Proposed Reading Course, Fall 2015 a. General theme or topic. An analysis of the history of counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare in the 20th century forward, to include current COIN doctrine, with an emphasis on the U.S. Marine Corps.
b. Relevance to the student’s program (Higher Education). In the past fourteen years of conflict, the U.S. military’s efforts in the war on terrorism have highlighted deficiencies in the training and education for COIN, a form of non-conventional (or irregular) warfare. Counterinsurgency depends upon winning over a population, not blowing things up and breaking things, as is the goal in conventional warfare; it is, therefore, a much more complex and nuanced form of engagement that requires maturity, intellect, and a big-picture understanding of culture and how it fits into the socioeconomic, religious, and political realities of a region. A strong-armed conventional military approach often does more damage than good in COIN—and far more than mere physical destruction. Proper training and education for this form of irregular warfare are key to future success.
A thorough understanding of the history of irregular warfare (including COIN) is a logical starting point for researching this topic, especially where it involves the United States military and the Marine Corps in particular. Beginning with the Barbary Wars in the early 1800s during the Jefferson administration, and continuing at regular intervals up to the present, irregular warfare (previously referred to as small wars) has occupied the majority of U.S. history, even if it does not occupy its proper place in a national historical narrative that typically emphasizes the bigger, declared conventional wars. Vietnam was the largest counterinsurgency fight before the War on Terrorism commenced after 9/11, and debate still rages over exactly what type of conflict Vietnam was—including whether the U.S. won or lost.
Understanding irregular conflict throughout the length of our history allows a point of comparison and historical knowledge to determine how best to continue to fight non-state actors in the current war of ideas (i.e., Western thought versus radical and violent Islam) and how we should most effectively educate our military leaders for it. Previous syllabi in military higher education institutions emphasized conventional wars, often downplaying the smaller operations that occurred in between them (e.g., Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic between the world wars.) Studies of Vietnam focused on the larger engagements against the North Vietnamese Army in the early years rather than on the population-centric combined action programs within the smaller villages. Until the Marine Corps became bogged down in a long counterinsurgency fight in Iraq, works like the 1941 Small Wars Manual were all but lost to history until resurrected as currently relevant by some prescient critical-thinking officers.
Current higher education efforts within the Marine Corps regarding COIN are ad hoc at best, are not permanently housed within education doctrine, and fluctuate with time, depending on current operations and the values of the temporarily-assigned military commander at each military school of higher education. Completion of this course of study will inform the current debate surrounding COIN education and how a historical focus on previous Marine small wars operations might be situated within permanent military higher education doctrine and requirements. Additionally, this course of study will provide the in-depth background necessary for the preparation of a proposal and dissertation on the topic of cross-cultural competence and COIN education for Marine leaders to satisfy the program requirement for a PhD in higher education.