Saturday, March 18, 2017

Counter-Insurgency is a Wrong Turn

While I accept the thesis, I question its underlying assumptions. I take the wider view that war is crime, and therefore crime is war; and therefore, “counter-insurgency” is a response to crime. More deeply, it is only part of the same course of action that any emergency management program follows for any disaster: Response, Protection, Recovery, Mitigation, and Prevention.

Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace
of Counter-Insurgency

by Colonel Gian Gentile
(The New Press, 2013).
Col. Gentile’s thesis is there is no such thing as “counter-insurgency” as a separate kind of warfare.  In addition, the American mass media perpetuate a myth that the army was losing under old leadership with old ideas, but that a bold new leader brought innovative thinking that re-directed the efforts into productive and meaningful modes.  Col. Gentile maintains that (1) counter-insurgency is just the continued meeting of enemy forces; (2) American military actions were always generally successful with notable losses, failures, and errors (as is the nature of war), but no “outside the box” innovative tactics ever were called upon; (3) historically, since Alexander the Great (at least), every army has had to deal with civilian resistance, whether farmers with pruning hooks or doctors repurposing artillery ammunition into bombs under the roadway.  

Col. Gentile examines the classic cases of the British in Malaya, the French in Algeria, and the Americans in Viet Nam.  In every case, he shows that success came from continuing the offensive according to the same logic, passed from commander to commander through each rotation.  The American failure in Viet Nam was essentially sociological:
“But unless the United States was willing to stay in Vietnam for generations to do armed nation building, the collapse of South Vietnam was inevitable. In the end, firepower could not break the will of the North Vietnamese, the NLF, or the PLAF; nor could it correct the endemic problems of corruption within the South Vietnamese government and military. Moreover, it could not connect in a moral way the people of South Vietnam to the government and military. The United States and South Vietnam lost the war on all fronts.” (page 83)
 The book itself is short, 144 pages, but it is supported with 270 footnotes.  Col. Gentile has done his homework. It remains that he knew the point he wanted to make; and among the libraries and archives, he found the facts he needed.

His thesis is easy to agree with. He wrote for the narrow context of armed conflict, not the wider problem of why people harm each other, and what to do about it.


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