Posts Tagged ‘David Kilcullen’

In Mikko Hypponen’s fantastic TED talk, there were two big takeaways.  First, we must be prepared those times when–not if–hackers will be able to break systems (perhaps even the system) in which we live and work.  This is not simply a matter of low-tech alternatives (although that is not a bad idea) but also making sure our technology is resilient.  Secondly, those on the side of law and order must find those who are about to become cybercriminals, as Hypponen says, “with the skills but without the opportunities” and co-opt them into using their skills for good.

While I could not agree more with these two priorities, I do not share Hypponen’s optimism that they will be addressed.  In terms of resilience, the start of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica in which humanity is annihilated through an enemy exploiting vulnerabilities in complex, hypertechnological military systems seems completely plausible to me.  (The miniseries should be required viewing for RMA kool-aid drinkers.)  In terms of recruiting those on the verge of becoming cybercriminals or, indeed, cyberguerrillas like Anonymous, I see an outcome that is even less hopeful than the Cylons’ onslaught.  We are failing–miserably–at co-opting talent.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the most important requires broaching an uncomfortable subject.  Earlier in the month, Robert Graham of Errata Security made a provocative claim that, while white hat hackers on on the side of the “law,” they are not on the “side of law enforcement” or, as Graham puts it, “order.”  He goes on to explain:

The issue is not “law” but “order”. Police believe their job is not just to enforce the law but also to maintain order. White-hats are disruptive. While they are on the same side of the “law”, they are on opposite sides of “order”.

During the J. Edgar Hoover era, the FBI investigated and wiretapped anybody deemed a troublemaker, from Einstein to Martin Luther King. White-hats aren’t as noble as MLK, but neither are white-hats anarchists who cause disruption for disruption’s sake. White-hats believe that cybersecurity research is like speech: short term disruption for long term benefits to society.

I have personal experience with this. In 2007, I gave a speech at the biggest white-hat conference. It was nothing special, about reverse engineering to find problems in a security product. Two days before the speech, FBI agents showed up at my office and threatened me in order to get me to stop the talk, on (false) grounds of national security. Specifically, the agents threatened to taint my FBI file so that I could never pass a background check, and thus never work for the government again. I respond poorly to threats, so I gave the talk anyway.

I point this out because it so aptly proves my point. I am not on the side of law enforcement, because law enforcement has put me on the other side. One of the requirements (from the above post) to volunteer is to pass a background check — a check that I can no longer pass (in theory). I cannot volunteer to train law enforcement because they perceive me as the enemy.

This is exactly why I am so dire about recruitment. First, there is a distinctly libertarian bent throughout hacker culture suspicious of government and resistent to impingement of freedoms as far flung as free speech and fair use of digital media.  This, as Graham argues, puts those inclined to respect the “law” against “order.”  Secondly, abuses do more to create cybercriminals than curtail them.

This got me thinking about David Kilcullen’s idea of “the accidental guerrilla”–that, in a counterinsurgency, even the slightest misapplication of force or failure to understand the complexities of one’s operating environment (culturally or otherwise) may lead to the exponential creation of insurgents.  Misinterpretation of this idea has caused many to come to the conclusion that less force is always better, but Kilcullen does not suggest this.  Similarly, it is not simply that the U. S. has begun to project force through this crudely defined “cyber” realm but rather that it does so without any understanding of its human terrain.

I am throwing some counterinsurgency buzzwords around too flippantly; thinking about a population-centric cyberwarfare would be a useful lens, but there needs to be a long hard look at past failures in addressing those Americans previously labeled as insurgents–for example, the Civil Rights Movements as Graham so aptly notes.  There also needs to be a look at the “short-term disruptions” that Graham touches on with the context of cyberguerrillas as well as counterinsurgency practice at large.

I am not purporting any of this to be new or even my own; I am sure folks like John Robb have been connecting these dots for a long time.  However, I am flagging this as an issue that needs more attention.


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Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the 2010 Marine Corps Association Foundation Dinner, which hosted counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen. The video is available via YouTube at the aforementioned link. I encourage you to watch the whole thing, because my summary does not do Kilcullen’s talk justice. Also, I want to thank everyone at the dinner for making me feel welcome including but not limited to my table-mates from Harris Communications and SAIC and Bill Nagle of Small Wars Journal.

