What Kind of Men are We Up Against?

I was recently asked to participate in a red cell to do some wargaming. I was given a stack of papers to read. Ugh! Tendentious, dry, boring. Fortunately for me I picked up a book when I was home on R&R at Downtown Book and Toy in Jefferson City that really helped me prepare. For those of you who really want to understand how the average militant muslim operates, I highly recommend Militant Tricks, Battlefield Ruses of the Islamic Insurgent by John Poole.

There are a slew of books out there that shed light on why we fight the way we do. One author, Victor Davis Hanson, PhD, has written numerous books on the western military tradition. One in particular, Carnage and Culture, uses key battles between western and non-western armies to illustrate how western civilization makes a superior military establishment. Another classicist, Donald Kagan, PhD, wrote in 1995 On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace, which helps us understand why western societies go to war.

Carnage and Culture discusses two battles where an Islamic country took on the west, Tours-Poitiers fought in 732 AD and Lepanto fought in 1571 AD (I am old school, I refuse to substitute AD for BCE “before the common era.” BCE is a crock of BS). The Islamic countries lost. They tried to emulate the west militarily but did not have the underlying institutions or cultural characteristics of the west. There is a chapter on the Tet Offensive of 1968 where the US did win tactically but lost strategically. How did the US lose in Vietnam?

The previous question begs another. So what happens when a non-western country decides to fight in a manner that is best suited to its culture and way of thinking? Ever since Alexander the Great tore his way east with his army, the denizens of the east have been steadily developing a way of fighting to counter the classic western juggernaut. They have come up with what a couple of former US Marines refer to as Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW).

Hanson touches on why the US eventually lost in Vietnam. John Poole (left the Marines a Lieutenant Colonel, later re-enlisted and retired a Gunnery Sergeant) does a better job of explaining why in his latest work, Militant Tricks, Battlefield Ruses of the Islamic Insurgent. The focus is on Iraq and Afghanistan and Poole uses examples from prior conflicts, especially Vietnam, to illustrate his points. He spends most of the book applying the thirty-six stratagems of deception from ancient China. Poole quotes extensively from Wiles of War: The 36 Military Stratagems of Ancient China, Thirty Six Strategies of Ancient China, and more (his book has an extensive bibliography and has endnotes). There is another book written by a former Marine, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century by Col (Ret) Thomas X. Hammes, that also discusses 4GW tactics but Poole’s book provides a non-western perspective, specifically an Asian perspective.

I already had an idea of how our adversary fights. Can’t help it when you are reading intelligence reports and patrol reports, you see the same stuff over and over. What was new for me was seeing how our adversary fights placed in the broader operational and strategic sense. The biggest “eureka” moment for me was getting a better insight into the eastern mindset and how they fight as opposed to how western armies fight. For that, I have Gunny Poole to thank.

Seeing as I am now in the business of recommending books, there is another I recommend even though I haven’t read it yet. I have purchased and am eagerly anticipating the arrival of The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy, by Stephanie Gutmann. I bought this book on the strength of the review by Joseph Tartakovsky of the Claremont Review of Books found here. Many people back home ask my bride about what I do in Afghanistan. Part of what I do as an Information Operations Officer is working with the media. Read the review of Gutmann’s book and you will get an idea of what I have to put up with.

The adversary here, even though he doesn’t have the advantage of technology that we westerners have, is dedicated, tough, and adaptive. We blast the hell out if his fighting position and find maybe one or two dead fighters with the rest having buggered off. Gunny Poole’s book does an excellent job explaining the theory behind the tactics the adversary uses and uses to great success. The media sure doesn’t make it easy but that is something I have to deal with.

I end quoting a conversation between Strother Martin’s character and Robert Ryan’s character in the classic movie The Wild Bunch:

Coffer: Mr. Thornton? What kind of men are we up against?

Deke Thornton: The best….they never got caught.

CPT NightHawk


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