by Stuart Laycock

The History Press


256pp/$24.95/September 2012

All the Countries We've Ever Invaded

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

While many are aware of the saying that the sun never set on the British Empire, the full import of that phrase doesn’t become clear until one reads Stuart Laycock’s excellent book All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We’ve Never Got Round To, an alphabetical listing of all the countries recognized by the UN (plus Kosovo) and a brief explanation of British military involvement.

Laycock attempts to describe British adventures in light-hearted and politically neutral terms and is careful to note that the British involvement could come as empire building, as in Kuwait, as peacekeepers, as in Kuwait, or for other political reasons, as in Kuwait. In short, British military involvement in any given country can be much more complex when the issues are examined.

Certain features also made countries more ripe for attention, a location of importance during the Napoleonic Wars or the World Wars almost guaranteed British involvement, although importance of location could be surprising, leading to British involvement in the Seychelles in the Napoleonic period. Having a port, even as minor as Alexandrovsk on the Caspian Sea gave Britain access to Kazakhstan, otherwise land-locked. Completely landlocked countries such as the Central African Republic also weren’t able to escape British attention.

That said, there are 22 nations Britain avoided direct involvement in, such as Andorra, Liechtenstein, and Kyrgyzstan, despite the later of the three actually requesting British intervention against the Russians in 1876. Often the politics an dalliances of Europe played a major role in British involvement. If an area was in league with France or Spain, the British would invade, while allies of Portugal were generally safe from British attack.

Perhaps the most important point Laycock makes is that it doesn’t matter if the standard Brit can locate a country on a map of the world. If Britain invaded it, whether in the inter World War years or the Age of European Exploration, the natives of those countries will remember the invasion and may well hold grudges against their previous treatment.

The book includes a series of maps, which are often useful when the discussion turns to smaller or less well known countries (which Laycock often points out in the text with phrases like “Many Brits didn’t know much about the country of Upper Volta, and changing the name to Burkina Faso hasn’t altered things in that respect.” The British launched an attack against the French there in 1898, but changed their minds before engaging in combat.) An additional appendix indicating a timeline of when and where the British were involved in various areas would have been an helpful addition.

Reading through the book, either at random or in alphabetical order, provides some wonderful stories, ranging from the invasion of England by Monaco in 1338 (Britain never returned the favor) or the various aspects of the slave trade (and then anti-trade slave), or the semi-friendly invasion of Iceland in 1940.

Laycock’s history is entertaining and does an excellent job of pointing out how much of the world has drawn the interest of the British, whether officially, through privateers and pirates, or even the free companies of men like the fourteenth century adventurer John Hawkwood. Of course, much of that activity was actually directed against Germany, Spain, France, or the Netherlands, no matter what part of the world the fighting was taking place, so they were also involved. Laycock hasn’t explored those countries’ range of activity yet, but he has followed up this volume with a book with Christopher Kelly looking at the world in a similar way with regard to the United States.

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