Mackinlay’s Insurgent Archipelago & Other Books
The Insurgent Archipelago by John Mackinlay
At the strong recommendation of Colonel Gian Gentile, I ordered The Insurgent Archipelago: From Mao to Bin Laden by Dr. John Mackinlay of King’s College, London and a hardcover copy just arrived this afternoon. Judging from the table of contents and the sources in Mackinlay’s endnotes, The Insurgent Archipelago will present a tightly written argument on the nature of COIN. For a well regarded and informative review, see David Betz of Kings of War blog, brief excerpt below:
Review: The Insurgent Archipelago
….The book is sweeping, as the subtitle ‘From Mao to Bin Laden’ suggests; yet it is also admirably succinct at 292 pages including notes and index. In design it is exceedingly clear, consisting of three parts-‘Maoism’, ‘Post-Maoism’, and ‘Responding to Post-Maoism’, which reflect the basic components of his argument. Insurgency’s classical form is the brainchild of the carnivorously ambitious strategic and political genius Mao Zedong who gave meaning to the now familiar bumper sticker that insurgency is ’80 per cent political and 20 per cent military’. Mao’s innovation was to figure out what to fill that 80 per cent with: industrial scale political subversion by which he was able to harness the latent power of an aggrieved population to the wagon of political change, to whit the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese Civil War which ended with the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949
….The problem is that what we now face in the form of ‘global insurgency’ is not Maoism but Post-Maoism-a form of insurgency which differs significantly from that which preceded it. We have, in essence, been searching for the right tool to defeat today’s most virulent insurgency in the wrong conceptual tool box. This is perhaps the most uncomfortable truth to be laid out in this book; another worrying one is that the security interests of Western Europe differ markedly from those of the United States-because the threat in the former emerges from their own undigested Muslim minorities which are alienated further by their involvement in expeditionary campaigns which, arguably at least, serve the needs of the latter well enough
Oddly, this will be the second book by a former British Gurkha officer that I’ve read in the last six months; the first being The Call of Nepal: My Life In the Himalayan Homeland of Britain’s Gurkha Soldiers by Colonel J.P. Cross, which I played a minor role in getting reissued here by Nimble Books, along with Lexington Green. After just thumbing through a few pages, Dr. Mackinlay already strikes me as a far less mystically inclined military author than does the esteemed but eccentric Colonel Cross.
I am way behind in my book reviews. Fortunately, Charles Cameron is stepping up with a new series of posts this week, which will give me some time to write reviews at least for Inside Cyber Warfare: Mapping the Cyber Underworld and Senator’s Son: An Iraq War Novel and then read Mackinlay. Ah, this designated guest blogger business is proving to be most convenient! 🙂
March 9th, 2010 at 5:43 pm
"…a far less mystically inclined military author…"
Col. Cross’s memoir is an old man’s book, in a good way.
His earlier work was very nuts and bolts, see his Jungle Warfare: Experiences and Encounters, http://tinyurl.com/ygb8vu2 or In Gurkha Company: The British Army Gurkhas, 1948 to the Present http://tinyurl.com/ykg53nv and his first book was the eminently practical English for Gurkhas Soldiers.
Still, the "mystical" element cannot be discounted too much. Why do soldiers fight? Why do they willingly face death? Frederick the Great, that great son of the Enlightenment, that cynical rationalist, said if his soldiers had any sense they’s all away. The "why" questions necessarily go beyond the bounds of routine means/ends rationality that dominate the "who, what, where, when and how" questions.
March 10th, 2010 at 3:52 am
Much thanks Lex.
"Still, the "mystical" element cannot be discounted too much. Why do soldiers fight? Why do they willingly face death? Frederick the Great, that great son of the Enlightenment, that cynical rationalist, said if his soldiers had any sense they’s all away"
This is why van Creveld has traction. There’s an undeniable cultural-psychological and probably sociobiological element to war and atavistic expressions of masculine violence that are not explained well by recourse to Clausewitzian "policy" – though Thucydides "fear, interest and honor" is a better fit.
March 10th, 2010 at 4:51 am
I doubt that bestows much traction on Van Creveld. In truth, his tread is rather worn. It is true that there is an "undeniable cultural-psychological and probably socialbiological element" to war. As a certain dead Prussian once observed:
"Clausewitzian policy", such as it is, is only one element of Clausewitzian war. "Atavistic expressions of masculine violence" are certainly part of "primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force". The use of "policy" in Clausewitzian terms may be a misnomer. Given the obscurities of the German word Politik, Clausewitz may have been saying politics as much as policy. Howard and Paret, great military historians as they are, may have been reflecting more the obsessions of their own era when selecting the word policy over the dirty word of politics than Clausewitz’s original intention. If Clausewitz is discussing politics, than we’re talking about a phenomenon that contains just as much human irrationality as you can shake a stick at.
