Review: The Sling and the Stone–On War in the 21st Century

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4.0 out of 5 stars Overall Excellent Primer,

February 12, 2005
Colonel Thomas X. Hammes USMC
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.

In the context of the thousands of book on strategy, force structure, emerging threats, and so on, this is a solid primer and excellent work for both those who know nothing of the many other books, and a good place to start for conventional military minds ready to think more deeply about transformation.

This is an excellent book over-all. His two key points are clear: 4th Generation Wars take decades, not months as the Pentagon likes to fight; and only 4th Generation Wars have defeated super-powers–the US losing three times, Russia in Afghanistan, France in Viet-Nam, etc.

The author offers solid critiques of the Pentagon’s mediocre strategy (Joint Vision 20XX) and its preference for technology over people, an excellent short list of key players in world affairs, interesting lists and a discussion of insurgent versus coalition force strengths and weaknesses in Iraq, and a brutal–positively brutal–comparison of the pathetic performance of “secret” imagery taking days or weeks to order up, versus, “good enough” commercial imagery that can be gotten in hours.

There are flashes of brilliance that suggest that the author’s next book will be just as good if not better. He understands the war of ideas and talks about insurgent handbills as a form of ammunition that the US is not seeing, reading, or understanding; he points out that Al Qaeda is like a venture capitalist, franchising and subsidizing or inspiring distributed terrorism; and he is superbly on target, on page 39, when he points out that when Al Qaeda attacks in the US, the only thing that is “moving” is information or knowledge. Everything else they pick up locally–hence, US homeland security comes down to intercepting the information, not the players or the things they use to attack us.

The author is among those who feel that we must nail Egypt, Syria, and Iran, among others (I would include Pakistan), for exporting support to terrorism.

I have a number of underlinings and margin comments throughout this book, so it is by no means a light read. It is a very fine place to start understanding war in the 21st Century, and an excellent foundation for reading the more nuanced and broader works of GI Wilson, Max Manwaring, Steve Metz, Ralph Peters, and others.

Other seminal works in this area, with reviews:
Uncomfortable Wars Revisited (International and Security Affairs Series)
The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century
Tactics of the Crescent Moon: Militant Muslim Combat Methods
The Tiger’s Way: A U.S. Private’s Best Chance for Survival
War of the Flea: The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare
Wars of Blood and Faith: The Conflicts That Will Shape the 21st Century

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Feb 12

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