Interestingly, the West Point list also includes two naval classics, one each from Britain’s Julian Corbett and American A.T. Mahan. They are without question the best in their field, but the works chosen hardly speak to the phenomenon of raiding from the sea — the principal way of waging maritime irregular warfare. Handily, however, both Corbett and Mahan did write about such matters, the former in his depiction of the life (and value as a sea raider) of Francis Drake and the latter in his Types of Naval Officers, particularly the character study of Edward Pellew.
When it comes to air power, West Point opted for Italian strategist Giulio Douhet’s The Command of the Air. First published in 1921, the book called for massive bombing of civilian targets — with chemical weapons. Douhet’s belief in the profound psychological effect of aerial attack attracted legions of followers — and still does. Yet few such campaigns have ever worked. Better to look at “air raiding” through more irregular eyes, such as those of Orde Wingate. This British general pioneered the concept of “deep penetration” of small raiding forces, inserted and supplied from the air. It is a concept he tried out with some success in Burma during World War II, but his ideas still await full development. Leonard Mosley’s Gideon Goes to War — Wingate was something of a religious fanatic and saw himself much like the biblical warrior — offers a lucid, but still deep, assessment.
I’ll conclude with recommendations that reflect an important debate. Robert Taber’s War of the Flea argues that little can stop the weak from wearing down the strong with insurgent warfare; Lewis Gann’s Guerrillas in History is a brief but thorough survey that shows how often irregulars have been beaten in the past. Both books were written over 40 years ago, and both remain exceptionally timely. Indeed, Abu Musab al-Suri, al Qaida’s deepest strategic thinker, lectured on Taber at the “university of terror” that used to operate in Afghanistan.
The 10 books I have outlined here — all quite short save for Glubb and Callwell — provide nice complements to the West Point list and may prove a bit more relevant to the wars of our time and conflicts to come.
John Arquilla is professor and chair of the defense analysis department at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and author, most recently, of “Insurgents, Raiders and Bandits.”