Monday, July 8, 2013

The more you call your history "epic," the less I believe you.

Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present by Max Boot | LibraryThing

Scanning the wall of new releases at my local library I came across Max Boot's Invisible Armies and was intrigued enough to pick it up and flip through it a bit. There were a few caution flags: the blurbs on the back, the title itself, the humblebragging prologue ... but the subject matter was interesting and it promised to be informative about conflicts and guerrilla leaders I'm not overly familiar with, so I checked it out and dove in even though I'd never heard of the author.

Shorter Boot: "My book will engross and instruct you with well-chosen,
well-told stories because I write like the awesomesauce!"
As I noted in my review, I wasn't overly impressed with this approach to the material, but I was willing to go along for the ride because the subject was indeed interesting and, to his credit, I think his stories were well-chosen. His point that history is tends to focus on regular warfare, battles between different color uniforms, but give short-shrift to the guerrilla warfare around the edges of the glam conflicts that are often equally important is well-taken, but I kept looking for a him to share some insight that was something more than obvious. He clearly knows his stuff, but the conclusions he draws from the historical record, beyond observing that groups without the resources to wage regular war tend to resort to the same sorts of irregular warfare, are dubious. Downright insulting, actually.

Name some groups that practice or practiced terrorism (a slippery term, but we can use a definition like Boot's own: violence perpetrated by non-state groups against civilian and military personnel for a political aim) and I'll wager at the top of such a list might be al Qaeda and other Islamic groups, the IRA if you want to go back to the Troubles, and others found on the NCTC (National Counter Terrorism Center) list. Look over your list and the NCTC's and notice how many are religious in nature or are involved in conflicts that are largely attributable to disagreements about the correct way to be superstitious. Then consider this statement:

"[Modern terrorism] has been made possible by the spread of four phenomena: destructive
and portable weaponry, the mass media, literacy, and secular ideologies."
I don't mean to imply all terrorists are religiously motivated; nationalism, racism (the KKK), anti-colonialism, and a host of not explicity religious -isms can, and have, been the motivation for terrorist acts. But for Mr. Boot to list four phenomena that contributed to the rise of modern terrorism and include "secular" ideologies yet not include religious fundamentalism, especially after writing about a number of religiously motivated terrorist groups, smells like the ideological baggage of a water carrier for a brand of discredited conservatism.

It's not easy to make me stop reading a book I've started but that sort of intellectual dishonesty will do it.


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