Initially the deed was an act of political violence aimed against state targets with the objective of goading the state into overreacting and using excessive force, thus losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the population, and securing revolution. (24)
POTD is an act of political violence aimed against state targets with the objective of creating a media event capable of energising populations to bring about state revolution or social transformation. (24)
Insurgents connect these acts of violence in the minds of individuals and groups, to carefully crafted memories of grievance. Preparing the population is not simply about reinforcing ideology. It is about fracturing state and media memories - the status quo ante - and rooting violence in freshly constructed narratives, spawning a new revolutionary memory. (54)
Minor events should resonate with each other, while spectaculars provide focal points that act as beacons within the landscape of revolutionary violence. (151)
I certainly agree with Bolt that the POTD is and should be a operating concept that drives insurgent strategies (the term 'strategic operating concept' being an oxymoron in American military parlance). However, my initial reaction to this book was to question whether this is evolutionary or revolutionary. What Bolt proposes is the story of a Revolution in Military Affairs with regard to insurgent warfare. A Revolution in Insurgent Military Affairs, a RIMA if you will. The contrast is important. The study of war and its revolutions have focused almost solely upon great powers and conventional tactics and strategies. Discussions of the role of guerrilla warfare in this context center on how evolutions and revolutions in counterinsurgent forces enable those forces to better fight against insurgencies. The fact of the matter is that we do not have an academic reckoning of insurgencies such as we have for Western militaries. Our understanding of insurgencies has not progressed much past hit and run tactics, blending with the populations, the population is their target, and other such statements. These are not terribly useful in analyzing Bolt's thesis that his new POTD definition is revolutionary.
To continue this line of analysis, POTD as a RIMA, we should examine what is meant by a Revolution in Military Affairs. A perfectly good definition was provided by Peter Singer in his Wired for War:
RMAs typically involve the introduction of a new technology or organization, which in turn creates a whole new model of fighting and winning wars. A new weapon is introduced that makes obsolete all the previous best weapons, such as what armored, steam-powered warships did to wooden, wind-powered warships. (Singer, 181)There is no question that the digital revolution brought about new technologies that have affected warfare. Indeed, insurgent groups have even reorganized themselves to better leverage these technologies. But are these actions revolutionary with regard to insurgent warfare? Have they created a "whole new model of fighting and winning wars"?
Insurgents have use propaganda as long as we have been recording such things. Even Clausewitz himself acknowledges that the insurrectionist's center of gravity is popular support (we'll ignore for the moment that he still then proscribes the destruction of the enemy force as essential). During his lengthy discourse on Irish insurgencies, Bolt writes at length about their leveraging propaganda. The connection of violence to propaganda has been the hallmark of terrorist groups for at least a century, and likely before that, either to generate grievance from heavy-handed governments or to demonstrate their group's military competence.
I believe that an element of skepticism of the revolutionary aspect of Bolt's thesis is his definition of the POTD from a century ago. He links the violent act to government overreaction; a judo throw that causes widespread outrage that creates social transformation. But what are these events other than media events? How were insurgents able to spread public outrage? In the case of Ireland it was through pamphlets and underground newspapers. I would argue that insurgent intents and the mechanisms to bring their objectives to reality have not fundamentally changed since, merely the speed and reach of messaging. Indeed, speed and reach provided by digital means are necessary to counteract global migrations that would in earlier times have been local audiences to insurgent groups. Audiences that had been well within the effective range of a well written and illustrated newsletter.
There are numerous ways to analyze this excellent book and as a military thinker and writer I chose to approach it as a second track of military affairs. I do not find what Bolt describes as creating a whole new way of fighting and winning wars. Propaganda, rooted in violent imagery to evoke emotions that break down and recreate societal memories of grievance, has benefited from the digital revolution in an evolutionary manner, not revolutionary. It is not a RIMA, even if it may drive more 'traditional' forces towards their own RMAs to combat the POTD. That said, this type of analysis would be well served by more in-depth study of insurgencies over time, such as we have for Western militaries.
The point of evolutionary or revolutionary advancement does not degrade this book in any way. It is exceptionally informative in describing how and why our current and potential adversaries use violence beyond tactical gains and into symbolic strategic gains by way of propaganda. Any student of modern warfare, insurgency, and terrorism would do themselves well by reading and keeping The Violent Image handy and I congratulate Dr Bolt for creating this significant work.