Small Wars Journal

War Books: Building a Counterinsurgency Library

War Books: Building a Counterinsurgency Library by Max Brooks - Modern War Institute

Insurgencies, guerrilla warfare—whatever we chose to call this type of violence, it is, by far the deadliest threat to those who serve in uniform. Since the middle of the last century, over a quarter of a million Americans were killed or wounded in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And those are just the big ones. As tragic as these figures might be, an even deeper tragedy might be the forgotten lessons that could prevent future casualties.

Every time America wades into a counterinsurgency, those on the ground pay, in blood, for priceless knowledge in the art of how to fight. And yet, every time, that priceless knowledge seems worthless when it comes to future study. The post–Vietnam retreat to the Fulda Gap left the post–9/11 military completely unprepared for Afghanistan or Iraq. As a senior Iraq strategist told me, “I deployed with two duffle bags; one for my gear and the other with books I had to read.” On the subject of Afghanistan, an MWI colleague confessed, “We barely knew anything about the Soviet experience.” That experience is now almost old enough to vote, and yet, despite the nearly two-decade experience with counterinsurgency, the center of strategic gravity is even now, shifting right back to conventional, set-piece combat.

What will this amnesia mean for America’s future warfighters when—not if, but when—they suddenly find themselves stuck in another massive, messy, lethal insurgency? How many casualties will be counted while future strategists hurriedly dust off the lessons of the last two decades? When it comes to guerrilla warfare, America’s military can no longer afford on-the-job training. At the very least, there needs to be a collective repository for the lessons of guerrilla warfare. That is why the Modern War Institute has begun working to compile a new COIN library…

Read on.


For a primarily Vietnam War reference, this is site is highly recommended:



The first books I tell new SF soldiers that I mentor are


The Village War by Williams R Andrews (retired SF Officer) The single best book on how Violent Extremist Organization takes over one village at a time and then one state at a time an then the whole country. 

Game Changers by LTC (Ret) D. Scott Mann Builds on the this subject not only to counter it but on how to do it. Remember firemen make the best arsonists.

Arms Of Little Value and his essay Jihad Of The Pen by G L Lamborn

Giap's works and essays, The Military Art Of The People's War, People's War People's Army

Mao Tse Tung's works yes read On Guerrilla War but then move to his Selected Works Of Vol I,II,II,IV

Revolutionary Terrorism by Martha Crenshaw Hutchinson. What terrorist have a political agenda, so they are really revolutionary insurgents, not terrorists and we need to fight an insurgency not a tactic. 

PANVN and The Viet Song by Douglas Pike. So how many of you Strategic Thinkers have been to Texas Tech Library to go through Pikes donated works? There are a lot of lessons learned that are catalogued and analyzed in that collection.

On Tactics by B. E Friedman

How to read and learn from The Losers. Yes we are in this category, sad to say. 

Look for what they did right and what they did wrong, look for patterns. The biggest pattern that comes out is the absence of political warfare at all levels of the conflicts. Lets take SF in Vietnam. When the started with the VDP and the CIDG pre 1965 they had a lot of success once they moved to an More Offensive role they abandoned The Village War thus the local political war. The CIA did the same in Laos, they fought a conventional war basically (remember what are the effects on the ground, not what classification the operation is) with total disregard for The Village War. This is why it folded like a house of cards when we left. If War Is Politics By Other Means, and All Politics Are Local this points to the weight political warfare plays in revolutionary and counter revolutionary warfare. Rhodesia and South Africa came up with some of the best counters to their situation but it was all based on a house of cards morally. They had lost the war before it began as they lost the Moral Element. Once that is gone you are done. Pseudo Operations yep great stuff, they learned it from the US SF who did some of it in Vietnam with Road Runner Teams. This is what happened to the French in Algiers. The physical intellectual and moral elements of these types of war are tied to a political objective. 

Just my thoughts





Dave Maxwell

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 8:38am

A very broad, diverse,  and very useful list.  I have one quibble.  Max left off the Assessing Revolutionary and Insurgent Strategy project led by Paul Tompkins and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab's National Security Division.  (this reprises and builds on the Special Operations Research Office at American University in the 1950's and 1960's)  The modern and updated reports 9as well as the historical case studies can be found at this link.  Any scholar or practitioner of insurgency, COIN, UW, Special Warfare, Psychological Warfare, Political Warfare should have this web site bookmarked and should make use of these reports and case studies.