Stratiotes' Unconventional Warfare

Stratiotes' Military History Book Reviews

© 2007 J. Mark Hord

Book reviews are a great way to keep track of good books that can be recommended for various topics. On the topic of military history and irregular warfare history, I have written many reviews. It became helpful to be able to gather them all into one place so this page will be evolving as I add reviews from the various locations scattered about the web. When possible, I will identify where they were first published and the dates they were written.

Additional reviews of these and other topics are available through my Amazon.com profile.

Terrorist Trail: Backtracking the Foreign Fighter

by H. John Poole, Ray L. Smith (Forward), Mike Leahy (Illustrator)

First Published 31 January 2007 at the Defense and National Interest website.

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Only a few military thinkers have given us the insight and practical help that John Poole has over the years. In Terrorist Trail, "Gunny" Poole provides the insight we need to win the war on terror. Poole helps us see that it is not so much a military problem or even a political problem as it is a law enforcement problem. The problems have no quick solutions such as bombing or killing as many insurgents as possible. It is a fourth-generation-war (4GW) that requires a 4GW solution.

Fourth generation war is marked by non-national networked entities who provide too few targets for bombing to have any effect other than the effect of creating more recruits for their ranks. 4GW forces thrive on devastation and insecurity of the people; increasing the devastation and insecurity, as in with most military approaches, is counterproductive in that they do nothing more than create greenhouses for terror. What are needed, according to Poole, are small near-autonomous units of truly light infantry that can play the role of police force rather than occupiers in the greenhouses of terror. It requires a military paradigm shift away from centralized control and micromanagement much as the late Col. John Boyd often argued. It requires truly creative thought more than top-down bureaucratic mandates or emphasis on force protection at the expense of population protection. It requires a new way of seeing insurgent recruits as the dispossessed who can be won to our side rather than being martyrs for theirs.

In part 1, Poole organizes the case for reform by first describing the current recruiting grounds for terrorist organizations, especially in Africa. He traces the flow of insurgents from the African training grounds to the streets of Baghdad. He also calls to attention the Chinese influence so often ignored. In part 2, he provides a sweeping history of African insurgencies as a lesson for us today. Notable among those is a section on the famed Selous Scouts, who provide the great lesson of how to convert enemies to friends, an essential element in stopping the violence of terrorism and isolating the terrorist organizations that thrive on discontent. The lessons also illustrate the need for less technology-oriented solutions, such as man tracking skills. Part 3 provides lessons for the light-infantryman and small units for the challenges in man tracking in an urban environment and ends with an application of the book's concepts to the current situation in Iraq.

The primary hurdle for such reform is, as so often, money. Light infantry police forces do not require the high-tech gadgets that so enamor the big military establishment and their supporting defense corporations. No amount of common sense will likely overcome those pressures on American politics. Yet the John Pooles of the world cannot, and hopefully will not, remain silent.

Poole is one of the most innovative and creative thinkers to have served in the US military. He surely understands from experience that his observations will not likely create the revolution in military and political thinking required to bring about these changes. Yet, he is one more voice crying in the wilderness, and we can pray that his observations can be heard before long. His message from the heartfelt acknowledgment to the final page is one of great hope for the future. Get the book, recommend it to your congressman, share it with military people on your gift lists. Help spread the word any way you can; it is a serious matter that needs to be addressed and only with the clamor of a great crowd will it be heard.


Alexander William Doniphan: Portrait of a Missouri Moderate

by Roger D. Launius

22 December 2006

Alexander Doniphan is one of those great characters from history who learned from his mistakes about the role of government. He is one who rebelled against the demogoguery of American politics to become a true independent having experienced first-hand the results of policies he had helped push through at one time. A warrior who came to know the horrors of war and so came to realize its utter futility and underlying causes of greed and self-aggrandizement. He, like Smedly Butler in the century that followed, came to see war as a racket for a few at the expense of the majority. Doniphan's integrity in the Mormon wars shines through in a world gone mad with hate. His life is so full of examples for us it is sad that he, once a household name, has become virtually unknown to us now. He truly was a great American hero and we would do well to honor his life and work. The book is wonderfully well written and complemented with black and white photos and drawings from the Doniphan's life. It is a must have for the serious student of mid-19th century American politics.


Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War

by Major Donald Vandergriff (US Army, Ret.)

7 February 2007

Organizations tend to lose their ability to adapt in changing environments as they grow larger. When it occurs in business, the business suffers loss of market share or reductions in productivity metrics. When it occurs in the military, young men and women pay with their lives and nations pay with their national security.

In this insightful book, Major Vandergriff quickly dissects and identifies the source of this malady in one growing organization, the U.S. Army. Though his focus in this book is how to cure the disease in Army, his insight is worth noting for the same cure in other branches of the military, and indeed in civilian business organizations where there is the courage among leaders to face the problem and accept the cure. Major Vandergriff's observations and suggested solutions reach far beyond the US Army. He first identifies the cynical industrial theory that all individuals are motivated soley by self-interest and greed as the philosophy that feeds the sickness. Any organization built on such a faulty cultural assumption has little hope for reform. Reforming such an organization from the top is impossible; cultural foundations must be replaced from the bottom up.

