Military historian Arnold (Crisis in the Snows: Russia Confronts Napoleon: The Eylau Campaign 1806-1807, 2007, etc.) studies past insurgency responses to help clarify the U.S. efforts in Iraq.
The author investigates four counterinsurgencies that either proved successful in putting down rebellion—the United States in the Philippines following war with Spain in 1898; the British response to the Malayan Emergency in 1948—or disastrous—the French invasion of Algeria in 1830; the U.S. quagmire in Vietnam—and offers lessons to be drawn from them. For each case, Arnold sketches a brief history of the country and how its nationalist sentiments played out against the wishes of the colonial occupiers. Gaining the support of the civilian population became a basic thrust of counterinsurgency, which Sir Gerald Templer handily phrased during the crisis in Malaya as “winning hearts and minds.” Indeed, the model set by the British response in Malaya, which included the implementation of schools and elections, proved winning in “hitching the forces of nationalism to an emerging democratic Malay state.” Moreover, the British quelled the rebellion within the rules of law rather than by the use of brutality and acts of terror, which would factor heavily in the French loss of Algeria. Gaining public support at home was also crucial, as America shakily learned during the insurrection in the Philippines, and abdicated completely during the Vietnam War. The mastery of intelligence, understanding the native culture and language and being committed to a long, bloody stay would become important counterinsurgency standards as well. In his valuable conclusion, “Reflections on a War Without End,” Arnold quotes Roman statesman Cicero, who in 44 BCE said, “an army abroad is of little use unless there is wise counsel at home.”
A reasonably argued work that delivers needed insight and historical precedent to the current war debate.