Small Wars Journal

Hot request - SWJ impact?

We are working on something that requires a narrative of Small Wars Journal's impact. We have our own ideas, but would like yours -- to confirm, expand, or adjust our own assessment.

While we always appreciate "we love you" commentary, we are really looking for some particulars beyond broad commentary to help us understand our impact and expand upon our strengths.

  • What are the specific debates and themes in the site that have been most meaningful to you?
  • How have they influenced action in the field? How did things play out on SWJ and impact something else?
  • What particular impact has SWJ had for you?

Please discuss in comments below, and/or email to us. A bullet point is welcome, a richer narrative from your perspective would be even more welcome. With a deadline in about 24 hours, we'd GREATLY appreciate your opinions NOW and ask you to expedite whatever thoughts you can provide quickly. But with continued assessment and self-awareness on our plate, your comments are welcome whenever you are able to provide them.



Rob Thornton

Mon, 05/10/2010 - 10:41am

On how it supports institutionalization:

Offers a public place - outside of conferences - where ideas can be aired, tempered, argued and assimilated and then reintroduced into more focused groups, manuals, papers, etc.

Promotes a respectful discussion that while considerate of rank, position, education and other "Dapper Dan bonafides" does not hold exclude participation and as such is where ideas will stand or fall on their merit and usefulness.

Its character supports both a direct approach - where some of the ideas and comments have an immediate impact, and a more indirect approach where thinking is shaped over time and discussion.

I found it a place to work out ideas through interaction with folks I might not have otherwise had access to - as well as just a place to think.

H/T to Dave, Bill, John T, Marc, Rex, Terry, Mike F, Ken, Dave M, Steve, Gian, and the many, many others who make up the SWJ community

Best, Rob

Small Wars Journal is the indispensable site for counterinsurgency discussion on the internet. I discovered the site after returning from Iraq in 2007 while working at the Army's Counterinsurgency Center.

Simply put, the discussion and articles on the site represent the leading edge of counterinsurgency thinking today. The site is followed by the highest levels of the defense establishment yet is also open to the enthusiast community, who sustain and promote it.

Small Wars Journal and the council proved invaluable to the development of several of my most important articles. The debate over the Anbar Awakening on the council shaped much of the well-regarded Military Review published later. (

The council provides an outlet for junior and mid grade personnel to air ideas for senior leaders to consider. SWJ is instrumental in highlighting military issues, such as the role of COIN in Professional Military Education. (

SWJ is a valued resource and important to national security. Dave and Bill's forum has significantly impacted military thinking the past few years. They have created a dynamic and special community where ideas go to get noticed. Kudos to both.

MAJ Niel Smith
Fort Leavenworth, KS


Sat, 05/08/2010 - 7:56pm

Well, MikeF, I had put all that "chatter, chatter, chatter" on the real COIN site, my Facebook page.

For the wider COINdinista insurgency, I'll just cut and paste from there:

When thinking about the effects of SWJ, the medium is the message, right?

I mean, there's no specific essay I can recall that was groundbreaking, but as an online community it was and remains the best single clearinghouse for best practices around. A key problem, for me anyway, is that sometimes "best practices" are little more than mistakes which need real world vetting.

It's sycophantic to a handful of sacred cows (Kilcullen primarily); fails unlike Abu Muqawama to often consider in an empathetic way the populations amongst whom we fight and the enemies we seek to destroy, detain or deter; and probably pays little currency to notions of strategy, often assuming that the tactics and operations shall suffice as ends in themselves.

But overall it remains an indispensable, ongoing encyclopedia of how to conduct irregular wars. It probably has given more space to the Anbar "Awakening" than any other medium, including military journals.

It allows for a great many outside experts who can't obtain AKO to weigh in with real insights. And it has exposed for a public airing questions about war ethics, goals and personalities that few other more august or less competent authors would've attempted.

The finest praise one can give to SWJ is that it has lived up to the USMC manual to which it pays homage. That's something I believe its founders would find to be the highest compliment -- that should Chesty Puller or Smedley Butler or any of the other Marines who helped to codify best practices early in the 20th century read the essays and interaction today, they would find it stimulating, essential and important (even if Butler also would decry it all as a "racket").

That, and Dave Dilegge is truly -- and often quietly -- a gentleman. They just don't make them like him anymore.

It's also his birthday. Happy Birthday.

Ron Humphrey (not verified)

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 10:32am

FWIW The time I've spent here at SWJ has been some of the most informed and well grounded education I've recieved in all things war and peace. The members here all bring great experience and knowledge and share it freely with those who seek to understand these things.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 11:48am

To answer the questions in order:

1. The feisty discussions surrounding the issue of tribes and Afghanistan has been, for me, perhaps the most interesting and educational topic. (Well, in terms of describing the complexity of the situation and varying attitudes toward the issue.)

