A compelling survey of irregular warfare from the pre-Christian era to the present, “Invisible Armies” covers both guerrilla fighting, which Boot calls “the oldest form of warfare,” and terrorism, which he considers “strikingly modern.” While exhaustively researched, this is not a scholarly tome, but a lively account, betraying Boot’s journalistic training, of when and how non-regular armies, be they partisans, guerrillas, or terrorists, have managed to achieve their aims–and when they haven’t.
In a nutshell, Boot’s argument is that small, irregular forces can win against larger armies when the smaller forces have popular support at home, ideally combined with external support and/or the approval of the broader public. Foreign occupiers trying to impose their will by main force will, no matter how great their firepower, have an uphill battle to fight, as the US found to its dismay in Vietnam. Successful counterinsurgency tactics will almost always rely on a combination of force with public relations; apparent exceptions, such as the Russian use of scorched-earth techniques in the Second Chechen War, actually prove the rule, as the Russian army was, technically, on its own territory, and was allied with the Kadyrov family.
While the concept is simple, arriving at it has not been, and Boot traces the fortunes of various insurgents and counterinsurgents through the ages, from ancient Mesopotamia to medieval Scotland, the American West, Algeria, Indochina, Afghanistan, and back to modern Mesopotamia, aka the Middle East. The circular structure is no accident, as Boot is, above all else, a master storyteller, and every chapter in the book is full of punchy phrases and vivid action. As I said above, this is an exhaustively researched piece of non-fiction, as well as weighing in at in impressive 700+ pages, but it is anything but dry. Serious scholars of warfare may find it too shallow for their liking, but readers looking for an introduction to the topic of irregular warfare are likely to find this informative, thought-provoking, and an absolutely cracking read.
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