Counterinsurgency Warfare is one of the books on the reading list I created for the Naval Special Warfare Center before I retired in 2016. I have multiple copies, and they are all filled with notes and highlighting. For the junior officer or senior enlisted whose troops will live and die at the tactical end of the spectrum, it is imperative to study the history of warfare, particularly insurgencies and counterinsurgencies. David Galula is required reading for those trusted to lead our young men and women into battle just as it should be for the policymakers who commit them to the fight. Galula is not only an academic studying theory, his practical experience in both conventional and irregular warfare (which is actually much more “regular” than conventional clashes) made him uniquely suited to speak, write and teach on the type of conflict that would define warfare for the remainder of the 20th century and beyond.
Galula was a French army officer, born in Tunisia and raised in Morocco. He saw action in World War II in North Africa, Italy, and France. Following the war, his path took a decidedly unconventional turn with postings in China, Greece, Indochina, and Algeria, enabling him to experience a different type of warfare and become one of the undisputed experts in the field. He wrote Counterinsurgency Warfare in 1964 to pass along the hard-earned and extensive knowledge and wisdom he’d gained as the result of his professional journey. Unfortunately, Galula passed away in 1967 as America became more deeply embroiled in Vietnam.
China, The Malayan Emergency, Vietnam, Algeria, Columbia, the Philippines, Iraq and Afghanistan all offer insights and lessons as we move forward, fighting what amount to expeditionary counterinsurgency campaigns, expecting our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to be both the hammer and scalpel of U.S. diplomacy and power abroad. I would expect that the politicians who send our service members downrange spend time with this book, and others, to help them better understand the nature of the conflicts in which we are engaged. That is what elected officials owe the soldier standing his post half a world away. As Galula writes in his 1963 book Pacification in Algeria, “I am not writing this to show what a genius I was, but to point out how difficult it is to convince people, especially the military, to change traditional ways and adapt themselves to new conditions.” Over fifty years later, this sentiment still holds true.