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148 of 155 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
Exceptionally well written book. If this reviewer understands the forward correctly, Maj Nagl (now LCOL) wrote this book as his PhD thesis at Oxford University. However, it reads like a popular and best-selling history and not with a dry stilted academic tone.

Likewise, this book is exceedingly well researched. Despite feeling fairly well-read on military history in general and Vietnam in particular, I must have jotted down 20 - 30 books for future reference and study. One can certainly see that LCOL Nagl earned his PhD at Oxford.

The best part of the book is that it is not really about fighting a counter-insurgency, but rather about how institutions learn (or fail to learn) when confronted with radical change. In this sense, the British come off much better in the Malay experience than America does in Vietnam.

However, the book has several weaknesses.

First, the book has several errors of fact in the examples of the Chinese Civil War. These are not glaring errors, but since LCOL Nagl uses the Chinese Civil War as a basis to begin his discussion of the Malay conflict, they are relevant. Strangely, the revolutionary doctrine that Mao exports more closely resembles what LCOL Nagl reports vice what actually happened so, perhaps, for the purpose of this book, this failing is an academic one.

Second, Nagl implies that only had we followed all the great ideas the British had, we could have easily won in Vietnam. This is not knowable and may ultimately be false. The conflict in Vietnam was far more violent than the one in Malaya. Likewise the Viet Minh and North Vietnamese Army had several advantages that the Chinese Terrorists (CTs) in Malaya did not. Just a short listing of those are: (1) an effective standing Army, (2) large and powerful allies who provided technical and logistic support, (3) political and geographical points of refuge beyond the reach of the United States, and (4) an enemy (the regime in South Vietnam) that were a religious minority (Catholic) attempting to rule over a majority (Buddhists). Indeed, in Malaya, the CT's were the ethnic minority.

Third, while the best part of the book is the assessment of how a large bureaucracy learns, these ideas are not spelled out to this reader's satisfaction. The question of how an agency learns is not answered adequately.

Overall, this book is an excellent read and raises many important questions. However, it falls a bit short in providing adequate answers to these questions.
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90 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
How does an army learn to fight an effective counterinsurgency? Sound relevant to today's headlines? John Nagl asked this question before it was "cool" - before the pundits of CNN or MSNBC knew how to spell "counterinsurgency". This book - Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife - is his answer. John is a scholar and a soldier who combines academic prowess and firsthand experience in counterinsurgency. LTC John Nagl is a West Point graduate (and in the interests of disclosure, a classmate of the reviewer), an armor officer, a Rhodes Scholar, a former instructor of International Affairs at West Point, and a veteran of the insurgency in Iraq.

The insurgency in Iraq had not begun when the hardcover edition of his book came out in 2002. Unfortunately, it's not at all certain that the people who opened the current war in Iraq read it. This 2nd edition includes a new author's preface discussing the relationship between his earlier scholarship and his recent combat experiences in Iraq. He candidly discusses what he now thinks of his own work based upon his first-hand experience with insurgency.

The depth of LTC Nagl's research is evident in every chapter and should satisfy the rigor of academia while, at the same time, his writing style is clear, concise, and leaves little doubt as to his reasoning. To be successful in an age of insurgencies, Nagl concludes that the Army "will have to make the ability to learn to deal with messy, uncomfortable situations an integral part" of its organizational culture. It must, per T.E. Lawrence, be comfortable eating soup with a knife. Victory in a fluid insurgency requires the ability to learn and to adapt and may even require differing victory conditions, organizations, and core competencies depending upon the context.

Nagl's own experiences have only hammered home the truth of this necessity. His unit was required to change its equipment, its organization, and develop new core competencies to transform from a tank battalion focused on a Soviet-style armored threat into a counterinsurgency (see "Professor Nagl's War" in the NY Times Sunday Magazine, Jan. 11, 2004). They integrated people and tools not normally found in a battalion task force in conventional battle (such as Civil Affairs and Counterintelligence teams - see "Soldier Uses Wits to Hunt Insurgents" by Greg Jaffe in the Wall Street Journal, Sep. 10, 2004). They hunted the enemy while at the same time acting as impromptu diplomats, aid workers, military and police trainers, and tribal mediators. This experience in Iraq was what Nagl describes as the most intense learning experience of his life.