Dr. Kilcullen focused on the security situation in Afghanistan and the looming 2012–now 2014–withdrawal from Afghanistan. There were some grim pronouncements that will not surprise those who have been following COIN and our efforts in Afghanistan. While he was optimistic about counterinsurgency efforts at the tactical level, he was much more dour about the “cycle” of criminality, corruption, and abuse empowering the Taliban.

Kilcullen cites two very powerful examples where Afghans have been forced to choose the Taliban, because they offer a better alternative in good governance. In the first, a governor hijacked a US AID road project for his personal gain, which caused the unemployment of 300 to 400 people. The Taliban can turn to a population who has witnessed the corruption and abuse in the face of American inaction and offer a semblance of justice. In the second, a regional NDS (the Afghan Intelligence Agency) chief blackmails a school teacher who had no prior affiliation with the Taliban into giving up his daughter in marriage. The NDS chief had threatened to report him to the Americans as a Taliban supporter. The daughter is refused contact with her family and there is abuse, so the father has no alternative but to turn to the Taliban. “They give him a bomb and he kills the NDS chief,” Kilcullen said. “That could be a Mel Gibson movie, right? It’s not insurgency; it’s basic human revenge on someone who has abused and repressed that person’s family. A lot of the violence that’s happening in Afghanistan is that kind of violence.” Kilcullen goes onto show a number of ways that Taliban have offered the Afghan people a viable alternative in terms of “rule of law, anti-corruption, [and] mediation of disputes.” According to Kilcullen, efforts are failing not in terms of security but governance.

If you have read Kilcullen’s books The Accidental Guerrilla or Counterintersurgency, this will not be particularly surprising. More surprising is his statement that, in advance of the (perhaps) inevitable 2014 withdrawal, international efforts should focus on placing the Afghan government and other stakeholders in the strongest possible for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban before that date, which depends on security but also includes restoring the Afghan civil service and encouraging rule of law.

Attendees asked a number of good questions including how to encourage the best governance from the Karzai government (which, notably, will end before 2014 due to term limits on the presidency) and how to increase Afghanistan’s economic viability. I asked about the use of unmanned systems in a counterinsurgency environment (see about 3:30 into the video):

If you remember, Kilcullen–along with Andrew Exum–published an op-ed criticizing the use of UAV strikes–a tactic–as a strategy. I was particularly fascinated with his comment: “At times, we have tended to send the drones in where we’re not willing to go or where we lack the ability to control what happens on the ground. One of the things about counterinsurgency is whoever controls the ground controls the spin. […] If you hold the area after a firefight, you control the narrative that comes out and you control what the Afghan population hears about it. If you’re not there afterwards, it doesn’t matter what you think. Whoever controls the environment controls what people believe. It is a big propaganda vulnerability to be in that environment using drones.” I have heard similar comments from people employing unmanned systems in the air and on the ground, and I am working on a project to give some further commentary on unmanned systems. Stay tuned…

[Incidentally, how fascinating was the bit about “embedded, probably software-defined radio” and the Taliban?]

Immediately following my question, Kilcullen also offered his “cynical viewpoint” on President Karzai’s ban on private security contractors. As some of you are likely aware, NGOs and development companies have had serious concerns about the security of their operations in the wake of this ban. Kilcullen said, “There is an important loophole in that decree–that companies that are Afghan owned or majority Afghan owned can continue to operate whether or not their employees are Afghans or foreigners. The two biggest security companies in Afghanistan are owned by members of the Karzai family. I see this as a straightforward push for market share. So I believe this is going to be resolved and the way it’s going to be resolved is that we put some Karzai family members on the boards of some of these companies and give majority ownership to some of them to Afghans and this will go away.” I am sure this comes as no surprise to many of you, but I found it fascinating. For the rest of you who like to bag on private security contractors, the fact that these are the people protecting NGOs and development companies is something you should keep in mind.

Kilcullen also heaped high praise upon USMC Female Engagement Teams or “FETs,” citing a few examples of their successes. He added, “You cannot do counterinsurgency in an Islamic country without substantial numbers of women forward. If you have issues with women in combat, I suggest you get over them, because it’s been happening ever since we went into Iraq and Afghanistan in ’01. These women are doing a great job in the field, and it is what it is, you know? It is something to think in terms of the culture of military organizations, but–as an operator, from an operational standpoint–if we could have ten times as many FETs in the field, I would be pushing for that.” The fact that the comment drew big-time applause strikes me that people’s attitudes on women in combat has progressed quite a bit since the late-90s discourse that gets played out in G. I. Jane. I doubt many feminists will greet this development with praise, but the reality is women’s nominal–but not practical–ban from “combat” does deny them recognition in the current system. Consider how women’s contributions to national liberation movements have been erased from postcolonial histories. No matter what you think of the present conflicts, this erasure is not dissimilar.

