Small Wars Journal

An Enduring Vision for Small Wars Journal

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 7:52am

We continue to mourn and adjust to our unexpected and untimely loss of Dave Dilegge, the principal engine behind Small Wars Journal, but we have a vision and are developing the implementing details of the plan and team to move Small Wars Journal forward.

This post is to affirm the why and preview the what of the way ahead for SWJ. In the near future, we will post more to expand the what, get into the how, and crowd-source our plans to strengthen them. We’ll seed that dialog with some tangible ideas and asks that go beyond the vision we’re providing today.

Dave was the core team at Small Wars Journal. This is very much a community site, but he was the undisputed chief cook and bottle washer. He leaves us a lot more than two shoes to fill. Fortunately, we are blessed to have a lot of like-minded people on the team with the resolve to put on some work boots and step out.


May 2, 2020 is as bad or good a specific date as any to mark the inflection point in a trend toward another dark age for small wars.

  • Increasing focus on a new era of Great Power Competition as described in the 2017 US National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Defense Strategy Summary.
  • The continued winding down of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • A global pandemic, still perhaps only in its small first wave, that is changing the world order. It is impacting myriad small conflicts, the tools and priorities for major powers to address them, and even the attention span to acknowledge them.
  • Most pointedly, it’s the date our community lost Dave, a great character and an asset to us all, who appreciated small wars and their impact on national and global security, and made it his life’s work to help others in their intellectual pursuit and understanding of small wars.

In 1975 the US military purged its schools of all things related to counterinsurgency. The prevailing school of thought was that the US would never fight another a conflict akin to the Vietnam War. When the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars evolved into major insurgencies the US, allied militaries, and interagency partners had to reinvent the wheel. Dave Dilegge made tremendous contributions to the much-needed renaissance in small wars history, theory, concepts, and pragmatism. Through SWJ and his prior efforts at the MOUT Homepage and Urban Operations Journal, he was the catalyst for a virtual community of interest that nurtured the rebirth of thinking about insurgency and counterinsurgency. Dave’s impact is summed up well by Dave Kilcullen in this quote from the dedication of Counterinsurgency [emphasis added]:

“For Dave Dilegge and Bill Nagle, founders and editors of Small Wars Journal. They gave the counterguerrilla underground a home, at a time when misguided leaders banned even the word ‘insurgency,’ though busily losing to one. Scholars, warriors, and agitators, Dave and Bill laid the foundation for battlefield success: our generation owes them a debt of gratitude.”

We are now in an era of Great Power Competition as described in the US National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy. We seem to be moving from a population centric focus to platform centric concepts. The future of competition and conflict will consist of both small wars and potentially large scale combat operations. The non-doctrinal human domain will remain as relevant as the very necessary capabilities to counter the anti-access area denial (A2AD) threats of the revisionist and rogue powers. At the same time, we must continue to conduct persistent operations against violent extremist organizations.

We do not reject the focus on capabilities for major theater warfare and open state-on-state conflict. We do, however, still maintain that competency in small wars is not automatically a lesser included capability of a highly capable military force. Small wars thinking remains vital to studying the full spectrum of conflict. Practical small wars capabilities must remain available tools in the toolbox for international engagement. We have hope, but not faith, that we will avoid another purge of 1975. We hope that declining attention on small wars does not again ebb all the way down to the level of a resistance or an underground, meeting in dusty basements, that it did in the 80s and 90s. But hope is not a course of action.

  • We resolve to continue to provide a home to the counterguerrilla underground and support to the insurgency of counterinsurgents, as we have for nearly two decades.
  • Dave Dilegge was all about small wars before they were cool again. Small Wars Journal will continue to be, even after it stops being cool. Because it’s important.


We’ll be honest – we briefly considered finding a home for SWJ content and closing up shop. We decided Dave, and the small wars community he built, deserve and need a living legacy, not a dead one. 

There has been an operational pause on most activities of SWJ. We will un-pause as we re-establish a production team.

El Centro , our town square for analysis and discussion of Latin America’s guerrilla wars and criminal insurgencies, has remained up and running throughout. The tremendous team behind El Centro, led by Robert Bunker and John Sullivan, have declared their uninterrupted resolve to their focus area and the broader goals of SWJ. Onward.

Over the next few months, we will be extending the El Centro model to new focus areas. We will start with Africa and Hybrid Wars.

More to follow on all those fronts. We ask that you bear with us as we go through this transition.

With sincere thanks, 

Bill Nagle, Dan Kelly, and Dave Maxwell

Board of Directors, Small Wars Foundation




Tue, 05/19/2020 - 11:00am

Personally, I am very glad that SWJ will remain the first place to look for articles on non-conventional wars past, present, and future. Dave was not intimidated by some of the reactions to articles, including mine, that were written on this webpage, which spoke well of him and the integrity of SWJ.

I would point out that in 1971, the Army Intel School had already shifted gears back to the Cold War doctrine, including the Fulda Gap scenarios, in anticipation of all U.S. troops leaving Vietnam in 1973. This was despite such things as my whole class going to Vietnam - thankfully, one of our instructors was a USMC captain and our class advisor was a Marine gunny - both of whom had been in Vietnam and taught things that we might use there.

The foresight of Dave and the directors in not allowing what we have learned and what we can still learn speaks well of the legacy SWJ presents to all who have an interest. Thanks.