Thursday, December 16, 2004

Manui Dat Cognitio Vires

At Defense and the National Interest there's a good piece up by Elaine Grossman on retired officers and intelligence experts' recommended readings for dealing with the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq. I would commend it to all readers, along with this informative post from way back when on Phil Carter's Intel Dump.

Mr Wong, Chopper Gleasby and The Ponce

One of the most predictable aspects of the listings featured at D-N-I is the proportion of out of print works. In fact, anybody with an active interest in counterinsurgency must be prepared to spend an alarming amount of time trawling round second hand book shops to feed their habit (my finest hour - picking up a copy of Sir Robert Thompson's "No Exit from Vietnam" [complete with rather faded dust jacket] in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye for £2.50). The 1960s was the golden era of books by counterinsurgents for counterinsurgents and many of the classic works from that period went out of print almost as soon as they emerged (sadly, even comparatively recent historical treatments such as those by Thomas Mockaitis are also largely out of print).

David Galula's "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice" is a case in point.

“Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice” by David Galula. “May I suggest that you run — not walk — to the Pentagon library and get in line” for this book, says one retired CIA officer with counterinsurgency experience in Vietnam, who asked not to be named. Finding a copy of the out-of-print 1964 book “is almost impossible,” but Galula’s writing should be regarded as “a primer for how to win in Iraq,” says this source.

Counterinsurgency is catnip to me, but I have only very recently been able to source a copy of this book myself. It's phenomenally good. The substance is not inherently superior - in my view at least - to many of the other classic works of the counterinsurgency canon. The book's strength is that in its bredth it genuinely represents a one stop shop for anybody who needs a single volume treatment of the subject. For a busy military officer with relatively little time to spare, it has the potential to be the perfect napsack companion. Unfortunately, it has been out of print for 40 years. Both Michael and I are individually exploring various avenues for disseminating the book's message (Michael's efforts are predictably rather more heroic and ambitious than mine) but one cannot but feel that one may be fighting a losing battle from the start.

Soup/Knife Interface

Sitting alongside this problem is the fact that when books are in print they are often prohibitively expensive. The obvious example is that of Maj. John Nagl's first-class book, "Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife". Major Nagl's book is published by Praeger, a specialist publishing house that has a reputation for producing fine work at a price to match. Nagl's book is only available in harback form and is on sale at the website for $81.95. A lot of money. I own a copy of Major Nagl's book and consider it to have been a worthy investment - every penny well spent. However, many people will not agree. Other books that I would personally recommend from my own collection, including Sam Sarkesian's "Unconventional Conflicts in a New Security Era", Donald Hamilton's "The Art of Insurgency: American Military Policy and the Failure of U.S. Policy in South-East Asia" and Robert M. Cassidy's "Peacekeeping in the Abyss" are also published by Praeger in exclusively hardback form and command similar price tags.

We can see then, that any aspiring counterinsurgent with an urge to build up even a modest counterinsurgency library will find himself faced with two obstacles - the acquisition of out of print classics, which is a time consuming and thankless experience and the acquisition of the latest scholarship, which can add up to a groaning strain on the wallet. The two factors of time needed and financial outlay required can easily make the whole project a non-starter for a busy military officer.

I find it hard to deal with this issue without becoming frustrated. At a time when demand has probably never been higher, supply is utterly failing to keep up. My personal feeling is that any publishing house that makes the effort to at least reprint some of the classic texts - and, even better, reprint them in a manner accesible to the average officer - would be able to hold its head up high and say it has done its bit for the war effort. An enormous amount of practical, experience-based wisdom is contained within the various classic counterinsurgency texts - lives and successful policy could both hinge on its timely dissemination.

Not only but also

Finally, just off the top of my head (and therefore wildly imperfect), here are a few more worthwhile titles which to the best of my knowledge did not make it onto the list:

Robert Asprey - War in the Shadows
Ian F. W. Beckett - Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies
Frank Kitson - Low Intensity Operations
Frank Kitson - Bunch of Five
Julian Paget - Counterinsurgency Campaigning
Robert Thompson - No Exit From Vietnam
Richard Clutterbuck - The Long, Long War
Thomas Mockaitis - British Counterinsurgency: 1919-1960
Thomas Mockaitis - British Counterinsurgency in the post-Imperial Era


Blogger MAJ C said...

Nagl is now a Lieutenant Colonel and working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

11:44 AM  
Blogger MAJ C said...

Nagl is now a Lieutenant Colonel and working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

11:45 AM  
Blogger MAJ C said...

John Nagl is now a Lieutenant Colonel and assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...


Let us hope that represents a mere plateau on the path to even greater things!


2:50 PM  

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