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Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife Hardcover – October 30, 2002
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"If you're interested in the intellectual arguments that are shaping the surge and changes in military doctrine brought on by the failures so far in Iraq, this is a great place to start." - Christian Science Monitor
"[B]rutal in its criticism of the Vietnam-era Army as an organization that failed to learn from its mistakes and tried vainly to fight guerrilla insurgents the same way it fought World War II. . . . [c]ontrasts the U.S. Army's failure with the British experience in Malaya in the 1950s. The difference: The British, who eventually prevailed, quickly saw the folly of using massive force to annihilate a shadowy communist enemy. . . . Colonel Nagl's book is one of a half dozen Vietnam histories―most of them highly critical of the U.S. military in Vietnam―that are changing the military's views on how to fight guerrilla wars." - The Wall Street Journal
"[T]he insurgents-always-win school skips over the textbook example of successful counterinsurgency, the British victory in Malaysia in the 1950s over a communist guerrilla movement. The British experience is related in John Nagl's cult-classic book Counterinsurgency Lessons From Malaya and Vietnam. It has become a must-read for high-level officers in Iraq because its lessons seem so directly applicable to the situation there." - National Review Online
"[O]ne of the finest books written on how to fight an insurgency, have an open culture that encourages adaptability and innovation [and] quick turnaround on lessons learned." - The Insider
"Pentagon insiders say that the Army chief of staff, General Peter Schoomaker, has distributed copies of Nagl's book to all Army generals. Whether they will learn Lawrence's lessons remains to be seen." - The Washington Post
"[An] excellent stud[y]. . . . very important." - Royal United Services Institute Journal
"[W]ell-crafted comparison of the British and U.S. responses to the challenges of insurgency in Malaya and Vietnam." - Foreign Affairs
"[J]ohn Nagl's book is a valuable asset for identifying key aspects of a succesful counterinsurgency strategy. Lessons from the Malaya insurgency and the Vietnam conflict should be beneficial for American political and military leaders." - Parameters
"[N]agl provides an in-depth analysis of the military institutions and how they adapted to effectively combat an unconventional enemy. . . . Impeccably researched and well written, Nagl has chosen a subject critical to today's Army, namely, how to defeat an insurgent enemy. He contends that to succeed in future savage wars of peace, the Army must adapt as an organization and step away from the preoccupation with solely waging conventional warfare against other nation states. Overall, this is a great book and must be read." - Armor
"John Nagl takes a fresh look at the differences in the organizational culture of the British and U.S. armies, how this difference affected their respective approaches to Malaya and Vietnam, and how it contributed to victory for one and failure for the other. The volume is strongly recommended for students of counterinsurgency, as it is well crafted, draws on extensive primary sources and secondary research, and is lucidly written. The lessons could not be more poignant. . . . [s]mall wars are not going away, and the U.S. Army had better learn how to fight them." - The Journal of Military History
"[A]ttempts to shake up the Army by getting it to seriously consider the neglected field of counterinsurgency. For this, Nagl deserves kudos. . . . [t]his is an important book because it raises the need to reconsider the Army's readiness to conduct counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency should not be the exclusive realm of the SOF community because many of the tools for counterinsurgency belong to the conventional force. Insurgency is likely in the current operating enviornment. The force needs to prepare to meet it; the debate on how best to do it should begin now." - Military Review
"As the author ably points out, the U.S Army in its arrogance thought that it had nothing to learn from the British or French experience or even from the success of the U.S. Marine Corps Combined Action Program. This narrow vision and self-inflicted blindness persisted, and finally the U.S. Army found the fight that fit its view in the 1991 Gulf War. A victory in the Gulf was all well and good, but as the author concludes, small wars are not going away, and the U.S. Army had better learn how to fight them." - The Journal of Military History
"[O]f timely interest. . . . [s]eeks to explain how conventionally trained armed forces can learn to adapt to unconventional problems in the course of a conflict." - The International History Review
"This book is a powerful examination of the learning cultures of two of the world's most prominent and capable fighting forces. John Nagl sheds much new light on why the British Army recovered from early failures in the Malayan Emergency and, even more importantly, why the U.S. Army did not profit to the same extent from its early experiences in the Vietnam War. Nagl couples extensive historical analysis with a dedicated soldier's eye as to what is practical. The book has both reassuring and disturbing lessons for us today." (Robert O'Neill, Chichele Professor of the History of War Emeritus, University of Oxford)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Fascinating, engaging and massively informative book. This book is a MUST READ for any military or business strategist. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Tropicalwolf
We seem to never learn even when the truth is set before us.Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
Used it, loved it, still refer to it. This book was given out to soldiers in Iraq.Published 10 months ago by auramine
Far more academic then I expected. I'm sure this book is outstanding for it's intended audience.
The sad truth is that in addition to a well done lesson plan to save American... Read more
I have read more on the Vietnam War than most people ever will and I have to say this offers one of the best critques of the failure of the American command structure to adapt to... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Michael P Dunning
Excellent book on the cultural difference between the British Military And the US Military. Provides a plausible explanation as to why the British were able to adapt military... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Melvin Mcneill