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The Gestalt of Guerrilla Warfare

The Gestalt of Guerrilla Warfare

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Published by Pete Willows
This is a book review on Max Boot's "Invisible Armies", for The Egyptian Mail
This is a book review on Max Boot's "Invisible Armies", for The Egyptian Mail

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Published by: Pete Willows on Dec 08, 2013
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03/14/2014

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Revised: December 8, 2013 Word count: about 729 Pete Willows
 –
 willows@aucegypt.edu
The Gestalt of Guerrilla Warfare
Invisible Armies: an epic history of guerrilla warfare from ancient times to the present 
. By Max Boot. 2013. 750 pps. W. W. Norton & Company Ltd. ISBN: 978 0 87140 424 4. $35.00. Max Boot has written an engrossing book on the history of asymmetric warfare, which covers the very beginnings of guerrilla operations, in Egypt and Mesopotamia (c. 3000 BC), right up to contemporary theory on fighting insurgencies, with the 2007
 US Army  / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 
. The similarities in guerrilla war throughout the millennia are more striking than the differences
 –
 the outcomes however, vary greatly. Historically, nations with a large, organized and skilled army, perceive guerrilla warfare as cowardly; a small and constantly changing insurgency simply has no other method of engagement, and could never meet their belligerent on a battlefield with hopes of prevailing. We learn terminology as we read, with Boot providing etymologies: our English word, assassin, is taken from the Arabic,
 
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يشيش ه
 =
hashiishiiyat 
, by way of Mediaeval Latin,
assassinus
 
 –
 referring to a secret society of 11
th
 Century Persians who were said to have smoked hashish before doing their killings. Thankfully, the author dismisses the veracity behind the folk-origin of the word, as the suicide-knifing Assassins would have required patience, and clear thoughts to conduct their complex operations, and likely were not stoned. And it is in this chapter on the Assassins, where Boot defines
„terrorists‟
 as those working on behalf of non-state groups
 –
 European  Americans and Native Americans may have attacked non-combatants as a technique for instilling terror, but they did so on behalf of their respective governments and tribes. Ideology is another motivation, beyond liberating lands from foreign occupiers. The Russian Nihilists of the 1860s rejected all forms of authority and offered no alternative as they threw bombs. The European Anarchists had no unifying command structure
 –
 unsurprising given their ideology
 –
 and certainly no training camps, rather, it was a shared belief system by people who acted independently. But the terror worked. There was an Anarchists scare, similar to the post 9/11 panic, which resulted in the creation of Interpol, in 1923.
 
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This is where Boot tells us about the gestalt of terror
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 individuals and groups, like al-Qaeda, and their affiliates, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, al-Shabaab in Somalia, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, inter alia, create a mosaic of terror that when seen together as a whole, eclipses their individual actions.
Bin Laden‟s attacks did not require a high overhead: the USS
Cole attack cost about fifty-thousand US dollars to execute
 –
 and 9/11, about a half-million dollars. With the 9/11 damage estimated at five hundred billion dollars, bin Laden, a former economics major, got quite the return on his investment.
If it could be said, “history is written by the victor,” then it could
 also be said that history is seldom read by the victor. And that is because Boot tells us guerrilla warfare inflicted the same woes on both Chinese and Roman soldiers in 200 BC, as it does today on coalition forces in the Fertile Crescent and Afghanistan. And neither of these two contemporary nations have managed to stabilize the installed governments and move forward, toward anything beyond insurgency-driven conflict.  All very interesting.

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