Ambush Alley Would Like to Kick Our Ass

Fascinating read, this Back to the Street without Joy: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Vietnam and Other Small Wars by Robert M. Cassidy on Parameters.

The “Street without Joy” is the title of a book by Bernard Fall that, according to Mr. Cassidy, explains why the French failed to defeat the Viet Minh during the Indochina War, which began in 1946. This war ultimately lasted nearly thirty years, but starting in 1954 it came to be known as the Vietnam War, a civil conflict in which the United States helped South Vietnam fight against North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. The “Street without Joy” is also the nick-name for Highway 1 on the coast of Indochina (the area now composed of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) also known as “Ambush Alley,” and ironically, the place where Mr. Fall was killed by an IED during a Viet Cong ambush in 1967.

Mr. Cassidy draws not only from that conflict, but also from the Banana Wars, a series of conflicts in and around the Caribbean, including but not limited to Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba (1909-1926); the Philippine Insurrection (or Philippine-American War 1898-1913); and even the Indian Wars of the early United States of America (1775-1890); chapters of history made no less pertinent by the passage of time to our present situation in Iraq, where we face a highly mobile enemy who is difficult to strike with a massive war machine.

Cassidy references Robert Taber’s book, The War of the Flea: Guerrilla Warfare in Theory and Practice, in which Taber wrote:

“Analogically, the guerrilla fights
the war of the flea, and his
military enemy suffers the dog’s
disadvantages: too much to defend;
too small, ubiquitous, and agile
an enemy to come to grips with. If
the war continues long enough
–this is the theory–the dog
succumbs to exhaustion and
anemia without ever having found
anything on which to close its
jaws or to rake with its claws.”

And, in Cassidy’s words:

“An overarching principle, though, is not
to fight small wars with big-war
methods–the goal is to gain results
with the least application of force
and minimum loss of civilian
(non-combatant) life.”

While we might utterly dominate anyone who would be so foolish as to meet us in a conventional war, in the “war of the flea” we can easily have our asses handed to us. Which is not to say we can’t win it, only that it requires a much different approach and execution.

“In small wars, tolerance, sympathy, and
kindness should be the keynote to our
relationship with the mass of the

Occasionally, numbers describing Iraqi support for our military in Iraq are bandied about. Some sites I’ve read suggest a healthy percentage of people living in Baghdad support us; other sites I’ve read suggest nothing of the sort. Cassidy makes the point that the support of the population is indispensable. So if we don’t have it, we need to get it. Once people are on our side, we can work with them to reach a common goal. But convincing them to be on our side could be tricky considering how much ordnance we’ve dropped on Iraq so far.

Methods of engendering popular support include rebuilding infrastructure and showing respect and compassion to the civilians, particularly the women and children. Perhaps if untrustworthy companies such as Halliburton ( weren’t given no-bid contracts at our expense, we could get some serious work done. Why the American people tolerate such a blatant conflict of interest in the second highest office is beyond me (The Boston Globe). I can only assume people are not paying attention. That or perhaps they are all out fucking themselves right now.

Much more information can be found in the article. I am challenged by the sheer volume of essays and articles at Parameters.

Here’s another good one from Parameters: In Praise of Attrition by Ralph Peters. In this essay, Mr. Peters underscores the importance of killing and how our military’s troubles can be traced to a timidity that has crippled our armed forces ever since Vietnam.

We live in interesting times.


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