Transformative Invasions: Western Post-9/11 Counterinsurgency and the Lessons of Colonialism

Download PDF


Translated by Chase Richards

The shooting side of the business is only 25 percent of the trouble and the other 75 percent lies in getting the people of this country behind us.

—British General Gerald Templer, Malaya, 19521

Having someone who can speak Arabic is like having another infantry battalion.

—U.S. General John Mattis, 1st Marine Division, Iraq, 20082

One of the greatest surprises in the debate over the so-called New World Order in the final decade of the twentieth century was how the concept of empire won an astonishing new respectability. The word “empire,” which for decades had possessed a negative connotation (especially in American usage), increasingly took on a positive resonance—and not just among journalists.3 For theorists and policymakers, the notion of a “good empire” once again became thinkable: empire as a multicultural, flexible form of power operating across vast distances that could promote (if not guarantee) human rights, development, order, and prosperity.4 In order to justify the use of force, however, this concept “good empire” required both the development of a suitable new form of warfare and a reformulated narrative legitimation of this warfare.5

In the post–Cold War geopolitical environment, American debates over foreign interventions no longer pivoted around the old battle lines of internationalism or isolationism but increasingly around the politically sharpened concept of genocide prevention. In the United States, the belief that military operations could prevent or halt genocides led to an astonishing alliance of left-liberal humanitarian interventionism with neoconservative expansionism.6 On the one hand, neither the Cold War nor the conventional wars of the twentieth century provided usable models for the execution of “transformative invasions,” which after 9/11 appeared to have become the norm.7 On the other hand, references to humanitarian objectives, human rights, American interventionism, and United Nations mandates were not enough to make sense of this new form of transformative invasion. Instead, this new form of warfare, combining humanism and Machtpolitik, had historical roots in a different, rather unexpected place: in the guerilla wars of late European colonialism, which took place from the late 1940s through the early 1960s.

The goal of this essay is to analyze how American and Western European armies have appropriated the operational and conceptual arsenal of European late-colonial warfare and adjusted it to suit their current political objectives. This reception and adaptation of late-colonial approaches to how war is fought, we argue, takes place both in the operational conduct of current Western military interventions and in the portrayal of these wars before a national and international public. Identifying the structural parallels between late-colonial wars and current Western interventions helps to explain why some of today’s most important military theorists and planners find themselves attracted to the strategies deployed by European powers during the late-colonial wars.

In the decade since 9/11, the formula of “learning to eat soup with a knife” (often attributed to Lawrence of Arabia) has become a watchword for the adaptation of Western armies to the altered demands of what at first was called the “Global War on Terror” but which is now more commonly referred to as the “Long War.”8 In addition to homegrown American traditions originating with presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the idea of conducting military-led missions against barbarism, injustice, and underdevelopment has roots in European colonialism.9 Proponents of a systematic appropriation of European late-colonial war experiences criticize the inadequate strategy, tactics, and doctrines of conventional Western armies in combat with guerilla armies in Third World regions. They call for an institutional and political learning process, in which Western democracies integrate their military, development, and propaganda machineries into innovative apparatuses capable of bringing a lasting end to insurgencies—less through firepower than through development programs and aid. These approaches to countering guerilla fighters, first developed and tested during late-colonial wars, appear to their contemporary advocates to be the most militarily and politically plausible options currently available to Western states. The advocates of this integrated approach envision a democratic utopia of a war that is not war at all but instead a military-flanked development effort in underdeveloped areas. In sum, although Western states present their current wars in new humanitarian bottles, the dregs from the old wine of the search for colonial order remains.

One might suppose that few elements of the five-hundred-year history of violent European colonial conquest, occupation, expulsion, exploitation, and murder would seem readily available for reappropriation by democratic states in the twenty-first century.10 Yet if we nonetheless observe astounding resonances between post-1945 decolonization wars and contemporary warfare, this is because both of these forms of war are very different from both pre-1945 interstate continental warfare and from the previously established patterns of colonial wars up to that point. Specifically, the wars currently waged by the Western powers rehabilitate the concept of counterinsurgency that was first developed during the late-colonial wars. The integrated political-military strategy of antiguerilla warfare addressed operational and political problems that also arise in contemporary conflicts between democracies and guerilla armies. In both the late-colonial wars and the contemporary “Long War,” international and domestic publics follow the interventionist power’s conduct of the war with a critical eye: the former primarily with respect to compliance with putatively “universal moral standards,” which the latter supplement with attention to the costs of the operation.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Western colonial powers developed novel strategies for waging war in culturally foreign zones of the post-imperial periphery. Though militarily these strategies built on older approaches associated with earlier colonial wars, what distinguished this new mode of warfare was the functional integration of destruction and development, of military and civil forces for the lasting transformation of societies. New doctrines and strategies were invented for scenarios in which the adversary was not an opposing army but rather segments of the population itself. In these scenarios, the stylized experience of Western technical superiority, according to which small groups of European soldiers could slaughter a tenfold numerical superiority of African or Asian fighters, was useless. These scenarios involved a frontier but almost never a front, demanded a reliable separation of civilians from combatants, and made the “winning-over” of segments of the civilian population vital.11These were, finally, scenarios in which a critical domestic public, a highly developed international media environment, and the still fresh memory of the horrors of World War II conspired not only to set high moral standards concerning the application of physical force but also to encourage skepticism about the effectiveness of such efforts. Operating in post-heroic societies, Western societies after 1945 demanded that leaders engage in elaborate efforts to “sell” and legitimate wars.12 Within the circle of the colonial powers, it was democratic states that first developed not only capable propaganda apparatuses but also, in the final phase of colonial rule after 1945, strategies both for separating civilians from combatants within the context of warfare and for offering them programs for economic and cultural “development.” In all these respects, the experience of late-colonial warfare in the 1950s rehearsed the arguments and legitimation strategies for wars waged by today’s democracies.

Rarely has that leading metaphor of postcolonial studies, the colonial archive, been so visible and accessible as in the case presented here, namely, the contemporary rediscovery and adaptation of late-colonial techniques of violence, power, and domination. Contemporary military leaders operating “amidst the population” face a remarkably (indeed disturbingly) similar mission to that of the late-colonial warrior: to construct a civil-military war machine using a complex combination of scholarly guidance, development expertise, and both metropolitan and local military forces. The apologists of counterinsurgency depict it as a form of war that minimizes violence generally and casualties specifically, that realizes lasting improvement and “development” for the target population, and that therefore is not really “war” at all. The combination of violence, scientific consultancy, and comprehensive social engineering—through which the enemy should not be annihilated but persuaded and modernized—seems especially typical of democratic states. Since the end of the Cold War, and especially since the post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan and the attack on Iraq in March 2003, these combat strategies and legitimation paradigms have gained sharply in importance. The isolation of “drivers” from “spoilers of change” has been central to the directives that General David Petraeus issued as Supreme Commander of the Allied Troops in Afghanistan: “Separate reconcilables from the irreconcilables. Identify and report obstacles to reintegration. . . . Identify and kill, capture, drive out, or turn the irreconcilables.”13 Similarly, the French division general and historian Henri Paris has proclaimed that the Taliban “must of course be pursued and slaughtered, but solely it alone, within the framework of legality and without unnecessary and indiscriminate violence.”14 Alas, today’s troops face the same difficulties of doctrinal interpretation that the late-colonial forces did half a century ago: how to determine the “necessary degree of force”—the definition of which appears nowhere in the field manuals. “The Field Manual tells us what to achieve,” the contemporary counterinsurgency theorist David Kilcullen has admitted, “but not what to do.”15Counterinsurgency doctrines during late-colonial wars were not more precise on this point, but the observation by the public at home has become more severe since. If military necessity still defines the “necessary” degree of force, it is the media hothouse of the home front that defines the “acceptable” degree of force.

In claiming a continuity between late-colonial wars and the current “humanitarian” wars, we should hasten to add that the contemporary belligerent democracies do not think of themselves as colonial powers, nor do they think of their wars as colonial wars. Still, the overall aim of the Western powers is to increase control over economic, strategic, and political spheres and to bring non-Westerners closer to the West. The following observations bear primarily on Afghanistan, but since the 2006 change in strategy (the so-called surge) they pertain in principle to the war in Iraq as well. At the same time, the strategic adaptations discussed here are broadly generalizable. As a type, the “transformative invasion” is already international on account of its applications; it is global on account of the historical points of reference and the markedly global focus of its strategies.16


The Struggle for Hearts and Minds: The Late-Colonial Wars of the 1950s and 1960s

In the cataracts of World War I, alongside the Europe-dominated world order, the Ottoman, Russian, Habsburg, and German empires were washed away. At the edges of these shatter zones arose zones of violence that were not to be “pacified,” often for decades.17 While the British, French, and Dutch colonial empires remained intact (and indeed expanded) after 1918, independence movements became much more dynamic.18 The fragility of imperial control became undeniable during World War II—the loss of Singapore in February 1942 is emblematic—and then glaring after the end of the war, when the evolution of the European blueprint for peace in the Western hemisphere stood harshly at odds with violence-filled uprisings in colonial territories. While some in the European colonial establishment sought to retain or restore their privileges after 1945, the ultimately unsuccessful French and Dutch attempts to reassert their imperial authority in Indochina and Indonesia demonstrated that the traditional mode of imperial rule was no longer viable.19 The constantly growing, internationally connected, and media-conveyed pressure of Asian and African independence movements, on the one hand, and the unambiguous anticolonial rhetoric of both the American and the Soviet superpowers, on the other, made new concepts for safeguarding or reshaping colonial rule unavoidable.20

As the idea of retaining indirect influence in formally independent states replaced the hopes for continued direct rule, imperial counterinsurgency had to be radically reconceptualized.21Instead of aiming to quash all independence efforts, the goal became to ensure an “orderly transition.” Such late-colonial counterstrategies directed military force against independence movements with a “revolutionary” agenda, while at the same time engaging in political and civil reforms whereby potential postcolonial elites capable of ensuring “continuity” were to be recruited and supported. A society-wide politics of modernization and development, intended to supersede and replace colonial rule through the triad of democracy, prosperity, and modernity, formed the correlate to military force, which would orient itself with all the greater vehemence—at least theoretically—against insurgents. This “political” approach to antiguerilla warfare was discussed under the umbrella term “population-centric counterinsurgency,” or COIN.22

