Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: The Guerrilla Factory: The making of Special Forces Offices, the Green Berets

I admit it, I picked up The Guerrilla Factory: The Making of Special Forces Officers, the Green Berets for some simple arm chair adventure reading. As a member of an elite unit, surely the author would have some incredible stories to share. And he didn't disappoint. The majority of the book is about the trailing Tony Schwalm, the author, went through to become a Green Beret. Indeed, we're talking grueling and exhausting training, the kind of stuff that makes me tired just reading about it. While Schwalm should have every right to brag, I found that he had a certain humility one might not expect. He admits to making and learning from his mistakes, which removes any preachiness from the book and replaces it with even more respect.

Along with training stories, you get to hear about Schwalm's and the Green Berete's involvement in Operation Uphold Democracy. Taking place in 1994, this mission should have been familiar to me, but wasn't. I was glad to get a first person perspective of the action, which from Schwalm's retelling, was a mostly positive one. Even with a poorly defined mission, the troops were able to provide stability for Haiti, doing far more good than harm while there.

The overarching theme of Guerrilla Factory is that teams like the Green Berets offer a unique way of fighting bad guys. Sure, you've got your traditional fighting force with tanks and bombers, and they'll gladly level everything in sight. And yeah, you've got your commando units that will swoop in and wipe out a single target (think Seal Team 6 and OBL) with lethal precision, but there are times when neither of those approaches work well. The Green Berets and other special forces take an altogether different approach: they partner with rebels on the ground, teach them how to fight, and fight along side them. This method of fighting a war has some serious advantages (the indigenous people are doing the heavy lifting, fewer Americans are involved in far off conflicts, you're less likely to lose the respect of the locals if the locals are doing the fighting) and disadvantages (the process is slow by political standards, there's risk that you could be arming the wrong rebel group), but most importantly it should be a tool in the toolbox.

According to Schwalm, the war in Afghanistan started off using this special forces style approach and was successful. It was only when more traditional soldiers were brought in that things got messy and progress was slowed. I don't have enough information to know if what he's saying here is true, but he certainly brings up a fresh (for me) perspective on Afghanistan.

If you're looking for a definitive book on military strategy for history, you should probably look elsewhere. If you're looking for a fun read with excellent stories and a unique perspective on fighting battles, this is the book for you.

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