Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Boot, 2013, Invisible Armies: an epic history of guerrilla warfare from ancient times to the present (Security studies)

Max Boot is a free-lance military historian and advocate of American power.  If that wasn’t enough to make me cautious, the unabashed ego of the “epic history” in the title is cause for pause. The book is reasonably well done for its genre (populist military history playing to a nationalist American audience) and has some strength in its sweeping summaries of secondary sources. The data appendix, however, makes it clear that there has been some sloppy operationalization of categories (terrorism, insurgency, guerrilla war, counter-insurgency, etc). Ultimately, it is betrayed in the prologue and the conclusion - insurgents are terrorists when they are against us, and freedom-fighters when they are on our side or paid and armed by us. It’s not an attractive analysis. Compare Brogan, 1990, The Fighting Never Stopped for a countervailing anti-CIA view of the 20th century part of this military history. 

The book proceeds in 64 chapters and eight ‘book’ with a preponderance of the material addressing the 19th and 20th centuries - closer to 1000 than 5000 years, but who’s quibbling. The insights about insurgency as a weapon of the weak are confounded by the failure to recognize it as a tool of the strong neighbour, although this is also clear in the details. 
David Last, March 17, 2014 

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