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Once again, I will teaching in the fall. I wanted this latest class to be a bit of a departure from my last class, Narratives of War.  It is entitled “Ghosts of Empire: Twentieth-Century British Literature & Its Postcolonial Hauntings.”  Here is my description from the English Department’s course page:

In this course, we will examine twentieth-century British literature in the light of colonial intervention and resistance.   As Walter Benjamin wrote, “To articulate the past historically…means to seize hold of memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.”  The unfortunate reality for postcolonial history is that these violent flash points reoccur in the same locales with a tragic repetition that haunts not only the writings of empire but postcolonial literature.  Together, we will trace these hauntings beginning in the early twentieth century and ending with contemporary writings.  The first unit of the course will explore narratives of empire as written by the likes of Rudyard Kipling and T. E. Lawrence, confronting their vexed relationship to the imperial project.  The second unit will address colonial resistance and the empire’s violent legacy through the writings of postcolonial authors such as Salmon Rushdie and Chinua Achebe.  Lastly, the third unit will analyze how these “flashes of danger” are restaged in the present day in neocolonial discourses such as counterinsurgency doctrine.  In addition to literary texts, there will be historical and cultural readings and analysis to provide the requisite context for each work.  Students will be encouraged to think critically about a number of issues including but not limited to race, gender, sexuality, and trauma.

I was assigned the task of teaching an upper-division British and Postcolonial Literature in light of my studies into war culture, and this is what I came up with.  I am still tweaking the syllabus, but here’s how it stands right now…

Update (8/11/10): As much as it pains me, I am cutting back on my homeboy T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I ordered the complete 1922 text, which seemed manageable until I got a copy in my hands.  The edition from BN Publishing has more words per page than an organic chemistry textbook.  Plus, I’m not crazy about the edition itself.  As far as I can tell from secondary sources, the dedication to “S. A.” is present in this edition, but BN Publishing left it out for no good reason.  From a postcolonial/gender studies perspective, that is a huge oversight.  Therefore, I feel compelled to send those books back and cut Lawrence down to about 20 pages from the 1926 edition.  Bummer.  At any rate, I am filling the void with Graham Greene’s The Quiet American.

If you didn’t notice, I’m going all Oxford on this class with the tutorials.  I thought it would befit a British literature course.  We’ll see if it goes over better than my impression of Mr. DuBois from American literature.  Ha-ha!

At any rate, here’s my latest revisions.  See what you think:

Week 1
Monday (8/23): Course overview and Introductions

Wednesday (8/25): Introduction to Colonialism; Robert J. C. Young, “Colonialism” and “Imperialism” in Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction

Friday (8/27): Edward Ingram, “Great Britain’s Great Game: An Introduction” [Available via e-Learning in Sakai]; Rudyard Kipling, Kim (Ch. 1)

Week 2
Monday (8/30): Kipling, Kim (Ch. 2 – Ch. 4)

Wednesday (9/1): Kipling, Kim (Ch. 5 – Ch. 7)

Friday (9/3): Kipling, Kim (Ch. 8 – Ch. 10)

Week 3
Monday (9/6): No class

Wednesday (9/8): Kipling, Kim (Ch. 11 – Ch. 13)

Friday (9/10): Kipling, Kim (Ch. 14 – Ch. 15, finish text)

Week 4
Monday (9/13): selection, T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph [available via e-Learning in Sakai]; Kaja Silverman, “White Skin, Brown Masks: The Double Mimesis: or, With Lawrence of Arabia” [Available via e-Learning in Sakai]

Wednesday (9/15): T. E. Lawrence, “The Twenty-Seven Articles of T. E. Lawrence” [available via e-Learning in Sakai]; David Kilcullen, “The Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency” [available via e-Learning in Sakai]

Friday (9/17): selection, John Ellis, The Social History of the Machine Gun [available via ARES]; selection, Sven Lindqvist, A History of Bombing [available via e-Learning in Sakai]; David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum, “Death from Above, Outrage down Below” [available via e-Learning in Sakai]

Week 5
Monday (9/20): Introduction to Postcolonialism; Young, “Neocolonialism,” “Postcolonialism,” and “India III: Hybridity and Subaltern Agency”

Wednesday (9/22): Salmon Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (1-53; stop at “Under the Carpet”)

