Galula: The Life and Writings of the French Officer who Defined the Art of Counter-Insurgency by A. A. Cohen and a foreword by John A. Nagl. Published by Praeger, Boulder, Colorado, 2012.
Canadian Army Officer A. A. Cohen has written a new and refreshing book on the life, ideas, and intellectual struggles of the French officer David Galula. It is a book that I have re-read simply because it has led me to disagree with Cohen about Galula’s place in the pantheon of counter-insurgency theorists. Typically, the best books are ones in which you find yourself intellectually stimulated to argue with the author. While Galula was featured prominently in debates during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, I for one questioned whether all his advice was applicable to American combat forces, specifically due to the values we represent. For one, Galula was not constrained with maintaining American values. For instance, Cohen explains how he saw French dominion over Algeria as natural, since the pied-noir minority (European French Settlers) paid the majority of the taxes. Yet he recognizes the second class citizenship status of Algerian Arabs as sustaining the insurgent narrative. I enjoyed Cohen’s emphasis that Galula was originally from a family of North African Jews that had settled in Tunisia and Algeria. He describes how his ancestors earned French citizenship before World War I and how the French Vichy of World War II stripped him of his citizenship and commission because of his religion, leading him to fight for De Gaulle and the Free French in 1944. It was after World War II and his several years in China that caused Galula to truly reflect upon and appreciate the writings of Mao, Galula later became an eyewitness to China’s Communist Revolution, and his career as a colonial infantry officer made him ponder communist insurgencies and the intertwining of the military and political even more closely in unconventional versus conventional warfare. Readers will learn about an officer who attempts to understand the complex elements of insurgencies in French Indochina and Algeria. In Algeria he served in the field and put into practice his ideas of making the population part of the solution and not part of the problem.
One chapter covers Galula’s intellectual debates that blossomed in the United States with the RAND Corporation and at Harvard University. Cohen does not lose sight that Galula published his important book, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (Praeger, 1964), in English and in the United States before it was rediscovered by the French decades later and translated from English into Galula’s native language. Galula advocates building a government from the people upwards, as this begins the gradual empowerment of the local population to the detriment of the insurgent. He argues that the support of the people is vital for the insurgent as well as the counter-insurgent.
The final chapters discuss his influence on General David Petraeus, Donald Rumsfeld, and many of our senior leaders as well as shaping the U.S. Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual FM 3-24. Now as to the subtitle of the book, The French Officer who Defined the Art of Counterinsurgency, among the French there is Roger Trinquier (d. 1986) who wrote several books on the subject, the British military theorist B. H. Hart (d. 1970) wrote, Strategy: The Indirect Approach (Praeger, 1954), and of course there is Galula’s own inspiration Mao. Personally, I am not convinced that Galula deserves the title of “Officer who Defined the Art of Counter-Insurgency.” Another point of argument, that is lightly touched on in Cohen’s volume, is Galula’s views on torture, which, to be fair, is not as extreme as his French counterpart Trinquier, who inspired part of the character of Colonel Mathieu in the 1966 Gilo Porticovo film, “The Battle for Algiers.” Nevertheless, Cohen has done a great service by providing serious students a primer to read about Galula, before tackling his book and his RAND study, the operational biography, “Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958.”