Charles D. Melson, Fighting for Time: Rhodesia’s Military and Zimbabwe’s Independence, (Casemate, 2021)
With this book, Charles D. Melson has set out to analyse the changing response of Rhodesia’s military apparatus as it pivoted from a set up directed towards conventional warfare to one involved in special operations in the counter-insurgency role. The book is very firmly positioned in the academic sphere and the analysis very much forms part of this approach. It very clearly states at the beginning that the military aspects will be examined in a silo form; outside influences are not considered other than when they specifically impact the military. Coming in at 316 pages it has the main text plus appendices, extensive bibliography, and the always welcome index.
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The book begins with a nice potted history to set the scene and discusses the various weapons the Rhodesians had at their disposal (and would have). There is an odd affectation in describing the speeds of aircraft in miles per minute rather than per hour, but otherwise you get a nice overview of the various pieces of equipment and their abilities. Appendix 2 is a really useful explanation of acronyms, slang, and other terms.
This is not an easy book to read; surprisingly, given its subject matter, it lacks a story. The writing is accomplished but is lacking in some drama and connectivity. The main issue with the analysis is it doesn’t really deal with the transition it purports to be about. You move from the background at the declaration of independence into the operations during the insurgency and then independence is dealt with in a paragraph. That the book ignores anything outside the military sphere, except when it benefits the military, means a lot of the context is glossed over, as are the instances where the military overstepped the mark.
Even after completing the book, I am uncertain what the conclusion really is or what the purpose was. It doesn’t really describe the tactics, operations, or methodology even when dealing with specific operations. At all points you feel like you are missing something, and it has the feel of a first draft in many places. There is something to be said for being objective, but when that is at the expense of having tunnel vision you are doing all sides a disservice. It is a book with some interesting snippets and a reasonable collection of actions fought across the various borders of Rhodesia. It is not the book to read if you want to know more about the combatants or how Zimbabwe finally achieved independence from Smith’s racist regime.
Review by Dom Sore