Counterinsurgency as a strategic military concept has historically developed from positions of political weakness. The works of classical counterinsurgency theory, which is to say, the canon of doctrines on antiguerilla combat formulated between 1950 and 1970, arose in the face of an invigorated postwar manifestation of anticolonial insurrection, the Mao-inspired “people’s war,” in which modern techniques of mass organization and mobilization seemed to mix with the energy of an antimodern fervor.23 Just as the concept “insurgency” describes a phenomenon that unites elements of “rebellion” with guerilla war yet at the same time goes beyond the sum of these parts, so is counterinsurgency far more than the sum of its military problem-solving approaches.24 A striking counterrevolutionary euphoria distinguishes the doctrines and strategies of counterinsurgency formulated in the decolonization phase from older concepts of imperial policing and pacification.25

Perhaps best characterized by the term “transformative invasion,” the specific type of warfare developed during the late-colonial period applied a substantial portion of its machinery not to destruction but rather to development. Both in the perception of their strategists and in the eyes of the public, such wars were (and still are) waged in order to contain violence, to create democratic and Western-shaped societies, and to guarantee stability. The concept of the restriction of force and the tight imbrication of pacification, stabilization, and development conferred upon this form of warfare a relatively high degree of acceptance, even before the critical tribunals of democratic societies. Wars of decolonization served as hothouses for the invention of euphemisms appropriate for wars of long-lasting occupation and transformation. Political-juridical concepts like “state of exception,” “mission,” and “intervention” permitted a high level of military engagement, while avoiding the need for parliamentary debate or public approval, in a way that would have been much more difficult in a formally declared war.26 The Algerian War, during which the French military deployed a conscript force of half a million soldiers, was described within official French parlance not as a war but as “measures toward the maintenance of order”—a designation that was only changed in 1999.27 The British war in Malaya yielded comparable concepts. The designation “emergency,” for example, was chosen not least because insurance companies would not have compensated for damages incurred there in the event of a declared war. The British also developed a nomenclature for their enemies that has since found adoption many times over: after it became clear to the British that the originally selected term “bandit” could be associated with romantic notions of social rebellion, they established the use of the label “terrorist” for the communist guerilla.28 The corollary to this was the discursive construction of a “civilian population” whose protection would justify measures such as forced resettlement.

The Malayan Emergency of 1948–60 was and continues to be recognized as a textbook example of a successful counterinsurgency campaign.29 Although martial law persisted on the Southeast Asian peninsula for twelve years, and though its leader, Ching Peng, did not surrender until 1989, the (rather weak) communist guerilla forces were militarily marginalized already from 1952 onward.30 In 1960, with the establishment of the Malayan Federation, the creation of a multiethnic and democratic postcolonial state appeared as an exemplary instance of decolonization; from then on Malaya was considered “the domino that stood still.”31 The military approach of the British, or rather the combination of military with political means through counterinsurgency, centered on “winning the hearts and minds of the population”—a phrase credited to General Gerald Templer, the commander of the Malayan campaign.32 Central to the campaign’s success, according to all subsequent theorists of counterinsurgency operations, was the forced resettlement in camps of large portions of the Chinese minority population, which was how the British attempted to solve the core problem of all guerilla wars, namely, how to differentiate insurgents from civilians.

Although one might have expected that postwar Europeans would have been leery of the concept of forced, concentrated resettlements, a functional and semantic shift on the part of colonial officials enabled its ready acceptance: the negatively connoted concept of “the camp” was simply avoided, and instead one spoke of “new villages.” Although the Nuremberg Trials and the codification of human rights had promised to establish new universal standards in international politics, European colonial powers created a parallel world, specifically in the form of colonial camp systems and systematic expulsions in which none of the new standards held legal force.33 Functionally, too, these strategic settlements far exceeded the mere concentration of a hard-to-control population. Although sentries and barbed-wire fences advertised the core function of these settlements, the “new villages” were also conceived as model sites for accelerated modernization.34 Resettled civilians were supposed to discover a standard of living that would exceed that of their former settlements many times over. Schools, infirmaries, playing fields, cafes, and sanitary infrastructure would win over the inhabitants of the resettlement villages to the side of the government. In many late-colonial settings, urbanization and resettlement measures were additionally combined with attempts to deploy architecture as well as city and land planning toward the directed “modernization” of the society in question.35

The new villages of late-colonial warfare in the 1950s arguably constitute the most striking site for studying the transition from the concept of “civilizing mission” to the concept of a “modernizing mission.”36 In terms of both content and structure, attempts at forced modernization echoed the nineteenth-century rhetoric of “civilizing missions.” What made the post-1945 military-enforced efforts at modernization a discrete new model rather than merely a remake of older ones was the integrated civil-military apparatus, the democratic ambitions, and the performative imperative before a critical domestic and international public—with Auschwitz as the negative, and the UN as the positive, reference. Committed to the universalist spirit of the Cold War, the new theories of development and modernization paradoxically seemed most thoroughly realizable precisely where they were flanked and facilitated by military force.37 The late-colonial wars were thus laboratories for testing the theoretical model of forced modernization.38

Outside of the resettlement camps, too, the European colonial powers deployed a considerable arsenal of development programs in their struggle for hearts and minds. Particular attention was paid to women and children. Educational campaigns in colonial contexts were never ends in themselves. In the late-colonial phase, state-run schools and educational programs augmented missionary-run schools.39 Along with the teaching of basic knowledge and skills such as writing and arithmetic, these schools took special care to impart “modern” values and attitudes: inculcating individualism, openness to technical innovations, and skepticism toward “traditional” social structures and ways of life. During the Algerian War, for instance, the French authorities promoted literacy among girls as a way to realign the cellule familiale musulmane, which in turn was regarded as the key to the “modernization” of the entire Algerian society.40 Military-civil directives unapologetically expressed the demographic and biopolitical goals of colonial emancipation politics: “Educational policy must be directed toward girls as much as toward boys. Women’s development is crucial. It is a condition for all true emancipation. It will contribute to reining in the galloping demographic growth of this land.”41 The late-colonial state assumed an especially benevolent demeanor not only toward young girls but also toward adult women.

Yet in the late-colonial wars, in which many of the independence movements counted a considerable number of women among their ranks, questions of emancipation and the position of women became a central arena for disputes.42 Colonial regulation of family, honor, and legal codes was in many places perceived as the clearest manifestation of foreign domination.43 For the organs of the colonial state, on the other hand, targeted attention to women did not simply promise to heighten the effect of political and social reforms; on the propagandistic home front, protecting colonial women from their own society served as an illustration of the humanitarian aims of colonial war. Staged deveiling campaigns in Algerian cities offer but one example of how the army of a Western democracy could cater to an emancipationist politics.44 In the contested interiors of comparable decolonization wars, too, women became in a new way victims of direct, often sexual, violence, but also the targets of a whole array of state campaigns for reeducation and development, from courses sewing and childrearing or nutritional counseling to fashion shows. The Sections Administratives Spécialisées (SAS) moved from mountain village to mountain village distributing thousands of sewing machines (and other household appliances) in the name of the “modernization” of Algerian women. “Women’s clubs” and “solidarity committees,” not infrequently led by the wives of high-ranking colonial officers, were also active in internment and resettlement camps. Organized radio evenings and film screenings were likewise part of the “humanitarian” strand within Europe’s most brutal late-colonial war.45

In Kenya, the British authorities developed a parallel set of practices as a response to the disturbingly high proportion of women in the revolutionary movement of the so-called Mau Mau. Under the guise of “rehabilitation,” the agents of British colonialism in Kenya (who were often female Christian missionaries) sought to assist the Kenyan women’s passage “into modernity” by imposing new forms of gender relations that conformed to idealized Western norms of the time: political abstinence and concentration on domestic duties within the nuclear family.46 The motto that was applied to not only gender and family relations but also the reorganization of the entire society was the same then as it is today: stabilization.47Wherever late-colonial officials tried to transform “traditional” societies permanently and to set them on a course agreeable to European norms, the female portion of the respective societies constituted the most important lever for doing so, at least in the colonial imagination.

Such granular efforts at late-colonial social engineering were often embedded in socioeconomic master plans for the transformation of entire societies. Although the export boom unleashed by the Korean War made it possible to finance the conversion of landless Chinese and small farmers into a mobile rural reserve of labor power in Malaya, similar plans for Kenya and Algeria failed.48 Measures for the provision of work, which on the ground were hard to distinguish from forced labor, and the division of landholdings, which privileged European settlers and trusted collaborators of the colonial administration, often remained the sole realized forms of these ambitious plans. Nevertheless, this constitutes a decisive difference from most interstate wars of the twentieth century and also from earlier colonial wars in which comprehensive development programs were neither planned nor attempted. A form of war in which soldiers distribute chocolate to the conquered civilians, in which generals grant credits for single-family houses and promote modern pieces of furniture, might be hard to find outside of the specific historical constellation of the “transformative invasion.” Such plans—which envisioned the in vitro production of modern subjects who followed Western patterns of consumption and culture—could never entirely be realized within the constraints of bitterly waged late-colonial wars. All the same, the effects of forced modernization and “uprooting,” still so visible today, have been enormous.49

The late-colonial wars also drastically transformed the self-understanding and self-portrayal of European colonial armies. Few images better illustrate the development work of colonial armies than the figure of military vehicles repurposed to plow fields.50 The same can be said of soldiers and reserve officers who acted as uniformed teachers or doctors. Yet at the same time it was indispensable for the acceptance of military-flanked development programs to give them as clearly civilian a character as possible. While members of the uniformed military performed many of these “developmental” functions, every effort was made to ensure the co-deployment of civilian personnel such as missionaries, nurses, volunteer development aides, and NGOs.

These new sorts of colonial agents were not only to be found in propaganda brochures; they also influenced the structure of the late-colonial military machinery. They gave birth to units specially trained to take over civil administrative functions and establish close contact with representatives of the local population. Apart from the strategically meaningful attempt to gain reliable information on local conditions, experiments with forms of administration and local community were conducted at a depth and scale that prewar imperial rule had neither aspired to nor required.51 The furtherance of regional and local self-administration thereby operated both as a legitimation strategy and as a hegemonic technique, for the newly established rapprochements were meant to bring long-term ties into being that would render military force obsolete. Maurice Challe, commander-in-chief of the French troops during the Algerian War, neatly encapsulated this altered set of priorities in a 1973 interview: “One was fighting at the time not for control of a few hectares of land or for the conquest of a province, [but rather to] win over the population, and both parties offered a political future for this. . . . This political outlook inhered in legal equality, the advancement of Muslims to the French level—things which have not been achieved in the 130 years of occupation.”52 Just as the colonial armies themselves had to adapt their form to the changed requirements of the task, so too did the wars of late colonialism lead to the rise of an officer type that differed fundamentally from the military elite deployed during the two world wars.

