Counterinsurgency Theory

One of my favourite strategic thinkers is John Nagl. He has written intelligently on counterinsurgency for many years. I first came across him via his book Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, which is about counterinsurgency lessons from Malaya and Vietnam.

He has been serving with the US forces in Iraq, and has freely explained how this led him to revise his earlier ideas. Nagl appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in late 2007. Probably the best quote from this clip is: “Be polite, be professional, but be prepared to kill”. Sounds almost like another day at the office!

What is so very interesting about his writings on counterinsurgency is how much of it is about ‘soft’ issues and skills. Sure he understands that in war you need to be willing to take final action. But he really understands what is important for winning is the winning hearts and minds of people.

What does all this have to do with technology? Well, we technologists are actually counter insurgents who are seeking to win over hearts and minds of other people. We want people to adopt our ideas, our products and use them. We want people to come over to our way of thinking, to gain allies and limit the ability of foes to act against us.

We are true subversive elements within society. As such, it is worth taking the time to read works by thinkers like Nagl to help us think about our mission.

Military theory has a lot of to offer technologists as they battle to change the world. Many of the idioms make sense because what we do is seek to shake the equilibrium of society.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire