War of the Flea: The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare by Robert Taber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Taber's thorough examination of the (mainly Marxist) revolutions of the first half of the twentieth-century provided him the almost prophetic ability to foresee the United State's loss of the war in Vietnam as all but inevitable. He also correctly foresaw future troubles in South and Central America, though his details just missed the bullseye in the case of several countries. The most important tenant of this book, though, is not that revolutions are inevitable - they are - but that they can only be defeated by compromise, never by military might alone. In my own Master's Thesis on The Mau Mau War: Regional Rebellions and British Responses, 1950-55 (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1999), I argued, along similar lines, that the British successfully waged a counter-insurgency campaign not by military force alone, but by conceding something to the population that the guerillas could not give: education. While Taber argues that the first concession to enable a successful suppression of guerilla activities is land reform, and that education only served to create revolutionary ambition in the lower middle class, the Mau Mau rebellion showed that the British colonial government used these two compromises in reverse order to great effect.
But I digress . . .
If you want to understand the anatomy of rebellion, along with the reason the United States fared so poorly in Vietnam, you must read this book. I have referred to this book often when trying to understand the morass that Afghanistan is now and promises to be in the future. I would love to see an update to this book, a re-visitation of its principle thesis. Apparently the military and the State Department learned something from Vietnam, but is it enough? Frankly, I don't like our chances.
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