GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pretty good book on guerrilla warfare...

So I finished the highly publicized volume by Max Boot on guerrilla warfare and insurgency...Invisible Armies.  Now I had the book on pre-order since before Christmas, so it was an eagerly anticipated part of my 2013 reading list.   I thought the book was pretty good overall, and certainly met its intended purpose as a survey of guerrilla warfare for a general audience that wouldn't know the Viet Cong from Wingate's Chindits.

Boot actually makes a couple of points that I found very interesting, and actually hadn't really thought of in my reading of history, strategy, and military operational thought. 

First, "guerrilla" warfare is a pretty amorphous term that can cover everything from tribal bandit warfare to urban terrorism, and even commando operations conducted by conventional militaries.  In fact, one of Boot's primary points is that raiding, ambushes, and insurgencies are not something NEW but have actually been the primary means of warfare since man started swinging clubs at each other.  This was an interesting point, and Boot does a pretty good job of laying out how ancient empires from the Romans to the Chinese had troubles with nomadic raiding tribes that were never really contained.

Boot basically proceeds chronologically, although he makes a logical set of divisions of irregular warfare based on the tactics, politics and societal construct of the time.  An interesting couple of chapters deal with the KKK in the south after the Civil War as an "insurgency" that turned back Reconstruction and maintained the white dominated political structure of the South (and the Democratic Party, I might add) through the use of Jim Crow laws and segregation.  The other chapter looked at the anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th century...sort of the great-grandfathers of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Weather Underground...rich college kids who wanted to change societal injustice with explosives...only these anarchists manged to assassinate a Czar, a few Prime Ministers and even a President of the United States (William McKinley, shot by Leon Czolgosz in 1901).

Second, Boot makes the point that many guerrilla movements are unsuccessful, either through the ineptness of the guerrillas or the willingness of the incumbent political power to crush the insurgency regardless of the societal cost...OR sometimes by the local government making needed political and societal change to take away the underlying causes of rebellion and insurgency.  Boot gives examples of each and shows that many governments should not have lost to a weak insurgency, but defeated themselves more with their corruption and incompetence than the brilliance of the guerrilla movement.

It's not a perfect book, as Boot tries to cover a lot of material, even with the book's 784 pages to play with...so inevitably he picks and chooses what he covers, and also inevitably leaves something out.  But that's the joys and pitfalls of writing essentially an anthology of guerrilla and insurgency warfare, and he still has more hits than misses.

HOWEVER, I have to say I was totally surprised at the review the book received in my favorite Journal of Military History.  The reviewer totally hammers the crap out of the book, which I think is a bit unjustified.  Although the reviewer is an "Emeritus Professor," I think his review was a bit one-sided.  Although he did have a good point that Boot could and maybe should have covered the Russian partisan effort in World War 2, I actually think Boot's choice to cover Tito and his boys in Yugoslavia was a better choice, as they actually did more or less liberate their country from the Nazis, the only partisan group to do so in Europe.

Overall, as a book for a general audience that probably knows nothing about the concepts of guerrilla warfare, insurgency, counter-insurgency and the myriad of groups that conducted irregular warfare, Boot does a pretty darn good job.  It's pretty sad when the younger generation of historically ignorant doofus  morons are running around wearing Mao and Che T-shirts and glorifying these mass murderers.  My assumption is that if someone wants to know more...Boot gives a pretty good bibliography to start digging.  Also, I think his conclusions are right on the money and should be valuable for the uninitiated to the study of strategy and warfare. 

As a primer for undergraduate students in ROTC or at the service academies, I think this would be an excellent book to build a semester course to introduce students to the history of irregular warfare.

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