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A Question of Command

A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq

Mark Moyar
Donald Kagan
Frederick Kagan
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1nptj7
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  • Book Info
    A Question of Command
    Book Description:

    According to the prevailing view of counterinsurgency, the key to defeating insurgents is selecting methods that will win the people's hearts and minds. The hearts-and-minds theory permeates not only most counterinsurgency books of the twenty-first century but theU.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual,the U.S. military's foremost text on counterinsurgency. Mark Moyar assails this conventional wisdom, asserting that the key to counterinsurgency is selecting commanders who have superior leadership abilities. Whereas the hearts-and-minds school recommends allocating much labor and treasure to economic, social, and political reforms, Moyar advocates concentrating resources on security, civil administration, and leadership development.

    Moyar presents a wide-ranging history of counterinsurgency, from the Civil War and Reconstruction to Afghanistan and Iraq, that draws on the historical record and interviews with hundreds of counterinsurgency veterans, including top leaders in today's armed forces. Through a series of case studies, Moyar identifies the ten critical attributes of counterinsurgency leadership and reveals why these attributes have been much more prevalent in some organizations than others. He explains how the U.S. military and America's allies in Afghanistan and Iraq should revamp their personnel systems in order to elevate more individuals with those attributes.

    A Question of Commandwill reshape the study and practice of counterinsurgency warfare. With counterinsurgency now one of the most pressing issues facing the United States, this book is a must-read for policymakers, military officers, and citizens.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15601-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Donald Kagan and Frederick Kagan

    War has been a subject of intense interest across the ages. Very early literary works like Homer’sIliadand the Rigvedic hymns of ancient India talk of war. Few can fail to be stirred by such questions: How and why do wars come about? How and why do they end? Why did the winners win and the losers lose? How do leaders make life-and-death decisions? Why do combatants follow orders that put their lives at risk? How do individuals and societies behave in war, and how are they affected by it? Recent events have raised the study of war from...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Leader-Centric Warfare
    (pp. 1-13)

    Had someone predicted ten years ago that counterinsurgency would be a leading topic in the White House in 2009, or that popular television shows would run features on counterinsurgency doctrine, or that the U.S. government would be spending billions of dollars on counterinsurgency research, the prophecy would have been relegated to the company of Al Capone’s vaults and the Jupiter Effect. In 1999, Americans viewed counterinsurgency as passé, of interest only to antiquarians, for Vietnam had taught us to steer clear of insurgencies. On the rare occasion when a conference on counterinsurgency was held, it was attended by a few...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Civil War
    (pp. 15-32)

    For most Americans, the Civil War is Stonewall Jackson’s Virginia infantry gathering at Henry Hill and mowing down onrushing federals to seize victory at the First Battle of Bull Run. It is two days of metal tearing through 23,746 men at Shiloh. It is George Pickett’s division charging into devastating canister fire on the third day of Gettysburg. It is, in short, grand conventional warfare.

    Outside the circles of Civil War historians and dedicated buffs, it is little known that insurgent warfare composed a large proportion of the fighting in the Civil War. Insurgency of one sort or another sprang...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Reconstruction in the South
    (pp. 33-62)

    As the Union army mowed through the South in 1864 and the first months of 1865, the land suffered the ravages of hard-bitten generals like William T. Sherman and Philip H. Sheridan, wreckers of Georgia and South Carolina and Virginia, men whose names would be etched on the minds of generations of Southerners to come. Federal soldiers turned cities into ashes, stripped factories to the beams, and peeled mile after mile of railroad track off the earth. Once the Union military machine had passed through a plantation, every object of value had been eaten, burned, or taken away. Union officers...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Philippine Insurrection
    (pp. 63-88)

    As the sun rose over Manila Bay, seven American warships chugged forward from the southwest. The flagship, the USSOlympia, sported four 8-inch guns and steel deck plates, and the squadron also had a “baby battleship” with four 6-inch guns and various other cruisers of 1880s vintage, members of the last generation of warships propelled by both sail and steam. The huge Spanish shore guns hurled projectiles at the intruders to no avail, their rounds plopping harmlessly into the water.