In terms of military experience, the generation of officers whose defining coordinates bore the names Blitzkrieg, Stalingrad, El-Alamein, Midway, Dresden, and Hiroshima had little to offer the asymmetric wars of late colonialism. For the waging of such wars, this generation could draw only partially on older experiences from the history of colonialism; most often, it had to improvise new concepts.53 To develop a successful counterinsurgency concept, these officers emphasized the army’s aptitude for learning and adaption, as well as the fusion of civilian with military commands. The “tiger of Malaya,” General Templer, became the paragon of the prudent late-colonial military commander, a man who recognized the political and military challenges at the right time and in the right place and then took the right steps to meet them.54 At a deeper level of hierarchy, the colonial powers produced an officer type characterized by a complete adjustment to local conditions and the requirements of counterinsurgency. Over the course of three decades, such specialists often ended up as counterinsurgency practitioners and advisors not just once but repeatedly on various continents in various colonies, applying the “lessons” from previous campaigns to later ones. The British officer Sir Robert Thompson, for instance, acquired experience in Palestine, Cyprus, and Malaya, which he then passed on as a military advisor in Kenya and later South Vietnam.55 This counterinsurgency expertise also passed between armies: French officers like Roger Trinquier and David Galula, who emerged as strategic masterminds of the new warfare in Indochina and Algeria, went on to serve as consultants for the United States as well as various Latin American armies and became widely read authorities in the counterinsurgency literature.56

Among the most remarkable innovations of late-colonial warfare and counterinsurgency was the high degree to which this body of doctrine drew on the expertise of the social sciences. Even though colonialism was more important to the development of ethnography than the other way around, and even though the significance of the scholarly contribution to colonial practice should not be overestimated, the efforts on the part of late-colonial officials to renew the interconnection is noteworthy. Plans for transforming the colonies used the academic ethnography and social sciences of their day to create reading aids, instructions for soldiers and colonial administrators, and legitimation campaigns (both in the colonies and on the home front).

The anticolonial insurgency in 1950s Kenya engendered perhaps the most bizarre forms of militarized social science, whereby sociological pseudo-experts came to exercise great influence over the courses of action taken by the government. Social scientists helped to interpret and to make sense of the insurgency; they advised colonial authorities to tell friend from foe and to pragmatically define reconcilables and irreconcilables. As white settlers and political elites in London struggled to understand the insurgency in terms of older models of anticolonial rioting (labeling it a “yell from the swamp”), the “scientific” advice of scholars and putative experts gained a considerable hearing.57 Both military ethnographers and renowned experts in the culture of the Kikuyu not only psychopathologized the uprising as a kind of tribal mass psychosis but also actively participated in drafting counterstrategies against the same, occasionally even implementing these in personal cooperation with the army. Thus “Her Majesty’s witch doctors” acted in Kenya as exorcists and masters of ceremony in staged mass conversions held at captive reeducation camps.58 The self-styled ethno-psychiatrist John Carothers claimed to elucidate “the soul” of the Mau Mau Uprising and purported to lend a helping hand for the lasting alteration of Kenyan society.59 Echoing the assumptions of contemporary American modernization theory, Carothers diagnosed the insurgents as suffering from difficulties in the transition form “traditional” to “modern” life.

Arguably even more influential was Louis Leakey, who grew up bilingual in Kenya as the child of English missionaries, became an initiated member of the Kikuyu and then later studied at Cambridge before embarking upon an idiosyncratic yet meteoric career as a paleoanthropologist and ethnographer. During the Mau Mau Uprising, Leakey served as an advisor, translator, and spy for the British government. His duties included attempting to translate Mau Mau “oathing,” so central to the identity and solidarity of the rebels, into the language of British Machtpolitik.60 Carothers and Leakey both helped to invent a counteroath and to outline mechanisms and techniques of reeducation and rehabilitation aimed at crushing the rebellion of the former subjects of their studies. In sum, the belief that social scientists might help colonial officials understand the breaking points within traditional societies, as well as reveal levers for reconstructing these societies as modern ones, was popular especially among the liberal parts of the colonial and political elites in 1950s efforts at forced modernization.

In Malaya and Algeria, too, scholarly findings about the “Chinese mind” or the “slavish character of the Muslim” played a considerable role in the formulation of political and military strategies.61 During the Algerian War, Jacques Soustelle, a renowned anthropologist, served for a time as governor, employing Germaine Tillion, a heroine of the French Resistance, an ethnographer, and expert in North African Berber culture, as his advisor for the “modernization” of the country.62 Both the conduct of war and the organization of the colonial armies itself experienced a strong tendency toward scientization. With statistical inquiries into development efforts, mathematical calculation of enemy troop numbers, and multicolor diagrams, the leaderships of colonial armies tried—above all when compelled to justify their exploding budgets—to persuasively “prove” their progress, which naturally would become apparent only over longer time spans. The militarily and socially engineered attempt to reduce the “enemy masses” to a manageable size yielded various systems of categorization. In Kenya, for example, the British divided Kikuyu camp detainees into three categories: white for those capable of resettlement; gray for those susceptible of reeducation; black for those to be detained indefinitely. The liberal segment of the British colonial administration, at least, had interpreted the Kikuyu uprising as a crisis of modernization and consequently had wanted to construe the camps as part of a program of controlled and accelerated modernization.63


Rediscovery and Adaptation in the Twenty-First Century

At the start of the twenty-first century, Western states have entered into modes of military engagement that show astonishing similarities to the wars of late colonialism, despite the fact that none of today’s Western states aspires to defend or return to colonial rule. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, Western militaries had immense kinetic capabilities at their disposal, but virtually no doctrine or capability for administering civilians. In terms of the intellectual and professional pedigree of officer elites, the imprint of the Cold War and the Fulda Gap, or of ICBMs and nuclear arsenals, had become irrelevant to the problems posed by the Long War. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Western powers showed themselves immensely capable of blowing the doors off of opposing regimes with “shock and awe,” but signally incapable of forging the targeted societies anew. In Iraq and Afghanistan, a purely military strategy reliant on firepower and cutting-edge technology was followed by a neoconservative master plan for the democratization of a “Greater Middle East” that would repeat the success stories of Germany and Japan after 1945—only to result in horrifying and bewildering insurgencies.64

In the face of these failures, the search for more practicable concepts intensified, leading to a remarkable rediscovery of the late-colonial wars. Largely out of sight of both social scientists and the wider public, these historical experiences have become over the last decade the object of intense discussion in military circles as potential sources of ideas and techniques relevant to the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other battle spaces of the Long War. Military interest in the history of “small wars,” as the British officer Charles Callwell termed them in 1896, has multiplied.65 Influential groups of young, conspicuously intellectual officers in the United States and various Western European democracies have tried to distill viable military doctrine from the scattered experiences of the late-colonial wars. Under the rubric of “expanding the learning curve,” the French and British armies have treated the history of the late-colonial wars as a mine from which to quarry raw materials for strategies and techniques relevant in the present.66 In particular, the French army has synthesized its own colonial experiences in elaborately documented treatises, comparing them to contemporary British experiences and interpreting them as suitable models for today’s Long War. In this way the late-colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria have been quietly reframed not as national tragedies to avoid repeating at all costs, but rather as helpful pilot studies in the Long War.67 This reframing of the colonial archive as a useful technical resource has been a transnational process, culminating in one concept: “population-centric counterinsurgency.”


Fashioning the Scholar-Warrior

The concept of counterinsurgency, previously connected both to the American debacle in Vietnam and dirty, inconclusive proxy wars in Latin America, has experienced a staggering revival, helped along by rebranding under the acronym COIN.68 As conventional military superiority has been neutralized by national and international outrage at high civilian casualties—it is simply not politically acceptable to kill tens of thousands of civilians, as it was during World War II, for example—counterinsurgency experts capable of “thinking holistically” (or capable of representing themselves as such) have become ever more sought after by Western militaries. The result has been the growing visibility of a peculiar new sort of public military officer: one who combines command experience and a mastery of strategic thinking with degrees from elite universities, publications at Oxford University Press, a cultivated demeanor, careful diction and civil habitus and, above all, media savvy. Self-consciously distancing themselves from the image of the bull-necked strategist of tanks and firepower, who regards the drilling of wells and the handing out of candy as a waste of time and resources, these scholar-warriors combine deep knowledge of the theater of military operations with a sensitivity toward the prevailing mentality and culture (the so-called human terrain) in order to meet the basic prerequisite for the success of a counterinsurgency operation: the reliable separation of friend from foe, the groups to be protected from groups to be combated.69 Finally, many of these counterinsurgency practitioner-intellectuals have shown impressive telegenic communication capabilities in which the word “progress” does not refer to advancing tank armies but to gigantic projects whose aim is to convert entire civilizations from violence-breeding ignorance and backwardness to a more modern, educated, civilized, and peaceful social order.

The best and brightest exemplar of this new officer type is undoubtedly the American general David Petraeus, the newly appointed director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Typifying the close relationship between military prowess, military-historical knowledge, and intellectual foresight, the West Point graduate obtained his Ph.D. in history from Princeton University in 1987 and went on to teach at West Point. His doctoral thesis, titled “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam,” addressed a central operational question of modern counterinsurgency: how can military institutions learn from their mistakes in order to achieve greater flexibility and enhance their effectiveness? With these intellectual credentials in place, Petraeus went on to command the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, leading the capture of the city of Mosul. In occupied Iraq, he assumed responsibility for the build-up of Iraqi security forces and played a decisive role in the development of reconstruction projects across the country, earning himself a legendary reputation as a counterinsurgency practitioner. This status spread to a broad international public when in 2007 he became the front man of the so-called surge, the intensification of the counterinsurgency efforts with considerably more troops and equipment. Petraeus codified his insights in the Army’s official Field Manual 3–24: Counterinsurgency, whose writing he oversaw. In his next position, as supreme commander in Afghanistan, he reworked the strategy of the International Security Assistance Force to combine military and civil counterinsurgency efforts, in the process becoming the prime military and intellectual guru of modern counterinsurgency.70 Even if the appeasing effects of the surge seem to remain shaky, fragile, and uncertain—to say the least—an influential interpretation of the Iraq counterinsurgency and its result presents the surge as the practical test of strategies and tactics Western armies now have at their disposal in the battle space of the Long War.71 In the middle of what had begun to seem like quintessentially “dirty wars,” David Petraeus’s model of counterinsurgency promised military superiority with a human face.

