Thursday, August 28, 2008

#60 Books To Know--General Sir Michael Rose

Author of Washington's War: The American War of Independence to the Iraqi Insurgency (2008). Turning from the siren song of minute-to-minute Politics wringing so insistently upon our ears, here's a book for you, one passage of which would have made my knees buckle if I weren't sitting down. The guy's a Brit, involved in UN operations (along with us), including Bosnia, since the '80s. From this global perspective he applies his understanding of "insurgency wars" to a parallel treatment of, put simply, British blunders in the American revolution and OUR blunders in the Iraqi war.

By wonderful happenstance, first of all, he's got a mostly unintended, ready-made convergence of names that makes for mind-spinning verbal slapstick: George W(Washington), George W. (Bush), George III; Washington (man), Washington (capital)--as if our current mess had some onomastic/eponymic inevitability about it. And almost comic, if it weren't so tragic. If not negatively from Vietnam or Somalia, we had, all along, a positive lesson to learn from George Washington and his rebel army: INSURGENTS ALWAYS WIN. (I'm purposely overstating his case, but his examples of some few successes in this kind of war are negligible and inconsequential, in my view, on the world stage.) His comparison of the the two wars is very interesting and, I think, sound. The British didn't understand the "deep-seated desire for independence" that inspired us, counted unrealistically on internal support from loyalists, and underestimated the vast number of troops necessary to put down the insurgents. Sound familiar? In the same way, Bush and the British again (Blair--his guy) understood Iraq even less, counted on internal "loyalists," and didn't send in enough troops.

Of course, we shouldn't have invaded in the first place, but Rose doesn't concern himself with that--not his point, as a military man--his indictment of the war once underway and through its "aftermath" (none yet, really) is damning enough. Thus in the course of the the book he cites telling similarities between one war and the other in fascinating chronological detail. Believe me, if you're any kind of American-Revolution-buff at all you'll enjoy his sort of post-modern take on it. But in closing let me quote that aforementioned knee-buckling passage for you where he focuses on the the two major Georges involved--
  • "George Washington, who was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army...and who was to become the first president of the United States--was, like George Bush, a man of strong conviction. Indeed, both share a passionate belief in the goodness of freedom. But unlike his forty-second successor, GEORGE WASHINGTON was able to combine his idealism with practical military experience--for when Virginia had been threatened by the French during the Seven Years War, Washington had volunteered for military duty. As a result, he had been able to see at first hand how the Indians employed guerrilla tactics against the British regular troops. He had begun to understand the essentials of insurgency warfare. If GEORGE BUSH had felt the same sense of duty as his predecessor and had himself experienced military service in Vietnam [instead of preferential gold-bricking in the Texas Natl. Guard], then he too might have better appreciated the sort of war to which he was committing his nation in Iraq--and, more widely, how to more effectively prosecute the war against global terrorism." [emphases and addendum mine]
Well done, Sir Michael, but you were too easy on the Smirking Cowboy.

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