WarningThis information has been archived for reference or research purposes.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats on the "Contact Us" page.

Book Reviews

La guerre Israélo-arabe d ’octobre 1973: une nouvelle donnée militaire au Proche-orient

by Pierre Razou
Paris: Économica, 393 pages

En mai 1940, fallait-il entrer en Belgique? Décisions stratégiques et plans opérationnels de la campagne de France

by Bruno Chaix
Paris: Économica, 349 pages

La fin de l’armée romaine (284 – 476)

by Philippe Richardot
Paris: Économica, 392 pages
Revised and expanded publication

Reviewed by Dr. Serge Bernier

Print PDF

For more information on accessing this file, please visit our help page.

The Paris publishing house Économica has issued two collections that are of significant value to all who are interested in military history, and especially students. These works are likely to encourage them to go just that little bit further than required by their programmes.

The first two titles above form a part of the Campagnes et Stratégies collection.

Razoux, in La guerre israélo-arabe d’octobre 1973, provides an excellent description of the Egyptian preparations for war in 1973 – especially the immense logistics effort involved. According to the author, the Israelis had good intelligence, but had misinterpreted the signals. “The Israeli leaders were blinded by a superiority complex and by their belief in a faulty concept.” [TOQ] In fact, the CIA used Israeli data to provide their intelligence input to Israel, and the Israelis based the information they supplied on what the CIA had given them. Everybody was taken by surprise. At the same time, both Egypt and Syria were deeply engaged in a deception operation that worked well.

The author’s account of the war includes as background the state of international relations in that period and the role played by the two superpowers, as well as the day-to-day conduct of the fighting. He also examines the effect of the ‘human factor’ in the outcome of the war, and the effects on the military forces of both sides of qualitative and quantitative factors. Razoux attempts to distinguish between verifiable facts and propaganda, and concludes that Israel grossly underestimated its losses and overstated those of its adversaries. Here, the author obviously has had some difficulty, since much about this conflict still remains vague, and secrecy is still pervasive in 2004. That said, his attempt is still commendable.

If Israel ended up at a distinct military advantage, Arab countries, Egypt in particular, scored marks on the political level. Incidentally, with the 1973 oil crisis taking place at the same time as the war, the Americans gained economically and made an important diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East.

Razoux covers land, air and naval operations equally well, even if naval units played only a small, albeit important, part in this war. The Israelis may have come out of the confrontation as victors, but the economic blockade imposed by the Arab countries nonetheless harmed them. One also might observe that if the surface-to-surface missile didn’t in fact revolutionize combat, it demonstrated the growing importance of surveillance and electronic warfare, heralding a technological revolution yet to come. The chapter devoted to the air campaign is most instructive, with each type of mission flown catalogued as to success or failure. Of course, the damage claimed in air raids is always extremely difficult to quantify or confirm. The same sort of assessment was applied to anti-aircraft batteries.

The author concludes that the 1973 conflict was a test for detente. From a military point of view, the degree of success fighter aircraft enjoyed in engaging tanks was notable, and command, control and communications (C3) already proved to be a vital factor. This war was a test bed for many weapons, in particular the anti-tank missile, as well as for electronics and high technology in general, where the qualitative overrides the quantitative. Although effective, the missiles were not as good as claimed, and much the same was reported about the air force. But then, of course, according to Razoux, wars are won on the ground by infantrymen, which neither tanks nor aircraft can overcome.

This book includes very instructive annexes, which complement a solid and comprehensive text.

The subtitle of Chaix’ book – Décisions stratégiques et plans opérationnels de la campagne de France – illuminates the essence of the work. Chaix is a retired major-general who received a doctorate in military history after his military career ended. His analysis of French defence plans from the inter-war period is thorough and highly critical without being unnecessarily negative. At the time, French military planners were caught between the defensive doctrine of their political leaders and the neutrality of Belgium. They had to anticipate the possibility that, in the event of a German attack coming through Belgium, part of their forces would have to abandon their existing defensive positions and quickly adapt to a war of movement that would take them into Belgian territory. Obviously, the scenario they envisaged was extremely risky, and, in the event, it failed miserably. The appropriate lessons were hard learned by those who suffered defeat in 1940. So in 1949, when France acceded to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, there was hardly any resistance to accepting the creation of an Allied command structure and a common alliance doctrine, even though that entailed a certain loss of sovereignty.

The Chaix book is well argued and solid, but it does nonetheless have some defects. There are typographical errors and some abbreviations are not explained – or the explanations are poorly done. The book would also be better if it had a glossary. While reading the book, I recalled that Canada had also been mistaken about the enemy in the inter-war period: our counter-intelligence was looking at the extreme left, when the real danger was at the other end of the political spectrum. However, this Canadian error in appreciation was not as costly as the price that Belgium had to pay for having feared France as much as Germany.

The last of the books listed was published in Économica’s collection of advanced military studies. Richardot’s book, which focuses on the Roman Army in the distant past, is very rewarding. It contains a quotation from Ammien Marcellin that today’s leadership specialists might note: “We ask a soldier to serve with his body, and a commander to serve with his mind.”

Top of Page

In reading this book I was reminded that Canadian Forces recruiters face many of the same problems as their Roman predecessors, since from roughly the year 400 the Roman armies began to confront serious difficulties in attracting recruits. Richardot notes: “A study of the Third Legion of Augustus shows that the percentage of Roman recruits declined from 65 to 9 percent between the ends of the 1st and 2nd centuries.” [TOQ] The Roman elite had simply abandoned any military role. The landless still enrolled, but the sons of veterans no longer joined the army. Rome was thus forced to resort to conscription, but obligatory service continued to produce poor results. Some young men went so far as to mutilate themselves to avoid military service, and fathers often did everything possible to help their sons avoid it. Desertion was rampant, and the defence of Rome rested increasingly on foreign-born troops who spoke languages other than Latin.

Towards the year 360, to compensate for the shortage of recruits, the unknown author of De Rebus Bellici proposed mechanical means of increasing the strength of the army: “scythe-equipped chariots and ships without oarsmen driven by paddle wheels powered by bulls.” [TOQ] After the year 376, permission was granted to barbarians (foreigners from beyond the reaches of Roman rule) to settle inside the Empire, and the ‘enemy’ was now inside the walls, so to speak. The former barbarians accumulated wealth and titles, while Romans became a minority within their own army. The Roman Empire in the West soon crumbled, even though the Eastern (Oriental) remnant continued to exist for another 1000 years.

To conclude, I would like to emphasize some of the notable characteristics of the books in these two collections. They are nicely formatted, they contain excellent bibliographies and each has a good index, which is rare for French publishers. The quality of the maps (too much information on some of the maps in the Richardot and Razoux books) and the illustrations may leave something to be desired, but that does not diminish the fact that these books are well thought out and useful.

Économica books are distributed in Canada by Novalis, P.O. Box 990, Outremont, Quebec, H2V 4S7.

CMJ Logo

Dr. Serge Bernier is Director of History and Heritage at NDHQ.