In the process of rising to the very apex of the U.S. and NATO military establishment as the most prominent advocate of counterinsurgency, Petraeus also brought with him a group of young officers who styled themselves as a progressive subculture within the military.72Embodying an updated version of action civilo-militaire—the tight interlocking of military and civilian strategies that the strategists of late-colonial warfare propagated—these officers derived the centerpieces of their theory of counterinsurgency from a deep academic study of the history of late colonialism. For example, John Nagl, former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, West Point graduate, and tank officer in Desert Storm, went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and returned with a Ph.D. dissertation comparing the British conduct of the colonial war in Malaya between 1948 and 1960 with American strategy in Vietnam from 1965 to 1972. In 2003 he put his professorship at West Point on hold in order to take a command in Iraq. Thereafter, he developed an astounding productivity as a writer, publishing countless articles on the problems of the U.S. Army in Iraq and contributing decisively to the newCounterinsurgency Field Manual. Nagl’s book Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife (the title of which alludes to the putative Lawrence aphorism about the difficulties of effective anti-guerrilla war fighting) publicized the findings of his dissertation, helping him to emerge as one of the most influential military intellectuals in the country.73 Today, as president of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank, Nagl remains influential in Washington and continues to contribute to the ongoing discussions about the military strategies of the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The revivification of the concept and practice of counterinsurgency may have started in the United States, but its historical roots are international, and the process of adaptation has been global. Most of the recently rediscovered doyens of counterinsurgency served in European armies but already wrote for an international audience at that point. The aforementioned French officer David Galula (1919–68) was one of the most prominent precursors of this type. A career officer and graduate of the elite French military academy Saint-Cyr, he witnessed wars and insurgencies in Africa, Calcutta, China, Indochina, Greece, and Algeria, both as a practitioner and theoretician. After retiring from the army in 1962, he worked for the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, and held a position as associate professor at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs. His 1963 workCounterinsurgency Warfare had an enormous impact on the American military, even more than on the French military, which by then was ending its late-colonial wars. After a thirty-five-year delay, his book was published in French in 2008, now with a foreword from Petraeus, who proclaimed his French predecessor the “Clausewitz of counterinsurgency.”74Galula’s ideas and the late-colonial école franÀ’Àaise of counterinsurgency enjoy a formidable presence in the thinking of Petraeus, and their intellectual fingerprints are all over the current counterinsurgency handbook of the U.S. Army.75

In the current period, arguably the most active prophet of the counterinsurgency revival has been the Australian David Kilcullen, who characteristically has combined battlefield experience with academic qualifications. Following his dissertation (in political anthropology) on the suppression of guerillas in Indonesia since 1945, he has entered into various strategic debates in consistently influential ways, and along with Nagl he belongs to General Petraeus’s kitchen cabinet.76 Kilcullen’s most notable proposal has been his suggestion that the “war on terror” should be understood as a global counterinsurgency campaign.77 His endeavor, in his own words, is to conceptualize a new version of counterinsurgency tailored to the specific conditions of the twenty-first century.78 The longer the Long War takes, the more the “military-intellectual complex,” originally developed during the late-colonial wars and the Cold War, returns with the counterinsurgency apologists of the present.79


Understanding Native Culture

Complementing the intellectualization of the officer caste has been an astounding growth in the importance of the concept of culture within military thought, an effort that has entailed much more than mere lip service.80 As during the late-colonial wars, contemporary civil-military apparatuses have experimented with techniques for extracting the most precise knowledge possible of the “hearts” meant to be won. During the late-colonial period and again today, the establishment of ethnographic contact with the population has lain at the center of these efforts. Just as the image of an officer, sans helmet, sitting on the ground with loosened clothing while chatting with the Muslim population frequently was a staple of the propaganda brochures of the French army in Algeria around 1958, today the cover of the current British counterinsurgency field handbook shows a photo of a young officer, dressed military-casual, as he sits with five Afghanis on the ground and appears to lecture. 81 Nor is this simply a branding exercise: General Petraeus directs his men to take off their Oakley sunglasses and wherever possible seek out conversation and achieve cooperation with the population. If a planned three-day “warrior leader course” reveals the limits of the military’s cultural discoveries, the vast expenditures levied to teach officers “strategic foreign languages” bear witness to the great earnestness of such efforts.82

By recruiting and deploying ethnographers, Western military apparatuses have been striving in an unusually intense way to integrate anthropological knowledge of the culture of the target populations—including knowledge generated during the colonial period.83 The so-called human terrain system, for instance, under which rubric British and American armies began in late 2005 to field ethnographically trained small units at brigade level in order to be able to distinguish between friend and foe and establish trust-building measures, is structurally very close to older traditions of the application of ethnographic knowledge for the organization of imperial rule.84 So-called foreign terrain officers strive to generate interpretations “in the field” that are both more socio-anthropologically accurate and militarily useful.85 (And allegedly with positive humanitarian results: the proponents of HTS claim it has reduced the rate of fatalities caused by allied troops by 60 to 70 percent.)86 Less operational and more strategic is the advice that ethnographers and other social scientists have offered to explain (and thus more successfully combat) Islamic martyrdom and the motivational structures of suicide bombers.87 In sum, a utilitarian, power-oriented attitude toward ethnographic knowledge has effectively trumped the once scrupulously circumspect anthropological approach to war and conflict.88

There has been great criticism of these efforts as leading to an “armed social science” that threatens to degenerate into a spy unit.89 Concern about the social sciences feeding a running war machine has reprised Vietnam-era debates and concerns about the particular contributions of anthropology as the “handmaiden of Imperialism.”90 The cleavage within the social scientific community has a scientific and a political side. In November 2007 the executive board of the American Anthropological Association distanced itself from academic contributions to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, speaking of a “problematic application of anthropological expertise, most specifically on ethical grounds.”91 The work of colleagues on the ground, the board argued, was unprofessional, violated the professional codes of the discipline, and in many cases exacerbated military conflict.92 Answers to these charges have been jointly penned by anthropologists and military officers: anthropological input, they claim, has enabled the effective exertion of influence upon the military apparatus, reducing violence, saving lives, and eliminating the need for 70 percent of “kinetic” operations.93 In telling ways, this contemporary debate resembles colonial-era debates on how to make anthropology operational and “useful.” During the 1930s the leading minds of a “practical anthropology” had successfully praised and promoted the value of anthropological knowledge for the better organization of colonial rule. For example, Bronislaw Malinowski hoped to provide colonial officials with a subtler and gentler understanding of the civilizations they intended to rule.94 Today’s anthropology, as a discipline and a profession, undoubtedly exercises a much higher degree of critique and skepticism about military and administrative intervention than did colonial-era anthropology. However, two aspects remain unchanged: first, the desire on the part of some anthropologists to leave the realm of lofty theories, “to be practical,” to reduce violence, and to help people in their “transition” to so-called modern lifeways; and second, despite rising criticism, military and civil authorities seem to have few difficulties finding sufficient quantities of highly motivated academic advisors with anthropological competence.

Even as parts of the military have officially embraced ethnographic knowledge and cultural sensitivity as a cornerstone of effective counterinsurgency, the tension on the ground between the trigger-pulling “carnivores” and the development-focused “herbivores” continues to fester. A certain disdain by the “practical” man for the intellectual milieu seems to be timeless. The sneer of the later governor of Kenya, Philip E. Mitchell—that anthropologists are interested in how humans on distant southern isles eat their grandmothers, while the practical man is concerned for the protection of his grandmother—continues to capture the frictions between political and military practitioners, on the one hand, and aid workers and social scientists, those “reluctant imperialists,” on the other.95 German officers in Afghanistan today still make fun of naive and badly dressed NGO members, just as officers of the regular French army ridiculed the colonial-era SAS officers in Algeria as “sweets-soldiers.” Relations between regular army units, population-centered counterinsurgency units, and the realm of development helpers remain tense, but to a lesser degree than during the late-colonial wars. Military advisors have already noted the parallels to colonial-era consultative efforts, independent of the actual results of such cooperation.96 Despite contemporary anthropology’s critique of collaboration with the military, the opportunity to leave the airy spheres of academic debate and engage in the rapid transformation of civilizations remains a tempting offer—one that many anthropologists find difficult to turn down. The result is that, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the integration of anthropological knowledge into the battle space, against misunderstood enemies, has reached historically unprecedented levels.


Protecting the Women

One rhetorical figure borrowed directly from the wars of decolonization has been the pretension to improve, through military force, the lot of women in the affected societies. From the Christianization campaigns of the Conquista to medical-scientific attempts at improvement, from the children abducted and consigned to European supervision to the antislavery campaigns around 1900, all the way to the colonial modernization missions of the 1950s, the claim that Western efforts in the South will shield local women and children from barbarism has been an eternally recurring refrain.97 What was new in the late-colonial wars and what returns today is the notion that these efforts are also central to the effort to “transform” a society and thus quash the political roots of actual or incipient insurgencies. Contemporary long-term women’s education programs in places like Afghanistan descend directly from the arsenals of late-colonial Machtpolitik and 1950s modernization theory. Both then and now the guiding idea has been that the bullets of military force will pave the road, at the end of which will stand girls capable of reading and writing, as well as women who will no longer be mutilated by their husbands.

In an eerie way, reportage and media discussion of the goals of the war in Afghanistan repeat formulas of the struggle for the emancipation of the Muslim woman that were pioneered during the Algerian War. The by now iconographic frontispiece of Time in December 2001, “Lifting the Veil,” which showed the face of an unveiled Afghan woman, resembles in every detail that of the New York Times Magazine in July 1958, which under the title “The Battle of the Veil” reported on the French deveiling campaigns in Algeria.98 In July 2010 the cover of Time displayed the professionally illuminated face of a young Afghan woman in fabrics and colors that figure to the Western observer as “traditional.”The woman’s nose is missing, in addition to both of her ears, as the accompanying text reveals. (The young woman had been mutilated by her husband and brother-in-law after she had proved “disobedient.”) The title underneath: “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan?”99 The motif of protection forces flown in to safeguard women from the violence of their husbands, uncles, and brothers was as central to early colonial campaigns against genital mutilation as during the wars in Kenya and Algeria.100 The image of schools for girls, recurrent in the Afghanistan debate, as a direct achievement of Western intervention and one to be defended at any cost has the aspect of a carefully modernized reissue of French propaganda formulas and political concepts from the Algerian War.