Friday (9/24): Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (53-101; stop at “Methwold”)

Week 6
Monday (9/27): Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (101-155; stop at “Snakes and Ladders”)

Wednesday (9/29): Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (155-206; stop at “Love in Bombay”)

Friday (10/1): Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (206-255; stop at “Alpha and Omega”)

Week 7
Monday (10/4): Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (255-306; stop at “Revelations”)

Wednesday (10/6): Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (306-351; stop at “Jamila Singer”)

Friday (10/8): Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (351-397; stop at “The Buddha”)

Week 8
Monday (10/11): Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (397-465; stop at “A Wedding”); No class; tutorials (required)

Wednesday (10/13): Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (465-533; finish text)

Friday (10/15): No class

Week 9
Monday (10/18): No class

Wednesday (10/20): No class; tutorials (required)

Friday (10/22): No class; tutorials (required)

Week 10
Monday (10/25): No class; tutorials (required)

Wednesday (10/27): No class; tutorials (required)

Friday (10/29): No class; Research Paper #1 due (see “Section V. Assignments and Grading Criteria” for details)

Week 11
Monday (11/1): Postcolonial Violence; Young, “Nkrumah and Pan-Africanism” and “The Subject of Violence: Ireland and Algeria”

Wednesday (11/3): Chinua Achebe, A Man of the People (Ch. 1 – Ch. 4)

Friday (11/5): Achebe, A Man of the People (Ch. 5 – Ch. 10)

Week 12
Monday (11/8): Achebe, A Man of the People (Ch. 10 – Ch. 13; finish text)

Wednesday (11/10): No class

Friday (11/12): Gender; Young, “Women, Gender and Anti-colonialism”

Week 13
Monday (11/15): Graham Greene, The Quiet American (1-50)

Wednesday (11/17): Greene, The Quiet American (50-100)

Friday (11/19): Greene, The Quiet American (100-150)

Week 14
Monday (11/22): Greene, The Quiet American (150-208; finish text)

Wednesday (11/24): Counterinsurgency and ‘Ghosts of Empire’; selection, David Galula, Counterinsurgency: Theory and Practice [available via ARES]

Friday (11/26): No class

Week 15
Monday (11/29): No class; tutorials (required)

Wednesday (12/1): No class; tutorials (required)

Friday (12/3): No class; tutorials (required)

Week 16
Monday (12/6): No class; tutorials (required)

Wednesday (12/8): Conclusion; Research Paper #2 due (see “Section V. Assignments and Grading Criteria” for details)

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On Thursday and Friday, the University of Florida hosted the 2009 EGO Conference.  The topic was “Home/sickness: Desire, Decay, and the Seduction of Nostalgia,” and Dominick LaCapra–a historian from Cornell–gave the keynote address.  I took part in a panel called “Evocations of Empire: Political Analyses of the Past and Present” in which I delivered a 15 minute conference paper that examined counterinsurgency theory and doctrine as literature.  In particular, I looked at how this theory and doctrine has a ‘haunted’ quality.  Among other things, I address the lasting appeal of Lawrence to writers such as Kilcullen.  Since this is a literary analysis, it will be a very different take than policy- and practice-focused COIN theory, but I hope you will find it interesting nonetheless:

The title of my paper is “Ghosts of Empire: T. E. Lawrence and the Haunted Narratives of U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrine.”  Ordinarily, military doctrine is not placed in the domain of literature.  During this talk and afterwards, I hope you will consider not only why military doctrine and theory counts as “literature” but also how cultural critics can contribute to its study as well as the urgency of this project.  The fact is that with counterinsurgency doctrine and theory we are dealing with texts that are quite literally weaponized.  In an article entitled “The Evolution of a Revolt,” T. E. Lawrence himself called the printing press “the greatest weapon in the armoury of the modern commander.”  This line is one of Lawrence’s most cited throughout American military doctrine.  Most notably, it appears in the U. S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual–the official how-to guide for the ongoing interventions not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also The Philippines, Somalia, Yemen, and countless other past, present, and future sites of intervention. This manual also states that “some of the best weapons for the counterinsurgent do not shoot.”   In effect, counterinsurgency advocates that the military do its shooting with TEXTS.  Not only is this a complete reorientation of the masculine mythologies of war, but also it is what makes this cultural movement so RIPE for our intervention.