2. Not applicable as a layperson, but I have told students and fellow colleagues about the website. In particular, I thought colleagues might be interested in the articles that discuss provision of health care as it relates to stabilization, etc.

Being in the health care field, and dealing with medical curricula, I was very pleased to see such articles. I likely will add a link to the articles - where appropriate - when developing my portion of said curriculum.

3. The impact has been tremendous for me as a layperson with little knowledge of - and little interaction with - the military. I use Small Wars Journal as a personal educational resource. The aggregator function of the site and the detailed discussion by practitioners in the Council forum are perhaps the most useful.

I don't know if this is quite what you all were looking for, but I hope it helps in some way.


Thu, 05/06/2010 - 11:50am

I am not generally aware of the impact SWJ has on the US or allied militaries being a civilian.

What marks out SWJ is the richness of the debate, to which a variety of civilians contribute; often on areas where the hard core of US military members have little experience.

Secondly, that civilian members can expose others to points not covered and I am well aware this is from the safety of an "armchair" far from where "boots on the ground" are in a Small War.

Finally, sometimes the agenda is odd, with themes and regions slipping back from the foreground. I expect this is explained by the US military being in the majority.

Rex Brynen

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 12:00pm

I can't comment on the immediate operational impact of SWJ, but as a university educator I can comment on some of its more indirect effects.

I frequently refer students to SWJ--sometimes for specific articles, but often to give them a lively sense of an entire world (COIN and stabilization operations, the military more broadly) that may otherwise be outside their experience. This provides a rich and far more nuanced feel than would otherwise be obtained by them through the media, and movies, and often challenges initial preconceptions and stereotypes. Given that many of my students are in international development studies with future careers in the aid and NGO sectors (and a fair number also go on to work as foreign service officers and journalists too), I would like to think that this much richer understanding contributes to more effective synergies and cooperation in the future. It certainly leads to more informed academic work.

In addition, I find SWJ invaluable personally, whether it is in the content published on the website, the perspectives shared by fellow SWC contributors, or as an aid to identifying material elsewhere (that SWJ has flagged) that I might otherwise have missed. It certainly enhances both my own academic research and my policy engagement.

In both of these dimensions, the effectiveness of SWJ is underpinned by its open, pluralist, and inclusive nature. A broad range of perspectives in included, and encouraged. Discussion is respectful--and intemperate violations of this community spirit are quickly dealt with.


Thu, 05/06/2010 - 2:42pm

I will offer up one pro and one con.

Pro: when I go back in the Army after a few years of hiatus, I think I'll still have a good grasp of most of the current issues that I'll be confronted with. This is almost entirely due to reading SWJ regularly.

Con: SWJ is a catalyst for procrastination on other things that I should be doing. I'll work for a few hours on some project and then, intending to take a 5-minute break, visit SWJ. That 5-minute break turns into a 2-hour time warp.

I have to say the four areas of impact for me have been:

1. The most obvious is the eclectic nature of the topics presented - it exposes me (and others, I presume)to areas, regions, or topics that I would not have otherwise been exposed to. Hardly a day goes by where I'm not alerted to some brewing trouble spot or bone of contention that would have slipped beneath my radar.

2. Professionally, I am pointed to the sprawling, rich, growing literature on small wars by educated guides, often with an extensive exegesis provided by experts on both sides of the issue. I can't tell you how often my colleagues have asked me, "Where did you get that?"

3. It provides a meta-narrative of the various debates in the field. I have gained new insights into how opinions arise, and how the backgrounds of the participants shape their views of the small wars world.

4. Finally, SWJ provides a model that others should emulate in providing a forum that engenders fierce debate without tolerating idiots or flamers - that alone makes it worth preserving

- SWJ is the only site that provides the very best access to the "full spectrum" of practitioners, thinkers, leaders, journalists, and commentators (from the 4 star general and Ambassador to the grunt or FSO or aid worker on the ground; from the professor and think tank researcher to the embedded or independent journalist) who write about and exchange ideas, support research, and conduct discourse and debate about the "full spectrum" of war (irregular, unconventional, political, hybrid, complex, nation-state) and instruments of national power in this 21st Century of Era of Persistent conflict.

- (of course a humorous way to look at the readership and participants is that they range from the Emperor who wears no clothes to Napoleon's Corporal)

- I use Small Wars Journal daily as a resource for professional development for myself and my colleagues.

