Sunday, July 6, 2014

Boot, 2013, Invisible Armies (military history)

Max Boot was an editor at the Financial Post when 9/11 interrupted his routine, and since then he might be described as an “advocate of American Power”, with books like Savage Wars of Peace (2002), not to be confused with the book of the same title by Fishel and Manwaring (1997), War Made New: Technology Warfare and History, 1500 to today (2006), and now this one, which similarly takes a long and sweeping view of violent conflict.  Although he draws a distinction between insurgents (who seek to control territory and aspire to government) and terrorists (who do not), he includes both. It’s a populist approach drawing on a wide swath of secondary sources, but no mention of the empirical (Delphic) studies in the 1980s by the Small Wars Operations Research Directorate in US SouthCom, which is interesting, because there is some overlap in the principles he ultimately draws from the big picture, and the principles discovered from multiple cases by SWORD. It’s a big book - 64 chapters plus extras, ranging from AD66 to the present day: I historical origins; II liberal revolutionaries; III wars of empire; IV the first international terrorists (early 20th C); V sideshows to the world wars; VI wars of national liberation; VII leftist revolutionaries; and finally VIII the religiously motivated terrorists.  The database of insurgencies since 1775 includes 442 conflicts, but falls well short of his aspiration to be “more wide-ranging, more detailed, and more accurate than any previous compendium.” He hasn’t done his homework on the various databases available, from AKUNF, SIPRI, ICPSR, and the earlier mammoth datasets by Singer, Small, Rummell, etc.  So it’s a good secondary romp, but not an authoritative summary.  His 12 articles, or the lessons of 5000 years (only 2000 of which he has addressed, if one were to quibble) are about as useful as T.E. Lawrence’s 27 Articles, or Nagle’s or Kilcullen’s or Petraeus’ observations for that matter.  But for rigour and utility, I don’t think any of them stand up to Manwarring and Fishel, or the SWORD findings on principles for successful counter-insurgency.
(also posted on Amazon)
David Last, 17 Sep 2013

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