A chance to question the author who has written the true story of British decision-making in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars
"How could very good, committed and able civil and military public servants not be rewarded with greater success for the United Kingdom in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?" That was the question retired major general Christopher Elliott set out to answer in his book High Command - British Military Leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
Christopher Elliott and his wife have lived near Pewsey for fifteen years. When Marlborough News Online went to see him this week he said he was amazed by the response High Command has had. The book, published by the independent publisher Hurst, arrived at their warehouse on January 6 and had sold out by February 21. A reprint was ordered on February 15.
As a piece of very contemporary historical research it has met with glowing reviews - and he has been addressing MPs and giving evidence to the House of Commons' Defence Select Committee - answering their very pointed political questioning.
He was called to give evidence for the MPs' inquiry into "Decision making in defence policy: structures in the Ministry of Defence and Government" - a title which could perhaps have come straight off the proposal he sent to his publisher. (The transcript of his evidence is here.)
Now there is a chance to question Christopher Elliott at the Merchant's House on Tuesday March 17 at 7.15pm. At the event organised by the White Horse Bookshop, the author will be cross-examined for half-an-hour by retired Brigadier Robin Gamble, formerly of the Royal Green Jackets, who also lives near Pewsey. That will be followed by questions from the audience.
Christopher Elliott, CB MBE, was commissioned into the Royal Engineers and retired as a major general from the British Army in 2002, having been the Director of Military Operations, Commander 6th Armoured Brigade, and held a number of senior posts at the Ministry of Defence,
After he retired he began a second career in industry and started his own electronics company.
Now he is into his third career - as an academic. He is currently a Visiting Professor at Cranfield University and an Associate Fellow of the respected military 'think tank' the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). High Command was written while he was a research fellow at the Universities of Oxford and Reading - working under the eminent military historian Professor Sir Hew Strachan. He still retains his research fellowship, but says another book is unlikely...
Professor Elliott's research for his book included written the evidence of transcripts of the Chilcot Inquiry hearings, but relied mainly on his own interviews with a cross-section of key players - soldiers, civil servants and politicians.
One reviewer called the book a 'primer to the long-overdue Chilcot inquiry' and the very unofficial Army Rumour Service website and forum wrote: "In direct and pithy terms, Christopher Elliott...makes the case that [the Ministry of Defence] is not currently fit for purpose and details why and how it failed to provide the required direction for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."
You get a flavour of Professor Elliott's approach from this short excerpt from the Defence Committee hearing - he is talking about the senior soldiers he interviewed: "The remarkable thing I found—I was not looking for this—was that everybody said they had no problem with their Defence politicians; they were all very good at serving and wanted to do it...Everybody says, “The politicians got it wrong,” but it is much more complex than that."
Further details of this event are in our What's On calendar. At Tuesday's event there will be an opportunity to buy signed copies of High Command.