Now, let’s return to the key question addressed in this paper:  that is, “why are these weaponized texts ‘haunted?’”  To answer this question, I turn to Freud’s “The Uncanny.”   In this article, Freud writes, “The German word ‘unheimlich’ is obviously the opposite of ‘heimlich’ [‘homely’], ‘heimisch’ [‘native’] the opposite of what is familiar; and we are tempted to conclude that what is ‘uncanny’ is frightening.”  However, Freud is arguing something very different.  He continues, “Something has to be added to what is novel and unfamiliar in order to make it uncanny.”  That, for Freud, is the uncertainty of place and time in league with a frightful doubling.  Of course, issues of the ‘home’ and the ‘native’ are particularly relevant to colonial discourses, but there are two common features inherent in counterinsurgency texts that make them uncanny.

The first is what I call “temporal disorientation.”  This term points to the text’s disorientating place within the tangle of memory and trauma.  As Benjamin writes, “To articulate the past historically…means to seize hold of memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.”  Of course, the unfortunate reality for postcolonial history is that these violent flash points reoccur in the same locales with a tragic repetition.  For critical readers, the effect is a classic text of counterinsurgency theory has the sense that it could have been written 100 years ago, today, or perhaps 100 years in the future in some apocalyptic vision.  A good example of this is David Galula’s foundational counterinsurgency text, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. In an aside, Galula writes, “A revolutionary situation exists today in Iran.  Who can tell what will happen, whether there will be an explosion, and if so, how and when it will erupt?”  Without context, one might just as easily assume this was one of the countless Tweets coming out of Iran after the election this summer, but these words were not written in 2009 but rather 1964.  This haunted repetition conjures the ghosts of a violent past replayed again and again in the postcolonial.  This could apply to a range of texts including, say, Kipling poetry’s about intervention in Afghanistan.

The second of these haunted qualities is a conscious (and often self-critical) channeling of colonial discourses.  In this talk, I will be addressing the channeling of Lawrence in particular, but there are many others who have been similarly evoked.  An example of this phenomenon is a third-person novella called The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa.  Written in 2009 by two American military officers, Michael L. Burgoyne and Albert J. Marckwardt, it serves a howto guide for soldiers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan presented in a series of dreams.  Above and beyond the form of the book, its most striking feature is the channeling of another text written in 1905 about the Boer War called The Defence of Duffer’s Drift.  This is not a repetition a la Pierre Menard’s rewriting of Quixote as much as a seance in which past colonial voices are made to speak through a distinct narrative as part of a new (often literal) mobilization.

These two shared qualities, temporal disorientation and channeling of colonial discourses, contribute to these texts’ sense of ‘haunted-ness’–that is, the uncanny in Freud’s sense.  This particular form of the “uncanny” is what I will be exploring today in the doubling of the T. E. Lawrence’s 1917 advice to military advisors, “The Twenty Seven Articles of T. E. Lawrence,” and David Kilcullen’s 2006 advice to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency.”  They will stand as two exemplars of the hauntedness of counterinsurgency doctrine and theory.

To begin, let’s turn to the image of Lawrence in the past as a subversive figure in larger context of British military culture as well as colonial discourses coming out of the metropole.  It is import to acknowledge how difficult it is parse myth from reality with Lawrence, but for the purposes of this discussion we are only interested in Lawrence as a mythic figure.  As such, Lawrence is an agent of British imperial ambition, but he remains a queer cog in their war machine.  When I speak of Lawrence as a “queer cog,” I am not simply acknowledging the questions and complications that rise from discussions of his sexuality but also his relative position within the larger context of British military culture.  Consider for a moment that Lawrence was not like Prince Harry attending Sandhurst.  Rather, Lawrence was–and more importantly for us, positioned within military and colonial discourses as–this delicate, if not effeminate, archeologist-poet turned guerilla fighter who would meet with his commanders in sandals and Arab dress.  Contrast him to a contemporary figure such as British General Douglas Haig whose absolute lack of imagination and failure to comprehend new inventions such as the machine gun led to the needless slaughter of tens of thousands in the First World War.  Lawrence was the complete opposite of Haig in terms of his place in military culture.  Indeed, Lawrence dared to diverge one-hundred percent from the established program:  that is, he was willing to travel to a dark place on the map as in Heart of Darkness, get off the boat as in Apocalypse Now, or simply and radically go “native.”  This is what makes Lawrence this queer, ill-fitting cog in British Empire, but it is also exactly this the uncanny positioning that is now celebrated.

