Book Review – Bullets and Brains by Leo Murray

Brains and Bullets: How Psychology Wins WarsBrains and Bullets: How Psychology Wins Wars by Leo Murray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brains and Bullets is an excellent and very readable book which tries to put some hard numbers on a variety of psychological tactics that can be used to persuade your own troops to fight and the enemy to give up.

This is an excellent work on what happens in combat and why. It is very readable, structured into bite sized chunks on the key phenomena and then some joining up when it has all been explained. Each chapter opens with an account from a real soldier who experienced that psychological effect in combat. This is then analysed and explained, pulling in other examples as required to show that it isn’t an isolated incident but a general effect. Those examples range from the Napoleonic Wars right up to operations in Afghanistan, and they’re the products of proper scientific research not just a collection of war stories from unreliable sources.

That said there is no need to be an operational researcher, or scientist to understand the book. The language used is straightforward and direct, each of the concepts is very well explained and it forms an excellent introductory work as well as being well researched. The target audience is ordinary people without a technical or military background (although the author hopes that many military officers and civil servants will read it and think about it). Here’s my favourite line from the end of the book “if you are paid to be a military analyst, don’t forget that you work for the Crown (or the people) and for soldiers. You owe no allegiance to your cost centre manager. Crack on.”

If you do have a serious interest then it is worth saying that this isn’t fluffy pop psychology (I like those as light reading, having read Psychology at uni). All the conclusions are backed up with hard numbers from years of solid operational research. The author is hoping to influence army officers to use tactical psychology to make them more effective, so for example “even the hardest-fought flank attack seized ground with a smaller force, captured more of the enemy and caused fewer fatalities on both sides. flanking attack was six times more effective than a frontal attack.”

I’m not going to summarise this book like I did for the Stress of Battle, it’s way more available and affordable. Go buy it yourself (or borrow from the Library) and enjoy it. I certainly did.

View all my reviews

Book Review – Spies Under Berlin by David Stafford

Spies Beneath BerlinSpies Beneath Berlin by David Stafford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very well put together story of the Berlin spy tunnel, and some of the context that lead up to it being dug. It looks at the contemporary views and also re-evaluates the impact of the tunnel and whether or not it could be considered a success.

The tale is an interesting one, because the existence of the tunnel was betrayed to the Soviets before it was even dug. Blake took the minutes of meeting that decided to build it, and told his Soviet handler about it. Despite this the KGB didn’t share the information as they wanted to protect Blake as a source, so they couldn’t stop the tunnel until there was a reasonable excuse from another source. For two years the British and Americans taped all the traffic on the cables they’d tapped (it was a joint operation, but the US took the entire blame when it was discovered because Kruschev was on a state visit to the UK at the time).

At the time the tunnel was seen as a great US success, which was changed to a dramatic defeat when Blake finally got caught. There was a feeling that the KGB had used it for strategic deception. This belied the point that the purpose of the tunnel, as with all espionage at the time, was to ensure that there were no surprises leading to a nuclear war. In that respect it had succeeded, whether or not the KGB fed disinformation.

Looking back with fifty years of hindsight, the Cold War ended, and much of the intelligence declassified (at least on the US and Soviet parts if not by the British) it is clear that the information gained by the tunnel was real. The KGB were too scared of giving away Blake to be able to do anything to manage the information. It also took them some time to work out a way of finding the tunnel that wouldn’t lead to Blake as the source. It was only heavy rain and flooding that allowed them to arrange a systematic check along the cables for a damaged section. Once this was triggered there was still no guarantee the tunnel would be found as the KGB had deliberately not briefed anyone about what to look for.

View all my reviews