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Customer Review

8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Misses The Point Totally . Glad I Never Bought It, 14 Dec. 2012
This review is from: The British Approach to Counterinsurgency: From Malaya and Northern Ireland to Iraq and Afghanistan (Hardcover)
I read Frank Ledwidge's Losing Small Wars . It's not an enjoyable book but does make some very cogent and comprehensive and most importantly blunt assesments on where Britain went wrong in South Iraq and Afghanistan . I thought perhaps this book edited by Paul Dixon would be very similar and bring something new as to where Britain's once much vaunted ability to win unconventional conflicts might be going wrong but the asking price , dare I say ridiculous asking price put me off . I managed to read chapter one online which led to me to thank my lucky stars that I didn't

The first warning signs are the list of contributers . None of them are former career military figures and most of them are academics with politics and international law featuring heavily . There's also a couple of contributors who are happy to let us know they've worked on PhDs involving " adaptive identities " and military masculinities " which gives you a clue where this book might be heading metaphoricaly . If I'd bought it it'd be heading literaly in the bin

Chapter one is written by the book's editor Paul Dixon and is entitled " Hearts And Minds from Malaya To Afghanistan ? " In it Dixon suggests Britain's tradition in " hearts and minds " in winning over indivuals to the government side and employing " minimum force " are myths that have to expelled . Being written in the dry academic style of the Havard method and using qoutes whenever he can means that Dixon excuses himself from having any opinion of his own and having no stated opinion of his own means he can demolish any argument without having to show his own head over the paraphet ie " What would Paul Dixon do ? " Nothing except to point out that hearts and minds and minimum is a myth because people get killed . Yes Paul people die in wars . The fact that innocent people die in them and a political settlement and a stable democratic government afterwards seems to have escaped Dixon's notice

Dixon seems to confuse minimum force meaning no coercion whatsoever . In Malaya " The emphasis in British propaganda was on persuading and coercing reluctant minds rather than winning hearts and minds " In other words we're talking about semantics rather than tactics . In an unconventional low intensity war most people are nuetral and will side with the one

1 ) who is seen to be winning
2 ) have the best offer on the table

You could argue the success in Malaya wasn't hearts and minds but the fact they offered independence to Malaya while killing a lot of communist insurgents who wanted to turn the country in to a Maoist dictatorship . Dixon ignores this and seems more interested in listing " crimes " commited by British forces in 1948-1960 . It's much smaller scale conflict but compare the casualty rates in Malaya to that in French Indo-China round about the same time and the horrific casualty rates from the resulting Vietnam war .

In Northern Ireland Dixon again misses the point totally and is clearly incorrect in many facts " [ On negotiatons with the IRA in 1972 and 1974 ] From the point of view of the military and counter insurgency theory the political elite and resulting in the deaths of British soldiers . The result was serious tension between in civil-military relations until the conflict subsided in the late 1970s and the election of a Conservative government " . This is fundamentally wrong . Roy Mason NI seccretary from Sept 1976 to May 1979 was highly respected amongst military officers in the province . His predecessor Merlyn Rees was less so but it was Rees who brought in the policy of Ulsterisation in NI , a political inititive since all conflicts are political in nature . He also fails to point how sharply the violence fell in the late 1970s when most of the IRA were dead and in prison reflected in the death rate in the troubles 112 in 1977 , 81 in 1978 . As an insurgent force the IRA was spent hence its move in to politics which was the only option left to them which led to the Good Friday Agreement

On Iraq - " [ The Daily Mirror ] photos may or not have been forgeries " No it was proved beyond a doubt they were faked , Piers Morgan lost his job if you remember .

On Afghanistan - " The Taliban did discuss giving over up their guest [ Osama Bin Laden ] but the US invaded before these diplomatic avenues could be fully explored " which is a polite way of saying " Bin Laden was using Afghanistan as a terrorist training camp and had done so for several years . America ordered the Taliban to hand over OBL , the Taliban refused until they saw hard evidence that OBL was behind 9/11 so America invaded . To suggest they were just about to arrest OBL as Dixon suggests is nonsense

The worst part I've read is " " The British Army deployed 3,150 soldiers to Helmand in 2006 out of whom only 700 were fighters and the rest logistical and support troops " I don't know what Dixon is suggesting here but I do hope he's not suggesting the likes of the logistical corps and the Royal Engineers don't do any fighting ? It really is an offensive statement that he credits to The Times but is almost certainly paraphrased . Someone in the " non-fighting " regiments of the British Army do ten weeks basic training which I'm sure is ten weeks more than Dixon and all the contributors of this dreadful overpriced book have done combined
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 Jan 2013 15:24:12 GMT
P. G. Dixon says:
Dear Theo