His subversiveness can be observed in his short piece, “The 27 Articles of T.E. Lawrence.”  As an example of colonial rhetoric coming out of the Metropole, it is among the most subversive as it demonstrates a willingness to be led by rather than lead the colonial other.  Lawrence writes, “Your place is advisory, and your advice is due to the commander alone.”  Later, he suggests, “Win and keep the confidence of your leader. Strengthen his prestige at your expense before others when you can.”  In both cases, the commander or leader is an Arab, not British, figure.  Certainly, Lawrence’s end is the service of Imperial goals, but the values of the metropole are all but erased or otherwise made invisible.  He writes, “Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.”  He goes further and dismisses Western modes of warfare altogether.  He writes, “Learn the Bedu principles of war as thoroughly and as quickly as you can.”  Most notably, he places paramount importance on learning and mastering Arab culture.  These were some very radical proposals in 1917.  Even from this small sample of writing, it is easy to see why Lawrence has such a vexed relationship to the British Empire at large.

Let’s now move to the present day.  We are living in an era in which Lawrence’s position within military and colonial discourse has moved from one of subversion to a place within the dominant narrative.  At this conference, we have seen nostalgia posited as many things.  Here, it serves as a mobilization.   Enter David Kilcullen, a former Australian military officer, who came to prominence in America as a member of General David Patraeus’s personal staff.  He contributed to the writing of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, and his book The Accidental Guerrilla is a bestseller.  Currently, Kilcullen is serving as a counterterrorism advisor for the State Department.  Although he is undoubtedly a “rock star” within the national security community, Kilcullen began as a subversive figure.  He was reported to have said invading Iraq was “fucking stupid”–a comment he later disavowed–but he nonetheless maintains that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a “serious strategic error.”

Kilcullen’s “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency” captures this subversive quality.  Here, Kilcullen is very overtly conjuring Lawrence on the ouija board of military doctrine.  However, he is not simply evoking “The 27 Articles of T.E. Lawrence” but also the very SPIRIT of Lawrence’s counternarrative.  Recently, on Australian television, Kilcullen mused on the context in which he initially wrote his “Twenty-Eight Articles.”  He proudly states how his piece was being discretely passed around the Pentagon via email at a time when Rumsfeld and like-minded Pentagon wonks were suppressing the advice of counterinsurgency advocates who argued first for not invading Iraq and secondly for more troops in order to secure the country after the invasion.  Rumsfeld, of course, ignored this advice.

However, there is more to “The Twenty-Eight Articles” that make it such a subversive counternarrative.  Evoking that subversive voice of Lawrence, Kilcullen claims, “Rank is nothing: talent is everything.”  Again, we see a divergence from the valuation of Sandhurst or, to a lesser extent, American military academies.  He writes, “Remember the global audience.”  This is not simply casting out the media as in Sri Lanka’s counterinsurgency but rather a genuine awareness of the global community.  If this sounds familiar, it should.  A similar sentiment permeates President Obama’s “reset” of diplomatic relations across the world.  Kilcullen also advises, “Engage the women, beware the children.”  This is not some simplistic “saving colored women for white men.”  Instead, he recommends real political engagement with women as a key component of networks that can either encourage or discourage insurgency as well as a cautious desire to protect children.  Lastly, and most interestingly, Kilcullen suggests the counterinsurgent “exploit a ‘single narrative.’”  For Kilcullen, this exploitation is establishing an alternative narrative to, for example, the Taliban or other opposition figures as well as tapping into existing narratives to score non-violent political victories rather than violent ones.  (Throughout his work, Kilcullen’s mantra is that “a defection is better than a capture and a capture is better than a kill.”)  This underscores notion that the best weapons don’t shoot, and, as I suggested earlier, that counterinsurgents now advocate these weaponized narratives.

Indeed, the seduction of Lawrence is that he is a misfit, a rebel.  When counterinsurgents evoke Lawrence, they are evoking this spirit.  This uncanny doubling of Lawrence’s image in Kilcullen’s writing is more than a repetition of colonial discourse but rather a summoning of Lawrence’s powerful marginality.  However, this sense of the uncanny is not limited to Kilcullen’s “The Twenty-Eight Articles” but also to a wide range of counterinsurgency theory and doctrine.  Most importantly, this narrative has shifted from the margins of military culture to a dominant position.  A once-insurgent literature in Lawrence has literally become counterinsurgent in figures such as Kilcullen.

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This semester, I have been teaching a survey of American Literature course at the University of Florida titled “Narratives of War, 1865-present.” (For the initial draft of my syllabus, see this post. I have changed it since then.)

