Small Wars Journal

David Galula: His Life and Intellectual Context

David Galula: His Life and Intellectual Context - Ann Marlowe, U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute.

This monograph is based on interviews with David Galula's surviving family and friends as well as archival research. It places Galula's two great books in the context of his exposure to Mao's doctrine of revolutionary warfare in China, the French Army's keen interest in counterinsurgency in the second half of the 1950s, and the transmission of French doctrine to the U.S. military in the early 1960s. It also discusses home-grown American counterinsurgency pioneers like General Edward Lansdale, who promoted Galula's American career and encouraged him to write a book. It details the counterinsurgency fever of President John F. Kennedy's administration, a nearly forgotten episode. Galula died in relative obscurity at the age of 49 in 1967. He had the odd historical luck of not having been a part of the counterinsurgency fever of his day, but of ours instead. Both those who think counterinsurgency has been embraced uncritically and those who think it has not been followed enough will find intellectual ammunition in Galula--and food for thought in the relationship of his ideas to his time.

Read the entire monograph at SSI.


Apologies for the hanging sentence above. Was writing on the iPhone. :-)

Regarding understanding north Korea the following paragraph from Adrian Buzo's book, _Guerrilla Dynasty_, is one of the best illustrations of the nature of the Kim Family Regime and shows how it is different than the South (or any other country in the world). This is describing how Kim Il Sung consolidated power after the Korean War and provides the foundation for the future development of the Juche ideology and then the Songun (Military First) policies.

"In the course of this struggle against factional opponents, for the first time Kim began to emphasize nationalism as a means of rallying the population to the enormous sacrifices needed for post-war recovery. This was a nationalism that first took shape in the environment of the anti-Japanese guerrilla movement and developed into a creed through the destruction of both the non-Communist nationalist forces and much of the leftist intellectual tradition of the domestic Communists. Kims nationalism did not draw inspiration from Korean history, nor did it dwell on past cultural achievements, for the serious study of history and traditional culture soon effectively ceased in the DPRK [Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea]. Rather, DPRK nationalism drew inspiration from the Spartan outlook of the former Manchurian guerrillas. It was a harsh nationalism that dwelt on past wrongs and promises of retribution for "national traitors" and their foreign backers. DPRK nationalism stressed the "purity" of all things Korean against the "contamination" of foreign ideas, and inculcated in the population a sense of fear and animosity toward the outside world. Above all, DPRK nationalism stressed that the guerrilla ethos was not only the supreme, but also the only legitimate basis on which to reconstitute a reunified Korea. " (Page 27)

As we talk about Maoist theory and Vietnam we should keep in mind that while Giap and Ho and the other strategic leaders of Vietnam studied Mao (as well as the American Revolution as Mao did) the strategy the developed was Dau Tranh which was uniquely Vietnamese with concepts like the 3 "vans" that proved to be well suited for this culture and traditions as well as the situation in which they found themselves (or that they themselves perhaps created). The lesson we should be keeping in mind is that every conflict is unique and while they should be studied there are no templates or cookie cutter solutions. We need to learn from every conflict from across the spectrum of war but because of human nature no two will ever be the same and techniques or strategies that work in one may or may not work in another.

North and Souh


Sat, 09/04/2010 - 2:16pm

Interesting discussion.

The divisions between Vietminh/Vietcong/NVA are interesting. Seeing them as seperate identities (ie: Defeated the South Vietnamese Irregular effort but were overrun by a conventional NVA) may be less important then to viewing all as a spectrum of the Vietnamese Communist Party's political effort to win - that whole Clausewitz war/politics thing. I don't know and I'm not well versed in the political machines of each organization. If one views the NVA as the conventionally "transformed" Vietminh, maybe the Maoist model fits better?

Although Mao's model is useful, I don't think the efforts of Ho Chi Minh need to be fit into it as a straightjacket. The more important questions, at least to me, are "did the Communists intend for their irrgular forces to win? Did they care if they lost as they planned to invade conventionally at some point anyways?"

Finally, has anyone ever seen a case study between North and South Korea and North and South Vietnam to indicate the differences in how the political movement of Communism (which often has insurgent roots) spread from North to South(in one case) or was contained (in the other case) in an area of generally homogenous ethnic makeup?

