Thursday, March 4, 2010

What we're reading #6

In "What we're reading #5," I lamented the fact that we hadn't done one of these in two months. That was three months ago. We're getting worse. Here's what we're looking at these days.


That bit of reading material pretty much has me occupied for the next 96 hours or so. (Yes, SNLII, believe it or not -- I do work sometimes.) But as I board my flight in a few hours, I'll be carrying a few things with me:

  • John Mackinlay's The Insurgent Archipelago just arrived in my mailbox yesterday at long last (because I'm apparently too stupid to order it from the U.S. version of Amazon. Oh well, at least I got the paperback!). Mackinlay's gotten good reviews from his colleague David Betz at KoW, and props from Carl Prine, Gian Gentile, Ken White, Niel Smith (quite the impressive cast of characters!) and others at SWJ. I'm looking forward to this one.

  • Just this morning I was sent Jason Lyall's article from the Winter 2010 International Organization, entitled "Do democracies make inferior counterinsurgents? Reassessing democracy's impact on war outcomes and duration." I've just skimmed through it and feel reasonably unconvinced of Lyall's thesis, which is that once you've corrected for various selection biases, democracies and autocracies have similar levels of tolerance for extended counterinsurgency campaigns.

  • That piece neatly dovetails with another book I'm about halfway through, which also focuses on state consolidation and counterinsurgency in medieval Europe: The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr, by R.R. Davies. (Somehow I scored the last reasonably-priced copy on the interwebs, I guess -- I think I paid $4 including shipping, and now all I see is $115 and up!) I'm just now getting to the good bits, which is to say the actual burning and looting and whatnot. (Joke, people.)

Co-bloggers, let us know what you're working on!


I'm focusing on some of the "classic" books on COIN and small wars these days - mainly due to a couple of nice Christmas gifts that I'm still working through. Since I spent a bit of time doing COIN, I didn't get a whole lot of reading done on the subject and I'm making up for that now. After finishing "The Sling and the Stone" earlier this week (which I did not particularly enjoy), I'm paging through the following:

Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency by Roger Trinquier. It's only 90 pages so it's the low-hanging fruit of the group. It seems to apply mainly to colonial wars, but interesting non-the-less.

The Logic of Violence in Civil Wars by Stathis Kalyvas. It's awfully dense so this is taking some time. So far so good (I'm about a third of the way through), but so far I'm skeptical about it's applicability to U.S. operations because he narrowly defines the conflicts that he analyzes. Time and pages will tell though.

Small Wars Their Principles and Practice by C.E. Calwell. This book gets a bad rap among a lot of COINdinistas. Other than some extremely racist language and dated ideas of norms in war, there are some real nuggets in this tome.

After these I still have a whole pile more to go through along the same vein, but it's been slow-going because of my schedule of late.


I am looking forward to finishing Eliot Cohen's Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime, which I abandoned in mid-course... last Summer. This does not speak to the quality of the book, which is excellent, but rather to my being caught in other things and trying now to clear the backlog of books started in a distant past and not finished yet.

When I am done, I will get started on H.R. McMaster's Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam, which I should have read a long time ago but, well, it is never too late...

On that same topic, I will also have a look at Jonathan Caverley's piece on Vietnam and COIN in International Security, which was flagged on Kings of War earlier this week not once but twice.

And because my weekend can not be spent on war narratives only, I am going to continue Column McCann's Let the Great World Spin. It starts on a beautiful scene describing Philippe Petit walking on a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. If you have not yet seen the documentary on this fascinating (and hair-rising) feat, it is here and worth 94 minutes of your weekend time.

I'm a bit behind on this one but here goes. I'm still working on Kalyvas' The Logic of Violence in Civil War. Like Alma, it's not that I've found it boring or anything, I've just been busy with other things (though I did turn the main one in last night!). Sometimes I think we all run a book club because I also have McMaster's book sitting on my shelf.

Today, I picked up the latest copy of Prism, the journal of the new Center for Complex Operations at the National Defense University. It has some articles about state fragility.

Finally, I grabbed Building Peace after War by Mats Berdal from my boss' shelf.


  1. Ok, now I look sort of dumb for giving the impression that I think Louis XIV qualifies as "medieval" (which he decidedly does not). Let's just go with "in Europe a long time ago" instead of "in medieval Europe," ok?

  2. First of all, Carl Prine is a jackass.

    Second, Nagl blurbs on the back of the pink Mackinlay book and it's completely unconvincing.

    Third, it's a good book, so add SNLII to the list of august company.

    About "Small Wars," Gunslinger, Callwell used the term "savage(s)" 39 times. Most people fail to realize (because he never read the book) that he used it ironically, his core contention being that the warriors the supposedly hegemonic colonial military feared the most were the "savage" sorts.

    They were simply smarter than the European brand of insurgents, given as they were to protracted warfare that tended to win battles, not lose them.

    Treat "savage" in Callwell as a term of art, not as a slur.


  3. SNLII - thanks for the context. I was not aware of that.

  4. "First of all, Carl Prine is a jackass."


  5. It's interesting to compare and contrast the original text, writings, and quotes of Galula, Trinquier, Thompson, Callwell, and Templer. Of significant note, Templer is noted as the first one to mention "hearts and minds;" however he stated it as controlling the hearts and the minds of the Malayan population through a dual-strategy of pervasive population control measures (food restrictions, movement controls, shooting civilians after curfew, and resettlements) and stability and reconstruction projects (nation-building). The more I study it, the more elitist and racist the mentality appears in today's terms. I find it ironic that it is now being construed as "winning" the hearts and minds. I imagine that Templer is turning over in his grave.

  6. Has anyone read The Men, The Mission, and Me? Is it worth reading? I kind of wonder about any book that is marketed as being written by a "former Delta Force Commander" but I was curious when I stumbled upon it at Amazon.

  7. Has anyone read The Men, The Mission, and Me?

    I haven't, but I find it sort of hilarious and awesome that one of the editorial reviews is from David Mamet (whose movie "The Spanish Prisoner" is one of my all-time favorites, completely irrelevantly).