This book was worth it - without the new information - as a hardcover at $89.95. At $17 in paperback, "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife" should be on the shelf of every American interested in the current situation in Iraq and in how the US can prevail.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
My own multiple interests in organizational redesign, learning and adaptation, and national security issues led me to read this book. MAJ Nagl is an armor officer, a Rhodes Scholar, and a former instructor of International Affairs at West Point. His book, Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaysia and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, discusses the way armies learn within the frameworks of the British experience with counterinsurgency in Malaya and the American experience in Vietnam. It is particularly timely as the army finds itself in a global war against shadowy networks more reminiscent of insurgencies than conventional armies. These networks have turned the "rules" upside down. Networks that can change direction at will or that can go in different directions simultaneously are not easily defeated by bureaucratic juggernauts that require fifteen years to field a new weapon system or that still apply failed tactics from thirty years ago. Victory in multiple, rapidly changing environments requires the ability to learn and to adapt and may even require differing victory conditions, organizations, and core competencies depending upon the context.

MAJ Nagl presents a twofold thesis. First, the British Army developed a successful counterinsurgency doctrine in Malaya due to its performance as a learning institution. Second, the American Army failed to do the same in Vietnam and in fact actively resisted the necessity of learning to fight a new sort of war. But what is organizational learning? Learning theorists tend to recognize the inherently iterative nature of the learning process whether they characterize it using a simple model such as Boyd's OODA loop or Ackoff's more complex organizational learning and adaptation model. To develop his thesis, the author first looks at Richard Downie's model of the learning cycle as applied to the development of doctrine [1]. This model is more complex than the OODA cycle and less complex than some other models. Overall, Downie's model provides a reasonable framework for this study. MAJ Nagl then evaluates each army's experience using a set of questions to measure the effectiveness of each as a learning institution.

To answer these questions, the author provides a summary history of insurgency itself, a description of the historical context in which each army's organizational culture developed, and the details of the respective British and American experiences in Vietnam. He finally sums up his conclusions in a "lessons learned" chapter that provides recommendations to foster learning within the army.

Largely due to its historical context, the British army developed an organizational culture characterized by a focus on limited war, diverse, global experience, a decentralized organization, and doctrinal flexibility. In contrast, American military history led to an organizational culture focused on absolute victory, large wars characterized by technology and overwhelming firepower, and political and cultural naivete.

After establishing the historical context for these very different organizational cultures, MAJ Nagl described in detail their specific experiences in Malaya and Vietnam. The British army in Malaya went through two distinct phases in evolution as a learning institution. During the first phase, the army was still focused on its most recent experience in conventional war in World War II and Korea despite the presence of a significant number of officers with experience in "small wars". This hindered effective learning in the face of the insurgency. During the second phase, the British army developed fully as a learning organization. The key difference between these two phases was the leadership imposed by General Miles Templer and his recognition that victory meant political victory as well as operational and tactical victory. He fostered a climate of innovation that ran the gamut from free primary schooling for children of all ethnicities (Malay, Indian, and Chinese) to extensive use of intelligence, clandestine operations, and psychological warfare to the steady development of a government capable of taking over after independence. The combination of these innovations enabled the forces fighting the insurgents to truly win the "hearts and minds" of the people of Malaya and to remove the fish (the insurgents) from the water (the people). Coupled with these innovations, and probably one of the keys to their effectiveness, was a limitation on the use of overwhelming firepower and the subordination of the military to the political.

In contrast, the author effectively makes the case that the US Army in Vietnam failed to develop as a learning organization and, in fact, actively resisted the adaptations necessary to develop an effective counterinsurgency doctrine. MAJ Nagl cites ample evidence that the military refused to listen to its own civilian leadership when it called for a more politically-sensitive approach to counterinsurgency, that it rejected internal studies pointing out its own flaws and refused to learn from them, and that it did not foster tactical and operational innovation but, instead, relied upon superior technology and overwhelming firepower even when these could prove counterproductive. The US approach largely lost the "hearts and minds" of the people and lost the war politically and, ultimately, militarily.

