TheDC Interview: 10 questions with Max Boot on his history of guerrilla warfare

What are a couple of the most interesting anecdotes you discovered researching the book?

Although this is a serious work of military history, I also probe the personal affairs and psyches of the insurgent chieftains that I write about. Two of the most interesting anecdotes concern the lives of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the great champion of Italian nationalism in the 19th century, and Orde Wingate, the eccentric British commando leader in World War II.

Garibaldi was a bit of a ladies’ man. In 1860, at age 52, he prepared to marry for the second time (his first wife having died) to a comely 18-year-old Italian aristocrat. “At the wedding reception,” I wrote, “in a scene that could have come straight from an opera written by his fellow Italian nationalist Giuseppe Verdi, Garibaldi was approached by a man who passed him a note claiming that his bride had spent the preceding night with him, that she was pregnant, and did not love her new husband. He immediately asked her whether the letter was accurate. When she said it was, he loudly called her a puttana, declared that she was not really his wife, and never spoke to her again. He did not get a formal divorce and marry again until the end of his life.”

As for Wingate, he had some very odd personal habits, including: “wearing scruffy clothing (‘his socks were very smelly and all in holes,’ a subordinate later noticed), subjecting himself to great danger and discomfort, and receiving visitors in the nude. (He would become notorious for briefing reporters in his hotel room while ‘brushing his lower anatomy with his hairbrush.’) Other Wingate trademarks: a pith helmet, which he wore in the manner of a nineteenth-century explorer; an alarm clock, which he carried (he claimed ‘wrist watches are no damned good’); raw onions, which he munched like apples because of their supposedly salubrious properties; and a beard, which he grew from time to time in contravention of the King’s Regulations, which permitted only a mustache.”

What was the most brutal guerilla warfare campaign in history?

There have been many brutal campaigns but it is hard to top Haiti’s struggle for independence from France from 1791 to 1804. It began with a slave revolt. French colonists later testified to a litany of horrors allegedly committed by slaves seeking liberation: “A carpenter supposedly was seized, bound between two planks, and sawed in half. A policeman supposedly was nailed alive to the gate of a plantation and had his limbs chopped off one by one with an ax. Women and girls supposedly were gang-raped on the still-warm corpses of their husbands, brothers, fathers. Some of the rebels were said to have employed as their emblem the body of a white infant impaled on a stake.”

In trying to put down the revolt, French troops were just as inhumane and vicious. As I wrote: “General Donatien Rochambeau, son of the general who had commanded French forces in the American Revolution, … imported attack dogs from Cuba, nourished on blood, to rip black prisoners to shreds. Blacks caught setting fire to a plantation were burned alive. Helpless blacks were even suffocated with sulfur fumes in a makeshift gas chamber constructed in the hold of a ship. An English officer wrote that the air around Le Cap ‘became tainted by the putrefaction of the bodies.’”

By some estimates the Haitian War of Independence claimed the lives of 200,000 blacks and mulattos, 25,000 white colonists, 50,000 French soldiers, and 15,000 British soldiers. As one scholar notes, “Six times as many Haitians as Americans died during their respective wars for independence,” even though the population of Haiti was one-fourth that of the North American colonies.