- Small Wars Journal is one of the best resources to get new information and ideas discussed rapidly; leaders (junior and senior alike) can introduce new ideas and concepts and dispel myths and rumors in a timely manner.

- SWJ is an excellent tool for developing informal, virtual networks that can support research and lessons learned.

-The various formats/sections (journal, blog, council, comments) provide different methods for information exchange, discussion, and debate to suit the varied needs and tastes of readers, participants, and members.

John T. Fishel

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 4:06pm

I echo Rex Brynan's comments from a US university perspective. I, too, refer, students to SWJ. Some have become contributors. I also encountered one of my students who turned out to be regular contributor to our discussions here. And, I met Marct on the board, joined with him and Rob Thornton at Rob's invitation, to produce the SFA: The Mosul Case published online by the Journal. I am currently working on a proposal to get it published by a major university press. I also brought Marc to OU for a lecture series for my Small Wars course.
I would note that there are very few blogs that find their discussions incorporated into a major foreign policy journal and asked to comment on major new military education and doctrinal approaches. SWJ has those distinctions.

Abe (not verified)

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 5:48pm

As a graduate student who has specialized in COIN, SWJ has been a regular resource for me over the last two years. I have written a lot of papers on specialized subjects within the broader field, such as organized crime & insurgency and information operations & insurgency, and SWJ is a reliable resource for articles to use in my research.

More than anything, I think SWJ serves as a great forum for debates. Specifically for one course this semester, I had to write a critique of the hybrid warfare concept and SWJ has been really the focal point of that debate. The exchange between Hoffman and Glenn on SWJ was essential in framing my critique. While I'm not a fan of the concept, I think the debate that took place on SWJ was really illuminating about future warfare. The same can be said of the so-called COIN vs. Crusaders debate.

For many in my generation, we went from practice to theory in small wars learning on the ground through trial and error, hypothesis and test, and sometimes blunt trauma. SWJ, part classroom, part social network, and part social club, provides a one-stop, all source meeting place where we can share our ideas, provide instruction, learn how others solved problems, and engage in our profession. The impact is global and provides immediate feedback loops to current operations.

The comments here and in all the e-mails we have received are very much appreciated. Bill is in Germany, I'm in Massanutten for my daughter's graduation from JMU - off a TAD/TDY to Suffolk - and we got a quick turn-around request from a foundation to better elaborate on a funding proposal we submitted. Please keep it coming as our lights are dimming in regards to funding...

Also, save some pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters - we will have a NPR-like fund raising drive in the near future...

Bill (not verified)

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 8:11pm

Ditto Dave's last. Hugely helpful, reading all and will be responding as my helmet fire allows. Your insights are shaping our thoughts -- both immediate as I work the task at hand, and long term as we shape and develop the site with a more informed understanding.

Pol-Mil FSO (not verified)

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 9:36pm

SWJ has helped me in the following ways:

-as an analytical tool, and in some ways even a therapeutic aid, to help me make some sense of my experience in Afghanistan;

- as a great source for articles, monographs, etc., that I would otherwise have never encountered;

-as an alternative to the Early Bird when I am not logged into .mil or .gov domains; and,

-as an unsurpassed intellectual stimulus for contemplation about insurgency and counterinsurgency.

Mike Burgoyne

Fri, 05/07/2010 - 10:04am

SWJ is a great place to get relevant up-to-date information from experts on security situations and insurgent groups. I have found great information on Sendero Luminoso, FARC, Colombian Politics, and Mexicos Narco War. With contributors like John Sullivan, John Fishel and Hal Brands, SWJ provides great insights on complex low intensity conflict situations in Latin America and throughout the world. As a foreign area officer I have used information and contacts from SWJ to prepare myself for official travel and studies. SWJ is an invaluable resource.

1) The daily aggregation of key articles is invaluable for surveying international issues.

2) Having been out of the service for a long while, this has been a key source for which current topics of interest are being debated.

3) I appreciate the relatively apolitical nature of SWJ. While you post writings by people with a strong POV, I am not left feeling as though I am reading talking points. I think that, by and large, people on the site are making good faith arguments. This is the first site I recommend to people I work with who have no military background and express an interest in military issues.


Thanks all - and please keep it coming - even if we don't get the grant we are applying for this is very therapeutic for Bill and I as we don't often get feedback on the impact SWJ has.

We've gotten numerous e-mails too from John Nagl, Tom Ricks, Dave Maxwell, Gian Gentile, Anita Blair, Greyhawk, Sean Wyatt, Rebecca White, Crispin Burke, Judah Grunstein, Marc Tyrrell, William Owen, Matt Vallone, Karaka Pend, John Wheelock, and others Ive not caught up on so far.

