Polite British accents wafted through the air as guests stuffed themselves into a cozy Georgetown home Thursday night to celebrate a new book by Sunday Times of London’s Washington Bureau Chief Toby Harnden. This is his second book. His first is Bandit Country: The IRA and South Armagh (1999).
They weren’t plump, mind you. There were just a lot of them and they all wanted to toast the release of Harnden’s Dead Men Risen: An Epic Story of War and Heroism in Afghanistan published by Regnery History.
“I always get nervous no one is going to turn up,” Harnden confided to The Mirror out of earshot of other guests. And concerning his book (which was sold at the party): “I have this policy I never ask what sales are.”
Former Senior British Intelligence Officer Jonathan Clarke and his partner, Amy Zalman, were the hosts.
As the fireplace crackled and waiters came around with deviled eggs, guests fanned out behind cream sofas as Clarke read a poem from the book followed by Harnden revealing a good bit more about its premise, which is dead men from war talking from the grave.
In an author’s note, he writes, “This book is about what it was like to fight as a Welsh Guardsman in Helmand in 2009. This account will bear little resemblance to what you will have read in the newspapers, heard politicians describe, or tired to glean from the upbeat progress reporters of generals. War is chaotic and gruesome, as well as, on occasions, noble and heroic. The reader is not spared that reality. …This is a story of the Welsh Guards, of the British Army, and of Afghanistan. It has been a privilege, as well as a heavy responsibility, to be able to tell it.”
As the room hushed, Harnden announced,”I’m a British citizen who is a naturalized American citizen.”
He took a moment to thank Regnery. “I feel like I’ve spoken to every talk radio host in America,” he said. “I know by experience that doesn’t happen by accident.” (As the party roared on, he explained what can happen with hosts during interviews: “Sometimes they’ve read the book, sometimes they get your name wrong and they’re reading the blurb as they’re interviewing you.)
Harnden explained that the first time he saw the phrase “Dead Men Risen” it was tattooed on the stomach of a Welsh guardsman. “He was skinny, but it’s the sort of thing where you wonder, how is that going to look in 20 years?”
The real trigger for the book’s title was Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, whom Harnden describes as a “real star in the army.” Thorneloe was killed in 2009 hunting down IED’s in Afghanistan. “I hope from the grave Rupert’s mission was…if you’re going to do these things you have to have the right strategy,” he said. “That seems blindingly obvious.”
The book, according to one description, reveals “secret documents that expose the untold story of troops in the trenches.” Harnden conducted more than 300 interviews. He dove “into a trove of military documents” that revealed the “bone-chilling reality of modern warfare.”
Before releasing guests back to their drinks and banter, Harnden said no book on war is complete without checking off a number of topics, including masturbation. Please note: He did not use the word “wankers” once. Still, the audience basically gasped, with one gentleman interrupting him to say, “Let’s drink!”
Harnden, whose words appeared to be semi-scaring some women in the room, directed partygoers to page 396 of his book.
Sure enough, flip to that page and this is what you find: “Masturbation, like eating defecating, is a habitual if sometimes infrequent activity of the young infantryman. One day, [Major Rob] Gallimore was standing talking to a sergeant major when he saw a guardsman heading to the latrines carrying a gas mask and a laptop that was doubtless loaded with pornographic photographs. ‘That,’ said Gallimore admirably, is true bravery.'”
Party guests… Regnery’s Mallory Campoli, Nick Lockwood, former member of the Royal Navy, Jens Dakin, former member of the British Army, Geoff Earle, Washington Bureau Chief, New York Post, Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), Douglas Rogers, author of The Last Resort, John Renehan, former U.S. Army, Bill Rosenau, CNA, Robert Tomes, BAE Systems, author of The Valley, a new fiction book expected out in 2015, loads of ex CIA types, Scott Smith, USIP, and Sara Day, author of Coded Letters, Concealed Love.
Overheard… “My hearing is a bit stuffed,” one British guest could be heard telling others.