All this week, the Volokh Conspiracy is kindly allowing me to run excerpts from my newly released book, Invisible Armies: an Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Modern Day. Today’s final section concerns Orde Wingate, the eccentric British general who made his reputation in the 1930s-1940s by leading unconventional troops in Palestine, Abyssinia (Ethiopia), and Burma:
His pioneering efforts to add guerrilla tactics to the arsenals of conventional armies often met with disdain and disbelief from more conventionally minded officers. Wingate did not care. “Popularity,” he believed, “is a sign of weakness.” Considered by his peers to be either a “military genius or a mountebank” (opinions differed), he had been locked in an unceasing war against his superiors from his earliest days.
Even as a young cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, he “had the power,” recalled his best friend, “to create violent antagonisms against himself by his attitude towards authority.” Later, as a junior officer, Wingate was known to begin meetings with generals by placing his alarm clock on the table. After it went off, he would leave, announcing, “Well gentlemen, you have talked for one hour and achieved absolutely nothing. I can’t spend any more time with you!”
Wingate’s first rebellion was against the stifling religious atmosphere in which he was raised. His father was a retired Indian Army colonel with a devotion to a fundamentalist Protestant sect called the Plymouth Brethren. He and his wife brought up their seven children, including “Ordey” (his family nickname), in what one of his brothers called a “temple of gloom,” with prayer mandatory, frivolity forbidden, and “fears of eternal damnation” ever present.
By the time he arrived at Woolwich, to train as an artillery officer, he had left the Plymouth Brethren, but he never lost […]