The Last Adventurer
By Rolf Steiner
A former soldier, trained in the French Foreign Legion and committed to helping blacks achieve the skills of military leadership describe his own terrifying experience during the Biafran conflict
Steiner is a true anomaly--a principled mercenary. The currency he's after is not money but glory. A German who witnessed the collapse of the Third Reich at twelve, he seems to have internalized Germanic notions of military valor. His adventures--here recounted with a sang-froid that precludes much emotional pull--begin at 17 when he joins the French Foreign Legion and end (for the time being) when he is released from a Khartoum jail where he was kept for almost four years for aiding South Sudan's black Christian rebels. In between, Steiner fought for the French in Indonesia, joined with the OAS in Algeria, and--his most fervent campaign--created and led a brigade of black Ibo rebels in their losing struggle for Biafran independence from Nigeria. Of the ideological gamut he's spanned, he seems scarcely aware. But he insists on not being lumped with ""the paid killers in the Congo"" and deplores the use of torture in military actions. Much of this adventure is military history, guerrilla style, as Steiner recounts the battles to throw back the tightening vise around Biafra and the derring-do of ""my Black Legion"" of whom he is inordinately proud. His story--and his mentality--will probably remain obscure to Americans though in Europe this self-styled Paladin of the Third World apparently has gained considerable notoriety.
Editorial Review - Kirkus Reviews Copyright (c) VNU Business Media, Inc.
Steiner is a true anomaly--a principled mercenary. The currency he's after is not money but glory. A German who witnessed the collapse of the Third Reich at twelve, he seems to have internalized Germanic notions of military valor. His adventures--here recounted with a sang-froid that precludes much emotional pull--begin at 17 when he joins the French Foreign Legion and end (for the time being ...
I first read Steiner's book to gain his perspective upon his role in the Biafran Civil War, having already a decent background in Nigerian history and having lived in that country for some years. I found his account of his life and adventures fascinating, an easy read and it suggests a man possessed of charm and with good leadership skills, driven by his emotional responses rather than by profit or strategic assessment. However, since he is the only reporter on the majority of the material I also have to wonder about his veracity. A hunger for self-justification peeps out of the text repeatedly, and he has a love of the noble act and the dramatic moment. I wish more data on his life were available. I have my own suspicions that many of the more venial reasons for the disaster in Biafra are accurate. What an outside reader might take as absurd in these sections, I find convincing, because of the clash of cultures both internal and external to the vast Nigerian nation. Overall I had to take this book with a grain of salt, as the story of the man who wants to remember the story happening this way rather than a factual history. How I wish that such other figures as Taffy Williams had left us some record to compare with this one.
Of course Steiner's book spans far more than his time in Nigeria. I have given the book four stars since I do believe that anyone interested in the histories of the Sudan and of Nigeria in particular should read this book and weigh what they know against what he tells so ably, through the lens of his ghost writer, Berges.