The depth of the author's research is evident in every chapter and should satisfy the rigor of academia while, at the same time, the writing style is clear, concise, and leaves little doubt as to the author's reasoning. Overall, MAJ Nagl has made an impressive contribution to the study of organizational learning that will prove valuable to anyone interested in these concepts as well as those for whom there is no substitute for victory. This study is especially relevant today. One must wonder, for example, if the Army, 10 years after Mogadishu, has developed effective doctrine for fighting on urban terrain in the developing world or has merely chosen to avoid that fight and to remain unprepared for an enemy who wisely uses terrain to avoid superior technology and firepower. To be successful in an age of "small" wars, Nagl concludes that the Army "will have to make the ability to learn to deal with messy, uncomfortable situations an integral part" of its organizational culture. It must, per T.E. Lawrence, be comfortable eating soup with a knife.
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
While I enjoyed the erudite writing and the definite research in this book, I was disappointed because the case study was weak in finding similarities between Vietnam and Malaya, the outcome seemed predestined, and, more importantly, ignored the geopolitical and strategic outcomes of Malaya and Vietnam.

While as with all insurgencies, there are similarities between Vietnam and Malaya, the differences seperate these two historical conflicts.

1) The British in Malaya never faced the form of cohesive, coherent and constant conventional threat that the RVN, the US and their allies faced in Vietnam. Vietnam was a rather unique combination of conventional war, between the RVN, US and their allies and DRV and the VC Main Force, and guerilla war, within South Vietnam, between the RVN and the VC. If, following COL Nagl's examples, we had initiated a purely counter-insurgent strategy and operational plan, the war would have ended in 1968 with the highly successful NVA/VC offensive during Tet demolishing the last of the dispersed RVN and US forces. From 1963 to 1972, the NVA and VC were able, when they were willing to sustain the massive casualties, to concentrate conventional forces against isolated RVN, US and allied posts and detachments. Has we adopted the preferred anti-insurgency strategy of the "ink spot", we would have dispersed our forces and have been defeated in detail by the NVA and VC conventional forces. The facts are that in order to address the insurgency, the conventional war had to be won. We had to neutralize the NVA and VC Main Force units, such that we could then disperse into the country side and began constricting the VC and securing the villages.

2) The British never faced a situation where the insurgents enjoyed "sanctuaries" in which to recover and gather their strength and sally forth. The Malayan Communists were pinned into a constrained geographic area which became untenable when the British were able to commit sufficient forces. The NVA and VC operating in South Vietnam, however, could withdraw into Cambodia or Laos and reconstitute and regenerate their forces despite intensive bombing.

3) The Communist insurgency in Malaya never enjoyed the level of logistical support afforded the NVA and VC forces in South Vietnam. While early in the conflict, the VC were living off French and Japanese leftovers, the USSR and PRC stepped in and began supplying sufficnet quantities of arms and supplies through a distribution system that was never completely interdicted. The result was that in 1964-65, ARVN forces armed with M1 Garands and M1 carbines found themselves facing NVA, and even VC Main Force, troops armed with AK-47s. The Malayan insurgency was supplied from Indonesia and never reached the level of support the NVA and VC received, even before 1968. Their lines of communication were easily interdicted by the RN and very little came over the borders of neighboring Thailand and Burma, both antipathic to the Communist insurgency.

4) The centers of gravity for Malaya, the Malayan people, the British government and people and the insurgent leadership were within reach and control of the British. As the insurgents were isolated from the people, their leadership was neutralized. In Vietnam, the centers of gravity were the RVN and the people of South Vietnam, the government and people of the US and the leadership and people of North Vietnam. While the RVN, the US and their allies could control or effectively impact the first two, the third center of gravity was beyond their control. The North Vietnamese leadership was committed to unitying Vietnam under a Communist regime. They had the full free or coerced support of their people. Every move away from this overarching objective was a temporary tactic, paving the way towards victory. The RVN, US and their allies could gain and maintain the support of their people and governments, willingly or otherwise, but real victory, establishment of a peaceful coexistence of South and North Vietnam was impossible without the complete removal of the North Vietnamese leadership and the society that fostered it.

The British did succeeded in Malaya and the US did not in Vietnam but not because the British learned faster. The British learned anything in Malaya they didn't already know from 100 years of "policing" an Empire. Not only was there a "corporate" knowledge of counter-insurgency warfare, there was a personal and institutional knowledge going back a generation. The older officers and NCOs would have had direct experience in such warfare based on service in Palestine, Iraq, the Sudan, Somalia, Oman, the North-West Frontier, India, Burma, Cyprus and Greece from the mid'30s and on. The British merely required the application of this knowledge to the particular situation that faced them in Malaya. The US, especially the Army, had not faced a full blown insurgency since the Philippine Insurrection, 1898-1907. While some officers were exposed to insurgency warfare in Greece in 1946-48 and Korea in 1950-53 or as advisors in SEA, there was no 'corporate" or institutional body of knowledge to fall back on. The US Army had to learn on the job, while also conducting conventional warfare against the NVA and VC Main Force. It is neither elucidating nor fair to draw conclusions from a comparison of the two situations.

