* * *
Another fine study of human character and its relationship to warfare is Fire in the Night
(Random House, U.S. $29.95), a solid biography of the legendary British general Orde Wingate written by John Bierman
and Colin Smith, two British news correspondents.
Wingate was a distant cousin of T.E. Lawrence and perhaps an even less conventional warrior. He hated school, was
a mediocre student, and left at 17 to join the army. As a young man he became an exceptional horseman, rode recklessly
to hounds, drank, gambled, ran into debt, and eventually became the very picture of the dashing British junior officeror
would have, if he hadn't made so many rivals among his superiors through his contempt for their abilities.
Posted to Sudan between the world wars, Wingate hunted lions and water buffalo and tried, and failed, to find the
mythical lost oasis of Zerzura, located, it was said, somewhere in the Sand Sea of Calanscio, between Libya and Egypt.
Later, in 1936, Wingate was posted to Palestine (then a British protectorate) and became an ardent Zionist who took
it upon himself to teach the kibbutzim how to defend themselves. The Jewish settlers there were especially susceptible to
Arab night raids, and Wingate helped them to form units that would become known as the Special Night Squads, adept at
guerrilla warfare tactics. He trained Moshe Dayan, among many others; indeed he trained the core of what became the
Israeli Army. He was fearless and zealous and didn't care what anybody thought of him. He could speak Arabic
fluently and taught himself Hebrew. He was clearly on his way to becoming a legend.
Wingate's exploits in Ethiopia in the early days of World War II solidified his reputation. His work
behind enemy lines in Burma (Myanmar), where he died in an airplane crash, made him famous. The authors give us
a balanced view of a man who in peacetime would surely have wound up climbing the Himalaya without oxygen or
exploring the Sahara in Bedouin dress. Wingate was and remains fascinating, a brilliant and eccentric Brit.
Cover images courtesy of Atlantic Monthly Press (top)
and Random House