    The American ships intended to destroy those guns, but only as a secondary objective. What had enticed them to Manila...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Huk Rebellion
    (pp. 89-108)

    After the defeat of Aguinaldo’s Army of Liberation of the Philippines, Manuel Tinio returned to his 1,000-acre estate in the central Luzon barrio of San Ricardo. An upstanding member of the principalia, Tinio had served as a general under Aguinaldo, but now he put politics aside and concentrated on his piece of land, an expanse of virgin forest and meadows. Over the next two decades, he allowed peasants from other areas to clear parcels, a few acres per family, and cultivate rice; they gave him 55 percent of the crop as rent. As was customary, the tenants helped Tinio with...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Malayan Emergency
    (pp. 109-132)

    The Malayan Communist Party, like its counterpart in the Philippines, traces its origins to the Comintern’s missionary expeditions of the 1920s. Communist agents from China began the hunt for supporters in Singapore, at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, in 1924, but with only modest success. The Malayan Communist Party was not formally organized until 1930, at which time the Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh, a French Communist leader, and some Chinese Communists presided over its official founding and placed it under the direction of the Comintern’s Far Eastern Bureau in Shanghai. Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 created...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER 7 The Vietnam War
    (pp. 133-168)

    In the early twentieth century, as in previous centuries, most of Vietnam’s leaders belonged to a very small elite that exceeded the rest of the population in social status, education, and wealth. Although the French had partitioned Vietnam into three colonies in the late nineteenth century, they had not displaced the Vietnamese elite or fundamentally altered its relationship to the Vietnamese masses. Concentrated in the urban population centers of Vietnam, the members of the elite became more Westernized and modernized with each year of French colonization, widening the gulf that separated them from the peasants, who composed the vast majority...

  14. CHAPTER 8 The Salvadoran Insurgency
    (pp. 169-190)

    A country the size of Massachusetts, with the highest population density in Latin America, El Salvador had 3.9 million people when war broke out in 1980. Dominating the country was a small, wealthy elite that owned 70 percent of the land and relied on the army for protection against its enemies, foreign and domestic. The army was headed by a different small group of men, who also enjoyed considerable wealth, but they were nouveaux riches of lower-middle-class birth, which kept them off the invitation lists for the balls and weddings of El Salvador’s high society.¹

    Domestic enemies had been on...

  15. CHAPTER 9 The War in Afghanistan
    (pp. 191-212)

    The path to the catastrophic attacks of September 11, 2001, winds through the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the ensuing Soviet-Afghan War. Intent on bleeding the Soviets, the United States supplied arms to the Islamic rebels of diverse motives and morals who waged bitter war on the Soviets and their Afghan allies across the 1980s. The Soviets and the Communist Afghan government, neither of them hindered by a free press or a voting public, imposed draconian punishments on the insurgency’s civilian supporters but failed to break the insurgents’ will, so the bloodshed dragged on. The first people to...

  16. CHAPTER 10 The Iraq War
    (pp. 213-258)

    The United States had not yet perceived the gravity of the neo-Taliban menace when it embarked on another war that would make an unexpected turn into counterinsurgency. Extremely sensitive to terrorist threats after the 9/11 catastrophe, the Bush administration became convinced, from largely erroneous intelligence, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be transferred to Al Qaeda or other anti-American terrorists. Administration officials believed, moreover, that overthrowing President Saddam Hussein and holding elections for new Iraqi leaders would start a wave of democratization across the Middle East that would end governmental repression, an alleged catalyst of terrorism. This...

  17. CHAPTER 11 How to Win
    (pp. 259-286)

    The nine cases presented in this book offer a multitude of lessons for those seeking to improve counterinsurgency leadership today and tomorrow. Although a few of the lessons apply to all counterinsurgencies, most apply only under certain conditions. The commander must become intimately familiar with the dynamics of the particular insurgent environment and use judgment and creativity to determine when and how the lessons of the past can be applied profitably.

    Many of the ten critical attributes of good counterinsurgency leadership—initiative, flexibility, creativity, judgment, empathy, charisma, sociability, dedication, integrity, and organization—can be enhanced, to varying degrees, through self-improvement,...

  18. APPENDIX: Counterinsurgency Leadership Survey
    (pp. 287-302)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 303-332)
  20. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 333-338)
  21. Index
    (pp. 339-347)