Saturday, September 3, 2016


No shit, this stuff really works. You just gotta apply it well. Let it soak in. Then polish it.  It works for the lawful constitutional authority, the occupying army, and the neighborhood police. Law enforcement on patrol, in particular, would benefit from a coating of this on top of time-honored community policing.

Counter-Insurgency Warfare:
Theory and Practice

by David Galula
(Frederick A. Praeger, 1964)
I learned about this book while reading about the challenges in Iraq that were faced by Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. John Abizaid, Gen. Peter Charelli, and Gen. George Casey in The Fourth Star by David Cloud and Greg Jaffe (reviewed here).  That book led me to Eating Soup with a Knife by Lt. Col. John Nagl which referenced this one heavily.

Nagl was the go-to guy for the generals. They and he made it seem as though this was a newly invented wheel.  At work, I asked the oldest colonel if he knew counter-insurgency from his time in Viet Nam.  He replied, “When I taught it at Fort …”  My colonel spoke of identity papers and ration coupons, both tactics recommended by Galula based on the actual histories of counter-insurgency work in Algeria (1954-1962) and Malaya (1948-1960).  Galula also draws on the experiences of both sides of the Chinese civil war. Written in 1963, the book’s allusions to Viet Nam are from the viewpoint of the Viet Minh. 

Counter-Insurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice begins by examining the insurgency. Again, because of the time in which the author lived, the examples come from the communists. Reading the book today, considering Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine, you have to take a broader view.  We considered communism to have been a “foreign ideology” (wrongly, I believe), but Islam surely was not recently imported into the Middle East by a small intelligensia.  That being as it may, the truths that do apply from that time to ours seem absolute. 

Moreover, the broad truths found here apply to civic law enforcement. If the local police perceived organized criminals as an insurgency, and applied the theory and practice of counter-insurgency, law and order would be easier to obtain. 

Conversely, as I read through this highly commendable little book, I understood its limitations in not perceiving insurgency as a set of social problems that are expressed as “crime.”  Criminology has theories of differential association, routine activities, the crime triangle, structural functionalism, social conflict, and rational choice, among about 50 others, that can be applied to the suppression of armed political revolt.

Ironically, for all of the Mao and Che that we read in the 1960s, this book would have been the capstone had we known about it.  Our theory that protests would bring repression that would cause the people to rise up angry against the Man was as simplistic as the scene in Lord of the Flies where the six-year olds want to solve their problem by building a new airplane and flying off the island. 

Galula’s lesson on leniency is the intersection of community policing and counter-insurgency. The Chinese communists treated their nationalist prisoners well, fed them, gave them medical care if possible, and then released them. Yes, some would take up arms again, but most would not. In fact, upon their return, they were imprisoned by their own leaders who feared that they had been contaminated.  Indeed, they had been. Their enemies treated them well; their own leaders were unjust to them. It was pretty easy to know which side you really were on.

As is typical of the times, this book has few citations, no bibliography and no index.  I had intended to draw a parallel between events in the Chinese civil war and the Sunni insurgency. I still believe that such a parallel exists. However, Galula's narrative (pp 15-16) cannot be supported by the histories we accept today. In this case, the theory is strong but the facts are weak. 


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