FOR THOSE who know General Wavell only from World War II in North Africa, he may seem an odd choice to cite on the art of war. He routed the Italians, but retreated under the blows of Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Winston Churchill, always ready with a bon mot, dispatched him to India “to sit under a Pagoda tree.”1 Before World War II, however, he was highly respected as a military theorist and historian—and one who (unlike most senior officers) did not laud the General Staff system. Field Marshal Rommel carried a German translation of Wavell’s Generals and Generalship in the desert;2 he beat his “mentor,” but the odds were already in Rommel’s favor when he encountered Wavell in 1941.
Wavell was educated at ...