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New Left Review I/18, January-February 1963

Robin Blackburn

Guerilla Warfare

One has become familiar with the demented logic and the deadened language of prominent American nuclear strategists. This book [*] Modern Guerilla Warfare: Fighting Communist Guerilla Movements 1941–1961. Edited by Franklin Mark Osanka (Human Resources Research Officer, The George Washington University). Published by the “Free Press of Glencoe” (MacMillan’s), 519 pp.The frank continuity of dates in the title adds an incredible touch. initiates us into a new branch of military mythology: “counter-guerilla warfare” and its associated techniques. It proves almost as frightening as the theory of nuclear strategy proper, since it could so clearly provide the flash-point of a nuclear war. The book mainly consists of articles previously published in US military journals during the waning years of the Eisenhower Administration. We learn at the outset that “most military men, unlike their civilian counterparts, know that we are in a fight”. Dismay is expressed at the contrast between the United States’ immense and variegated military armour, and its apparent helplessness in the face of a popular social challenge. One contributor asks: “What good are Atlas and Polaris in Laos, Cuba, Algeria and the Congo or in the swarming streets of Tokyo, Ankara, Jakarta and Budapest?” What could cause “the overthrow of no less than eight governments that were firm allies of the United States: in Venezuela, Iraq, Cuba, South Korea, Turkey, Tokyo, El Salvador, Laos”? The contributors conclude that, vast though it is, the US armoury still lacks some vital weapon. What can this be? They answers often defy description. At one point it is argued that the US is deficient in, all of things, agents provocateurs: “How many men and women (women are extremely important in crowd management) do we have in training today for the mission of exploiting crowds, mobs and street riots to our political advantage? Do we have any?” In the mild, melancholy twilight of the Eisenhower era demands like this could have been dismissed as ravings of no real political significance, occupational aberrations of the US military mind. But the Kennedy Administration sets them in a new and different context. In this book, the more ultra contributors like James Burnham or Ernst von Dohnanyi (whose article on “Combatting Soviet Guerillas” during World War II appears to be based on personal experience) are joined by such leading functionaries of the present dministration as Walt W. Rostow (Councillor of the State Department and Chairman of the Policy Planning Committee) or Roger Hillsman (Director of Intelligence and Research, State Department). Indeed the text for the whole enterprise could have been Kennedy’s celebrated speech of April, 1961: “We dare not fail to see the insidious nature of this new and deeper struggle. We dare not fail to grasp the new concepts, the new tools, the new sense of urgency we will need to combat it—whether in Cuba or South Vietnam . . . The complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history. Only the strong, only the industrious, only the determined, only the courageous, only the visionary, who determine the real nature of the struggle, can survive”.

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Robin Blackburn, ‘Guerilla Warfare’, NLR I/18: £3

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