Book Commentary: 'Military Mayhem – 2,500 Years of Soldierly Sleaze and Scandal'

Michael O. Varhola

Transvestite knights, adulterous emperors, draft-dodging professional boxers, and every sort of corrupt, aberrant, or bizarre incident or behavior associated with military people and the practice of their trade is covered in the 320 pages of this informative and amusing volume from Osprey Publishing.

Written by Terry Crowdy, veteran author of a dozen titles, Military Mayhem: 2,500 Years of Soldierly Sleaze and Scandal follows in the tradition of one of his previous works in particular,Military Misdemeanors: Corruption, Incompetence, Lust, and Downright Stupidity, and covers the same sort of ground.

A couple of things make this book stand out from other volumes on military blunders and the like.

One is the quality of the research that went into it and the veracity of the accounts, something many such books cannot claim; all the chapters are thoroughly footnoted and none of the stories in the book with which I was already familiar are spun into more than they should be.

Another notable characteristic of this compilation is a result of it being written by a British author and, while it ties in with events that will be familiar to many readers of military history, it thus also includes numerous episodes less likely to be familiar to American readers (e.g., ones related to the Crimean War).

Military Mayhem has some six-dozen chapters organized into a number of broad, thematic sections, ranging from the now-familiar Persian invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. that was stopped by 300 Spartans, right up through a 2006 incident in which a Swiss reservist went on a rampage with his service weapon. Every major war of the past 2,500 years involving Western powers, and many minor ones, are represented in its pages, including the Napoleonic Wars and the ongoing Iraq War.

Apropos of that old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” there is one minor but annoying shortcoming to this volume and that is, in fact, its cover, which seems to have been thrown together as an afterthought. Its plain white background features a cheesy, cartoonish illustration of a GI clutching a walkie-talkie — and is so sloppily executed that the soldier in question has six digits on its left hand! Why the publisher would degrade the quality of this book by slapping such a crappy cover on it I don’t know and suspect it has put off more than one potential reader.

If they can get past the cover and into the contents of this book, however, most readers will it to be an enjoyable and titillating read that goes where most military histories won’t go.