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War of the Flea: The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare Paperback – 2 Aug 2002


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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Brassey's US (2 Aug. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1574885553
  • ISBN-13: 978-1574885552
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 15.1 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 537,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Has new relevance as terrorist organizations inspired by new revolutionaries dominate the international security landscape. . . . Reading "The War of the Flea" is an excellent beginning to understanding the current problems facing the military."

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Girth VINE VOICE on 7 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
Robert Taber's book is about guerrilla insurrection, how the flea kills the dog. Written 45 years ago it is interesting on two levels, what he got right which is relevant today and, equally, what he got wrong. For those confused by the war in Afghanistan we want to know where is the "winning strategy" (even if a retreat), this book is valuable and depressing in equal measure.

Taber explains how tiny groups of motivated guerrillas can in a political vacuum win power, expel a government even if supported by a superpower. The critical aspect is what is a "political vacuum", typically a weak or corrupt state, one that has no domestic legitimacy and is a client of external power (with its own agenda). He explains how a strange bearded man with a minuscule following used limited armed force to capture a country. Casto and Cuba aside have we learnt anything? It was written as the Vietnam War was getting underway (1965) and defeat by a "peasant militia" seemed inconceivable. Ten years later, 1975, America was humiliated and world communism looked to be unstoppable. The dominoes were falling.

The mechanics of insurrection, - how irregular forces confront conventional armies, civil war and regime change - remain relevant. Taber deals with the conditions for insurgency to take hold, the lessons from Mao, the French expulsion in Indochina, de faco the post colonial experience. What he clearly illustrates are the advantages of insurgents - limitless targets that can be attacked requiring massive resources to defend them. The time factor is equally advantageous, insurrections occur over lengthy periods sapping the commitment of domestic and external support. As we all know, but seem to have forgotten, Vietnam was lost in Middle America as well as on the battlefield.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nibor on 6 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
By far the best book on terrorism ever written. Explains why it is almost impossible to defeat a determined terrorist organisation - should be required reading for military tacticians, politicians and anyone else involved in or interested in this subject. I first read this book 30 years ago, and it is still as pertinent today as ever.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Oliver Dodd on 25 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Some of the predictions Taber makes have been proven wrong by history. Power-hierarchies everywhere can be rest assured that they need not resort to indiscriminate extermination in order to win an irregular war from when it has passed its first stage. Nevertheless, this book is an absolute classic that offers many interesting insights into the method of the seemingly weak in a world where the powerful would otherwise appear to be unbeatable.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By cigpapers on 11 Feb. 2013
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Great book for overthrowing the Government. With this book and a Swiss Army penknife overthrowing most regimes should be possible even for beginner level revolutionaries.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 29 reviews
89 of 96 people found the following review helpful
The theory of unconventional conflict 5 April 2005
By Sitabhra Sinha - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read the first edition of this book which was published in 1965 - so I don't know whether this edition is a revised one. Remember that, at the time the original one was published, the Vietnam War was still on - and Che Guevara was still alive & very much active. So the first edition does not make any reference to either the greatest triumph of guerrilla warfare, defeat of the vastly superior US forces to the peasant army of the Vietcong and North Vietnam; nor its dismal failure in almost all other parts of the world, symbolically represented in Che's death in Bolivia. This was the time when everyone thought that guerrilla warfare was the wave of the future; and there were a number of books on its theory and practice. There was Che's own "Guerrilla Warfare", Regis Debray's "Revolution of the Revolution", Carlos Marighella's manual on urban guerrilla warfare, etc (I remember seeing at least a couple more books which came out during this period). There were also books on counter-insurgency, mostly by ex-US Special Forces experts, most of which confidently predicted that US victory over the guerrillas in Vietnam was just a matter of few months :->

However, what sets Taber's book apart from these other books is the non-partisan approach he took in writing on the subject. He is virtually the only writer in this area who discusses Grivas, one of the rare non-leftist guerrilla fighters, in any length. Many people seem to forget that guerrilla warfare has no essential connection to leftist political movements. It is just a method of warfare available to political movements of all hues (as is evident from a perusal of the manual of insurgency for the Nicaraguan Contras prepared by the CIA). Taber discusses the method rather than the politics, and I think we should give him full marks for a very clear exposition of the theory of unconventional warfare, the necessary conditions for its success, and why it has failed so often. He uses case-studies drawn from as wide a field as Ireland, Vietnam, Greece and Indonesia. He also discusses why counter-insurgency is such an expensive proposition and can never completely succeed by itself - something that is very topical in today's age. All in all, an excellent introduction to a fascinating topic.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Reprint of a Classic 21 Feb. 2007
By John Matlock - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There have been a lot of books on guerrilla warfare. They typically fall into one of two categories. Those by Americans are written by university or military types who have studed irregular warfare from an academic or counter guerrilla war aspect. (Example, the forward to this book by Bard E. O'Neill of the National War College.) The other class of books are those written by practictionners who are not American such as Che Guevara. This book was written by an American serving with Castro's forces during the revolution in Cuba.

The book was first published in 1965 and became a classic. Long since out of print, the occassional rare copy that became available was quickly purchased at any price. Now Potomac Books has reprinted the original book, with as stated, a new forward.

If you are headed to Iraq buy it, it will give you a better understanding of what's going on. If you're interested in Iraq, buy it before it is gone again. If you're in the media, don't bother, your interest is ratings not reporting.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
One of the Greatest Overviews of Guerrilla War Available 30 Aug. 2011
By S. J. Boatwright - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Despite the fact the text is a bit dated its teachings remain highly relevant to the contemporary reader. This is not a book of specific tactics, as Taber himself will explain in chapter 10. Most of the specifics of guerrilla war will have to be learned extemporaneously according the conditions in which the guerilla finds him/herself fighting in;"The guerrilla is, above all, an improviser" (pg. 154). Instead what is given is a detailed history of what led to the success or failure of previous guerrilla campaigns and the lessons learned from their outcomes. Written in the heyday of the guerrilla, Taber looks at dozens of case studies; from Grivas in Cyprus to Castro in Cuba, and of course the authors of the classics of guerrilla war and warfare in general, such as Mao, Sun Tzu, and Clausewitz.

I'm rather impressed that so much knowledge could be crammed into just 200 pages, but this text is well worth to read to understand the history of guerrilla warfare and for better comprehension of contemporary insurgency. Once again, although the book is a bit dated, there are few that have been written since its release that challenge Taber's command of the subject. Since it was written before the close of the Vietnam war it unfortunately does not touch down on the most successful use of irregular tactics in history, which is a shame because I'm sure Taber's thoughts on the subject would be valuable. Even if Vietnam had been mentioned though it would only further vindicate many of Taber's findings anyway. I'm truly amazed that such a wealth of information can be transmitted so succinctly; and to top it off, it's a fast and enjoyable read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
older but still relevant 16 Nov. 2007
By Runamuck - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is older having been published in the 60's, but one of the best works on guerrilla war that I have read. The book looks mostly at the Cuban rebellion with Castro. There are other case studies including a look at the intensifying war in Vietnam. For those who want to learn about small wars this is an important work to read. And even though this work is old, it still can be applied to current conflicts in the middle east and Africa.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
MUST READ BEFORE YOU BUY MORE FOR YOUR STOCKPILE 3 Jan. 2014
By Lynn J. Bernhard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
You think modern americans have the balls to fight tyranny. Read this and weep. Think again. No tactics, just the clearly defined elements of successful and failed reisistance to government oppression.
Great book, short, concise, meaningful.
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