A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq

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Overview

According to the prevailing view of counterinsurgency, the key to defeating insurgents is selecting methods that will win the people’s hearts and minds. The hearts-and-minds theory permeates not only most counterinsurgency books of the twenty-first century but  the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, the U.S. military’s foremost text on counterinsurgency. Mark Moyar assails this conventional wisdom, asserting that the key to counterinsurgency is selecting commanders who have superior leadership abilities. Whereas the hearts-and-minds school recommends allocating much labor and treasure to economic, social, and political reforms, Moyar advocates concentrating resources on security, civil administration, and leadership development.

Moyar presents a wide-ranging history of counterinsurgency, from the Civil War and Reconstruction to Afghanistan and Iraq, that draws on the historical record and interviews with hundreds of counterinsurgency veterans, including top leaders in today’s armed forces. Through a series of case studies, Moyar identifies the ten critical attributes of counterinsurgency leadership and reveals why these attributes have been much more prevalent in some organizations than others. He explains how the U.S. military and America’s allies in Afghanistan and Iraq should revamp their personnel systems in order to elevate more individuals with those attributes.

A Question of Command will reshape the study and practice of counterinsurgency warfare. With counterinsurgency now one of the most pressing issues facing the United States, this book is a must-read for policymakers, military officers, and citizens.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post

"[This] brilliant young scholar of the Vietnam War reminds us that it takes a special kind of soldier—reflective, patient, creative—to lead counterinsurgency operations."—Eliot A. Cohen, The Washington Post

— Eliot A. Cohen

Books and Culture

“Moyar is a true pioneer in a field whose importance for national security has been accepted only reluctantly and belatedly by the American public. . . . Now we have a vastly improved roadmap for guidance.”-- John Tierney, Books and Culture

— John Tierney

Eliot A. Cohen
…this brilliant young scholar of the Vietnam War reminds us that it takes a special kind of soldier—reflective, patient, creative—to lead counterinsurgency operations.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
Moyar (national security affairs, U.S. Marine Corps. Univ.) offers an insightful revisionist look at counterinsurgency, drawing lessons from the Iraq War. It has previously been maintained that the key to defeating insurgents was to "win the hearts and minds" of the local populations. Moyar contends that the level of success in counterinsurgency is consistent with the quality of unit leadership. Arguing that counterinsurgency should not be population-centric warfare but leader-centric warfare, he cites several case studies, covering over 100 years of military history. His chapters on the Philippine Insurrection of 1899 are especially potent, with other excellent examples including the Huk Rebellion in the Philippines and the Malaya Emergency, two post-World War II episodes. Essential reading for students of military history and anyone interested in what can be learned from the current fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wilson Quarterly

A Question of Command stands out because it reaches back quite far, and to unexpected destinations.” —Wilson Quarterly
ABC News

“Moyar''s study of Vietnam--Triumph Forsaken--is becoming a classic in counterinsurgency circles. His new case studies--A Question of Command--are making it to the desks of top military decision makers.”--George Stephanopoulos, ABC News

— George Stephanopoulos

New Yorker

“Terrorism, uniquely horrifying as it is, doesn’t belong to an entirely separate and containable realm of human experience, like the one occupied by serial killers. Instead, it’s a tactic whose aims bleed into the larger, endless struggle of people to control land, set up governments, and exercise power. History is about managing that struggle.”--Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker

— Nicholas Lemann

Eliot A. Cohen

"In the burgeoning literature on counterinsurgency prompted by American experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, this volume stands out. Moyar's argument, that the quality of leadership plays a far larger role in the outcome of such conflicts than is normally acknowledged, is surely correct; his graceful examination of conflicts spanning one hundred fifty years is convincing. A book that makes an important historical argument and, just as important, will be of use to leaders who will bear responsibility on the battlefields of the Long War."—Eliot A. Cohen, author of Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime
Thomas E. Ricks

"One of the great mistakes we made after the Vietnam War was forgetting what we learned there. Mark Moyar has ensured that we don't forget what we learned in Iraq over the last seven years—and has also re-captured lessons from earlier conflicts."—Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq and The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008
Bing West

"Mark Moyar convincingly demonstrates that small unit leaders win counterinsurgencies. His chapter on Afghanistan is especially disturbing; I hope someone in authority is listening."—Bing West, author of The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq
ABC News - George Stephanopoulos

“Moyar's study of Vietnam--Triumph Forsaken--is becoming a classic in counterinsurgency circles. His new case studies--A Question of Command--are making it to the desks of top military decision makers.”--George Stephanopoulos, ABC News

Books and Culture - John Tierney

“Moyar is a true pioneer in a field whose importance for national security has been accepted only reluctantly and belatedly by the American public. . . . Now we have a vastly improved roadmap for guidance.”-- John Tierney, Books and Culture

New Yorker - Nicholas Lemann

“Terrorism, uniquely horrifying as it is, doesn’t belong to an entirely separate and containable realm of human experience, like the one occupied by serial killers. Instead, it’s a tactic whose aims bleed into the larger, endless struggle of people to control land, set up governments, and exercise power. History is about managing that struggle.”--Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker

Victor Davis Hanson

"Counterinsurgency warfare, as Mark Moyar demonstrates in his insightful historical study, is neither new nor unfathomable. Throughout the past, it fails when battlefield leaders do not understand the enemy and its methods, and succeeds only when officers can convince local populations why they are better off helping foreign troops than joining their own insurgents. Not high-tech weaponry, massive supply, or even training defeats insurgents. Only men — smart, brave, sensitive, and inquisitive officers — now and in the past, make the difference. Moyar offers a clear historical reminder of what defeats insurgencies at a time when most in the present age are sorely confused."—Victor Davis Hanson, Stanford University
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300168075
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/26/2010
  • Series: Yale Library of Military History Series
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,245,876
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Mark Moyar is director of research at Orbis Operations and the author of Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965 and Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism in Vietnam.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2012

    Not for the terminally uninformed . . . .

    An excellent book about the history of counterinsurgency and how it is practiced (for better or worse) presently. A must have for any military history library - amatuer or professional!

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  • Posted September 3, 2010

    Superb research; excellent writing; applicable to any domestic situation. A must read in today's environment of political unrest

    Moyer highlights the ultimate characteristic required for defeating insurrgencies. He takes the reader through insurrengies from the civil war to Iraq and Afghanistan and sets out the need for competent leaders and how they apply skills with the populations and the Marines or soldiers under their command. The field manual written by Army and Marine Corps senior officers is good; but Moyer says it is missing a vital part of leadership and putting the right person in leadership positions and allowing them to use creativity and flexibility to diffuse the situation. He further advocates developing leaders from the area where insurrencies are taking place and giving them the responsibility to care for there "home." Moyer enphasizes the requirement of understanding and communicating with all sides of an insurrgency and using 10 princilpes to diffuse the situation. Using the ten principles (he says not many people hvae all ten principles) the leader has the opportunity to change unrest into compliance and satisfaction.

    This book has revelance in our cities also. There are problems in our large cities: gangs, drugs, killings and many other social problems. All of these are indicative of insurrgencies in other countries. Moyer's ten principles aply here within our own country as well as in the streets of the Middle East or around the world.

    This is a one-of-a-kind book that applies across broad spectrums and gives us a refreashing view at an age old problem. Traditional forces are ineffective againist insurrgencies and it seems contemporary law enforcement principles are ineffective againist present day urban unrest. Moyer gives us this new perspective.

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