Military education – with tongue firmly in cheek

I was amused to read an analysis of the classic children’s novel ‘The Wind in the Willows‘ as a military exercise.

I’m sure many overseas readers are familiar with the book by Kenneth Grahame, and the justly famous illustrations drawn for it by Arthur Rackham (as shown on the cover image above).  US readers may not be as familiar with the book, but it’s well worth reading, even as an adult.  It’s not a classic for nothing.  I grew up on it, amongst others.

I was therefore very amused to find that The Angry Staff Officer had written an article using ‘The Wind in the Willows’ as a study in ‘small unit actions in warfare‘.  Here’s how it begins.

That sound? Oh, that’s just the clunking of heads hitting desks, as people react to their beloved childhood book being brought under the scrutiny of the military microscope. But really, we’d be doing an injustice to that mighty asymmetric warfighter, the Badger, if we neglected to share his courageous story with an entirely new generation of military strategists. Wind in the Willows is not a military work by any means. But the Battle for Toad Hall bears noting, because Kenneth Grahame unwittingly factored in some key elements of small unit warfare.

So, if you’ve nothing better to do, let’s begin deconstructing a childhood favorite, shall we?

The situation – if you recall from when your parents read you The Wind in the Willows – is as follows. Two heavily armed factions – the Weasels and the Stoats – have undermined the local power in the region; namely, that of Toad and Toad Hall. While Toad was a fairly unsteady leader – investing at random in items that took his fancy – he remained the rightful leader of the region. The usurping powers were led by the Chief Weasel who used his connections with organized crime to help build an armed force that could overpower Toad Hall. Taking advantage of a time when Toad was absent, the Weasels and Stoats infiltrated the seat of power and established themselves as the new brokers in the region.  The Weasels and Stoats were task organized into a garrison force and a sentry force. The garrison force was powerful, but was reluctant to leave the confines of their new base. It was mainly made up of Weasels. The sentry force consisted of Stoats which patrolled the outer cordon of Toad Hall and kept watch over main avenues of approach. Although originally paramilitary in nature, these two forces adopted militaristic overtones with conventional titles for their time in power. Both forces were heavily armed with rifles, although there was little to show that they had adequate training with them. The actions of the Weasels and Stoats destabilized the area and necessitated the mobilization of a strike force to retake Toad Hall and return the rightful leader to authority.

There’s more at the link.

The analysis is a lot of fun for those trained in military small unit actions, and an interesting perspective on a childhood favorite book for those who are not.  Recommended reading.



  1. The Wind In The Willows is the book that calibrated my appreciation for the beauty of the English language, read aloud.

    About the military perspective: Academic goofing with children's classics has been going on for a while. Remember 'Winnie Ille Pooh' ? (Latin translation)

  2. That was an amusing article and quite accurate as well. I wonder if this selection is a veiled reference to the present invasion(s) and their attempt to take Toad Hall via infiltration and overt overrunning tactics. A decade or so ago, Arthur Rackham’s illustration had a renaissance of interest with fans of SF&F art, although I don’t expect Wind in the Willows is quite as well known here.

    Off this specific subject, but onto a continuous one on your blog in ref to the American West, you might want to download a small booklet printed by the public library of Ft Wayne and Allen County in 1956, entitled Gambling on the Western Rivers, which is a extract of Chapter IX of Herbert Asbury’s A Sucker’s Progress (1938). This pamphlet is mostly concerned about antebellum gambling on the lower Mississippi, but has a good many bits of information about riverboat gamblers in their heyday as well as details about card sharping and general thuggery on and near the river. It’s available for free download at

    An associated book on this subject is the forgotten classic, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857) by Herman Melville (yes that Melville), which also takes place on a Mississippi steam boat. It discusses early conmen, swindlers, and counterfeiters. Mind you it’s a novel, not history, and you need to understand it’s a mixture of satire and philosophy, which might be a little obscure for people who are unfamiliar with the mid-Victorian era (and authors) in the US. It’s available for free at Project Gutenberg

  3. Here's another one that needs military tactical analysis: "The Pushcart War" by Jean Merrill and Roni Sobert. I remember reading it in grade school. Guerrilla warfare journal.
    Wandering Neurons

  4. The Wind In the Willows is quite popular in the US, although it has, just as in the UK, been eclipsed by Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. It was a favorite of President Theodore Roosevelt, who used to read it to his children.

    I like the book because it can be collected for the various illustrator's versions – – Arthur Rackham, of course, but Tasha Tudor, Ernest Shepherd, and many others.

  5. This shouldn't be surprising. One truly understands literary criticism when one can argue ANY thesis about ANY work.

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