A friend of mine believes that it is important in one’s professional life to have a quick, intriguing “elevator pitch” to define yourself. He likes mine: “I’m a storyteller…” Gets people intrigued, wanting to know more, etc. You get the picture.
Well, here’s one that simply can’t be beat: “I’m a conflict archaeologist.” Ain’t nobody gonna hear that and not say “What now?”
This perfect elevator pitch belongs to this guy:
James Stejskal is a military historian and conflict archaeologist who specializes in the research and investigation of irregular warfare. He is author of numerous articles and two books, including the highly praised ‘Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956-1990’ (Casemate 2016). His 35 years of special forces, special operations, and intelligence experience with the US Army and the CIA around the world, give him unparalleled insight into unconventional warfare. Most recently, he was a member of the Great Arab Revolt Project, an archaeological expedition that tracked and validated the experiences of T. E. Lawrence in the Hejaz.
I heard Stejskal interviewed on the Spy Museum’s delightful SpyCast podcast, which has become a go-to listen for my Tuesday-night paper-chuckin’ expeditions. In his latest book, Masters of Mayhem: Lawrence of Arabia and the British Military Mission to the Hejaz, Stejskal examines the often-told “Lawrence of Arabia” tale through the lens of his expertise in unconventional warfare.
Striking where the enemy is weakest and melting away into the darkness before he can react. Never confronting a stronger force directly, but willing to use audacity and surprise to confound and demoralize an opponent. Operations driven by good intelligence, area knowledge, mobility, speed, firepower, and detailed planning executed by a few specialists with indigenous warriors — this is unconventional warfare.
T. E. Lawrence was one of the earliest practitioners of modern unconventional warfare. His tactics and strategies were used by men like Mao and Giap in their wars of liberation. Both kept Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom close at hand. This book looks at the creation of the HEDGEHOG force, the formation of armored car sections and other units, and focuses on the Hejaz Operations Staff, the Allied officers and men who took Lawrence’s idea and prosecuted it against the Ottoman Turkish army assisting Field Marshal Allenby to achieve victory in 1918.
Stejskal concludes with an examination of how HEDGEHOG has influenced special operations and unconventional warfare, including Field Marshal Wavell, the Long Range Desert Group, and David Stirling’s SAS.
Stejskal also wrote a highly-regarded volume — The Horns of the Beast: The Swakop River Campaign and World War I in South-West Africa 1914-15 on the obscure episode that unfolded when Boer General Louis Botha, fresh off of suppressing a rebellion in South Africa, led an army into German territory in a bid to extend a British-South African imperium.
I’ve read a lot about Lawrence and the Arab Revolt, but the podcast hooked me hard enough to get me to put Masters of Mayhem on the TBR pile.