important historical events against the backdrop of geographical topography. The narrative, interspersed with apt illustrations, is very interesting and even today it would be worthwhile to walk the “rides” and see the various landmarks of heritage value and historical importance like Ganeshkhind, Bhamburda Hills and Plain, Lakdi Pul Bridge, Parvati, Panchaleshwar, the Poona and Kirkee cantonments, Garpir, Ghorpuri, Wanowri, Yerawada, Katraj, Sarasbagh, Gultekdi, Hadapsar, Saswad, Chinchwad, Induri, Talegaon, Lonavla and Peths of Poona City. There is an interesting description of the underground water ducts and conduits from the springs and lakes at Kondhwa, Katraj and foothills of Sinhagarh to bring water to Rasta Peth and ensure pure water supply to the city.

 

The meticulous account, embellished with maps and sketches, of
Poona and its Battlefields, and the battles that took place thereon, has been fluently narrated in easy readable storytelling style and this makes the book gripping and unputdownable once you start reading it. However, the reader must remember that this book is written by a British Army Officer in 1916 and depicts his version of events and point of view and the perspective of that period. 

 

The book describes the defining events in the evolution of the cantonment town of
Poona, which was the precursor to the modern day Pune as we know it today. It is an entertaining and informative book, a unique and rare piece of writing about an important period of the history of
Poona (Pune) and would be of interest to Punekars and students keen on learning about the heritage of Pune.

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com