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Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War Paperback – July 11, 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 445 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (July 11, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107699843
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107699847
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #230,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"In this brilliant volume master historian Douglas Porch shatters the myth of contemporary counterinsurgency by exposing its raw historical roots. American counterinsurgents often preach moralistic sounding bromides like 'protect and serve the local populations'. Porch deconstructs the mythical universe of counterinsurgency and lays bare the historical truth that they are ultimately wars of death, destruction, and often brute conquest."
Colonel Gian Gentile, United States Military Academy, West Point

"Douglas Porch has written one of the single most outstanding reviews and critiques of the modern theory of counter-insurgency. It fully exposes the myths and legends behind a fundamentally flawed and pernicious approach to conceptualising human conflict. This book should be essential reading for military students, scholars and laymen alike."
Alex Marshall, The Scottish Centre for War Studies, University of Glasgow

"... [an] illuminating and feisty book."
The Chronicle Review

"This is a rich, well supported study of a tendentious topic ... it pulls together material on a remarkable variety of cases to make a powerful point that is valuable in the undergraduate and graduate classroom as well as for broader practitioner and public audiences."
Jacqueline L. Hazelton, H-Diplo

Book Description

Douglas Porch's sweeping history of counterinsurgency campaigns, ranging from nineteenth-century colonial conquests to General Petraeus' 'Surge' in Iraq, challenges the contemporary mythologising of counterinsurgency as a humane way of war. The reality, he reveals, is that 'hearts and minds' has never been a recipe for lasting stability.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By The F7 Pawn on January 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book could be more accurately described as a thinly-veiled condemnation of imperialism and the related COIN tactics that accompany it rather than an attack on COIN per se. It's a pity, too, because Mr. Porch spoils some fine historical and strategic analysis with some unnecessary and regrettable exaggerations of COIN tactics and condescension toward those with whom he would disagree. Describing the Vietnam-era Phoenix program in multiple places as an "assassination" regime (it was much more than that) or decrying US "scorched earth tactics" (page 321, laughable to anyone who has spent even a day there) in Afghanistan undermines his case and calls into question some of the conclusions he draws regarding his subject. Similarly, Mr. Porch engages in childish name calling of "SOF cowboys" based on little more than Rolling Stone author Michael Hastings' less-than-scholarly treatment of General Stanley McChrystal and his teammates. He also warns, unconvincingly, that COIN fetishes have led to the diminution of civil liberties at home but ignores that conventional wars have produced the same baleful effects.

Stylistically, the book is somewhat awkward. There are minor spelling inconsistencies (General Shinseki's name, for example, is misspelled) and Mr. Porch's academic writing style gives us prose with a tendency to meander.

Having said that, the book's strength lies in its focus on the strategic context on each of the insurgencies under Mr. Porch's analytic gaze. He puts the importance of this strategic context into its proper place of supremacy over COIN tactics. Similarly, Mr. Porch is at his best in throwing cold water on British and French claims to superiority in small wars and he effectively demolishes the Nagl myth of the US Army as a non-learning institution.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Walter E. Kurtz on March 31, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book covers the development of counterinsurgency doctrine in theory, and how it was applied in practice. It starts with the Vendée war during the French Revolution. For those who don’t know, Vendée was a region of France that was staunchly royalist. When the French monarchy was overthrown by revolutionaries and king Louis XVIII was executed, Vendée rose up in rebellion.
What followed was a counterinsurgency war renowned for its savagery.

Why does the author start with this particular conflict? After all, this was hardly the first insurgency in the history of the world. What had changed was the nature of the French political thought. The revolutionaries back in Paris painted themselves as enlightened, liberal thinkers who were going to start a new golden age. Up until that moment insurgencies were normally put down with violence and terror, but such methods were no longer compatible with the image that the new French government was projecting.

So, the war in the Vendée was supposed to be fought accordingly to new humane rules. Except that it wasn’t. The government troops waged a war against the insurgents that was in no way different from the old wars. They fell back on mass violence, mass terror, mass destruction, mass plunder and collective punishments to crush the insurgency.

This became a common recurring theme in all future counterinsurgencies. The author goes over such wars as the Spanish insurrection against Napoleon, conquest of Algeria, colonial wars in Africa and Asia, American invasion of Cuba and Philippines, the Boer war, all the way to current war in Iraq. He focuses on the experiences of the French, British and Americans.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Art M. Loureiro on October 16, 2013
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Dr. Doug Porch has provided us with a compelling argument that "war is war" irrespective of the label we put on it. Having served multiple combat tours and watched the evolution of the COINdinistas argument in handling these types of conflicts, I can attest that the points made by Dr. Porch are valid. Highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest on the application of force to achieve political objectives. Clausewitz is not dead as some would wish...
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