Author: Black, Frederick H
Date published: April 1, 2012
Arquilla, John. Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World. Lanham, Md.: Ivan R. Dee, 2011. 336pp. $27.50
Irregular warfare has been the topic du jour over the last few years. A search of any bookseller's website turns up literally hundreds of recently published titles on the subject. While not a bad thing, this makes it harder for nonspecialists to separate the wheat from the chaff. Much recent literature in the field centers on irregular tactics and techniques, especially U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, while a smaller portion focuses on armed groups. John Arquilla, however, takes a different approach in Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World, by focusing more on irregular warriors than on irregular wars. Like the figures he portrays, Arquilla attacks the conventional-war methods and heroes of military history. He laments continuing overreliance on traditional methods and classical theorists, given the evidence that the world is now far from conventional. As a Naval Postgraduate School professor, Arquilla has studied and taught this topic for over two decades. At the time of this book's publication there were more than thirty ongoing conflicts worldwide, all irregular in nature, "primarily conducted through acts of terrorism or more classic guerrilla hit and run tactics." This supports the argument that "irregular is becoming the new regular." Arquilla asserts that we must now look closely at the masters of earlier times to understand the implications of this new age. The eighteen individuals chosen here come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some, such as Nathanael Greene and T. E. Lawrence, will be familiar to most readers. However, warriors like Abdelkader and Christiaan de Wet are probably largely unknown to all but specialists in the field. Instead of trying to categorize each of them, he draws out common themes they exhibited, most notably their "sheer indomitability" and recurring encounters with advanced technology.
In addition to thematic threads of continuity, the author weaves connecting strands along national lines. The French appear in seven chapters, six times fighting against insurgents and once, during the American Revolution, on the side of the insurgency. The experience gained in these conflicts is another theme used by the author to bind several hundred years of warfare. A similar continuity exists among supporting actors. British involvement in multiple insurgencies provides several opportunities to study Winston Churchill's personal connections.
Of note, most of the irregular warriors highlighted in these chapters gained fame by opposing the conventional masters of their time. Commanders like Charles Cornwallis or Ulysses S. Grant usually found traditional methods insufficient when facing guerrilla or other unusual techniques. In these cases, the raiding tactics of Greene and Nathan Bedford Forrest simply proved too effective. The obvious implications are made clear by the author and should give readers plenty to reflect on, in terms of evaluating the U.S. position in either regular or irregular warfare.
This is a useful book for both specialists and general audiences, although the themes presented here in plain, clear writing have special implications for military readers. Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits represents an important and unique contribution to the crowded field of books on irregular warfare.
LT. COL. FREDERICK H. BLACK, JR., USA
Naval War College