July 14, 2008

Book Review - The Reason Why

This book examines the causes of one of the most notorious military slaughters in history--the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. Woodham-Smith places this catastrophe in multiple contexts. She discusses Great Britain as an imperial power, militarily committed throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. She discusses the economic depression ocurring in the mid-1800's. A series of poor harvests hit Europe particularly hard. Getting no relief or assistance from the government, peasants and farmers revolted. For the British, this was felt most keenly close to home, where the Irish potato famine and resulting social upheval required increasing numbers of troops to be recalled from far flung colonies to occupy Ireland. These same poor economic conditions provided the opportunity for wealthy titled aristocrats to buy social status in the form of military commissions. If a nobleman was willing to bear the cost of outfitting a regiment, he could be given command of it with no prior military service or training. The circumstances came together during the Charge of the Light Brigade, when untrained, inxperienced commanders charged into a valley in a valient attack on their Russian adversaries. Nearly the entire unit was slaughtered by soldiers positioned in the hights all along the valley, with the leaders escaping both unscathed and unaware. This tragedy caused a change in the procedures through which officers in the British Army were selected and brought attention to the geographic overstreach of imperial Britain that required political and strategic adjustments.

This book can be found in HECSA Library:

The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade
Cecil Woodham-Smith
DA 536 .C3 W6 1958