But Major Vandergriff does not leave us only with a diagnosis but offers the formula for a cure. In the second chapter, a quote from Secretary of the Army, Thomas White, sums up the theme of this book, "It's the personnel system, stupid." One can hear the late Col. John Boyd's dictum booming out, "People, ideas, machines...in that order." Indeed, Major Vandergriff acknowledges Col. Boyd's theories as foundational to changing the Army leadership development program from a focus on training to a focus on education. Teaching leaders how to think rather than what to think is a key component of the necessary change. Feeding the change through the academies and ROTC programs is the surest way to change the cultural foundations needed to nurture this new wave of leaders. There are examples of this new kind of leader already present and Major Vandergriff gives us some examples of these outstanding young leaders. Unfortunately, too often, these leaders must fight the cultural winds blowing the opposite direction, forcing them out of the military. Without the sweeping reform to create more of them, the winds will continue to frustrate change. Major Vandergfriff even goes so far as to offer a description of curriculum and structure of a reformed educational branch of the Army. His ideas and his plan make sense.

Without exaggeration, Major Vandergriff has given us one of the most important works on military reform. But those in and out of the military need to comprehend and confront the issues he brings to our attention. Good business leaders will attempt to apply this cure to their businesses; good military leaders will attempt to understand and apply these concepts to their command responsibilities; and good citizens will attempt to understand and convey these concepts to their representatives so that they will encourage this military reform. The importance of this effort cannot be overemphasized. Share this book with your superiors, military leaders, and most of all with your congressmen and senators. Our nation's future may very well depend on it.


Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War

by Robert M. Cassidy

First published 12 February 2007 at Amazon.com

Despite LtC Cassidy's occasional allusions to the dubious belief that the Army is changing as necessary for the kind of irregular warfare terrorism presents, he still makes some valid points about how the Army and other services need to change further. LtC Cassidy makes valid observations about the American military culture of conventional warfare thinking, but his recommendations seem to be less about cultural change and more about organizational change. The problems he identifies seem far too entrenched for organizational tweaking to resolve them.

Some points LtC Cassidy makes with regard to how to counter insurgencies are very good points. He addresses the cultures first of Russian, British, and American military thinking in separate chapters then summarizes the lessons concerning "small wars" in the end. In the process of summarizing the lessons of those three, he draws on additional experiences of the French in Indochina and Algeria. The organization of his work becomes a little difficult as the author seems to confuse the cultural issues with organizational or tactical issues of isolated examples. If the reader is able to separate those issues, this book has much to offer. Otherwise it may only confuse the issues.

Specifically, among the observations LtC Cassidy makes, three seem especially helpful. First, the need to emphasize conversion/rehabilitation of enemy combatants. Rather than capturing them and jailing them away only for questioning, making the assumption that they cannot be rehabilitated, would it not be better to convert them - to win their hearts and minds? The very common-sense of that question along with the example given of British and Rhodesian techniques to do just that in Malaya and Rhodesia should provide the obvious answer.

Second, and similar to the first point, large-scale use of indigenous forces provides legitimacy where occupation-style large American footprint does not. Again, the common sense of this thinking should be enough to immediately see the value of this point. Though he does leave the assertion open to a wide range of interpretation as has been the case in the past.

Third, adopting realistic measures for success. LtC Cassidy, as with so many others, makes a challenge to the traditional measures of success such as insurgent body counts. Such measures do not tell us whether or not we are being successful at winning hearts and minds or improving the lives of those we claim to be protecting. The goal in conventional warfare thinking has generally been to destroy the enemy army. The goal in this unconventional warfare is to produce a lasting peace. Ignoring the population only breeds more insurgent support. The goal must be to win and protect the population more than to kill the ever-increasing flow of insurgents.

A problem with all three of these points is that none can be mechanistically applied to every situation without an understanding of the cultural/political context of the indigenous people. What works in one scenario is not necessarily an universal law of counterinsurgency for all other scenarios.

Another problem is the political question. And this one LtC Cassidy may be forgiven for not addressing as a military commander. He states that we need to change our military in order to meet the goal of "democratization" wars. But this rather begs the political question of whether such wars are even winnable in all cases. The sad fact remains that perhaps there are some cultures in which democracy is not workable or even wanted. LtC Cassidy is a military man tasked with carrying out political policies with which he may not always agree. It is not his place perhaps to question those policies - but it is ours. It is a difficult question that underlies just how effective any cultural or organizational changes could make in such situations.

A third problem LtC Cassidy does not address is the common mistake of confusing revolutionary nationalist insurgencies, like those in Malaya or Vietnam, with the non-nationally focused insurgencies of global terrorism - something the title claims to address. Little is added on the theory of counterinsurgency as it pertains specifically to the so-called Global War on Terror. Instead, LtC Cassidy seems locked in the mindset of so many other military thinkers - still preparing for the last war or the war we would prefer to fight.

While the author makes some very good points concerning counterinsurgency warfare, his conclusions for changing the military seem far too little. The military and political culture that feeds it must change as a whole and not just with organizational or tactical tweaks here and there. We also need to understand better that not every war is one we should be fighting or that we have a chance of winning.

Despite some shortcomings, LtC Cassidy has given us a fair addition to the theory and practice of counterinsurgency. It is a good start perhaps at addressing the issues but the solutions are unimaginative and shortsighted. Still this work deserves a good rating for at least addressing some of the underlying problems.