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The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century (Zenith Military Classics)

4.4 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0760324073
ISBN-10: 0760324077
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Hammes is a career Marine Corps officer, and with this selection, he argues that the U.S. has adapted poorly in response to the new generation of guerrilla warfare. Fourth-generation warfare, as Hammes calls it, is what American forces encounter in Iraq and Afghanistan and Israelis find in Palestine, and it is the way of the future: guerrilla warfare characterized by political acumen and patience, using communications networks and strategic strikes to demoralize and exhaust conventionally superior militaries. For many military strategists, including those presently running the Defense Department, this new world order amounts to a call to newfangled technological arms, but for Hammes, smart bombs and spy drones are not the answer. The solution is to study our enemies as they have studied us and build a networked, flexible, and, here's the kicker, less hierarchical military structure that employs humans to fight the humans fighting us. As few as five years ago, such analysis would have had limited appeal, but in today's political climate, this concise, surprisingly readable book will attract a broad readership. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Military Review, March/April 2007
“Can a two-and-one-half-year-old book be reviewed as a classic? It can, and should, if it says the kinds of smart, prescient things that Hammes had to say in 2004. The Sling and the Stone was written to appeal to a vast and diverse audience. It provides numerous jewels of information for the general reader as well as senior military leaders, military operational planners and supporters, interagency personnel, and U.S. political leaders who are looking for a provocative read to aid them in making informed decisions in support of U.S. national security. Since its first publication, this visionary book has ignited others in public and private life to read, research, write, and advocate for the United States to change its defense posture in order to meet the challenge posed by the advent of 4GW. Many of Hammes’ ideas have now been adopted by the military and are currently in practice in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other ideas are being studied extensively within the Washington Beltway. U.S. homeland security and counterinsurgency doctrines have also been strongly influenced and shaped by this book. Hammes has truly been a catalyst for change … Hammes’s book is truly an enlightening must-read for Military Review’s readers, particularly those attending career military schools. It should remain so for many years to come.”

Parameters: U.S. Army War College Quarterly, Autumn 2005
“This is a stimulating – nay, provocative – book that should cause military readers and all associated with the security of the United States to question their fundamental assumptions. It is also a gutsy book because the author, a serving officer, asserts in effect that the Secretary of Defense, his team in the Pentagon, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are wrong in the way they are fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He further contends that the United States stands a good chance of losing its wars in the future unless the forces confront the realities of warfare in this century.”
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Product Details

  • Series: Zenith Military Classics
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Zenith Press (February 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0760324077
  • ISBN-13: 978-0760324073
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. W. Richards on October 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1991, Israeli historian and military analyst Martin van Creveld shocked the defense community with his book, The Transformation of War. At least, he shocked that part more worried about post-Soviet threats than about buying weapons. Van Creveld preached that future danger to the West would come from groups other than state armies and that they would employ means that we would find repulsively violent and indiscriminate. In the intervening 13 years, all this has come to pass, but, as Marine Colonel T. X. Hammes eloquently argues in this important new book, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

What we are in fact seeing is "fourth generation warfare," (4GW) a term coined in a famous 1989 paper in the Marine Corps Gazette and now easily available on the Internet. Hammes argues that 4GW, far from being something academic or esoteric, represents the cumulative efforts of "practical people" trying to solve the problem of confronting superior military power. Their efforts are bearing fruit: "At the strategic level, the combination of our perceived technological superiority and our bureaucratic organization sets us up for a major failure against a more agile, intellectually prepared enemy." Amen.

The failure, in Hammes' view, will not be defeat in some Clausewitzian "decisive battle," but failure nonetheless as American politicians, tiring of the costs and despairing of victory, withdraw our forces short of achieving our objectives. He traces the evolution of 4GW through its successes--Mao, the Vietnamese, Sandinistas, Somalis, and Palestinians (in the first Intifada)--and its failures--the Al-Aqsa Intifada and perhaps al-Qa'ida, although the verdict, I fear, is still out on the latter.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.

In the context of the thousands of book on strategy, force structure, emerging threats, and so on, this is a solid primer and excellent work for both those who know nothing of the many other books, and a good place to start for conventional military minds ready to think more deeply about transformation.

This is an excellent book over-all. His two key points are clear: 4th Generation Wars take decades, not months as the Pentagon likes to fight; and only 4th Generation Wars have defeated super-powers--the US losing three times, Russia in Afghanistan, France in Viet-Nam, etc.

The author offers solid critiques of the Pentagon's mediocre strategy (Joint Vision 20XX) and its preference for technology over people, an excellent short list of key players in world affairs, interesting lists and a discussion of insurgent versus coalition force strengths and weaknesses in Iraq, and a brutal--positively brutal--comparison of the pathetic performance of "secret" imagery taking days or weeks to order up, versus, "good enough" commercial imagery that can be gotten in hours.

There are flashes of brilliance that suggest that the author's next book will be just as good if not better. He understands the war of ideas and talks about insurgent handbills as a form of ammunition that the US is not seeing, reading, or understanding; he points out that Al Qaeda is like a venture capitalist, franchising and subsidizing or inspiring distributed terrorism; and he is superbly on target, on page 39, when he points out that when Al Qaeda attacks in the US, the only thing that is "moving" is information or knowledge.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
War evolves, rather than transforms, is the central thesis of this book. The author should not be taken to task for over-emphasizing Fourth Generation warfare so much. The way I took it is that the author was rightly proud of his championing certain concepts, so the overemphasis was not excessive. It's a good primer on insurgency and counterinsurgency as well, and even starts to get into the neofunctionalist approach to nation building. Better works can indeed be found, such as Chaplin's in-depth Mao's Legacy and surely on Vietnam, but the book really starts picking up with the chapters on al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Overall, all the case studies in the middle chapters are enlightening. The last five chapters also contain some relatively good ideas for military reform, but the focus is too much on personnel issues, such as 360-degree job evaluations and the ideas in Vandergriff's Revolution in Human Affairs. Although the personnel focus is understandable given the author's brief coverage of CONUS and Homeland Security issues, the strength of this book lies not in the critique of bureaucracy it tries to provide, but in the way the author uses history and a consistent perspective to generate social scientific insights, and in that sense, it is traditional, but also innovative and suggestive in some places.
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Format: Hardcover
As a layman when it comes to military strategy and tactics, I found The Sling and the Stone to offer an accessible explanation of three key elements of 4th Generation Warfare. First, how the first three generations evolved, overlapped, and distinguished themselves from one another. Second, how 4GW has itself matured throughout the 20th and into the 21st centuries. And third, the practical implications of 4GW for our military planning and policy decisions today.

Published in 2004, before the Iraqui conflict had become as complex as it is today, Hammes' book is not a political manifesto on current policy. Rather, it takes aim at the higher-level question of how the evolution of military conflict has allowed rag-tag, largely civillian armies, to defeat vastly superior (in terms of training, equippage and technology) conventional forces. Furthermore, Hammes offers a convincing argument that such defeats have not been random events, but rather the outcome of careful planning by guerilla strategists and field tacticians who studied their own and others' successes and failures, not to mention their politically and militarily evolving opponents, and have relentlessly adapted accordingly.

The book's primary weakness is its uneven writing. Hammes first drafted sections of the book for academic courses at various military colleges over the prior 10 years. And certain sections feel exactly like Master's thesis prose. Despite a hostile reception from a handful of traditionalist military theorists, however, the strength of Hammes' concepts and his dogged determination to create clarity overcome those slightly clunky stretches.
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