We began the class with Walt Whitman’s Civil War poetry such as “The Wound-Dresser,” Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Each has had its unique teaching moments. With Whitman, it was the complex emotions towards war ranging from near-jingoistic patriotism to his profound sympathy for those wounded and killed on both sides of the conflict. Crane gave us a chance to explore the trauma and transformation of a young soldier whose expectations more closely resembled the fantasies of 300 than the realities of the Civil War. Then, we read Bierce’s short story as the last moments of–to borrow Kilcullen’s phrase–“an accidental guerrilla.”

On the anniversary of the September 11th Attacks, we moved forward in time and for the first time addressed a conflict that all my students had experienced in one way or another. Indeed, I underestimated the extent of their experience. Most were only 11 or 12 when these attacks occurred, so I thought it would be necessary to remind them how scared we all were on that day. However, they too had been afraid. Those who had had been living near or on military installations repeated the same thing: “we thought we would be next.” Some teachers had sheltered them from the coverage, because they had family members who might be at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, or otherwise involved. However, there was sense among almost all of them that something was wrong. Many parents came to get their children and took them home. As I look back at that day now, it was not merely fear that motivated these parents. There was a collective reaching out to friends and family on that day and afterward that was made more palpable in light of those on the hijacked airliners and in the World Trade Center and Pentagon who were forever lost to their loved ones.

Over the summer, I struggled with what would be the most appropriate commemoration of that terrible day and those who died and settled on Paul Greengrass’ 2006 film United 93. As always, a memorial–film or otherwise–is a painful thing. Some students cried watching the film; others were demonstrably moved in class. I lectured more than wanted, which was more difficult than I expected. This film’s teaching moments had even higher stakes than the other cultural works we have studied so far. We discussed the ethical and artistic choices that Greengrass made in representing the hijackers and their victims. It was necessary to explain so much: the cultural and religious forces driving Al Qaeda, the history of Western intervention in the Middle East, and tragic ignorance of pre-9/11 America. Moreover, the class reopened a wound of my own–much less of a wound than so many but a wound nevertheless–and I found it difficult to focus.

Throughout it all, students wanted to understand how and why this could happen. There were the inevitable questions: “How could the terrorists bring knives aboard?” and “Why didn’t someone try to stop them before 9/11?” Regardless of question, no explanation was adequate.

If today’s class was any indication, it will be members of this generation who are the harshest critic of our failure to stop the attacks. It is not that they have forgotten. They were afraid. They were most vulnerable. Most importantly, they were just old enough to remember yet young enough to believe that they had been safe.

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Jeff Withington, posting at the US Naval Institute blog, shared an email exchange he had with Admiral Jim Stavridis on the value of an English major and the impact it has had on his life.  Admiral Stavridis also recommends a “must-read” list for midshipmen before receiving their commission. Well, I have one-upped the admiral.  In the fall, I will be offering an American literature course entitled “Survey of American Literature: Narratives of War, 1865-Present.”  You don’t even have to be a midshipman or an English major–only a student at the University of Florida.

“Narratives of War” will focus on novels, short stories, films, and memoir that deal with aspects of armed conflict since the end of the Civil War.  The course will encourage students to think critically about an number of issues including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder, women in the military, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Arab-Americans after 9/11, Revolution in Military Affairs, and counterinsurgency.

My inspiration for the course was John Nagl’s characterization of American military culture as one of survival in the face of existential threats. That culture of survival permeates all of American culture including the struggles facing various waves of immigration, the GLBT community, and Arab Americans post-9/11. As diverse as America itself, our military faces many of these same challenges.

There are no shortage of texts, so it is inevitable that I will miss some here or there. My goal was to cover a wide swath of historical periods and genres. There may be some changes, but here it is as it stands today:

Week 1
Monday (8/24): Course overview and introductions; reading journal explained

Wednesday (8/26): American Civil War; Walt Whitman, selected poems

Friday (8/28): Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1-75)

Week 2
Monday (8/31): Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (76-152)

Wednesday (9/2): selection, Ambrose Bierce, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “A Son of the Gods,” “One Officer, One Man,” and “One of the Missing” (Available at The Ambrose Bierce Project, http://www.ambrosebierce.org/works.html)

Friday (9/4): Spanish-American War; Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden” [Available at http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_2/kipling.html%5D; Mark Twain, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” [Available at http://www.logosjournal.com/issue_4.3/twain.htm%5D

Week 3
Monday (9/7): No class

Wednesday (9/9): Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat” [Available at http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/CraOpen.html%5D