Thanks for taking the time to comment on my book. I'd just like to respond to a few misunderstandings in your comments (in the order in which you raise them):

1. I'm not responsible for pricing the book. As the author I'd obviously like it to reach the widest possible readership (although I expect you might disagree with me on this) but I guess the economics of publishing mean that such high prices are necessary to recoup costs. Hopefully, with some good reviews and strong demand for the book it will come out in paperback and then you might be able to read the whole book.
2. While none of the contributors are former career military figures this book was partly the product of a conference held at the Royal United Services Institute in London (the opening address was given by General Sir Mike Jackson) and engagement with the military community. There is considerable discussion of the writings of soldiers on counterinsurgency (particularly Thompson and Kitson). As I write in the introduction, the idea was to present an alternative perspective on the debate over counterinsurgency by using area and thematic perspectives (p. 3). The association of the military with masculinity, for example, has a long history.
3. I was not writing in the `Harvard method' I was referencing in the Harvard style. We include references and quotations in the book in order to show that we have evidence to back up our arguments.
4. The introduction is the part of the book where you introduce the themes of the book and explain how the book fits together. As I say on p. 3 there are a number of contributors who have different views on counterinsurgency so it would have been wrong of me to impose my arguments on their work. However, in my chapters in the book I do present competing perspectives and more overtly give my views on counterinsurgency. In the Conclusion, for example, I argue, `Britain's success' in counterinsurgencies in Malaya and Northern Ireland has encouraged the simplistic application of their `lessons' to Iraq and Afghanistan with disastrous consequences for the British military as well as the people of Iraq and Afghanistan' (p. 382). This is why the area and thematic approach seems to me to be a beneficial contribution.
5. I address your point on `hearts and minds' directly in the book (pp. 6-9). The definition of what a `hearts and minds' approach really means is not irrelevant semantics but guides the use of force in conflict situations with implications for the loss of life.
6. I don't ignore the argument about independence for Malaya I address is directly on p. 13: `The defeat of the insurgents in Malaya has also been attributed to the emerging democratic political system and the prospect of decolonisation and Malayan independence'.
7. You seem not to want to describe as `crimes' mass resettlement, arrests, detention without trial, deportations, food control, arson, censorship, collective punishment and indiscriminate shooting, is that just semantics? Because other states may have been even more brutal (but see recent revelations about Kenya) does that justify Britain's role in Malaya and the use of it as a model for Iraq and Afghanistan?
8. On Northern Ireland I provide evidence of the tension in civil-military relations during the seventies period. The IRA was not a spent force by 1978. A secret report by Brigadier Glover, `Northern Ireland Future Terrorist Trends' (1978), which was leaked, reported that the IRA far from being a `spent force' found that the IRA was `deeply committed to a long campaign of attrition'. He concluded that `The Provisionals' campaign of violence is likely to continue while the British remain in Northern Ireland... We see little prospect of political developments of a kind which would seriously undermine the Provisionals position' - fortunately he was wrong about this.
9. Because Piers Morgan was sacked it doesn't mean that he was wrong. I'd be very interested if you could provide me with the evidence that `proved beyond a doubt' that the photos were faked.
10. I don't suggest that the Taliban `were just about to arrest Osama Bin Laden' what I write is `The Taliban did discuss giving up their guest, because his attack on the US had been a breach of customary Pashtun hospitality but the US invaded before these diplomatic avenues could be fully explored' (p. 28). I point out that the British ambassador to Afghanistan and contributor to the book, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, `has given further credence to the idea that the Taliban were moving towards expelling bin Laden on the grounds of expediency and justice' (p. 28).
11. You are most outraged by my reporting of The Times 9th June 2010 and suggests that by paraphrasing I have somehow distorted the meaning of the report. This is verbatim from The Times 9th June 2010 in an article called `Cut off, outnumbered and short of kit: how the Army came close to collapse: In 2006 just 3,300 troops went into Afghanistan to occupy an area larger than Wales. They were soon fighting for their lives' by Tom Coughlan:

`It was only in June 2006 that it was explained to Mr Daoud that the British force was not 3,300 infantrymen, but 700 fighters with the rest made up of logistic and support troops. The same mistake was being made in London, where one senior adviser to Tony Blair was reported to have been incredulous on hearing the news. "You're s****ing me," he is reported to have said. To field 3,300 frontline troops, it is estimated, would have needed a total force of at least 10,000.'

The point was not to denigrate `logistic and support' troops or suggest that they are never involved in fighting but to point out that there was a lack of understanding about the fire power that was available to the British in Helmand. This proved problematic when the soldiers were surrounded in their platoon houses.

Best wishes

Paul Dixon
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