Knife Fights

Knife Fights

A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice

eBook - 2014
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Penguin Putnam
From one of the most important army officers of his generation, a memoir of the revolution in warfare he helped lead, in combat and in Washington

When John Nagl was an army tank commander in the first Gulf War of 1991, fresh out of West Point and Oxford, he could already see that America’s military superiority meant that the age of conventional combat was nearing an end. Nagl was an early convert to the view that America’s greatest future threats would come from asymmetric warfare—guerrillas, terrorists, and insurgents. But that made him an outsider within the army; and as if to double down on his dissidence, he scorned the conventional path to a general’s stars and got the military to send him back to Oxford to study the history of counterinsurgency in earnest, searching for guideposts for America. The result would become the bible of the counterinsurgency movement, a book called Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife.

But it would take the events of 9/11 and the botched aftermath of the Iraq invasion to give counterinsurgency urgent contemporary relevance. John Nagl’s ideas finally met their war. But even as his book began ricocheting around the Pentagon, Nagl, now operations officer of a tank battalion of the 1st Infantry Division, deployed to a particularly unsettled quadrant of Iraq. Here theory met practice, violently. No one knew how messy even the most successful counterinsurgency campaign is better than Nagl, and his experience in Anbar Province cemented his view. After a year’s hard fighting, Nagl was sent to the Pentagon to work for Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, where he was tapped by General David Petraeus to coauthor the new army and marine counterinsurgency field manual, rewriting core army doctrine in the middle of two bloody land wars and helping the new ideas win acceptance in one of the planet’s most conservative bureaucracies. That doctrine changed the course of two wars and the thinking of an army.

Nagl is not blind to the costs or consequences of counterinsurgency, a policy he compared to “eating soup with a knife.” The men who died under his command in Iraq will haunt him to his grave. When it comes to war, there are only bad choices; the question is only which ones are better and which worse. Nagl’s memoir is a profound education in modern war—in theory, in practice, and in the often tortured relationship between the two. It is essential reading for anyone who cares about the fate of America’s soldiers and the purposes for which their lives are put at risk.

Baker & Taylor
An influential Army officer traces the Gulf War experiences that shaped his perspectives on the changing nature of conventional combat and his views about terrorism, citing his role in co-authoring the military's new counterinsurgency field manual.

Baker
& Taylor

An influential Army officer traces the Gulf War experiences that shaped his perspectives on the changing nature of conventional combat and his then-discounted views about terrorism, citing his role in coauthoring the military's new counterinsurgency field manual. Simultaneous.

Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2014
ISBN: 9780698176355
Branch Call Number: eBook
Characteristics: 1 online resource
text file
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc

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skingcharter
Dec 19, 2018

So I checked this out because LTC Nagle is a fellow West Pointer and an academic colleague. I was very impressed by the work. He's got plenty in there about counterinsurgency and "the next great battlefield" analysis, but interspersed is a terrific set of mid-level Army leadership experiences. He's refreshingly honest and self-critical, and the book is a very good, easy read. I'd recommend this to anybody who a) is curious about modern military history, or b) is curious what a modern battlefield feels like, or c) needs some good lessons about counterinsurgency (though his other book is probably more of a textbook on that topic).

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PearlyBaker
Mar 24, 2015

A must read for anyone interested in future conflicts as well as a behind the scenes military view of the W. fiasco in Iraq.

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