In the next war

'In the Next War' was a short series of books published in Britain in 1938 and 1939, edited by Basil Liddell Hart. Unlike the earlier To-day and To-morrow books which attempted to predict things to come, these were much less eclectic and much more narrowly focused on future warfare: airpower; seapower; tanks, infantry and the Territorials; gas, civilians and propaganda. The actual arrival of the next war in 1939 seems to have cut the series short, as two of these were never published (those on infantry and, to my regret, civilians).

The authors were also drawn from a more select group, as they mostly seem to have had prior credentials in their subjects (not always the case with 'To-day and To-morrow', where the ability to come up with an interesting take seems to have been at least as important as expertise). J. M. Spaight was a prolific writer on airpower, and late of the Air Ministry; Jonathan Griffin had written a couple of widely read books on similar topics (and also editor of Essential News and, oddly enough, translator of Babar the Elephant) which suggests to me that his book on civilians would have focused on ARP. (Both Spaight and Griffin were now more-or-less sceptical of the knock-out blow paradigm.) Most of the other authors were or had been in the services, mostly in the Army. Henry Thuiller had been head of the wartime Trench Warfare Supply Department (which had a responsibility for manufacture of chemical weapons), while Eric Dorman-Smith was to have a controversial career in the next war, but in the last one had served with distinction and in the meantime had experience with the Army's experiments with mechanised warfare. Sidney Rogerson was the author of Twelve Days, a popular memoir of the Somme, but I'm not sure what his qualifications for writing on propaganda were. Eric Sheppard had written a couple of books on the American Civil War, as well as what looks like a military history study guide for Sandhurst. Russell Grenfell had served in the Royal Navy and was a veteran of Jutland; he already had a number of books on naval matters to his credit (and in 1940 wrote under the pseudonym T 124, arguing that with adequate sea- and airpower, the capture of the Low Countries by a hostile nation was nothing to fear). I don't know much about Green; as he had a DFC he must have been in the RFC/RAF but here he is writing about the Territorials, with which he must have had some connection. His volume was actually advertised in advance as being by the Deputy Director General of the Territorial Army, Sir John Brown, but perhaps he had to turn this down due to his official position.

From the little I've read of it, I think 'In the Next War' is an interesting series, so I've put up a short bibliography. It certainly presents a very different take on the future than that of 'To-day and To-morrow': rather than bright and exciting, it was going to be bloody. But that the future was still thought worth writing about still reflects a faith that there probably would, after all, be some sort of world worth to live and die for.

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11 thoughts on “In the next war

  1. Erik Lund

    Hart, it seems, changed little.
    No Dening, Martel, or Rowan-Robinson for tanks? Or Imagine a book on infantry in the next war by Bill Slim!) Or he could have eaten a little humble pie and asked for a book from the Lieutenant E. H. Grant of the RASC, who was obviously far better equipped to talk about the next war than noted expert B. H. Liddell Hart. (Seriously, check out _Army Quarterly_ in 1934--5 for Grant and Hart's duelling articles.)
    And while I don't have any preferred naval writers at my fingertips, apart from old Admiral Henderson, who might have been a little past it by this time, but Russell Grenfell seems to have as just as interesting a set of political views as Sheppard, a Fullerite.
    Google turns up an article in which Ezra Pound apparently suggests that Grenfell's 1954 death might have been foul play in response to Grenfell's _Unconditional Hatred: German War Guilt and the Next War_, but it is on JSTOR and I can only get the first page.

  2. Christopher Amano-Langtree

    Unfortunately Pound can not be considered a reliable commentator on anything. Grenfell incidenly was a very knowledgeable and astute commentator on naval affairs. Quite the equal of the later Roskill.

  3. Erik Lund

    I don't consider being compared to Roskill absolutely unmitigated praise. (By the way, can anyone explain how the Royal Navy got to have its own official history, when naval affairs are covered in the main series?)
    That Pound was a little off is not in question. I'm just wondering if we've incidentally torn the bandage off something either odd or ugly out of the 1950s.
    And I apologise for the above. Either my brain is going soft, or the accumulated overtime is duelling with caffeine again.

  4. Christopher

    All services had their own official histories. The air force had two specific ones - The Royal Air Force 1939-1945 (Richards) and The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany (Webster and Frankland). Roskill, though, was a fine historian as his 'Naval Policy between the wars' demonstrates. Grenfell too was very good and his 'Sea Power in the next war' is very astute. It makes me think that the whole series is worth chasing down.
    I rather think you understate the issue with Pound - 'a little off' is a bit too minimal. And why would anyone want to bump off a retired captain? This is more likely the ramblings of a diseased mind.

  5. Post author


    The JSTOR link you give only mentions Grenfell's death in passing, but gives a reference to page 627 of Pound's The Cantos (New York, New Directions: 1972) which might help explain what Pound was on (about).

  6. Richards and Saunders history of the RAF is not offical in the strictist sense of its use with regards to official histories. By this I mean it was not commissioned by the Cabinet Office but by the RAF itself, which obviously opens it up for a whole raft of questions surrounding its reliability. It is, however, and importance distinction to make on the writing of official histories. For the RAF there is three types, first, those commissioned by the service for publication, second, the Cabinet commissione SOAG, which obviously only deals with with Bomber Command's offensive against Germany. A final and often overlooked official historiess are the various staff histories and air historical branch narratives that were never to be published, therefore, are more critical, where needed, than Richards and Saunders accounts. They are also much more detailed.

  7. Christopher

    I would say that this interpretation is drawing the definition of 'official' far too narrowly. Furthermore a history commissioned by the Cabinet Office can also run into questions of reliability. A far more adequate definition of 'official history' is one which is commissioned by an organisation for the purposes of recounting aspects of its past and is published with the organisations approval.

  8. Christopher while I agree that in the wider scope official maybe defined as one commisioned by an organisation. However, in this context the only Official history, with regards to those commisioned by the government, is SOAG for the RAF. The government, in particular the Cabinet Office, was the commissioning organisation in this case. Richards maybe the RAF's official history by themselves but it does not fit into the same category as those by the likes of Roskill, Ellis and Webster and Frankland.

    And of course these Official Histories have there issue. Indeed Webster and Franklands caused a huge debate when they were published and in essence they have shaped they historiographical debate about the efficacy of the campaign ever since. Indeed if you read Frankland own autobiography, 'History at War', you will see some of the problems that they came up against at the time.

  9. I've not managed to find a definition of 'Official History' that's tighter than the obvious. Any history that is 'sponsored, authorised, or endorsed...' [Wikipedia] would be seen as official, the question would be who '...the subject' would be - oddly, on that definition, RAF sponsored histories would be more official than ones commissioned by another organisation at one remove from 'the subject'.

    It is important to know who the commissioning and endorsing organisation is in any specific case; vital for the "well he would, wouldn't he" element. However the critical distinction is between all 'official' histories and unofficial ones. Just as the distinction is between 'authorised biographies' (which includes autobiographies, by definition) and 'unauthorised biographies'.

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