Interrogating the Insurgent

The experiences of the decolonization wars also show that both the conduct of wars and the application of norm-breaking methods of force—such as systematic torture—can, under certain conditions, definitely win majority approval in Western democracies. In democracies the barriers against harsh forms of applied force in the context of counterinsurgency are regarded as high, yet by no means are they insuperable.101 These barriers come to seem surmountable, and a transformative invasion acceptable, if the enemy can be considered a real threat and the war viewed as winnable.102 Some months before 9/11, the French brigadier general Paul Aussaresses, who had gained experience in Indochina and Algeria in matters of counterinsurgency and “information gathering,” caused a furor with a book in which he candidly reported on French torture methods in Algeria.103 The former paratrooper, who after the end of the Algerian War worked for the U.S. Army as an instructor at Fort Bragg, had time and again emphasized the military value of systematic torture for counterinsurgency. On American television in January 2002, Aussaresses recommended torture as an effective tool against Al-Qaida.104 Since that time, a number of influential proponents of information gathering through torture have spoken out in the United States, referring to practices during colonial wars whenever historical references were needed.105 As Alan Dershowitz has put it, a democracy should fight with one hand tied behind its back, but cannot fight with both tied there. In saying this, he refers not only to Abu-Ghraib but also to colonial examples, particularly the Algerian War: instead of having torture practiced in the dark realm of illegality, Dershowitz suggests, it would be better to have clear legal frames for the who, when, how, and to-what-end of torture.106 Even authors who reject the principle of “no pain, no gain” discuss the situational necessity of analogous interrogation methods, and with reference to European experiences in the colonial wars.107

In the twentieth century, public acceptance of torture appears to have reached its nadir in the years after World War II.108 Nevertheless, counterinsurgency efforts in various decolonization wars of the 1950s again and again called forth situations that made the cause of information gathering trump humanitarian objections to “harsh interrogation techniques.” The struggle of regular armies against insurgents who made use of ambushes, booby traps, snipers, and time bombs repeatedly justified interrogational torture of captives on the grounds that it could allegedly save the lives of threatened civilians. The detention of the designated terror pilot Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001—and the notion that the timely extraction of his knowledge about the attacks could have prevented 9/11—reinvigorated the torture debate and in so doing spawned countless references to the colonial wars, first and foremost the Algerian War.109 The constellation to this day discussed as a “ticking bomb scenario” by military strategists, philosophers, and social scientists was tellingly first brought into common parlance in 1960 by Jean Lartéguy’s French bestseller The Centurions, a novel that connects the Indochina and Algerian wars in narrative fashion.110 Like Gillo Pontecorvo’s film The Battle of Algiers (1962), the late-colonial quasi-fictional archive would also find use as supplied instructional material for American special forces.111


Managing the Homefront

A final lesson that current counterinsurgents have learned from the late-colonial wars is how to avoid a collapse of domestic support. Even after fifty years of practical experience, democracies still have difficulties with conducting “small” wars, largely because of a vacillating or resistant attitude on the part of voters toward counterinsurgency campaigns.112The greater part of the scholarly literature presumes that a central reason for these difficulties stems from the relatively low tolerance of postheroic societies for military casualties. Objections to the ever-mounting casualty toll of Western soldiers played a decisive role in the collapse of support for late-colonial campaigns in both North Africa and Indochina. Central to the effort to avoid similar objections to the current wars has been the refusal of Western militaries to deploy conscript troops and the decision instead to utilize mercenaries on a previously unimaginable scale. American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have included the largest body of private armed forces in history, during some periods outnumbering regular troops.113 In March 2011 roughly 174,000 contractors were present in Iraq and Afghanistan.114 Correspondingly, the number of mercenaries killed at least periodically exceeds that of soldiers in the U.S. Army.115 Irregular fighters at the side of regular military formations, additionally, mirror the massive use of indigenous or even white supporting formations in the colonial or decolonization wars.116 In the earlier episodes, the arming and recruitment of as many “natives” as possible aimed to break down cultural differences, promote “modernization,” and counteract the impression of occupation or foreign rule.117Moreover, the building up of autochthonous police and security forces, a task judged central in all counterinsurgency doctrines, makes it possible to present realistic exit strategies to an increasingly critical home front. From Vietnam to Afghanistan, the military has made major media events of elaborately staged handovers of weaponry, spheres of responsibility, and military quadrants. Lewis Sorley and his bestseller on Vietnam, read by Biden and Obama, coined an emblematic formula for the civil-military learning processes from history: A Better War.118

While some Western military leaders continue to criticize the application of “soft power” to create a materially better future for the subject populations of the Long War, in public American and European officers have preferred to present such efforts as the conditio sine qua non of enduring military and political success.119 These military leaders, and their political masters, continue to depict military “security” and development assistance as tightly intermeshed mechanisms, even when they represent still-separate worlds in practice. In the military apparatus, the adepts of the counterinsurgency doctrine depict civil development workers as an integral part of, not as a competitor or an obstacle to, the military work. For a growing portion of persons in development organizations, military preparation and protection of the terrain is in many cases accepted as a necessary precondition of their work, as is civilian work for military commanders. This mutual comprehension seems much greater than it was fifty years ago. Whatever the lingering resentments between the two spheres, development and military have begun to synchronize and co-adapt their respective forms of action. In comparison to the 1950s, the consciousness of a certain reciprocal dependency seems to have risen strongly. Frequently the military and civil machines for security and change appear bound to each other according to the logic of a catch-22, which also applies to the linkage between military and NGOs in the field.120 Leading American development economists and officers in military reconstruction teams in Afghanistan perceive ministerial bureaucracy and the ponderousness of “planners” as enemies, while the “searchers,” flexible decision makers on the ground, are praised as models for the future.121 This constellation, too, deeply resembles the decolonization wars of the 1950s.



The aim of this essay has not been to discredit humanitarian intervention through the use of anticolonial rhetoric but rather to discuss the astonishing rediscovery of colonial techniques of power, violence, and domination, and to explain with it the “modernity” of the late-colonial wars in the decades after 1945. Both scenarios involved the violent assertion of Western interests; both featured the coupling of military force with development programs; both proceeded with sophisticated programs of social engineering and attempts to make the encountered societies “more Western.” In both scenarios, postheroic Western democracies took pains to construct narratives that legitimated the use of military force before a critical public. To this can be added internationally coordinated actions in gray areas of international law that cannot be termed “wars”: the classification of opponents as terrorists, bandits, and backward-looking violent criminals; and immense efforts to win the trust of affected civilian populations. Both the late-colonial wars and today’s Long War were characterized by the ardent optimism of true believers, the engagement of thousands in aid organizations, and not least the grand design of modernization theory and modernizing plans.122

At the same time, comparing contemporary “transformative invasions” to late-colonial wars obviously opens the door to political criticism of recent military interventions under the guise of the Long War.123 First, as we have seen, the argument that humanitarian goals and near-term exit strategies stand for a genuinely new sort of military operation, rather than the enduring neocolonial occupation of a region, was fully developed and tested in the late phase of colonialism. Indirect rule is a genuinely colonial concept in many respects structurally akin to contemporary efforts.124 Just as with today’s Long War, the Western objective in the late-colonial wars was not direct colonial domination but rather lasting, informal, and indirect control and manipulation. Second, arguments that the Long War, waged “at the periphery,” is somehow “irregular” contain two basic imperial ideas: first, the power to define the geographical and political boundary beyond which the possibility of “regular” warfare ends; second, the arbitrary definition of what it is that signifies “regular” and therefore legitimate warfare. Every colonial army has utilized precisely this model of argumentation—not only in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. After all, extremely violent operations in poorly understood territories lie at the dark heart of colonial rule itself. Unsurprisingly, so-called unrest and outbreaks of barbarism in these territories in most cases can be attributed at least partially to colonial influence—a fact as true of today’s wars as those of the late-colonial period. Ultimately, choosing whether or not to label the Long War’s colonially inspired form of warfare “neocolonial,” “neoimperial,” or “humanitarian” is a question of semantic and ideological self-identification.

Beyond such normative questions, it is worth emphasizing that the democratic ideal of “transformative invasion,” in which anthropology-savvy soldiers, acting as protectors of the population, differentiate between good and evil, or between “drivers” and “spoilers of change,” and then apply force in doses as a door-opener for progress and development—a war, in other words, that is at bottom not a war but a form of armed development assistance—appears to belong to the forms of modern utopianism that have appeared repeatedly since the end of World War II, in endless variations on a recursive theme, with the Long War its latest iteration. A more exact and critical examination of the historical experience of transformative invasions need not lead to less political action, but it will almost certainly lead to greater skepticism about the value of the colonial archive for driving contemporary approaches to counterinsurgency.



1. John Cloake, Templer, Tiger of Malaya: The Life of Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer(London: Harrap, 1985), 264.

2. U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, “Building Language Skills and Cultural Competencies in the Military: DOD’s Challenge in Today’s Educational Environment” (Washington, D.C.: November 2008), 52.

3. A prominent example is Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000).

4. Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2003); Charles S. Maier, Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006); Herfried Münkler, Empires: The Logic of World Domination from Ancient Rome to the United States, trans. Patrick Camiller (Cambridge: Polity, 2007); Niall Ferguson, “The Empire Slinks Back,” New York Times Magazine, April 27, 2003; Michael Ignatieff, “The Burden,” New York Times, January 5, 2003.

5. On the figure of the unutterable empire, see Niall Ferguson, “The Empire That Dare Not Speak Its Name,” Times, April 13, 2003.

6. Stephen Wertheim, “A Solution from Hell: The United States and the Rise of Humanitarian Interventionism, 1991–2003,” Journal of Genocide Research 12, no. 3/4 (2010): 149–72.

7. See ibid. for the phrase “transformative invasions.”

8. A label widespread in the American military, meant to replace the term “war on terror.” See Mark T. Berger and Douglas A. Borer, “The Long War: Insurgency, Counterinsurgency and Collapsing States,” Third World Quarterly 28, no. 2 (2007): 197–215.

