Glancing over the bookshelf there’s a number of old books that I’ve come back to over and over again through the years. Like all classics, you seem to read something new in them each time. Not necessary something you missed, but maybe things you’ve come to view another way. The wisdom that comes with age and experience has a tendency to change a perspective. One such book I recently revisited is the original version of Bob Newman’s classic, Guerrillas in the Mist.
Hard to believe it was just over 14 years ago when I was first introduced to it by an old Squad Leader who had it laying on his bunk while were waiting on a flight north out of Ali al Saleem. As is pretty much universal among the brotherhood of trigger pullers is the self-education that comes along with it. Perhaps its the personality type that leads one to becoming a professional in his craft; I digress. But I was immediately fascinated by this book, trading out his copy for my copy of AQ Khan and the Islamic Bomb I had just wrapped up. That was an eye-opener too on how Swedish liberalism literally re-ignited the cold war between India and Pakistan. But…that’s a topic for another day.
Bob Newman himself was a figure I had heard of from reading Soldier of Fortune but not much else. He was a Marine Officer and quite a distinguished one, but more interesting to me was his mission to El Salvador training the counter-insurgency forces while partnered with legends such as Peter Kokalis and Bob Brown. These were the guys quite literally on the bleeding edge of the very hot cold war going on in Central America, and the topics he wrote about, like his contemporaries were not academic studies but techniques he refined in practice.
At that point in life I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know in terms of Infantry tactics. Fighting a rural-based counterinsurgency in northern Iraq, we had conducted ambushes in the form of Small Kill Teams and raids on villages from the ground and the air. I somewhat understood, or at least thought that I understood, what role the civilian support structure of an insurgency played. Just one chapter into this book I realized I not only didn’t know shit, but I started to question the very tactics we were using as to if they were even viable. They weren’t, and Newman laid out plainly why.
One of the strongest and most causative of emotions- a deep-seated, festering hatred of whomever the would-be guerrilla sees as an invader or untrustworthy and repugnant political entity- is often the single most powerful catalyst to his becoming a guerrilla and his being willing to carry the fight for as long as it takes to realize victory over his oppressor. (pp7-8)
For all their failings and all our perceived omnipotence, technological or tactical, we weren’t gonna win this one. And in spite of ourselves, no matter how many HVIs we killed or captured, the Iraqi Sunni militiaman and the Afghan Taliban would endure. We weren’t quite certain why we were fighting after a certain point- but they knew. And in the role of the oppressor, despite whatever authority pretended to be bestowed, the authority of tradition would provide that endurance. The role of culture, the importance of place. And we could neither grasp that nor defeat it.
As relevant, and profound, was such an idea on a young soldier then it is even more so when referenced today. While many lament the destruction of the Republic into an image we can no longer recognize, Newman’s perspective on what inspires a guerrilla at the individual level becomes critically important to reflect and commit to one’s heart. There is oppression, and with it, a duty to stand against it. And as one with a deep academic background in sociology and in particular, the conflict theory of social structure, Newman’s perspective is one from obvious experience, in line with that of Mao Zedong, Alberto Bayo, Bert Levy, and Che Guevara each with similar observations as to the motivation for a fighter willing to die in a fight for social reform. And as he correctly would later note in examining those works, “the wise guerrilla doesn’t allow for the distasteful political orientation of key figures in guerrilla warfare history to taint his devotion to his cause.”
Probably most useful to most at first glance, and points familiar to any graduate of the Scout Course, are contained in Chapter 5. The overall strategy in a war of attrition is to remain unseen until in a position to attack; be it an ambush or raid, relying on patience and cunning coupled with speed and brutality, to melt back into the terrain from which a guerrilla force struck, leaving nothing but discredit and demoralization to a hapless adversary. Should it only be that easy. Newman consistently reinforces the reality that a guerrilla force has no standing army behind it but the Underground which supports it; those borne the brunt of oppression at the hands of an injustice. And he is absolutely correct.
Newman goes much further in depth in the basics of small unit fire and maneuver than the other works cited. Both Che and Mao were more concerned with macro-level social issues motivating guerrillas and organization, leaving the notes on tactics on the ground rudimentary- and this is logical, considering those works were written for peasants with very little organization versus Newman, a professional Infantryman and leader of men. It does not negate the importance of those works, but rather, expounds upon them and brings to the present concepts to followed.
Further, he presents a study of the Malayan counterinsurgency strategy in Chapter 11, Outthinking the Counterguerrilla Force. And while its somewhat dated on its face, we’re finding ourselves there now. Many analogs can be drawn to our current situation today. All of it hinges upon building a localized underground network (READ: LOCAL) coupled with nonstop training of the force. If you are at all concerned with the direction of this nation you should be training at every opportunity, preferably professionally to lay the foundation for local training.
Its a crime that this book is now out of print and expensive where you find it. But that owes to its relevance. Fortunately if you follow the links embedded I’ve provided a free download and you should have a copy with a warmed up printer on hand. It is a critical pairing with Martino’s Resistance to Tyranny.