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War of the Running Dogs: Malaya, 1948-1960 Paperback – April 1, 2007
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The War of the Running Dogs is now little-known in the United States, in large part because here it was eclipsed first by the Korean War and then by Indochina. It should be better known. Among the Communist/nationalist insurrections of South-east Asia of the 1940's and `50s, the Malayan one arguably had the greatest strategic significance, given the geopolitical importance of Singapore. Second, unlike what happened in Indochina, in Malaya the Communist challenge to Western democracy was repelled. And third, in doing so, the British developed and employed principles of counter-insurgency that contrasted with how the French and Americans proceeded in Viet Nam.
In THE WAR OF THE RUNNING DOGS, British journalist Noel Barber tells the story of the Malayan insurrection in a lively, moderately journalistic fashion. On a few occasions he underscores the contrasts between Malaya and Viet Nam, insinuating that the British were smarter than were the Americans (but without ever really discussing what the differences between the two situations might have been).
The Communist insurgency was a guerilla war, waged by at most 5- to 8,000 "liberation" troops operating out of jungle camps. In the first few years, the guerillas employed savage terrorist tactics against native Malays and Chinese as well as British planters, miners, and police, as they tried to bully and intimidate civilians into supporting them and resisting the British and the Malay sultans. (As a result, the guerillas became known as "CTs" - i.e., Communist Terrorists.) And even though the campaign of the CTs lasted twelve years, the conflict never was officially called a "war" or "civil war". Instead, it was known among the British as the "Malayan Emergency". Had it been declared a war, losses incurred by commercial interests (primarily rubber plantations and mining operations) would not have been covered by Lloyd's of London insurance.
Among the counter-insurgency measures or policies that Barber discusses were 1) the British determination that "on no account must the armed forces have control over the conduct of the war," inasmuch as this was "a war of political ideologies" and it was imperative that the normal workaday government be perceived as stable and functioning; 2) a resolution that it was "better to police villages than to destroy them"; and 3) a general policy that as many citizens as possible be given a direct and tangible economic stake in successfully repelling the Communists (a major example of this being the relocation of 600,000 ethnic Chinese squatters from land on the fringes of the jungle, where they were highly vulnerable to the CTs, to newly constructed villages on arable land to which they held leasehold interests and had access for the first time to schools and Western medicine). But the practice that to me was the most interesting was the determination to "tell the truth" in "propaganda" - something that proved to be instrumental not only in engendering and strengthening the loyalty of the non-combatant citizenry but also in encouraging defections among the CTs.
THE WAR OF THE RUNNING DOGS constitutes my education on the Malayan Emergency. It is squarely within the genre of "popular history." I would be interested in reading something more analytical that compares the situation that the British faced in Malaya with what the French and the Americans faced in Viet Nam. If anyone has any recommendations, I would be grateful.
The book does a wonderful job on breaking down all the players in this war, what they did and why. He also looks at the different ethnicities and their motivations for supporting the Communists or British. I have to disagree with the other reviewer this book was a wonderful read and not boring at all, even for a history book. I found myself wanting to know what was going to happen next (i.e. it was addictive to read).
On the negatives, this book was written in the '60's (so a little dated), and it is written with an nostalgia tone of the old imperial Britain and its greatness. It ruffled my feathers a bit in the begging but later he tries to correct this tone and for the time period the author really goes out of his to make a case for the other people that were living in this country at the time, their plight and living standards.
Overall this book does a wonderful job showing why the counterinsurgency in Malaysia was a success. It is unfortunate the circumstances that brought this book back into circulation, but it is a forgotten work that deserves to be recognized for its contribution to the counterinsurgency, insurgency, terrorism and Malayan history. A very good read.
of the absolute best on counterinsurgency,
ever, is a profound explication of one of the
historical truths of guerrilla war:
In guerrilla war, political superiority defeats military superiority.
The Chinese communists never could have prevailed--the Brits forged
a strategy for victory in guerrilla war in Malaya from day one
that reinforced the already-formidable political power which the
Malay Muslims had from jumpstreet.
The many bold, pragmatic lessons won in blood in Malaya from 1948-1960
are laid out left, right and center in this great book, which should
be required reading at West Point, the US Naval Academy, the US Air Force
Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, and at every war college.
It is also just a damn fine read, and would be a welcome addition to any
History Department and English Department, worldwide. Bravo, Noel Barber.
long life and blue skies,
Counterterrorism Specialist and Author
Logar, Afghanistan 18 April, 2009
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