Book Review: The Sling and the Stone

I find military history and theory interesting to read, not because I’m particularly militaristic but because they discuss applying limited resources in particular ways to meet tactical challenges. It may seem a stretch to say that you can learn about insurgent military tactics and apply them to business, but as I read this book by Col. Thomas X. Hammes (USMC, ret’d.), it continually reminded me that non-military organizations have to constantly adapt tactics and take a long-term perspective, even backing off an advance, in order to be successful.

Col. Hammes’ book is particularly insightful because of its analysis of insurgent techniques and the evolution of fourth generation warfare (4GW in his shorthand).  In essence, he says that the Iraqi and Al Qaeda threats did not spring up like an army from dragon’s teeth, but have been developed and crafted by insurgent groups around the world over the last 80 years.  He also challenges the determination of the U.S. Department of Defense to embrace technology without necessarily taking into account its limitations in this 4GW environment.  I particularly enjoyed his characterization of the human eyeball, which he notes is “Mark 1, Mod 0” and still pretty vital despite being the first version!

I found the first chapter or so hard slogging, and repeatedly found myself sunk in a paragraph full of military shorthand.  But the Colonel tells a good story and I found his tour from the operations of Mao through the Viet Minh to the Central Americans to Islamic fundamentalists to be both interesting and easy to comprehend.  He clearly outlines the general stages of an insurgency identified by Mao, and then how each is adapted to the new conflict.  It was sometimes a bit startling as he described in 2005 the direction the Iraqi conflict would be going, and to read the news in 2007 and see echoes of his theories bear fruit.

Related:  PBS Frontline Interview with Col. Hammes

Related:  Amazon Link to The Sling and the Stone