Counterinsurgency – Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War


Counterinsurgency – The Origins, Development and Myths of the New Way of War
By Douglas Porch
Cambridge University Press – £17.99

Counterinsurgency – Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War investigates the history of what its title suggests, by way of primarily concentrating on the three providential nations of The United States, Britain and France. Although correct me if I’m wrong, so far as the former is concerned, didn’t much of the world fundamentally learn all it needed to know in relation to counterinsurgency, shortly after its debacle in Vietnam?

As for France’s foray into Mali with a view of freeing the north of the country of Islamist rebels back in January of this year, and Britain’s on-going (totally) futile excursion(s) in Afghanistan; might it not be said that the world’s media subjects us/everyman, to an ideology of colourful counterinsurgency on an almost daily basis? The essential end result being that said particular approach to warfare has landed (if not partially warranted) something of a reticent, almost negative and misguided, bad name.

Reason being, ever since the end of the Vietnam War, counterinsurgency has as an endeavour towards military strategy – if such it can be deemed – evolved into something of a by-word for failure.

In fact as a terminology, many might consider counterinsurgency to have become counter-tarnished. And it is from this precipice that Counterinsurgency methodically embarks.

Author Douglas Porch – who is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey, California, and whose previous books include The Path to Victory (2004), Wars of Empire (2000) and The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force (1991) – suggests that: ‘’hearts and minds have never been a recipe for lasting stability, and that past counterinsurgency campaigns have succeeded not through state-building, but by shattering and dividing societies while unsettling civil-military relations.’’

Yet I found much of the writing throughout these ten chapters, far too tangential in order for it to really sink in. The book reads as if Porch is trying to convey several arguments simultaneously.

Already in the very first chapter (‘A ‘’Happy Combination of Clemency with Firmness’’: The Small Wars Prologue’), he writes: ‘’Indeed, FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency of 2006 replicates the righteousness of nineteenth-century imperialists when it brands the enemies of coalition occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan as ‘’elusive, unethical and indiscriminate foes’’ organised in an insurgency ‘’characterised by violence, immorality, distrust and deceit.’’ While in the very next paragraph he continues: ‘’Some conventional soldiers began to develop a distaste for those who went native in the worst sense, by adopting savage, degrading, primitive styles of warfare. Nowhere was this aversion more pronounced than in the United States, where at the US Military Academy at West Point, and in the wake of the Mexican (1864 – 1848) and Civil War (1861 – 1865), a category of military man who desired to reorganize the American army along European lines decried the total war savagery inflicted by ‘’citizen soldiers’’ upon Native Americans as incompatible with American values.’’

Now is it me, or is the above far too dense, if not confusing to assimilate?
Surely, there is way too much information being touched upon?

So much so, it could be argued that each subject warrants its own chapter (book?). From Iraq to sectarian political rivals, from Afghanistan to West Point, from the Mexican Civil War to European lines, from Native Americans to nineteenth-century imperialists, I found myself having to read the above excerpt a couple of times, just to really understand what on earth Porch was trying to convey.

Like counterinsurgency itself, I found this book almost worked in riddles. That said, perhaps it would make a lot more sense to the initiated. But then who, other than generals and trained combat soldiers, is truly familiar with the deployment and varying tactics of counterinsurgency?

Having read this book, I really am none the wiser with regards counterinsurgency, which is a shame, as I did quintessentially endeavour to make a foray into the area.

David Marx

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