Historical Fiction and its Influence on Modern Military Strategy

Here’s a pep talk for you historical novelists out there who despair that your hard work will never be of consequence in the the creation of real history.

Take heart from the example of Jean Larteguy–the nom de plume of French  correspondent and soldier, Jean Pierre Lucien Ostyand his war epic, The Centurions.

In a perceptive Slate essay posted on January 27, author Sophia Raday explores the influence that Larteguy’s 1960 novel (set during the French army’s 20th-century campaigns in Algeria and Indochina) continues to have on the formulation of U.S. counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Raday, who’s husband served in Iraq, reveals that both General David Petraeus and retired General Stanley McChrystal are devotees of The Centurions. Petraeus likes to consult and quote from the historical novel, Rady said. The General considers it useful as a handbook for confronting the unique psychological dynamics that arise from fighting foreign insurrections.

Petraeus, the former commander of the multi-national force in Iraq and now in charge of the Afghanistan war, was also instrumental in convincing publisher Amereon LTD of Mattituck, New York, to bring out a new edition of the out-of-print book.

Maybe Petraeus has a future as a literary agent.

Larteguy’s novel follows the experiences  of a French paratrooper unit in Algeria through the eyes and Indochine flashback memories of Lt. Col. Pierre Raspeguy, who was based on the real-life French General Marcel Bigeard, a confidante of Petraeus for three decades.

The Centurions sold more than 420,000 copies and in 1966 was adapted into a movie, Lost Command, starring Anthony Quinn. Rady observed that some of the techniques and scenes in the novel, including the ticking time bomb, were adopted for the television drama, 24.

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