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Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency Hardcover – July 30, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The (July 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595588744
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595588746
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Here in this timely, incisive, and unflinchingly honest volume, the essential task of dismantling the myths already enshrouding America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan begins. . . . An important book that will give Washington’s war-mongers and militarists fits."
—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country

"Colonel Gentile asks us to confront some blisteringly urgent questions. Have COIN tactics ever worked the military magic their proponents claim? Or have they merely provided cover for beating exits from wars that never should have been fought in the first place? . . . Wrong Turn deserves a wide readership by all who must make these supremely important strategy decisions—as well as those who will live with the consequences."
—David M. Kennedy, professor of history, Stanford University, and editor of The Modern American Military

"Counterinsurgency rises over and over again from the ashes of defeat. It is Gian Gentile’s ambition to 'drive a stake through its heart,' and in Wrong Turn he has succeeded—brilliantly."
—Marilyn Young, professor of history, New York University

"A brilliant and persuasive book . . . offers by far the most convincing explanation extant of why America has not succeeded recently with COIN.”
—Sir Colin Gray, professor of international relations and strategic studies at the University of Reading

"A lively, provocative and readable book . . . never misses its mark."
—Hew Strachan

"Based on his personal experience in Baghdad as well as some fine historical scholarship, Colonel Gentile takes aim at America’s current COIN doctrines and shows how ineffective they really are. An exceptionally courageous book, clearly and forcibly written."
—Martin van Creveld, author of The Transformation of War

"Gentile finds the common flaw in our failed strategy as evidenced in our last three military misadventures. . . . We did not lose the Vietnam War—it was never ours to win. Is Afghanistan becoming a repeat performance?"
—Volney Warner, General (Ret), U.S. Army

"How I wish we’d had this telling critique of counterinsurgency warfare before Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It would have been far harder to make those tragic mistakes. A must-read for our national security experts, and U.S. citizens."
—Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and former columnist for the New York Times

About the Author

Colonel Gian Gentile is an army colonel, a former Iraq War commander, and a professor of history at West Point; he was also a 2010 Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Gentile is a contributor to the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Small Wars Journal, and the World Politics Review. He lives in West Point, New York.

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Customer Reviews

On the other hand, at times he is quick to say his unit and his commanders in 2006 were doing it anyway.
A reader
He builds and presents his case impeccably, fully explaining his reasoning and its supporting historical context, and is very logical and persuasive.
Brian Baker
Dr. Gian Gentile (COL US Army) is a leader and an academic, whose story of COIN is true and must be read by all military professionals.
Donald E. Vandergriff

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 45 people found the following review helpful By F. J. West on July 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Within the ranks of the US Army, many myths about the efficacy of liberal counterinsurgency - building nations rather than destroying the insurgencies - have grown into conventional wisdom. Colonel Gentile, US Army, has been at the forefront of clear-eyed historians challenging the belief that the US military should be the lead agency in nation-building without any control over the military and political leaders of the host nations. To its credit, West Point has encouraged the analysis of different points of view, such as Gentile's.

(Full disclosure: I know Col. Gentile, have observed him as a commander in battle and believe his critique of nation-building as a core mission and competency of the Army and Marines is correct.0

Gentile writes in a refreshing, candid, no-sugar-added style. He tends toward the outrageous, (compared to the standard anodyne doctrinal texts) His basic thesis is that counterinsurgency is a bottom-up process that begins with explaining to a squad leader what his task is. Instead, Gentile points out that generals concocted liberal but cock-eyed theories, like "you can't win a war by killing people" and "dollars are bullets."
Gentile systematically critiques one high-level bromide after another, leaving the reader to ask: how did we ever convince ourselves for a decade that nation-building by corporals would work under host nation leadership whose behavior abetted the insurgents?

A fast, intellectually-challenging read that pulls no punches. Gentile and West Point have demonstrated moral courage in challenging conventional wisdom.
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35 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Writing Historian on July 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As I read this book, I wondered about COL Gentile's motives for writing it. Whether I am right or wrong, it seemed to me that as a professional historian and professional soldier he distinctly does not like cookie-cutter explanations of why events turned out the way they did in Iraq and why they have turned out the way they did in past counter-insurgencies (which some analysts point to as the reason why COIN "worked" in Iraq). The twisting of the truth about past events, which is designed to "sell" counterinsurgency as the wonder recipe for success in past conflicts is clearly repugnant to the author. I also do not think that he cares to be lumped into the "pre-Petraeus" U.S. military in Iraq which, according to some, obviously did not do things in an "enlightened manner." I guess soldiers who fought in North Africa wouldn't like being lumped into the "they were inexperienced and got their butts kicked by the Germans" category either, though I make that comparison only in an illustrative sense.

This slim volume is organized with a preface entitled "A Personal Note - the Hell of Baghdad," an introduction entitled "The Conceit of American Counterinsurgency," five chapters (each about 25 - 30 pages) respectively - 1.) The Construction of the Counterinsurgency Narrative, 2.) Malaya: The Foundation of the Counterinsurgency Narrative, 3.) Vietnam: The First Better War That Wasn't, 4.) Iraq: A Better War, Version 2, 5.) Afghanistan: Another Better War That Wasn't and an afterword entitled "Truth is the Casualty of COIN." Notes on sources begin on page 142, with "Notes" on p. 145 and the index starting on page 181.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Brian Baker VINE VOICE on August 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Frankly, I'm amazed that a book so analytically critical of current military strategic doctrine was published by a career Army officer still serving on active duty. Colonel Gentile is a courageous man for doing so, and knowing the Army as I do - I was raised as a military brat and spent three years on active duty myself - I'd guess that his chances of further promotion are probably pretty much nil.

I salute him for doing so.

Further, I think his book is completely correct in its historical foundation, analysis, and conclusions.

Gentile assesses the evolution of our current doctrine of "nation-building" from its roots in the Vietnam War to our present Middle East policies. Essentially, according to Gentile, it's a transition from the pre-Vietnam idea of war as an all-out effort to secure decisive victory-at-arms to one of contained and limited application of military force in order to promote and secure a political victory. This new strategy is rooted in the idea that an indigenous population that isn't directly threatened by the enemy's military forces will naturally coalesce around our own military, and the host nation we're supporting, due to some inherent human quality that naturally yearns for freedom and democracy. In essence, we're now fighting defensive wars.

Gentile is correct, in my opinion, in his assessment that this idea is fundamentally and fatally flawed; that there is no such inherent human quality; that history, in fact, clearly illustrates the very opposite; that we as a country are refusing to learn those lessons of history; and that because of those issues our current strategy of "nation-building" is doomed to failure.
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