Friday (9/11): September 11th; Flight 93, directed by Peter Markle (in-class screening)

Week 4
Monday (9/14): 9/11 and Arab Americans; Randa Jarrar, “Lost in Freakin’ Yonkers” and “A Frame for the Sky” (course packet)

Wednesday (9/16): Introduction to Research Writing: Asking Questions and Finding Answers; Group Activity on Topics, Questions, and Problems

Friday (9/18): World War I; selection, Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (3 – 35) [course packet]

Week 5
Monday (9/21): Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (36 – 74) [course packet]

Wednesday (9/23): Ernest Hemingway, “Soldier’s Home”

Friday (9/25): Research Writing, continued: Sources and Citation

Week 6
Monday (9/28): World War II; Art Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (part 1)

Wednesday (9/30): Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (part 2)

Friday (10/2): Research Writing, continued: Claims and Support; for class discussion, watch the following WWII Disney Propaganda films: “The Spirit of ’43” [Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqMVpcbhpqw%5D, “Der Fuerher’s Face” [Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZiRiIpZVF4%5D, “Commando Duck” [Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H81Nna8fo5g%5D

Week 7
Monday (10/5): Vietnam War; selection, Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Wednesday (10/7): selected poems, Yusef Komunyakaa

Friday (10/9): Revolution in Military Affairs; selected military technology articles; Donald Rumsfeld, “Secretary Rumsfeld Speaks on ‘21st Century Transformation’ of U.S. Armed Forces,” US Department of Defense, January 31, 2002 [Available at http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=183%5D; John Nagl’s and Frederick Kagan’s responses in Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife [e-reserve] and Finding The Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy [e-reserve]

Week 8
Monday (10/12): Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers (1-75)

Wednesday (10/14): Heinlein, Starship Troopers (75-150)

Friday (10/16): No class

Week 9
Monday (10/19): Heinlein, Starship Troopers (150-225)

Wednesday (10/21): Heinlein, Starship Troopers (225-272)

Friday (10/23): 1991 Gulf War; Jean Baudrillard, “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place,” Jarhead [in-class screening]; Reading Response Paper due

Week 10
Monday (10/26): Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; selection, Gabe Hudson, Dear Mr. President; James J. Lindsay, Jerome Johnson, E.G. “Buck” Shuler Jr. and Joseph J. Went, “Gays and The Military: A Bad Fit,” The Washington Post, 15 April 2009, A19; Andrew Exum, “DADT and the Age Gap,” Abu Muqawama

Wednesday (10/28): The War in Afghanistan and the 2003 Iraq War; Colby Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (1-75)

Friday (10/30): Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (75-150)

Week 11
Monday (11/2): Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (150-225)

Wednesday (11/4): Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (225-300)

Friday (11/6): Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (300-368)

Week 12
Monday (11/9): Women in the Military; Kayla Williams, Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army (1-75)

Wednesday (11/11): No class

Friday (11/13): Williams, Love My Rifle More Than You (75-150)

Week 13
Monday (11/16): Williams, Love My Rifle More Than You (150-225)

Wednesday (11/18):Williams, Love My Rifle More Than You (225-300)

Friday (11/20): Williams, Love My Rifle More Than You (300-320)

Week 14
Monday (11/23): Counterinsurgency; Spenser Ackerman, “Women Prominent in Defense Movement (Seventh in a Series: The Rise of the Counterinsurgents),” The Washington Independent; Research Paper (First Draft) due

Wednesday (11/25): Montgomery McFate, “The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture”; Roberto J. González, “Towards mercenary anthropology? The new US Army counterinsurgency manual FM 3-24 and the military-anthropology complex”; Montgomery McFate, “Building Bridges or Burning Heretics?”

Friday (11/27): No class

Week 15
Monday (11/30): No class; student conferences (required)

Wednesday (12/2): No class; student conferences (required)

Friday (12/4): No class; student conferences (required)

Week 16:
Monday (12/7): Unmanned Systems; Sig Christenson, “Air Force looks to keep more pilots grounded,” MySA.com; David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum, “Death from above, outrage from below,” Eagle Eye, directed by DJ Caruso [in-class screening]

Wednesday (12/9): Conclusion; Research Paper (Final Draft) due

I will be interested to hear your feedback on the syllabus. If you are a student at UF, the course is AML2070: Section 1625. I would welcome any cadets or midshipmen from the ROTC program.

I may require a blogging component to students’ reading journal, because I am sure students will have some great perspectives not only on the works themselves but also the issues we will cover together.

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