Bob's World

Sat, 09/04/2010 - 8:38am

No telling how this would have played out if FDR had lived to finish the war and initiate the peace. Hints are found in the platform of FDR's Grand Strategy for engaging the world once the war was over:

1. The "four freedoms" (of religion, of speech, from fear, from want).

2. The end of Colonialism and its residual effects.

3. Self-Determination

4. Creation of the "four policemen" to lend stability to the globe, consisting of: USA, UK, China, and Russia.

Upon his death much of this got shelved as just so much idealism (though if one never strives to achieve the impossible, it guarantees the failure to achieve it).

A Vietnam protected from the reimposition of colonialism and allowed the right of self-determination would have been a staunch US ally from the outset. We chose another path, and the rest, as they say, is history.

(The above is as I recall the points made by Dr. Wilson Miscamble of Notre Dame at a Grand Strategy conference hosted at Duke. For more insights on his study of the critical era covering the end of FDRs presidency and the beginning of Truman's see:…

Backwards Observer

Sat, 09/04/2010 - 6:48am

Bui Diem recalls the scene in early September, 1945:

<em><blockquote>On the one hand we did not trust the Vietminh. On the other, a Chinese occupation was enough to give the shivers to any Vietnamese.</em></blockquote>

<em><blockquote>Only two weeks into their new government, the Vietminh needed desperately to mobilize all the support they could. With his leadership hardly secure, and forced to maneuver among Japanese, Chinese, French and British, Ho Chi Minh strove to shape alliances and keep emotions at a fever pitch. Mass meetings and protests kept Hanoi's streets surging. Anti-French demonstrations provided an outlet for profound antipathies, but any occasion would do for whipping up and uniting people in a common cause.</em></blockquote>

<em><blockquote>Amidst all this, one group of foreigners were universally admired - the Americans. That feeling was built on a gossamer hope that somehow the United States might yet save the situation. Vietnam's love affair with the United States had begun the previous year when rumours had circulated that President Roosevelt was in favor of a postwar trusteeship for Vietnam, to be followed by independence. Word of Roosevelt's concept had spread quickly through Vietnamese political and intellectual circles, where it made a deep impression.</em></blockquote>

From, "In The Jaws Of History", by Bui Diem (with David Chanoff), (pp.37-38)

Bill M.

Fri, 09/03/2010 - 11:26pm


thanks, that was my anonymous post, another case where I fought technology and technology won. This what I recall reading and being told by the Vietnam vets in my early years in the Army. We do a very poor job of capturing history in an even remotely accurate fashion, which is why we have all these unsubstantiated posts on good governance, economic development, legitimacy, etc. as the key means to defeat an insurgency. While all the above is of course desirable and may or may prevent an insurgency, it sure as heck won't defeat one. In Vietnam there were multiple groups and each had their own view of good governance, legitimacy, etc. and the biggest dog won. I haven't been in a country yet where there was a conflict where sprinkling fairy dust on the government and economy would bring their insurgency to a screeching halt. The devil is in the details, yet we're drawing major conclusions for doctrine and strategy from ill conceived history. In Afghanistan the warring parties fight now because we're there, and when we leave they'll fight for greed (their piece of the pie) and hatred. There is no consensus on what type of government they want, because there are many theys. In Vietnam it doesn't appear that there was a huge popular movement to unite the two countries, but rather a large military action to coerce the other side to merge with the North. Of course the interpretation in our history books is quite different.

Mike in Hilo

Fri, 09/03/2010 - 10:32pm

Re: VN: North-South cultural Differences per COVAN and Anonymous
(niceties--sorry, Ken)

The Vietnamse will tell you their people (not talking about Montagnards and other minorities) are divided into three ethnic groups, Northern, Central and Southern. Historically there was strong animus between them, one group viewing the others with derision and resentment. I have not returned to VN since 1975, but if the cultural steamroller of communism has managed to eradicate these prejudices, I would consider that a major, outstanding achievement of the current regime. Aside from the linguistic, differences include religion (Theravada vs Mahayana Buddhism, ancestor veneration cum animism vs Catholicism), a variety of customs, and even physical phenotype. Furthermore, there existed a strong southern regionalism, encouraged by the colonial regime, to be sure, but by no means a French creation.

Anyway, throughout the revolutionary struggle, the "reunification" part of the Party line was decidedly not the button to push to mobilize the southern masses. A problem for the South was that the GVN was structurally constrained from taking advantage of anti-northern chauvinism to marshal popular support. Some have called the Thieu regime neo-Diemist because as in Diem's, northerners were grossly overrepresented (not necessarily illegitimately so) in the ranks of its civil service and officer corps. And the ethnic northern Catholic emigre community remained a preferentially treated constituency. It would have been laughable for a GVN spokesman to rail against the northern menace when the District Chief and many on the Provincial staff were likely to have been northerners. (And whenever an American delivered such an anti-northern pep-talk--as we were wont to do--it would encounter amused incredulity.)