Finally, there is the geopolitical and strategic aspects. As Clausewitz (and Summers) has pointed out "War is the continuation of policy by other means". In other words a means to an end. Success on this level is judged by how well the tactical and operational outcome supports the strategic. And what was the strategic result of Malaya? The British fought in Malaya to protect and maintain British civil control through the system of Empire. Within a generation of their tactical and operational victory, they pulled their troops out of Malaya and granted independence, in other words the negative outcome they fought to avoid. The costs of victory had become to much to sustain. Malaya became another step, like Palestine, India and Burma before, and Kenya, Cyprus and Yemen after, in the long, painful withdrawal from the dream of Empire. For the US, tactical and operational success on the level of what the British achieved in Malaya would not have brought strategic victory. The North Vietnamese leadership would retain the ability to continue the fight sometime in the future and success in Vietnam would not have ensured success in Laos and Cambodia. The costs of strategic failure were bad enough, the costs of the means to achieve strategic success, ie. the complete neutralization of North Vietnam and a status quo in SEA, might have been even greater and led to the American people and government rejecting such commitments in the future.

As far as Iraq, the model of Malaya may have application, but we have already fallen behind. The four simple, if generalized, steps to success in counter-insurgency warfare are 1) isolate the insurgents from external support, 2) isolate the insurgents from internal support, 3) immobilize and seperate them from the populace and 4) neutralize their leadership. Thanks to our lack of resources at the end of the initial conventional campaign that achieved regime change, we haven't even completed step 1.
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49 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
Since at least the early 1960s people have been misunderstanding and misinterpreting what the British did in Malaya and how what they did can be applied to other conflicts. The old example used to be Vietnam. Now its Iraq and Afghanistan.

The "emergency" in Malaya was as much a political fight between Chinese and Malays as it was anything to do about communism. The fighting in Malaya unlike Vietnam and unlike Iraq involved an insurgency that was salted through the country. It did not have sympathic uniform regions where almost the entire population were on the side of the insurgents. In particular the removal of population from unsecure villages worked because invariably the targets were chinese.

The other thing that is missed is that military victory in Malaya was as much or more due to skillful political manuvering than it was to helicopters and village relocations. The British undercut the movement by promising to leave Malaya and grant it independence.

The analysis of the British experience with counterinsurgency last century could at best be said to be willfully ignorant. Malaya was not by any means the only british counsterinsurgency operation. There is the disaster of Ireland after World War I. There was Palestine. There was Burma in the 1930s. There was Cyprus, Kenya, Aden and IRAQ(!). In every case, the insurgency that the british faced was eventually dealt with by political concessions (usually independence or more self-government) rather than by force. The British colonial model is not one to emulate because it failed far more often than it was successful in fighting insurgency.

The sad truth is that the record of countries battling an insurgency which has broad local support and friendly bordering states does not suggest any easy strategy for victory. The Malaya strategy would only work in Iraq if the Sunni population were evenly distributed as a minority across the whole country. But it isn't. It has an entire geographic section of Iraq as a base and because of that, the lessons of Malaya just don't apply.

Equally, Vietnam doesn't apply either. Vietnam was a civil war between political groups who were culturally the same. Unlike Malaya, there were no identifiable Chinese villages among Malay villages that could be uprooted as a pacification technique.

In addition, the colonial experience was of less use to the British in the Malaya Empergency than a large base of officers created by the second world war (Force 136 among others) who understood insurgency from the inside out and further had been at times the patrons of the rebel movements when they fought against the Japanese.

As far as Vietnam, I'm at a loss to understand what the author is even thinking. Vietnam in the first couple years was kind of a counterinsurgency war but by 1968, it was a war primarly against a conventional army that crossed the South Vietnamese borders at will. Counterinsurgency in Vietnam could only work (and would have worked) had it been possible to secure the borders of the country. Vietnam was in reality a big army kind of war fought with an army too small for the task. We couldn't even close the relatively short northern border of vietnam.

