August 6, 2008

Book Review - Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife

This book considers the question of how armies adapt to changing times and prepare for future conflicts. Nagl, an armor officer and instructor on national security studies, compares the development of counterinsurgency doctrine and practices used by the British in Malayan Emergency between 1948 and 1960 to that used by the Americans in the Vietnamese Conflict from 1950 to 1975. He asserts that organizational culture is a key factor is the ability to learn from unanticipated circumstances. It is this factor, he believes, which allowed the British to be successful against the Malayan insurgents while American efforts to quell the uprising in Vietnam failed. Nagl applies these lessons along with his experiences in the Gulf War and the current Iraq War. In the introduction to this paperback edition, Nagl highlights places where his combat experiences upheld the conclusions that he drew from history's examples. At the same time, he points out details that he underestimated or where his assessments did not quite capture the sophistication or difficulty of real life change. Nagl's work is well grounded with thorough academic research and peppered with the wisdom that comes from experience. This is a must read, both for combat leaders but also for policy and decision makers who must also be part of change when it occurs.

This book can be found in HECSA Library:

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam
John A. Nagl
DS 597 .N27 2005