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A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq (Yale Library of Military History) Paperback – October 26, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"It is rare to read a book which combines academic excellence with such timely advice on a question of national importance.... [Moyar's] perceptive analysis will have enduring value on both sides of the Atlantic for military commanders, policy-makers and historians alike." - General Sir David Richards, RUSI Journal

"Moyar's study of Vietnam -- Triumph Forsaken -- is becoming a classic in counterinsurgency circles. His new case studies -- A Question of Command -- are making it to the desks of top military decision makers." - George Stephanopoulos, ABC News


"By distancing himself from self-professed experts capable only of regurgitating thoughts and assertions made earlier and better... Moyar has done the impossible and provided a third course of action to all counterinsurgency professionals and practitioners." - Adam Strickland, Small Wars Journal

"has attracted considerable attention in counterinsurgent circles.... now part of the curriculum in courses in Kabul." - C. J. Chivers, New York Times


"In this important, well-written, and solidly researched work, respected historian Moyar adds to his impressive record of publication a thoughtful contribution to the counterinsurgency debate.... There is so much that scholars, military personnel, and policy makers can learn from this study." - J. B. Cook, Choice

"'Moyar provides a useful illustration of the challenges of leadership and of developing leaders for counterinsurgency.' David Ucko, The Journal of Military History"

About the Author

Mark Moyar is director of research at Orbis Operations and the author of Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965 and Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism in Vietnam.
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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Library of Military History
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300168071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300168075
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,482,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By John Marke on October 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"A Question of Command" is head and shoulders above its contemporaries when it comes to objectively distilling counterinsurgency theory. The first thing you will notice is that Moyar's treatment of competing theories is comprehensive and the book is extremely well documented and footnoted. Very professional.

The central theme of Moyar's work is the theory that counterinsurgency is "leader-centric" warfare, a contest between elites in which the elites with the superior leadership attributes usually win.

I was pre-disposed to discard this theory, but thought, "it may be an interesting book anyway." Well you can teach an old dog new tricks. His articulate and well documented arguments caused me to reconsider my biases and pre-conceived notions about the role of leadership in counter-insurgency warfare. You see, anybody can say "leadership is the key." But not everybody can get down in the weeds and spell out the specifics where both good and bad leadership made a substantive difference. This man does excellent, in-depth research is a good writer too.

Mr. Moyar's uses case studies, some of which are a bit remote from mainstream counterinsurgency literature, e.g. the Civil War, Reconstruction in the South (a major eye-opener for me), The Philippine Insurrection, The Huk Rebellion, Malaya, Vietnam, the Salvadoran Insurgency, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Vietnam was especially interesting. There is a prevailing logic as to how and why we "lost in Vietnam." I am not going to be a spoiler. I am a Vietnam "Era" Vet, and I encourage other Vets to read the book, especially this Chapter. I think it sets the record straight about a lot of half-truths and politically correct journalist accounts that were flat incorrect.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By T. Graczewski VINE VOICE on January 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mark Moyar has a reputation for going against the academic grain. One of his previous books, "Triumph Forsaken," is a full-throated, unapologetic defense of assassinated South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem and US involvement in Vietnam in general. His inability to land a tenure track position at any American university despite his glittering resume (summa cum laude from Harvard, D.Phil from Cambridge), presumably because of his conservative viewpoints, has been the subject of debate in the academy - and a civil lawsuit.

In this, his most recent piece, on the hot topic of counterinsurgency, Moyar takes aim, indirectly, at the celebrated US Army / Marine Corps COIN Manual published in 2006, which focuses on population centric doctrine as the touchstone for a successful COIN campaign. The author's main thesis is that good leadership - defined as a combination of charisma, creativity, sociability, flexibility, empathy and morality - is just about the only thing that really matters. To paraphrase Lance Armstrong, "It's not about the book" -- it's about the man. Moyar uses nine case studies, all of which but one (Malay Emergency) were US experiences, to demonstrate his point, both in the positive, examples where good leaders made all the difference, and the negative, where the lack of such leadership led to failure, often despite the use of population centric COIN best practices.

Moyar has dug up some great quotes from legends to support his case. One of my favorites comes from Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who was asked by Winston Churchill to opine on the situation in Malaya at a time when things were particularly bleak for the British cause.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By T. Berner on January 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is much to praise about Moyar's work here. He presents nine excellent case studies of counterinsurgencies, some of which succeeded and some of which failed. If the early cases - the Civil War and Reconstruction - leave you thirsting for more, that is because few writers have looked at these as "insurgencies" and Moyar's cases lay the groundwork for more detailed study.

Also, his chapter on Vietnam is spectacular. For those of us who have drunk the Kool-Aid of popular histories, his appreciation of Ngo Dinh Diem is an eye-opener. I would have liked more references to the source material in his footnotes, instead of his own book, but that well-regarded work is fully footnoted, so I will just have to go to it. Also, although I was somewhat skeptical of his theme of the centrality of leadership when I began the book, he soon convinced me of the correctness of this view.

However, I am not so keen on the only case study of which I have personal knowledge - the current Afghan conflict. Although his general analysis is solid, there are details and analyses which are unsatisfactory. First, and I may be reading too much into his text here, he seems to share the sentiment of Peter Galbraith and the Obama Administration that you can topple the local government with impunity. This is surprising for a writer so clear headed about the results of the US-promoted Diem coup. You either dance with the one that brung ya or you leave. You don't try to rearrange the government to suit the foreigners' needs. The successor will never get the street cred that he needs.

Second, like almost every Westerner I've read on the subject, he fails to realize the attraction of corruption in a country like Afghanistan. Corruption is a combination welfare system and intelligence network.
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