If the author wanted to learn lessons useful about fighting in Iraq from the British, he would have done better to examine the long counterinsurgency war of the British in Iraq during the 1920s and 1930s. But nobody wants to do that because the lessons of that war directly contradict the entire broad strategy of what the US has been trying to do in Iraq.

And if in future anyone in the US military wants to suggest reorganizations of the forces to meet future war threats, the conflict to analyze is not Iraq. Its the conflict last year in Lebannon between Hezbelloah and Israel. The question is not how the US is going to beat an insurgency in Iraq with second-rate equipment, its how a US army would fight the next insurgency equipped with large quantities of modern anti-tank and shoulder-fired anti-air weapons.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Lt. Col. Nagl, a West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar, provides a comparison of counterinsurgency experiences in Malaya (Britain) and Vietnam (U.S.). Gen. William Westmoreland, U.S. commander in Vietnam, when asked his solution to the Vietcong, replied with one word: ''firepower.'' As an example of more accurate thinking Nagl also quotes Marine Gen. Victor Krulak: ''You cannot win militarily. You have to win totally, or you are not winning at all.'' Conversely, the British in Malaya worked to limit damage to the populace's hearts and minds.

Nagl's first conclusion is that creating widespread collateral damage while killing insurgents is not going to succeed - you have to select the right amount of power for the situation. It might take longer, but a positive outcome is more likely. Thus, the ideal killing weapon is a knife, the worst is an airplane, and the next worst is artillery.

Nagl's second major conclusion is that organizational culture determines whether it succeeds - the British Army better was able to learn and change than the Americans in Vietnam.

The book's title comes from Lawrence of Arabia (T.E. Lawrence) - the British officer who successfully united crudely-armed Arabs on camels to oppose the Turks - long before Vietnam, Malaya, or Iraq. "War upon rebellion is messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife," he wrote in his "Seven Pillars of Wisdom."

I never saw the sense in burning villages in Vietnam, nor angering Iraqi's with midnight searches and unexplained arrests. Now, after reading Nagl's book, I realize there never was any.

The "good news" is that Nagl's book is now receiving wide-spread readership among Army leaders - a copy was even recently given to Secretary Rumsfeld. Hopefully the Americans will learn better this time than in Vietnam.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2012
Format: Paperback
As a counterpoint to this book, those who believe that the British Army was a learning organization ought to carefully read "Ministry of Defeat: The British in Iraq 2003-2009" by Richard North. The British Army's structure based on the territorial regimental system was divisive and outmoded 70 years ago. Many of their own officers said as much back then. Whatever success they might have accomplished in 1950s colonial warfare was in spite of the regimental system, not because of it.

In his book "The Two Vietnams", the late Bernard Fall warned that any comparisons between British victories in Malaya and the situation in Vietnam in 1960's was nothing but a dangerous self-delusion, or worse, an oversimplification of the whole problem. Mr. Nagl should have followed that advice before he wrote this book.

These conflicts did not share much in common beyond the jungle setting and political ideology. The author's first error was not underscoring the fact that the British-led security forces did use overwhelming force to neutralize the insurgency in Malaya. By the mid-1950s the communist guerrillas were impossibly outnumbered (by more than 50 to 1) and they had no external support from foreign countries. Food control was easy for the British because Malaya imported 2/3 of its rice, and geography isolated the guerrillas from potential suppliers needed to maintain and expand the insurgency.

The most important dissimilarity is that the British did not have to fight a huge conventional field army like the PAVN, which ultimately numbered in millions of troops and thanks to China and Russia, it was armed with modern infantry weapons, tanks, heavy artillery, jet aircraft, SAMs, and radar controlled air defense. The last time the British fought pitched battles against conventional forces in Malaya, they were crushed by the Japanese Army in 1942.

The communist insurgency in Malaya amounted to little more than a few thousand guerrillas equipped with no sophisticated weapons. The small arms they did have were generally in poor condition, and ironically supplied to them by the British SOE during World War II. It was the British who raised and equipped these guerrillas to confront the Japanese occupation forces.

Geography also spared British Malaya from other communist threats. South Vietnam was bordered by three countries that were either communist or in various stages of revolt. Compared to Vietcong guerrillas and the North Vietnamese Army, the Pathet Lao and Khmer Rouge were not much of a threat to U.S troops, but they did receive foreign military aid, and they were far more dangerous than the guerrillas in Malaya.