9. On the historical entanglement of European and American traditions in the formation of contemporary intervention doctrines, see Mark Mazower, “Paved Intentions: Civilization and Imperialism,” World Affairs (Fall 2008): 72–84; Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009); Michael Barnett, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011); Brendan Simms and D. J. B. Trim, eds.,Humanitarian Intervention: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

10. Marc Ferro, ed., Le livre noir du colonialisme, XVIe–XXIe siècle: De l’extermination à la repentance (Paris: Laffont, 2003).

11. Emblematic of the superiority of modern European weaponry, in this case the machine gun, was the Battle of Omdurman in September 1898 in the Sudan, where the KIA ratio was over 200:1.

12. Edward N. Luttwak, “Toward Post-Heroic Warfare,” Foreign Affairs 74 (May/June 1995): 109–22; Luttwak, “A Post-Heroic Military Policy,” Foreign Affairs 75 (July/August 1996): 33–44.

13. General David H. Petraeus, “COMISAF’s Counterinsurgency Guidance,” documented at the Small Wars Journal blog, August 2, 2010, d-1-au (accessed September 18, 2011).

14. Henri Paris, “Afghanistan `An IX,'” Défense Nationale 727 (February 2010): 88–95.

15. David Kilcullen, Counterinsurgency (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 18.

16. As a notable example, see Kilcullen, “Countering Global Insurgency,” Journal of Strategic Studies 28, no. 4 (2005): 597–617. For expert criticism of the concept, see David Martin Jones and M. L. R. Smith, “Whose Hearts and Whose Minds? The Curious Case of Global Counter-Insurgency,” Journal of Strategic Studies 33, no. 1 (2010): 81–121.

17. Robert Gerwarth and John Horne, eds., The Defeat of the Central Powers: Experiences and Legacies of 1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

18. Robert Gerwarth and Andrew Syk, eds., Demobilizing Empires: The Transition from War to “Peace” after the Great War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

19. Frank Füredi, Colonial Wars and the Politics of Third World Nationalism (London: Tauris, 1994). On Southeast Asia in particular, see Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper,Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009); Christopher E. Goscha and Christian F. Ostermann, Connecting Histories: Decolonization and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, 1945–1962 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).

20. S. Neil MacFarlane, Superpower Rivalry and Third World Radicalism: The Idea of National Liberation (London: Croom Helm, 1985); Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: New Press, 2007).

21. Wm. Roger Louis and Ronald Robinson, “The Imperialism of Decolonization,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 22, no. 3 (1994): 462–511. See more generally Martin Thomas, Bob Moore, and L. J. Butler, The Crisis of Empire: Decolonization and Europe’s Imperial States, 1918–1975 (London: Hodder Education, 2008); and Martin Shipway,Decolonization and Its Impact: A Comparative Approach to the End of the Colonial Empires (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008).

22. On this classification, see Anthony James Joes, Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004); and Ian F. W. Beckett and John Pimlott, eds., Modern Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: Guerillas and Their Opponents since 1750 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001).

23. Commonly classed with the classical counterinsurgency school are Julian Paget, Counter-Insurgency Campaigning (London: Faber, 1967); Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: Experiences from Malaya and Vietnam (London: Chatto and Windus, 1966); Richard Clutterbuck, The Long, Long War: Counterinsurgency in Malaya and Vietnam(New York: Praeger, 1967); Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, Peace-Keeping (London: Faber, 1971); David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (New York: Praeger, 1964); Roger Trinquier, La guerre moderne (Paris: La Table ronde, 1961), published in English as Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency, trans. Daniel Lee (New York: Praeger, 1964).

24. Michael Fitzsimmons, “Hard Hearts and Open Minds? Governance, Identity and the Intellectual Foundations of Counterinsurgency Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 31, no. 3 (2008): 337–65.

25. See Douglas Porch, “Bugeaud, Galliéni, Lyautey: The Developement of French Colonial Warfare,” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret et al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 376–407; and Thomas Rid, “The Nineteenth-Century Origins of Counterinsurgency Doctrine,” Journal of Strategic Studies 33, no. 5 (2010): 727–58.

26. Fabian Klose, Menschenrechte im Schatten kolonialer Gewalt: Die Dekolonisierungskriege in Kenia und Algerien, 1945–1962 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2009).

27. Benjamin Stora and Thierry Leclere, La guerre des mémoires: La France face à son passé colonial (Paris: Éditions de l’Aube, 2007).

28. Susan L. Carruthers, Winning Hearts and Minds: British Governments, the Media and Colonial Counter-Insurgency, 1944–1960 (London: Leicester University Press, 1995).

29. Karl Hack, “The Malayan Emergency as Counterinsurgency Paradigm,” Journal of Strategic Studies 32, no. 3 (2009): 383–414.

30. Richard Stubbs, Hearts and Minds in Guerrilla Warfare: The Malayan Emergency, 1948–1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

31. Donald Mackay, The Malayan Emergency, 1948–60: The Domino That Stood Still(London: Brassey’s, 1997).

32. On the career of this concept, see Paul Dixon, “`Hearts and Minds’? British Counter-Insurgency from Malaya to Iraq,” Journal of Strategic Studies 32, no. 3 (2009): 353–81.

33. An overview of the phenomenon of forced resettlement in the second half of the twentieth century is to be found in Christian Gerlach, Extremely Violent Societies: Mass Violence in the Twentieth-Century World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 177–234.

34. For the Algerian example, see Moritz Feichtinger and Stephan Malinowski, “Eine Millionen Algerier lernen im 20. Jahrhundert zu leben: Umsiedlungslager und Zwangsmodernisierung im Algerienkrieg, 1954–1962,” Journal of Modern European History8, no. 1 (2010): 107–35.

35. For Kenya, see Richard E. Stren, Housing the Urban Poor in Africa: Policy, Politics, and Bureaucracy in Mombasa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

36. General treatment in Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); Corinna Unger and Stephan Malinowski, eds., “Modernizing Missions: Approaches to `Developing’ the Non-Western World after 1945,” special issue of Journal of Modern European History 8, no. 1 (2010).

37. David C. Engerman and Corinna Unger, “Toward a Global History of Modernization,”Diplomatic History 33, no. 3 (2009): 375–85.

38. Stephan Malinowski, “Modernisierungskriege: Militärische Gewalt und koloniale Modernisierung im Algerienkrieg (1945–1962),” in Dekolonisation: Prozesse und Verflechtungen, 1945–1990, ed. Anja Kruke (Bonn: Dietz, 2009), 213–48.

39. For Algeria, see Andrew Alf Heggoy, “Kepi and Chalkboards,” Military Affairs 37, no. 4 (1973): 141–45; Barbara Harshav, “Educating Conformity in French Colonial Algeria,” inTensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, ed. Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 346–70. See more generally Philip G. Altbach and Gail Paradise Kelly, Education and Colonialism (New York: Longman, 1978).

40. Military SAS brochure, Stade d’évolution de la cellule familiale musulmane en Algérie(1959), in Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer (CAOM), 2 SAS/7.

41. Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre (SHAT), 1 H1206, letter from General Olier, March 22, 1956.

42. For Algeria, see Diane Sambron, Femmes musulmanes: Guerre d’Algérie, 1954–1962(Paris: Éditions Autrement, 2007); Sambron, “La politique d’émancipation du gouvernement franÀ’Àais à l’égard des femmes algériennes pendant la guerre d’Algérie,” in Des hommes et femmes en guerre d’Algérie, ed. Jean-Charles Jauffret (Paris: Éditions Autrement, 2003), 226–42. For Kenya, see Cora Ann Presley, Kikuyu Women, the Mau Mau Rebellion, and Social Change in Kenya (Boulder: Westview Press, 1992); and Daniel Branch, Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

43. See Neil MacMaster, “The Colonial `Emancipation’ of Algerian Women: The Marriage Law of 1959 and the Failure of Legislation on Women’s Rights in the Post-Independence Era,” Stichproben 7, no. 12 (2007): 91–116; and Mounira M. Charrad, States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 169–200.

44. Neil MacMaster, Burning the Veil: The Algerian War and the “Emancipation” of Muslim Women, 1954–62 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009).

45. Jacques Massu, Le Torrent et la digue (Paris: Éditions Rocher, 1972), 101–6; Grégor Mathias, Les sections administratives spécialisées en Algérie: Entre idéal et réalité (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1998); Daniel Lefeuvre, “L’échec du plan de Constantine,” in La guerre d’Algérie et les FranÀ’Àais, ed. Jean-Pierre Rioux (Paris: Fayard, 1990), 320–24; Alexandra Lamodière: “L’action sociale et éducative des officiers SAS en Oranie,” in Jauffret, ed., Des Hommes et des femmes en guerre d’Algérie, 539–51.

46. See Marina E. Santoru, “The Colonial Idea of Women and Direct Intervention: The Mau Mau Case,” African Affairs 95, no. 379 (1996): 253–67; and Luise White, “Separating the Men from the Boys: Constructions of Gender, Sexuality, and Terrorism in Central Kenya, 1939–1959,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 23, no. 1 (1990): 1–25.

47. J. C. Carothers, The Psychology of Mau Mau (Nairobi: Government Printer of the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya, 1954), 23; also compare Cooper, Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 358.

48. Lefeuvre, “L’échec du plan de Constantine”; Gavin Kitching, Class and Economic Change in Kenya: The Making of an African Petite Bourgeoisie, 1905–1970 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980); Bruce Berman and John Londsdale, Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992).

49. See Pierre Bourdieu and Abdelmalek Sayad, Le Déracinement: La crise de l’agriculture traditionnelle en Algérie (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1964). For a critical take, Fanny Colonna, “The Phantom of Dispossession: From the Uprooting to the Weight of the World,” in Bourdieu in Algeria: Colonial Politics, Ethnographic Practices, Theoretical Developments, ed. Jane Goodman and Paul Silverstein (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 63–93.

50. Jan S. Hogendorn and K. M. Scott, “The East African Groundnut Scheme: Lessons of a Large-Scale Agricultural Failure,” African Economic History 10 (1981): 81–115.

51. Paul B. Rich and Richard Stubbs, eds., The Counter-Insurgent State: Guerrilla Warfare and State Building in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997).

52. Claude d’Abzac-Epezy and FranÀ’Àois Pernot, “Les opérations en Algérie, décembre 1958–avril 1960: Le général Challe parle,” Revue historique des Armées 200, no. 3 (1995): 70.

