hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Oxford Handbook of War

Alphen, The Netherlands, 23 January. Have you ever had a Roadrunner/Coyote moment? I step onto my stairs and the next thing I know I am horizontal, paddling furiously to deny gravity and then with a thunderous crash discover that Sir Isaac Newton may have had a point and that I really should have concentrated more in physics lessons. I crash down back first and then bounce down the stairs step by step to the bottom. “Oh, bother (or a word to that effect)” I think. “Something is clearly not right”.

What a strange week. My new Oxford mega-book comes out...and I fall down the stairs. The two are not necessarily connected. Cracked ribs and huge bruises with my reputation for being accident-prone reinforced utterly with my Dutch wife. Being a man it was of course not my fault, but rather the result of a serious design fault in the stairs. As I write this I am laid out on my sofa.  I can move but don't make me larf!

My timing as ever was impeccable.  I was about to leave for London to attend a high-level meeting with senior NATO officials to discuss the future of the Alliance. Naturally, my enforced absence means that NATO is now doomed. Oh well.

So, humour me awhile as I share a moment of pride. The Oxford Handbook of War is unique. It is my fourth book and my second for Oxford University, my alma mater. It has taken five years to research, plan, structure, prepare, write and edit. It is certainly no 'pot boiler' being almost 600 pages in length over some 45 chapters and considers war in all its forms – strategic, historical, political, military, social and economic.

The Handbook has been a joint collaboration with my old friend and co-conspirator Professor Yves Boyer of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. Who says the English and French never get on? ‘Research’ of course occasioned many hours sipping excellent French wine in Yves’s wonderful home overlooking the Loire Valley. Yes, I suffer for my art. Vive, l’entente intellectuelle!

In preparing the Handbook we have been supported by over forty leading thinkers, policy-makers and practitioners from across the globe - Brazil, China, Europe, India and the United States. Indeed, the Handbook is graced by chapters from the British and Dutch Chiefs of Defence Staff, as well as a former US Ambassador to NATO and NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. Why did we set out on such an ambitious project? Well, the reason shines through every page; to prevent war through the better understanding of it.

The Handbook has also been nominated for the prestigious Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature, my second book to be so honoured. The book is also a gift to the Netherlands Defence Academy where I have had the honour to be the Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy for the past few years. I hope they notice.

So that’s the plug. Now, let me offer those of you contemplating writing such a book a few words of advice. You do not write a book, you live it. Indeed, a book is rather like a movie in that it needs a cast of many to happen. And, like a movie a book needs commitment heart and soul over many years before that special day when you holds it in your hands.  One other thing; you will not become a millionaire.

The active support of an excellent publisher is vital.  In this case the support of my publisher Oxford University Press has been invaluable, particularly the utterly professional Dominic Byatt, Elizabeth Suffling and team.

So, if you want to understand war then I humbly recommend a copy of the Oxford Handbook of War because as Plato once so poignantly put it, “only the dead have seen the end of war”. Sadly, there is nothing I can see of this world that convinces me otherwise. There is no glory in war, but sometimes it must be fought.

So, forgive this moment of self-satisfaction. And don’t worry, it will not go to my head – pride after all has come AFTER a fall.

As for the film rights – I see Russell Crowe playing me...or maybe Jeremy Irons.

Julian Lindley-French

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