Counterinsurgency: Theory and Reality - Whittingham and Mitchell

Counterinsurgency: Theory and Reality - Whittingham and Mitchell

I learned so much from this book, but I really didn’t like it; if that makes any sense? I found the book very ‘hard going’. I also feel that the book didn’t live up to its promise; I think I was expecting more of an instruction manual than the historical review that I got. The book itself is a very slim volume of about 150 pages and the fact that it took me over 4 weeks to get through it speaks volumes. – Not good ones!

The authors are a pair of academics and the whole book reads like one big literature review. Frankly, the academic writing style bored the pants off me and brought back many painful memories of my own efforts at academic writings.

OK, gripes out of the way let’s look at the positives. The introduction contained information that I wasn’t aware of and set the pace of how this was going to go. I’d read a few pages, feel bored, pull my iPad out and chase up the references. This is how I proceeded through the whole book; it was tedious and time-consuming. I didn’t like it, but it forced me to stop and think about what I was reading, rather than just ploughing on regardless. Maybe the authors knew what they were doing in writing it this way?

One of the first pieces of new knowledge I picked up was about the short-lived Special Night Squads (SNS); otherwise known as the ‘shock-troops’ of the British military and their use in the ’36 to ’39 Arab Revolt. Although I knew a little of the history of this era, I wasn’t even aware that we had, never mind used, such forces. The fact that the SNS only lasted a couple of years tells us that brutality wasn’t seen as the best tactic in this situation.

As you’d expect, the Irish troubles feature quite heavily in this volume with this being the longest continuous deployment of British troops ever. Again, there are some very interesting revelations, if you follow up on the references.

The book is about far more than just British efforts to recognise and control insurgencies, but it was these that interested me most, rather than the other featured incidents such as the American involvement in Vietnam or the French Algerian problems.

Throughout the book, the expression ‘winning hearts and minds’ kept appearing. This held particular interest to me because as a driver of change through the motor industry it was a phrase that I used very often. I wasn’t aware that the expression had its roots in insurgency suppression. Had I known this, many of the lectures and talks I gave might have been very different, a lot livelier and a damn sight more interesting. I guess resistance to change is resistance to change, whatever the situation!

Despite me not liking the book I’m going to award it 4 anchors, as it forced me on a quest to search and follow up on so many things, adding to my admittedly scant knowledge. It’s not a book for everyone and I suspect that a few will be rather miffed if they paid the £20 price tag for it.