Reviewed by Maria Portela
Military historian Max Boot’s Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerilla Warfare from Ancient Time to the Present is a comprehensive historical account of major guerilla and terrorist insurgencies, stretching from the Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire in 66 AD to today’s post-9/11 world. Boot’s extensive global history of uprisings through the ages is infused with memorable characters, including the likes of Guiseppe Garibaldi, Che Guevara, and Osama bin Laden. Their charisma and notoriety help make this complex historical study highly readable, but also reveal the dark side of public diplomacy when used for malevolent purposes.
Invisible Armies reports that since ancient times, disadvantaged groups and individuals have resorted to guerilla warfare. However, despite its ancient origins, Boot concludes that today’s guerilla warfare has changed dramatically due to factors he calls the “three P’s”: politics, propaganda, and public opinion. Boot attributes an increase in insurgent victories to the growing power of the three P’s.
Expanding on concepts of interconnectedness, Boot claims that guerilla operations are more likely to succeed when they have assistance from outside the network. These “invisible armies” are adept at publicity. For instance, Mao Zedong understood the importance of publicity and public opinion; he stressed the Red Army’s need to maintain the best possible relations with the general population. The public diplomacy-oriented strategies of good publicity and appealing to the population allowed his insurgent group to overthrow established authority. During the Long March, Mao Zedong ordered the Red Army to treat villagers along the way with respect, which greatly increased peasant support for the Communists and eventually allowed him to establish leadership of the country
In addition to his insights and understanding of the history of guerilla warfare, Boot offers important lessons on counterinsurgency. In order to counter the threats invisible armies pose, it is essential to understand their history and evolution. Boot states, “Since World War II, insurgency and terrorism have become the dominant forms of conflict—a trend likely to continue into the foreseeable future.” Therefore, knowledge of the history of guerilla warfare Invisible Armies offers is key in assessing the best counterinsurgency approach. Since 1945, insurgencies have become more successful, winning approximately 40 percent of their campaigns. However, the level of organization in conventional warfare still puts guerrilla and terrorist groups at a disadvantage over conventional warfare. Boot maintains that the best approach to counterinsurgency, one that is more likely to warrant long-term success, is to focus on winning “the hearts and minds” of the people. Security and legitimacy are two key tenets of this approach. Openness to compromise and two-way communication are paramount in a successful campaign that strives to win hearts and minds.
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