53. Dierk Walter, Zwischen Dschungelkrieg und Atombombe: Britische Visionen vom Krieg der Zukunft, 1945–1971 (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2009), 459.

54. John Cloake, Templer, Tiger of Malaya: The Life of Field Marshall Sir Gerald Templer(London: Harrap, 1985); Kumar Ramakrishna, “Transmogrifying Malaya: The Impact of Sir Gerald Templer (1952–54),” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 32, no. 1 (2001): 79–92. Critical of this interpretation is Karl Hack, “`Iron Claws on Malaya’: The Historiography of the Malayan Emergency,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 30, no. 1 (1999): 99–125.

55. Ian F. W. Beckett, “Robert Thompson and the British Advisory Mission to South Vietnam, 1961–1965,” Small Wars and Insurgencies 8, no. 3 (1997): 41–46.

56. Ann Marlowe, “David Galula: His Life and Intellectual Context,” Strategic Studies Institute (August 2010), 1–61, (accessed September 18, 2011).

57. The soon widespread phrase was coined in 1957 by the white settler and writer Elspeth Huxley.

58. Caroline Elkins, “The Struggle for Mau Mau Rehabilitation in Late-Colonial Kenya,”International Journal of African Historical Studies 33, no. 1 (2000): 37; Sloan Mahone, “The Psychology of Rebellion: Colonial Medical Responses to Dissent in British East Africa,”Journal of African History 47, no. 2 (2006): 241–58; Roxanne Lynn Doty, Imperial Encounters: The Politics of Representation in North-South Relations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 99–121.

59. J. C. Carothers, The African Mind in Health and Disease: A Study in Ethnopsychiatry(Geneva: WHO, 1953); Carothers, Psychology of Mau Mau; Jock McCulloch, Colonial Psychiatry and “the African Mind” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

60. L. S. B. Leakey, Defeating Mau Mau (London: Methuen, 1954); Mary Bowman-Kruhm,The Leakeys: A Biography (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2005), 51–64; Bruce J. Berman and John M. Lonsdale, “Louis Leakey’s Mau Mau: A Study in the Politics of Knowledge,” History and Anthropology 5, no. 2 (1991): 143–204.

61. On Malaya, see above all Tim Harper, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 159, 169. For Algeria, see Richard C. Keller,Colonial Madness: Psychiatry in French North Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). In general, see George W. Stocking Jr., ed., Colonial Situations: Essays on the Contextualization of Ethnographic Knowledge (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991); and Jean Copans, ed., Anthropologie et impérialisme: Textes (Paris: Maspéro, 1975).

62. Germaine Tillion, Les ennemis complémentaires: Guerre d’Algérie, new ed. (Paris: Tiresias, 2005 [1960]); Fabien Sacriste, Germaine Tillion, Jacques Berque, Jean Servier, et Pierre Bourdieu: des ethnologues dans la guerre d’indépendance algérienne (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2011).

63. Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005), 112.

64. Mohssen Massarrat, “Demokratisierung des Greater Middle East,” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 45, no. 7 (2005): 30–47; Melanie McAllister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East, 1945–2000 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

65. Colonel C. E. Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, new ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996 [1896]). A portion of the British military literature stylizes Callwell’s book as the primordial cell of counterinsurgency, and its author, whose experiences stemmed above all from Afghanistan and the Boer War, as the “Clausewitz of colonial warfare.”

66. Karl Hack, “Extracting Counterinsurgency Lessons: The Malayan Emergency and Afghanistan,” (accessed September 29, 2011); Stephen Badsey, “In the Public’s Eye: The British Army and Military-Media Relations,” both for the series “Expanding the Learning Curve,” Royal United Services Institute (Fall 2009), (accessed September 29, 2010). Brigadier Gavin Bulloch, “The British Experience,” in British Army Field Manual(Crown Copyright, 2009), 1–6.

67. Lieutenant Bertrand Valeyre, “`Gagner les cœurs et les esprits’: Origine historique du concept et application actuelle en Afghanistan,” Cahier de la recherche doctrinale (July 2010). The Cahiers are issued by the French Ministry of Defense.

68. On Vietnam, see Richard A. Hunt, Pacification: The American Struggle for Vietnam’s Hearts and Minds (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995). See more generally Douglas S. Blaufarb,The Counterinsurgency Era: U.S. Doctrine and Performance, 1950 to the Present (New York: Free Press, 1977); Michael D. Shafer, Deadly Paradigms: The Failure of U.S. Counterinsurgency Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). For rebranding, see Kilcullen, “Counterinsurgency Redux,” Survival 48, no. 4 (2006): 111–30; Daniel Branch and Elisabeth Jean Wood, “Revisiting Counterinsurgency,” Politics and Society 38, no. 1 (2010): 3–14; and Alex Marshall, “Imperial Nostalgia, the Liberal Lie, and the Perils of Postmodern Counterinsurgency,” Small Wars and Insurgencies 21, no. 2 (2010): 233–58.

69. In fact, such voices continue to make themselves heard (from offstage, far right), attacking the mollycoddled “campus and think tank nonsense” of the “Ph.D. gang.” See Ralph Peters, “Progress and Peril: New Counterinsurgency Manual Cheats on the History Exam,” Armed Forces Journal International 144 (February 2007): 34–37. Among military historians, the camp made up of those who hold military superiority, force, resettlement, and firepower to be far more important than any population-centered strategies continues to find an audience. For France, cf. for example the most recent song of praise for the “Plan Challe” in Christopher Griffin, “Major Combat Operations and Counterinsurgency Warfare: Plan Challe in Algeria, 1959–1960,” Security Studies 19, no. 3 (2010): 555–89; a discussion on the application of resettlement can be found in Wade Markel, “Draining the Swamp: The British Strategy of Population Control,” Parameters 36, no. 1 (2006): 35–48.

70. A laudatory account of David Petraeus’s career and thought is found in the relevant chapter of David Cloud and Greg Jaffe, The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army (New York: Crown, 2009).

71. One of the latest indicators is the grim and dark picture drawn in Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Quarterly Report of Semiannual Report to Congress, July 30, 2011, SIGIR Public Affairs 2011, (accessed September 18, 2011). See also Larry Schweinkart, America’s Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars and Will Win the War on Terror (London: Penguin Books 2006). What might have started as right-wing self-assurance has become a broader international hope: having learned “the lessons” and disposing of ways to adequately strike back.

72. As an example of the self-image and self-styling of the “counterinsurgency movement,” see above all Kilcullen, Counterinsurgency, 20–27.

73. John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, new ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

74. General Claude Le Borgne, “Contre-insurrection, théorie et pratique,” Défense Nationale3 (March 2008): 3–11.

75. Lieutenants Bertrand Valeyre and Alexandre Guerin, “De Galula à Petraeus: L’héritage franÀ’Àais dans la pensée américaine de la contre-insurrection,” Cahier de la recherche doctrinale (2009); U.S. Army Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, FM 3–24 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007 [2006]); Major Gregory D. Peterson, The French Experience in Algeria, 1954–62: Blueprint for U.S. Operations in Iraq (Fort Leavenworth: School of Advanced Military Studies, 2003); Lieutenant Colonel Dale Kuehl, “Testing Galula in Ameriyah: The People Are the Key,” Military Review 89, no. 2 (2009): 72–81; Seth G. Jones, “The Rise of Afghanistan’s Insurgency: State Failure and Jihad,” International Security 32, no. 4 (2008): 7–40. On the “école franÀ’Àaise,” see as well Béatrice Heuser, “The Cultural Revolution in Counter-Insurgency,” Journal of Strategic Studies 30, no. 1 (2007): 154–57.

76. David Kilcullen, “The Political Consequences of Military Operations in Indonesia 1945–99: A Fieldwork Analysis of the Political Power-Diffusion Effects of Guerilla Conflict” (Ph.D. diss., University of New South Wales, 2000).

77. Kilcullen, “Countering Global Insurgency.”

78. Kilcullen, “Counterinsurgency Redux,” 1–12.

79. Ron T. Robin, The Making of the Cold War Enemy: Culture and Politics in the Military-Intellectual Complex (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Martin Clemis, “Crafting Non-Kinetic Warfare: The Academic-Military Nexus in U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrine,”Small Wars and Insurgencies 20, no. 1 (2009): 160–84.

80. Heuser, “Cultural Revolution.”

81. Brochures of the French special forces unit SAS, Centre des archives d’outre-mer (CAOM), Aix-en-Provence, SAS / Doc / 5; British Army Field Manual, vol. 1, part 10, “Countering Insurgency.”

82. See the military curriculum in Kevin D. Stringer, “Educating the Strategic Corporal: A Paradigm Shift,” Military Review 89, no. 5 (2009): 93.

83. Colonel Henri Boré, “Complex Operations in Africa: Operational Culture Training in the French Military,” Military Review 89, no. 2 (2009): 65–71.

84. U.S. Department of Defense, “Human Terrain System,” (accessed March 2, 2011); Anna Mulrine, “The Culture Warriors,” U.S. News and World Report, November 30, 2007; Jacob Kipp et al., “The Human Terrain System: A CORDS for the 21st Century,” Military Review 86, no. 4 (2006): 9–23; Montgomery McFate and Andrea Jackson, “An Organizational Solution for DoD’s Cultural Knowledge Needs,” Military Review 85, no. 4 (2005): 18–21.

85. Major Ben Connable, “All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket: How the Human Terrain System Is Undermining Sustainable Military Cultural Competence,” Military Review 89, no. 2 (2009): 57–64.

86. “A Belief in the Possible,” Brown Alumni Monthly 108, no. 6 (2008): 32–37; David Rohde, “Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones,” New York Times, October 7, 2007.

87. Bradley A. Thayer and Valerie M. Hudson, “Sex and the Shaheed: Insights from the Life Sciences on Islamic Suicide Terrorism,” International Security 34, no. 4 (2010): 37–62; Assaf Moghadam, “Motives for Martyrdom,” International Security 33, no. 3 (2008–9): 46–78.

88. Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, Combattre: Une anthropologie historique de la guerre moderne (XIXe–XXIe siècle) (Paris: Seuil, 2008).

89. Robert J. González, “`Human Terrain’: Past, Present and Future Applications,”Anthropology Today 24, no. 1 (2008): 21–26.

