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Books War: The Ultimate Frontier
By Anthony Brant

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BBC News reports on Anthony Loyd's October 1999 arrest by Russian forces.

"War," writes Anthony Loyd, a one-time British Army officer who now reports on war for the Times of London, is "the ultimate frontier of human experience." And so it is, adventure at its limit, a greater test of courage than any sport you can name, a mountain of misery and endurance higher than any Everest.

In one of those odd convergences publishing is prone to, an armful of books about war is appearing this season, and two of them are not to be missed. Loyd's own book, My War Gone By, I Miss It So (Atlantic Monthly Press, U.S. $25), is one. The book is already out and creating a buzz—and for good reason.

Loyd's subject is Bosnia and he has written an account of its horrors that will wipe out any thoughts you might have had that we have reached the limit of the worst human nature has to offer. The monstrosities he describes are beyond belief. But the book is also compelling for what it tells us about fear.

Adventure of any kind is essentially a testing of limits and a confrontation with fear—and that's why Loyd went to Bosnia, to get as close to danger as possible. He learned that you have to live with your fear. Loyd survived being shot at, shelled, and interrogated. Fear was with him constantly. You don't get to the other side of fear.

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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 officer—or 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

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