Unlike the Vietcong, the communist guerrillas in Malaya had no protected supply bases outside the borders. The Vietnamese insurgents were natives, but in Malaya about 90% of the guerrillas were foreign immigrants (Chinese). The massive British resettlement program of Chinese squatters was an idea that did not work with Vietnamese families who did not wish to be moved from their long-established homesteads.

A self-promoter like Sir Robert Thompson would not admit it, but the political realities of Asian self-determination may have played a bigger role in the outcome than the British armed forces. Prompted by bitter memories from the Fall of Singapore and reminded by the Fall of Dienbienphu, British officials knew that the days of white colonialism were numbered. That is why they agreed, in the middle of their Emergency, to let go of their rule and leave Malaya in exchange for the cooperation and support of the people. This was a significant concession made by the British and it cannot be stressed enough.

Finally, it would have been nice if the British Army offered more than lip service because they helped trigger the Vietnam war in September 1945. Major General Douglas Gracey was ordered to accept the surrender of Japanese troops, and he disobeyed instructions when he chose to restore French rule. The day before Gracey arrived in Saigon, French agents armed the Legionnaires who were released from captivity. They stormed government buildings and looted private homes. They attacked the Vietminh and other activists competing for power, as well as innocent bystanders. French and Vietnamese civilians seized on the opportunity to settle old scores. British troops sided with the French and General Gracey asked the Japanese prisoners to help because his own Gurkha troops were unable to contain the riots and open warfare. He wrongly believed that this series of actions had no serious political implications, which caused great embarrassment for Lord Mountbatten. The Japanese troops were rearmed and told to disarm all the Vietnamese militants, and remove the provisional Vietnamese Executive Committee at the Governor General's palace. Public utilities were disabled by the fighting and Martial Law was declared, sparking the conflagration that lasted 30 years.

The British armed forces were not successful at countering insurgencies in Java, Palestine, Cyprus and Aden so their collective experience is not a good model for addressing current troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
An outstanding treatise. A little heavy on the academic structure and references for a grunt, making it more accessible for the academics than the on-the-ground warriors, but still a fascinating read and an outstanding volume.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The next war and how to fight it are primary concerns today as the Army finds itself engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan while in the midst of its transformation to a more mobile force. Of utmost concern is how to combat the guerrilla forces in Iraq, well resourced insurgents that strike and then disappear into the population.
Major John Nagl addresses the problems of fighting a guerrilla force with a conventional army in his book "Counterinsurgency Lessons From Malaya and Vietnam." In this study, Major Nagl looks at the British Army's experience in Malaya in the 1950's and the American experience in Vietnam. In both of these conflicts, Major Nagl provides an in-depth analysis of the military institutions and how they adapted to combat an unconventional enemy.
The British Army of the 1950's was a conventional force fresh from the battlefields of World War II. In the early days of the conflict it was a force unsuited for the task of trying to subdue the Communist guerrillas of Malaya, wasting manpower in huge battalion sweeps of the jungle. Yet its organizational culture allowed it to evolve over time. A history of colonial policing and small unit actions along with a receptive command climate permitted the British Army to adapt to its environment and over time destroy the communist insurgents.
The author contrasts this counterinsurgency success with the performance of the American Army in Vietnam. Solely concerned with the next big conventional war and misusing lessons from Korea, the Americans failed to adapt to their environment, preferring to use indiscriminate firepower as the solution and viewing the eventual North Vietnamese invasion rather than the Viet Cong forces within South Vietnam as the enemy. Refusing to learn from the lessons of the British and their own junior leaders in the field, the US Army failed to learn as an organization and eventually lost the conflict.
Impeccably researched and well written, Major Nagl has chosen a subject critical to today's Army, namely how to defeat an insurgent enemy. He contends that in order to succeed in the future "savage wars of peace," the Army must be able to adapt as an organization and step away from the preoccupation with solely waging conventional warfare against other nation-states. Overall a great book and a must read.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
"Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife" is an essential read for anyone hoping to make sense out of America's current situation in Iraq. Extremely well-researched and accessible, LTC Nagl provides his readers with an accurate examination of America's historical weaknesses in fighting counterinsurgency warfare and lays out lessons for us to take to Iraq and beyond.
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