Bill M.

Wed, 09/01/2010 - 12:09am

First off congratulations on your retirement, and a sincere thanks for all your years of service. I'm only a few months behind so, so we'll share a case eventually down the road (as long as we're not under General Order #1 somewhere as civilians).

I don't diaagree with the sanctuary comments, but again disagree it was phase III of a Maoist strategy. In a Maoist insurgency the insurgents themselves gain enough ground, support and personel to transition to a war of movement.

N. Vietnam executed an unsuccessful military UW campaign, but it was very successful against our populace led by clowns like Jane Fonda and Congress. So although N. Vietnam couldn't win using UW, they set conditions for a conventional victory by neutralizing our will to counter their conventional attack. Of course I think these were all unintended consequences that they effectively leveraged.

While S. Vietnam was an artificial country, like many artificial countries it came into its own over time. They were probably stronger and had more of a national identity after defeating the insurgency than prior to our involvement. While everything you said was true, it was also true that this conflict was part of the Cold War and I think our efforts there demonstrated our will and commitment to check the spread of communism, so while the conflict to the Vietnamese was about much more than the Cold War, from our view I think it did significantly influence slowing the surge of communist expansion in the region.

We need to learn to take credit where it is deserved along with taking criticism when it is deserved.

Bob's World

Tue, 08/31/2010 - 7:31pm

Bill (my first post as a retiree, so I owe you a case of beer)

Consider those same facts (that I do not dispute) from a slightly different perspective:

With the creation of the (fictional) state of North Vietnam we created an official sanctuary that the insurgency could operate out of. Operations in the South did not have his protection, so we were able to build up sufficient capacity to suppress the insurgency there (only addressing the violence, but not the conditions of poor governance on the Jones Model), but never quite put it into full remission due to the sanctuary we created in N. Vietnam, as well as the more widely recognized sanctuary in Laos and Cambodia that fell into the category of what Bernard Fall termed "active sanctuary" - "a territory contiguous to a rebellious area which, though ostensibly not involved in the conflict, provides the rebel side with shelter, training facilities, equipment, and - if it can get away with it - troops." (Street Without Joy).

I think we really need to expand what we consider "active sanctuary" to include the entire state of N. Vietnam that the west created upon Ho's defeat of the French. We gave them a place where the insurgency could not be effectively suppressed, and from which they could build to phase III without challenge, to ultimately conclude their Maoist insurgency by sweeping across the South in a conventional manner.

I won't challenge the facts of history, or attempt to change them; but I do think that looking at them with a fresh perspective helps us to understand the condition of Insurgency more effectively, which is critical to our ability to look at our current challenges more effectively as well.

Bob I agree facts (and in the study of history facts are always suspect) can and should be interpreted in different ways. However, for the reasons stated (at that time N and S Vietnam were two separate countries) was not phase III of a Maoist insurgency. I think you and COVAN both make good points and that is one way of looking at it.

Some other facts of interest.

The S. Vietnamese insurgency was largely defeated by the end of 1970

In the 1973 the Paris Peace agreement was signed, the conflict was over. We also had the Church Amendment passed was terribly short sighted and gave N. Vietnam a green light for further aggression.

In 1974 Tricky Dick resigns, and the N. Vietnamese hold a special meeting to assess what this means.

In 1974 (DEC) North Vietnam conducts a limited attack into S. Vietnam to capture a Provincial capital, then they wait to see what the U.S. reaction would be. There was none.

In MAR 1975 N. Vietnam attacks with 17 Divisions and defeats S. Vietnam's military while we watch.

We pulled our combat troops out by 1973, a peace accord was signed, the insurgency was defeated. Two years later the N. Vietnamese conduct a conventional attack into S. Vietnam. I don't see that as a phase of the Maoist insurgency.

COVAN (not verified)

Tue, 08/31/2010 - 10:45am

Anonymous at 2:50a.m. "I'll have to go back and review my history, but I think there were significant cultural differences between North and South Vietnam."

Therein lay part of the problem for us: an old man in Hanoi never looked upon the situation as such, but only that of one country, "We offer our lives, and we die for Viet-Nam."

The only differences are the accents and Vietnamese in the north dress more formally than the casual style of the south.

A lot of tactical successes to be proud of in the old Republic of South Vietnam; not one of any real strategic value it would now seem?

