Adventures in Bookland: Recce by Koos Stadler


A profound paradox lies at the heart of this book, a paradox not even hinted at in its subtitle (“Small team missions behind enemy lines”), although it is mentioned, without comment, in the book’s blurb. For while it is an intriguing and insightful examination of the specialised and deadly world of special forces’ operations, what is skated over is who these special forces were and what they were fighting against.

The special forces were part of the South African army and they were fighting the guerillas of SWAPO, the organisation struggling to free South West Africa (now Namibia) from the racist control of the apartheid regime in Pretoria. And the author of Recce, Koos Stadler, was one of the men fighting to preserve that regime.

For some, that in itself might disqualify the book from reading lists, but that would be to miss another of the paradoxes at the book’s heart: while the author is fighting to defend the indefensible, reading Recce brings the reader to the slow realisation that good men can be committed to fighting for what is wrong. For Stadler is undoubtedly a good man and a good soldier, serving his country, his people and his God as best he knows how. Nor is he, the servant of a racist regime, in any way racist himself: how could he be, when in the long border war he served alongside so many black African soldiers, creating the sorts of bonds of mutual trust and friendship that staring into the face of death together forge between men.

And this reveals the book’s final paradox: how many black Africans fought alongside the South African army against the guerillas of SWAPO. So the book’s final lesson is that, even in the struggle against apartheid, things are never just black and white.


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