Monday, October 16, 2006

What Liddell Hart Knew Fifty Years Ago

(Above: Photo of Liddell Hart from Wiki Commons.)

I’ve finished the penultimate draft of WHY MERMAIDS SING. Since I’m comfortably ahead of my 1 November deadline, I can set it aside for a week, then come back to it and do a final read-through before I run off the final copy and send it off to my editor. Now I must turn my attention to getting my office into some semblance of order before I embark on the mad rush to finish THE ARCHANGEL PROJECT for Harper Collins.

What I’m reading… STRATEGY, by B. H. Liddell Hart. I didn’t buy this at the booksale, but I did find it on my shelves while trying to make room for all my new purchases. Fascinating book. If you’re not familiar with Liddell Hart, he was the British military historian probably best known for an insightful book written before World War II on the future uses of tanks and air power in warfare. His fellow Brits scoffed at his conclusions and recommendations. The German General Staff did not…

Anyway, in this book, Liddell Hart analyzes military strategy through the ages, starting with the Greeks and plowing his way forward. But I was particularly caught by his final chapter on Guerrilla War, added to the 1967 edition I have. In this chapter, he cautions against the desirability of guerrilla warfare as fomented by the Allies as a resistance to the Nazis in WWII, by Lawrence against the Turks in WWI, by the Spaniards against Napoleon. I will simply quote:

“Violence takes much deeper root in irregular warfare than it does in regular warfare. In the latter it is counteracted by obedience to constituted authority, whereas the former makes a virtue of defying authority and violating rules. It becomes very difficult to rebuild a country, and a stable state, on a foundation undermined by such experience.

“A realization of the dangerous aftermath of guerrilla warfare came to me in reflection on Lawrence’s campaigns in Arabia. My book on those campaigns, an exposition of the theory of guerrilla warfare, was taken as a guide by numerous leaders of commando units and resistance movements in the last war. Wingate, then only a captain serving in Palestine, came to see me shortly before it started, and was obviously filled with the idea of giving the theory a fresh and wider application. But I was beginning to have doubts—not of its immediate efficacy, but of its long-term effects. It seemed that they could be traced, like a thread, running through the persisting troubles that we, the Turks’ successors, were suffering in the same area where Lawrence had spread the Arab Revolt….

“These lessons of history were too lightly disregarded by those who planned to promote violent insurrections as part of our war policy. The repercussions have had a shattering effect in the postwar years on the peace policy of the Western Alliance—and not only in providing both equipment and stimulus to anti-Western movements in Asia and Africa. The disease has continued to spread.

“It is not too late to learn from the experience of history. However tempting the idea may seem of replying to our opponents’ “camouflaged” war activities by counter-offensive moves of the same kind, it would be wiser to devise and pursue a more subtle and far-seeing counter-strategy. In any case, those who frame policy and apply it need a better understanding of the subject than has been shown in the past.”

Ah, if only the CIA had read and reflected upon that chapter before rushing to organize, aid and arm the Islamic fundamentalists’ resistance to the Russians in Afghanistan. And think, for a moment, on the implications of this insight for the future of Iraq…