90. Kathleen Gough, “`Anthropology and Imperialism’ Revisited,” Economic and Political Weekly 25, no. 31 (1990): 1705–8.

91. Reprinted in “News,” Anthropology Today 23, no. 6 (2007): 28.

92. American Anthropological Association Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities, “Final Report on the Army’s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program: Submitted to the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association,” October 14, 2009,–hts–final–report.pdf (accessed September 29, 2011); Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, “Anthropology and Ethics in America’s Declining Imperial Age,” Anthropology Today 24, no. 4 (2008): 18–22.

93. Evan R. Goldstein, “Professors on the Battlefield,” Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2007; Montgomery McFate and Steve Fondacaro, “Cultural Knowledge and Common Sense: A Response to González,” Anthropology Today 24, no. 1 (2008): 27.

94. Bronislaw Malinowski, “Practical Anthropology,” Africa 2, no. 1 (1929): 22–38. Bronislaw Malinowski, head of the functional school of anthropology, managed to bring his message to the Colonial Office. The use of anthropology for colonial rule was discussed by some of the leading colonial officials—among them Lord Lugard—in the review “MAN,” Public Record Office, Kew Gardens, CO 323/1133/3, CO 859/19/11. C. W. Hobley, “Practical or Applied Anthropology: Some of the Problems,” Man 31 (1931): 21–23; Andrey I. Richards, “Practical Anthropology in the Lifetime of the International African Institute,” Africa 14, no. 6 (1944): 289–301.

95. P. E. Mitchell, “The Anthropologist and the Practical Man: A Reply and a Question,”Africa 3, no. 2 (1930): 217; Wendy James, “The Anthropologist as Reluctant Imperialist,” inAnthropology and the Colonial Encounter, ed. Talal Asad (London: Ithaca Press, 1973), 42–69.

96. Montgomery McFate, “Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of their Curious Relationship,” Military Review 85, no. 2 (2005): 24–38.

97. Megan Vaughan, Curing Their Ills: Colonial Power and African Illness (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991); A. Dirk Moses, Genocide and Settler Society: Frontier Violence and Stolen Indigenous Children in Australian History (New York: Berghahn Books, 2004); Kevin Grant, A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884–1926 (London: Routledge, 2005); Jürgen Osterhammel, “`The Great Work of Uplifting Mankind’: Zivilisierungsmission und Moderne,” in Zivilisierungsmissionen: Imperiale Weltverbesserung seit dem 18. Jahrhundert, ed. Boris Barth and Jürgen Osterhammel (Konstanz: UVK, 2005), 363–425.

98. “Special Report: Lifting the Veil,” Time, December 3, 2001; Hal Lehrman, “Battle of the Veil,” New York Times Magazine, July 13, 1958. On the debate over deveiling and women’s rights in Afghanistan, see Kevin J. Ayotte and Mary E. Husain, “Securing Afghan Women: Neocolonialism, Epistemic Violence, and the Rhetoric of the Veil,” National Women’s Studies Association Journal 17, no. 3 (2005): 112–33. See also Todd Shepard, The Invention of Decolonization: The Algerian War and the Remaking of France (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006), 186–92.

99. “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan?,” Time, August 9, 2010.

100. Erich K. Silverman, “Anthropology and Circumcision,” Annual Review of Anthropology33, no. 1 (2004): 419–45; Janice Boddy, Civilizing Women: British Crusades in Colonial Sudan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

101. On the more recent discussion: Jason Lyall and Isaiah Wilson III, “Rage against the Machines: Explaining Outcomes in Counterinsurgency Wars,” International Organization63, no. 1 (2009): 67–106; Jason Lyall, “Do Democracies Make Inferior Counterinsurgents? Reassessing Democracy’s Impact on War Outcomes and Duration,” International Organization 64, no. 1 (2010): 167–92.

102. Peter Liberman, “An Eye for an Eye: Public Support for War against Evildoers,”International Organization 60, no. 3 (2006): 687–722; Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver, and Jason Reifler, Paying the Human Costs of War: American Public Opinion and Casualties in Military Conflicts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009); Ronald D. Crelinsten, “The World of Torture: A Constructed Reality,” Theoretical Criminology 7, no. 3 (2003): 295–301.

103. Paul Aussaresses, Services spéciaux: Algérie, 1955–1957 (Paris: Perrin, 2001). For general background on French torture practices in Algeria, see Raphaëlle Branche, La torture et l’armée pendant la guerre d’Algérie, 1954–1962 (Paris: Gallimard, 2001).

104. Interview by Mike Wallace, 60 Minutes, CBS, January 23, 2002.

105. Alan M. Dershowitz, “Want to Torture? Get a Warrant,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 22, 2002; Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002). On the transfer of French torture practices to the United States and various military dictatorships in South America, see Death Squadrons: The French School, dir. Marie-Monique Robin (New York, First Run/Icarus Films, 2003); Marnia Lazreg, Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Bagdad (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007); and the review of Lazreg by James D. Le Sueur in H-France Review 6 (2006): 77.

106. Alan Dershowitz, “Tortured Reasoning,” in International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals, ed. Henry J. Steiner, Ryan Goodman, and Philip Alston, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 250; Dershowitz, “Should We Fight Terror with Torture?” Independent, July 3, 2006; Dershowitz, Is There a Right to Remain Silent? Coercive Interrogation and the Fifth Amendment after 9/11 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

107. Alex Bellamy, “No Pain, No Gain? Torture and Ethics in the War on Terror,”International Affairs 82, no. 1 (2006): 121–48; compare the perspective of two practitioners in Chris Mackey and Greg Miller, The Interrogators: Task Force 500 and America’s Secret War against Al-Qaeda (New York: Back Bay Books, 2005).

108. Edward Peters, Torture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 144.

109. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (New York: Norton, 2004), 273–77.

110. David Luban, “Torture and the Ticking Bomb,” Virginia Law Review 91, no. 6 (2005): 1425–61.

111. Over 400,000 copies of Lartéguy, Les centurions (Paris: Presses de la cité, 1960), were sold in France alone. It was filmed in 1966 with a star-studded cast as Lost Command. The celebrated film portrayal of the Battle of Algiers appeared in the same year under the title La Battaglia di Algieri.

112. Gil Merom, How Democracies Lose Small Wars: State, Society, and the Failures of France in Algeria, Israel in Lebanon, and the United States in Vietnam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Jonathan D. Caverley, “The Myth of Military Myopia: Democracy, Small Wars, and Vietnam,” International Security 34, no. 3 (2009–10): 119–57.

113. For more details, see Moshe Schwartz and Joyprada Swain, “Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis,” CRS Reports for Congress, May 13, 2011, (accessed September 29, 2011); Sarah Percy, Mercenaries: The History of a Norm in International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Percy, “Private Security Companies and Civil Wars,” Civil Wars 11, no. 1 (2009): 57–74; P. W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003); Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (New York: Nation Books, 2007); Marc von Boemken, “Condottieri der Gegenwart: Die Globalisierung des privaten Sicherheitsgewerbes,” in Rückkehr der Condottieri? Krieg und Militär zwischen staatlichem Monopol und Privatisierung, ed. Stig Förster, Christian Jansen, and Günther Kronenbitter (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2010), 297–309.

114. David Isenberg, “A Government in Search of Cover: Private Military Companies in Iraq,” in From Mercenaries to Market: The Rise and Regulation of Private Military Companies, ed. Simon Chesterman and Chia Lehnardt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 82–93.

115. Rogene Fisher Jacquette, “Contractor Deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan Outnumber Service Member Deaths,” New York Times, September 23, 2010.

116. For Algeria, see Charles-Robert Ageron, “Les supplétifs algériens dans l’armée franÀ’Àaise pendant la guerre d’Algérie,” Vingtième siècle 48 (Fall 1995): 3–20. On the massive use of “white” troops from the Commonwealth in the Boer War, see Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (New York: Random House, 1979), 418–42; Denis Judd and Keith Surridge, The Boer War (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 55–88. For France since 1831 the Foreign Legion would have to be considered: Douglas Porch, La Légion Étrangère, 1831–1962 (Paris: Fayard, 1994).

117. Geraint Hughes und Christian Tripodi, “Anatomy of a Surrogate: Historical Precedents and Implications for Contemporary Counter-Insurgency and Counter-Terrorism,” Small Wars and Insurgencies 20, no. 1 (2009): 1–35.

118. Lewis Sorley, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam (New York: Harcourt, 1999).

119. Joseph Nye Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004).

120. Stringer, “Educating the Strategic Corporal,” 93.

121. William Easterly, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (New York: Penguin Press, 2006).

122. Ann Marlowe, “If COIN Doesn’t Work, Why DoWe Keep Using It?” World Affairs blog, August 11, 2010,–COIN–Doesnt–Work–Why–Do–We–Keep–Using–It (accessed September 29, 2011). Compare the reports on the development of violence in Iraq and Afghanistan: Anthony H. Cordesman et al., “IED Metrics for Afghanistan, January 2004–May 2010,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 21, 2010,–IED–INCIDENTS–IN–dAFGHANISTAN.pdf (accessed September 29, 2011); Andrew M. Exum et al., “Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Center for a New American Security, October 6, 2009,–TriageAfPak–Juned09.pdf (accessed September 29, 2011).

123. For their criticism in the direction outlined here we would like to thank the anonymous readers of Humanity, as well as those who read an earlier version for the journal Geschichte und Gesellschaft.

124. Frederick D. Lugard, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1923). See also Sara Berry, “Hegemony on a Shoestring: Indirect Rule and Access to Agricultural Land,” Africa 62, no. 3 (1992): 327–55.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

This content is restricted to site members. If you are an existing user, please login. New users may click here to subscribe.

Existing Users Log In

About Moritz Feichtinger

Research fellow and Ph.D. student at the University of Bern. He is currently working on his dissertation, titled "New Villages: Forced Relocation, Social Engineering and Counterinsurgency," which deals with forced resettlement in Kenya, Algeria, and South Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s. He has published several articles on late-colonial counterinsurgency.

About Stephan Malinowski

Lecturer in modern European history at University College Dublin. His first book, Vom König zum Führer: Sozialer Niedergang und politische Radikalisierung im deutschen Adel zwischen Kaiserreich und NS-Staat (Akademie, 2003), deals with the relationship between the German nobility and the National Socialist movement. The book won the Hans Rosenberg Prize in 2004. He is now at work on a book project titled Violent Humanitarians: Forced Modernization and the Legacy of Europe's Colonial Wars. He has published on forced modernization during the Algerian War, the debate over the colonial origins of the Holocaust and the "colonial" character of National Socialist rule in Eastern Europe, and the influence of collective violence on the formation of European identity.