Again thanks - Im not so confident that we will get this grant right now. So please save those pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters - we will have a NPR-like fund raising drive in the near future...

Dave D.

Outsidethewire (not verified)

Fri, 05/07/2010 - 6:35pm

I would contribute. SWJ is very useful to me as an FSO interested in making the civ-mil relationship work in Washington and in the field. I joined when I went out as PRT leader in Iraq in 2008 and used it as an excellent, practical COIN tutoring mechanism. It has become for me a place to stay on top of the military's key intellectual developments as well as current news. It's also an outreach tool of sorts for some of us diplomats, useful for injecting diplomatic/civilian/FSO perspectives into debates on national security issues. Wish I had time/energy to do more of that. I point to SWJ frequently as a place to get smart for students interested in a career in diplomacy or national security.

Definitely agree with Schmedlap about the whole procrastination thing. I've lost countless hours of sleep to the siren song of the SWJ Favorite link...

Eric Chen

Fri, 05/07/2010 - 9:28pm

Background: I served as a 96B before 9/11 and then earned a poli-sci IR degree. As a soldier, I was indoctrinated in the Cold War doctrine (literally - my AIT in 1997 was based on fighting the Soviets). Within my role as a MI troop, I thought of myself as a war fighter. In fact, the first time I came across Civil Affairs while working on an oplan, the function barely made sense to me as a soldier's job, ie, to fight and win our nation's wars. By the time I left the Army, though, I was bothered by the 'end-ex' mentality that marginalized OOTW, and all but ignored the post-war. As a lay observer since I left the Army, I watched on the news as my concerns were borne out, quickly in post-war Iraq and more recently in post-war Afghanistan. While popular blame for our post-war failures was usually politically directed, I believed our failures were due more to the miltary's fundamental mentality, rather than political decisions. As a student, I experienced a similar flawed mentality in academia. From my professors, there seemed to be contempt for COIN. They were steeped in Cold War realism and didn't bother to hide their opposition to any role other than a 'conventional' role for the military. I sat in on grad student presentations where they openly joked and laughed about the supposition that our military could succeed in an anti-guerilla fight. A young professor invited a guest speaker, a former classmate of his, who worked for DoD. When I asked her about the need to improve our OOTW capabilities and doctrine, she responded adamantly that the military should stick to war fighting, because it can't do other things effectively. I attended a panel where the frustration of a young Civil Affairs officer, recently deployed to Afghanistan, boiled over as he pleaded for help.

In short, starting from my concerns as a soldier pre-9/11, to watching those concerns come to life in GWOT, I saw an obvious gaping exploitable gap in our capabilities and doctrine and that gap being exploited. I was frustrated that neither the mainstream military nor mainstream academia seemed to be committed to solving the gap; rather, the popular solution seemed to be to call an 'end-ex' and run away from its consequences.

. . . Enter SWJ.

There were already milblogs providing valuable 1st hand reporting from the war. But there wasn't an open-source forum like SWJ that gathered a variety of practicioners and thinkers in order to attempt to solve the gap in a sustained serious intellectual manner. As a lay observer, SWJ output has addressed my concerns regarding GWOT better than the news and my college classes.

To wax poetic about democracy, the open access to this forum, allowing a common citizen like me to come face to face with the heart of the discourse, and even interact with it, is a wonderful use of the internet. It's a privilege for me, and my blog is peppered with links to this website. SWJ connects lay people to the inner workings of critical issues and stimulates thinking. In the long term, open forums like SWJ matter to sustain public and political support for needed innovations like COIN in an institution famous for its reactionary tendencies.

Finally, I have recommended this website to professors as well as friends, including active-duty deploying military friends.


No worries on waxing verse to prose, truth to power. Merge your words into thought and voice and share your truth in fact and sound and observation. Even though we will critique, we long to hear your narrative. It is but the scientific process rennaisanced into design.

No one is right; no one is wrong. We all add to the colective body of one voice merging towards truth. The collective memory as it were discarding only when we're wrong and the hypothesis is disproven.

Democracy, in the American sense, is but an on-going experiment coupled within the constraints of human nature, emotion, and endeavor. The social contract extended to the layman.

A work in progress, an on-going conversation and debate, SWJ is no exception but an experiment in collaboration. Multiplied, SWJ is greater than the sum of its parts to the nth degree.

Carl Pine would add the chatter, chatter. chatter of SWJ sometimes magnifies in the midst of on-going policy, strategic, and tactical shifts.

And all the people said Amen.