Of course, Frederick also said that those same soldiers who’d be rational to run away should be more afraid of their officers than the enemy. Given the vicious discipline present in the Prussian army and a strategy carefully designed to keep soldiers from wandering off, they may not have had much room for sense. When the immortal phrase, "Dogs! Would you live forever?" is an inspirational mantra, a great deal of coercion is involved in soldier motivation.
March 10th, 2010 at 5:01 am
Hi Joseph Fouche
Yes but "Atavistic expressions of masculine violence" while being "primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force" were also regularly ritualized into non-blind social and religious customs as a form of regulation, if not actual control – otherwise they would have torn primitive societies apart long before they could have evolved into complex civilizations. Safety valves to occupy young, aggressive males and defuse interpersonal feuds. This societal response is not really politics, though it eventually and often became so with the passage of time and increasing social complexity
March 10th, 2010 at 5:25 am
Politics doesn’t require much social complexity. Any random pairing of toddlers produces politics. When one of my nieces starts playing with a toy and her sister decides just then that she wants to play with the same toy, politics is at hand. There will be fighting, crying, and screaming. Not quite war but the same trinity, especially the primordial emotions, are at play. Politics is a universal constant from nuclear families up through empires.
Humans are optimized for politics. Consider upright humans a sort of billboard advertising a wide variety of political signals, to which other humans are desperately sensitive. These messages very quickly sort both males and females into a hierarchy within a few minutes. As Warren Buffet observed, "If you’re playing poker and you can’t figure out who the patsy is after five minutes, you’re the patsy." The pecking order is a universal way of controlling men and women, often working through "non-blind social and religious customs". Such regulations, when "non-blind", are an example of the rational application of policy. It keeps young, aggressive males in their place, often sending them out in raids and other violent activities that 1) channel their aggression at others outside the social group 2) give them a way to show off their deadly mad skillz and rise in the pecking order and 3) thin the number of competitors in the pecking order. All inherently political activities.
March 10th, 2010 at 5:51 am
This dispute is over the breadth of what properly constitutes politics, or at least, "political behavior".
One can view politics as the root of all social behavior – a "universal constant" – as you put it, or we can take a narrower view that politics is politikos – "from the polis" and that it epitomizes something more specific and complicated than a toddler trying to exert their will on a sibling in order to get the last cookie.
Politics is more than an individual , zero-sum,will to power, it’s also a *constructive* effort at an ordering of a sustainable society as an end in itself. Reducing it to the level of reflexive gestures, biological competition and pecking orders is to simply equate politics with conflict, or perhaps, life.
March 10th, 2010 at 7:05 am
I’ve found three definitions of politics particularly useful:
Christopher Bassford, the Prime Clausewitzian:
James Burnham, a perrenial favorite of mine:
They obviously have a common theme.
March 10th, 2010 at 7:11 am
I wouldn’t see politics as the root of all social behavior, just a major root of social behavior. Since the basic necessities of life are largely governed by an individual’s power, namely how much access they have to sufficient food, drink, and reproductive partners, politics looms large over the primordial human landscape.
March 10th, 2010 at 2:14 pm
These are all valuable and informative quotes and the authors are all useful to great thinkers. Their implicit theme however is politics defined as a conflict over power. That is certainly one of the fundamental characteristics of politics because power is a means to acheiving ends but it is not the sum total of politics, which is also the definition and accomplishment of ends and not operating purely or primarily at the level of individual ego satisfaction. Which is why the separation of politics as a domain from other domains and impulses that function as drivers of behavior is desirable and analytically useful.:
March 10th, 2010 at 4:45 pm
Of course, the people who start and direct wars are usually not the people who die in them. The "war as a tool of policy" aspect applies mostly to the bosses in the offices. The "war as an atavistic, primal instinct of violence driving men to apparently counter-rational actions" applies mostly to the grunts on the ground (and is of course artificially nurtured and inflated by instructors and local command).
March 15th, 2010 at 2:49 am
I enjoyed Van Creveld’s Culture of War. It can profitably be read with Nicholas Wade’s new book "The Faith Instinct." Wade quotes William McNeill on the ability of drill to evoke just those atavisms.
March 16th, 2010 at 2:45 am
I read MvC’s Culture of War a while back. Much rich detail and useful information but but not well-directed against Clausewitzian theory as MvC had promised. He also goes overboard regarding women, sort of like an angry Harvey Mansfield