Military History and the Drafting of Doctrine

Military History and the Drafting of Doctrine

FM 3-24, Relevant Case Studies or Seductive Analogies?

by Andrew Salamone, Small Wars Journal

Military History and the Drafting of Doctrine (Full PDF Article)

Military professionals value history as a tool for accomplishing objectives ranging from predicting future events and outcomes to developing new strategy and doctrine. Examining individual case studies helps reveal patterns and trends useful in forecasting, while drawing historical analogies between current and prior situations with similar characteristics can reveal "lessons learned," which are often applied to future contingencies. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual (FM 3-24) published in December 2006 is an example of the degree to which history can influence the making of present-day military doctrine. The manual is based on the lessons learned from counterinsurgency experiences as far removed as the 1950's. While the consideration of history is undeniably important, so is the need for in depth analysis of the selected case studies and historical analogies from which lessons are drawn. Such analysis ensures similarities are more than superficial and that the lessons we are learning are the correct ones. This paper calls into question the validity of the historical analogies used in FM 3-24 and cautions against the continued reliance on historical case studies that are diminishing in relevance.

As pointed out by Frank Hoffman in his summer 2007 article in Parameters, a careful read of FM 3-24 reveals that the manual is firmly grounded in the classical theories of insurgency and counterinsurgency. Key concepts, historical case studies, and even the list of suggested readings emphasize the experiences and lessons learned during the 1950's and 60's when politically organized Maoist inspired wars of national liberation dominated the security landscape. Sir Robert Thompson's defeat of the insurgent movement in Malaya and David Galula's efforts against insurgency in Algeria are touted as textbook examples for conducting a successful counterinsurgency. Even facets of our own experience in Vietnam are reintroduced and reexamined, in most cases to emphasize what not to do when combating an insurgency.

From a historical perspective, the new manual's focus is understandable. Relatively recent examples of politically organized Maoist-inspired insurgencies achieving victory, most notably in Vietnam, leads us to believe our current enemies could and will adopt a similar approach in order to defeat us today. The existence of a "template" for a counterinsurgent victory, that being the writings of Thompson and Galula, further reinforces the perceived utility in emphasizing identical concepts in current doctrine. Finally, Mao's strategy and tactics for conducting an insurgency with centralized and top down leadership structure, emphasis on maintaining the support of the rural population, and three-phased strategy for achieving victory are familiar and well understood concepts deeply engrained in the U.S. Military's collective experience. Also understood are the tools and methods for combating such strategies and tactics, such as strengthening host nation capabilities through Foreign Internal Defense and winning the "hearts and minds" of the affected population through civic actions and economic development.

Military History and the Drafting of Doctrine (Full PDF Article)

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Historians are very good at what they do - putting information into an accurate contextual narrative. They can correct the errors of assumption made by political scientists, anthropologists and sociologists by pointing to facts - but historians come with a few weaknesses that COIN theorists need to remember.

First, by and large, historians due to their professional archival-based training tend to not consider the implications of "silent evidence" or the missing piieces of the puzzle or the part of the picture outside of the frame they are selecting. It was not long ago that oral histories were dismissed out of hand by professional historians as being worthless as sources. Recently, historians have found that these oral histories tend to lie a whole lot less, at times, than do official documents.

Secondly, the neeed to generate "new knowledge" to get the coveted PhD has trended over decades to cause the average historian to be expert in ever narrower slices of fields and to neglect synthesis - which is the most useful kind of historical writing for the layman or practitioner.

COIN theory needs specialists and generalists in history to comment but very few historians are willing to become generalists until long after they establish their "street cred" by publishing in some esoteric subfield, acquiring tenure and departmental seniority. Robert Conquest or Jacques Barzun are free to pontificate on half an eon of a civilization - Dr. Joe Blow in his second year of tenure track at Big State U. had better publish his ass off in journals that no sensible person is going to read.

The largest, successfully suppressed, religious insurgency in world history was the Taiping Rebellion in 19th C. China with a death toll comparable to a world war. Tsarist Russia's peasant revolts under Pugachev and "legitimist" pretenders killed hundreds of thousands; Europe's late medieval and early modern period is very rich in examples of counterinsurgency against religiously based uprisings. Few historians who made a career out of studying, say the Vietnam War or French Algeria or even military history will reach for these examples and discuss their nuances in detail.

Excellent article. Cogent, well reasoned an accurate. Malaya was so very different that its use for comparison purposes to any other insurgency is extremely problematic; I question that Algeria was a 'success.'

Marighela's theories are far more appropos and the religious quotient today makes even it of only some use.

My perception is that, fortunately, most of the Troops have figured that out...