Backwards Observer

Tue, 08/31/2010 - 10:06am

Robert C. Jones:

<em><blockquote>Nothing in war is black and white; but US history focuses far too much on the US perspective and then on the Western perspective, and provides little more than lip service to the Vietnamese perspective.</em></blockquote>

Good comments @ 5:12am. But perhaps it is only natural in a forest of motes to lose sight of the beam. Errare humanum est. Vincit qui se vincit.

"Oh, No! It's Making Well-Reasoned Arguments Backed With Facts! Run!"
(The Onion)…

Bob's World

Tue, 08/31/2010 - 6:12am

Dear Anon.

Nothing in war is black and white; but US history focuses far too much on the US perspective and then on the Western perspective, and provides little more than lip service to the Vietnamese perspective.

To separate the Vietnamese conflict into an insurgency that we "defeated" and a conventional war that we "lost" may be what many history books say, but show me the credentials on insurgency for those history writers. My perspective offers no change of the facts, which would be a "rewrite of history;" no, my perspective offers a fresh analysis based on an understanding of insurgency as to what those facts really mean and why it is the U.S. was mired for so long, was so frustrated, and ultimately defeated in that conflict.

Fresh analysis of the facts is allowed. You can plug your ears and say "la la la la" very loudly to block out perspectives that don't match your own, or, you can go "hmm, thats interesting, I wonder how he got to there, and if that perspective is correct (in part or whole), then what does it mean in terms of our understanding of insurgency?

IMO there are tremendous mischaracterizations, not of fact, but of why facts occurred, and who the parties really were and what they really thought and felt for both the conflict in Malaysia and the one in Vietnam that put much of US COIN theory onto a major "azimuth error." Those of us who have a background in indirect fires and long range land navigation appreciate very much the difference between a location error and an azimuth error. One causes frustration and confusion, but it easily sorted out. The other will get you hopelessly lost or worse, kill the very people you are trying to help.

No, we westerners put far too much stock on the lines we draw on maps and what we expect them to mean; and for the decisions we make in grand buildings in Europe or the US and expect others to hold to. We are the ones creating the fiction with these efforts. It is legal, but it is fiction all the same. Then we create friction as we go out to enforce that fiction. The border between North and South and the states created are a fact. But that fact is a fiction as well. I know thats not very black and white, but this is human dynamics, and people tend to have a mind of their own. Thats what makes this all interesting.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 08/31/2010 - 3:50am

The final invasion of the NVA was NOT PHASE III of Mao's Insurgency. In Mao's world, the insurgents themselves would form into a conventional army, which didn't happen when S. Vietnam fell. Ken is right about the foolishness of debating the war, but I think calling a foreign army invading another country phase III of a classical Maoist insurgency is re-creation history. If the insurgents themselves formed into large maneuver elements and overthrew the government, then that would be phase III of a classical Maoist insurgency.

I'll have to go back and review my history, but I think there were significant cultural differences between North and South Vietnam, so I don't think it was black and white as you indicate. Of course all the artificial national boundries that the Brits and French drew on maps without any consideration of the social-cultural dynamics continues to haunt us all today in many places of the world.

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 08/30/2010 - 10:07pm

<b>Bill M:</b>

All you say in defense of the principally SF dominated efforts is correct. As is all Phil Ridderhof says on the CAP program.

The insurgency was beaten down, no question, however, its having been defeated is arguable. It is also immaterial -- the total effort was a defeat for <b><i>us</i></b> and that transcends all the good efforts and minor victories by many folks from all parts of the Armed Forces, the Agency, USAid and others.

Regardless, that was then and it can and will be pointlessly argued for another fifty years. The key issues are not the occurrences of 35+ years ago but what's occurring today -- and, far more importantly, what might happen in the future.

Your final sentence, then as now, is correct -- we are in fact defeating ourselves in the IO sphere. Again arguably, we're defeating ourselves overall by trying to do something we're not at all proficient at and are unlikely to ever do well simply because of the size and complexity of both our military bureaucracy and our polity (which are not going away) and the characteristics of our populace. The fact that we're doing it on the other guy's turf and to his tune only exacerbates the problem.

When you do stupid things, then or now, stupid things happen...

Bob's World

Mon, 08/30/2010 - 10:00pm

Bill M.

You realize, of course, that the "NVA march into Saigon" was no more, and no less than the realization of Phase III Maoist Insurgency. Text Book.

The separate states of North and South were legal constucts created by outsiders in the middle of a nationalist insurgency to throw out colonial influences. A legal sanctuary created for Ho by the west to continue to operate his insurgency out of as he continued to work toward total victory; a total victory that in the Maoist strategy he followed, would end in a grand conventional victory to end the war. Just because we bought into the fiction and supported the illegitimate government imposed over the South fiction does not somehow convert this in mid-stream into a state on state war.

