“Taking Command” by General Sir David Richards
“Taking Command” by General Sir David Richards provides a candid glimpse into the professional life of one of Britain’s most prominent military figures. Lord Richards, known for his maverick approach, achieved the pinnacle of military leadership as Chief of the General Staff and later the Defence Staff, despite often challenging the status quo. His memoir encapsulates his career of remarkable independence and outspokenness.
General Richards’s reputation as a General willing to defy orders is underscored by his actions during the Sierra Leone civil war, where he intervened against directives to rescue the nation from the Revolutionary United Front militia. He was known for his confrontational stance on defence cuts and resources, particularly during the Afghanistan conflict, diverging from his more compliant predecessors and successors. His success, as suggested by the book, stems from his adeptness in media relations and his ability to forge strong relationships with allied Generals and politicians, especially those from Afghanistan and the United States.
The memoir, reflective of General Richards’s personality, is described as breezy and fast-paced. However, it is noted for its unexpected discretion, leaving readers to deduce General Richards’s true sentiments about the key figures and events of his time. While he openly criticizes the hubris of certain British officers in Afghanistan and the inexperience of Canadian forces, he remains notably reserved on other matters.
The standout feature of “Taking Command” is the inclusion of diary entries from General Richards’s tenure as commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan. These provide an authentic and unfiltered perspective that will undoubtedly serve as a valuable resource for historians studying the period.
General Richards’s narrative also sheds light on overlooked aspects of military leadership and the complexities of modern warfare. His insights on policy in Baghdad in 2003 and his reflections on the strategic and human dimensions of the conflicts in which he served give readers an understanding of the intricacies involved in making high-stakes decisions.
Although the book is a compelling read, some might find it lacking in the depth and candour expected from such an outspoken figure. The memoir skirts around potentially controversial opinions and details, which may leave those seeking a more probing and critical account somewhat unfulfilled.
In conclusion, “Taking Command” offers an engaging and informative look at the life of a senior British military leader known for his unorthodox approach. While it provides a unique perspective on recent military history, its cautious delivery may not satisfy all readers, particularly those yearning for a more forthright and critical examination of military affairs. Nonetheless, it remains an important contribution to the literature on military leadership and the conduct of war in the 21st century.