One has become familiar with the demented logic and the deadened language of prominent American nuclear strategists. This bookfootnote＊ 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
The book, then, represents a response to the demands of the new administration. It is this which makes it so frightening and illuminating a volume. The most absurd fantasies of aggression receive the oblique endorsement of pronouncements in the same pages by the ideologues and bureaucrats of the regime. Thus in one essay Burnham advocates that the United States should adopt a “new tool” in the “struggle”: POLWAR or political warfare, a system based on: “Blanquist cadres, crowd manipulation, guerillas, psychological warfare, para-military operations, subversion, bribery, infiltration with specialized mobile ranger-type units in active supporting reserve.” He adds: “In a genuine POLWAR system foreign aid is only a key to open a national door for the conduct of field operations: information and propaganda are not a school to teach pale truths about how nice one is, but a psychological weapon to undermine, divert and injure one’s enemy; student scholarships are not a handout to the needy but a cover for training activist cadres.”
The official spokesman are less wild, but show almost no comprehension of the challenge they face. Hillsman quotes Kennedy’s speech of July, 27th, 1961: “We face a challenge in Berlin, but there is also a challenge in South East Asia, where the borders are less guarded, the enemy harder to find, and the dangers of Communism less apparent to those who have so little. We face a challenge in our own hemisphere.” Rostow, in his role of intellectual, refines the analysis: “Communism is best understood as a disease of the transition to modernization” (sic). Throughout the book the contributors attempt to place “guerilla warfare” in a hierarchy of different types of military conflict (nuclear war, local war, guerilla war, etc.); the elementary realization that that guerilla warfare is itself only one possible expression of social conflict rarely impinges.
It is, of course, clear from one point of view why the Kennedy administration is so preoccupied with the problems of “counterguerilla” warfare. Since the Second World War most revolutionary regimes have sprung from a guerilla struggle; and these are the countries which have proved exceptionally capable of tackling the problems of underdevelopment in a resourceful—and, inevitably, anti-Western—manner: China, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Algeria. At this moment, guerilla wars are playing an important role in a number of subjugated countries in the Third World: Angola, South Vietnam,
Since 1960, the US programme of “modernization” in the underdeveloped world has been spectacularly less successful than its mobilization of faltering clients in the crusade against communism. In South Korea the largest per capita aid appropriation in the world has failed to prevent 30 per cent unemployment; it has created an army of 700,000, whose officer corps destroyed parliamentarism in Seoul. In Latin America the Alliance for Progress has not halted the net outflow of capital from the continent, nor brought about one land reform, nor prevented reactionary putsches in Argentina and Peru. It has succeeded in mobilizing most Latin American countries against Cuba, in establishing anti-guerilla training camps in Panama, Guatemala, Peru, etc., and in modernizing the Latin American armed forces.
The reason for this is clear. Whereas the guerilla theory of Mao or Guevara consistently emphasises the subordination of military
Counter guerilla “theory” reflects its practice. The logic of operations against an enemy whose strength is its popular support is absolute militarization of the subjugated social order. South Vietnam today repeats Algeria yesterday. The parallel is made by the book itself. A Harvard professor, George Kelly, contributes an article on the Algerian war, in which he dwells on the infamous “Sections Administratives Specialisées” (SAS) and “Sections Administratives Urbaines” (SAU), and comments: “Unquestionably this experiment in civil-military relations bore much good fruit and some bad.” He concludes: “No other western army has reached the point of crisis implicit in the French hesitation (sic) about psychological action. Perhaps this is due to the fact that our formal and political institutions are sounder and less subject to crisis. But it is also because we have not experienced the same bitter lessons, in length and intensity, of “La guerre révolutionnaire. There may assuredly come a time when it will be necessary to fight such a war, not simply on our own territory or on that of a ‘modern’ nation. Therefore, the French experience and its contingent problems are worth the most carefully detailed study by our qualified military experts.” (my italics).