I'll propose the counter argument, and that is the legitimacy of the government didn't have anything to do with the North's victory (in many estimates, not just mine the insurgency was actually defeated by a number of good programs implemented). Even if a good CIDG program was in place, it wouldn't do much to stop the march of the NVA into Saigon.

Second, Phoenix, CIDG, SOG among others were good programs (we're in agreement). However, execution in some cases was short changed. CIDG for one was underinvested in. It was more of an experimental program in some regions, and frowned upon by some military leaders. Phoenix was highly successful, but just as we do today we let the media characterize it without effectively defending it. Of course the good programs didn't make up for the mess and discontent that our major clearing operations caused, our the simpleton focus on body count metrics.

Read what the North Vietnamese had to say about our programs and it may give you a different perspective. I think we had a much better strategy (still flawed and led by the wrong folks until Abrams) in Vietnam than we do in Afghanistan.

As long as a liberal leaning media defines the conflict and we dance to their tune we'll continue to be less than effective. The enemy isn't defeating us in the IO realm, we're defeating ourselves.

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 08/30/2010 - 7:35pm

This portion of Robert C. Jones' post is absolutely irrefutable:<blockquote>"There were many great programs and successful operations in Vietnam. Yet we lost...</blockquote>I'd say that fact was due to a flawed strategic approach on several levels -- and that one very big failure was this:<blockquote>"...This is the primary lesson of that war; and why neither "CAP" nor "CIDG" no matter how well executed can overcome the showstopper fact that it was all in support of a government that lacked legitimacy in the eyes of its own populace."</blockquote>While a quite significant factor, perhaps the most significant, there were others...

Regardless of the proximate causes, the lesson remains -- you can do a lot of things right and still lose by misapplying force in the wrong places, the wrong ways -- and at the wrong times.

We are really getting to be entirely too proficient at such misapplications...

Bob's World

Mon, 08/30/2010 - 6:40pm

There were many great programs and successful operations in Vietnam. Yet we lost. This is the primary lesson of that war; and why neither "CAP" nor "CIDG" no matter how well executed can overcome the showstopper fact that it was all in support of a government that lacked legitimacy in the eyes of its own populace.

In Afghanistan we again are developing and executing many great programs in support of a government with at least equal degrees of illegitimacy in the eyes of its populace.

COIN is waged in the villages and countryside; but it is won or lost in the capital. One must either address the capital first and foremost; or if unwilling to do so, resist the hubris of thinking you can overcome that fatal flaw through external efforts, regardless of how good they are, or how well intended.

In response to Dave Maxwells query, there are a few possible answers (and these are based on only a surface understanding of the issues):

-CAP became part of a "better war" narrative, both in opposition to Westmorelands approach, and in a larger Army vs. Marine argument about the conduct of operations. Thus the Marines saw study on this program as a positive (a lot of RAND supporting studies, etc.). Could it be that because CIDG was an SF effort, it got marginalized within the Army (and received marginal interest)?

-From what little I know, CIDG almost operated more as setting up competing guerilla capabilities (UW?) in more sparsely populated areas. Would the CIDG effort have worked in the more heavily populated areas?

I also think the SSI pub plays up the "top down" influence of LtGen Krulak a bit more than it was. CAP started as a very bottom up effort to curtail rocket/mortar attacks at the Danang airbase. Leavening PF units with USMC squads enabled a broader blanket of security. Only later, with some success, did the effort get infused with narrative of the Banana Wars, etc.

In the end, while CAP provided increased security for the areas it operated in, I havent seen any research that argues that the CAPs were ever able to "transition" themselves out of a job and leave competent Vietnamese Security Forces in charge.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 08/30/2010 - 3:08pm

David Maxwell: A legimate question. Could it be that, although not all villages, the majority were not ethnically Vietnamese, and additionally the program was taken-over by MACV and its character was changed?

Having first read about David Galula briefly in Dr. Bernard Fall's book, "Street Without Joy" myself back then, maybe these researchers just thought with Vic Krulak as an early advocate of the population centric approach, instead of trading casualties in the hinterland, which seemed to be the push on III MAF by MACV, these researchers all thought the Marines got it - at least in the beginning?

Why are all these researchers/authors so apparently enamored with the Marine Combined Action Platoons (CAP) and rarely discuss the larger and more effective CIA/Special Forces Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) program?