Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Invisible Armies

I very much enjoyed Max Boot’s The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.  In that work, Boot shows how small conflicts, like the suppression of the Filipino insurrection following the Spanish American war, had an influence far beyond the relatively small nature of the conflict.  Boot is very good at taking aspects of  war, often forgotten or relegated to a ‘sideshow’ and making them instrumental to an historical understanding of wider conflicts.

Boot very much takes this notion and drags it by the scruff in his monumental Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare.  As the subtitle suggests, Boot wants to create an epic history, a milestone work that will become the reference point for people who want to learn about guerrilla war, terrorism, insurgency, counterinsurgency and asymmetrical conflicts of all kinds.  Boot does this, and to great effect.

At first I was put off by the self-conscious effort of this book to assert itself as the reference work on this topic.  Boot has become an important person in his field, and far more important people in policy and security will read this book.  So, the work comes across as deeply conscious of being important, and that tone can be off putting.

There is also the danger of its wide scope.  In 567 pages of text, Boot handles nearly every guerrilla conflict in the historical record.  Like all books that take a global approach, one has to wonder if Boot is trying to fit wide and often divergent phenomenon into one form.  I am not qualified to say if he is doing so here; I am only pointing out that this is a danger with a book with such wide goals and far flung material.

That said it is hard not to be impressed by Max Boot’s accomplishment.  In an age dominated by asymmetrical wars of all kinds, Invisible Armies reads like a primer for our times.  And more importantly, he shows both the successes and failures of counter-insurgency strategies and techniques, which will no doubt become even more important in the near future than they already are.

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