15 March 2009

Another leadership vignette for the counter-insurgent

One of my fellow bloggers in Iraq, Boss Mongo, has commented on a number of personalities well-known in the counterinsurgency field. many of whom have proven to be quite eccentric characters.

Last month, Mongo commented on an article from Small Wars Journal which discussed the various character attributes of T.E. Lawrence, whom I've commented on a number of times before. (By the way, the author of that article is awesome) My fascination with his character goes back a number of years. I knew of Lawrence largely from his role as a recurring character in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (circa 1990), where he assumes the role of an archaeologist specializing in the Middle East. Years later, as a lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division, I attended the 3 1/2 hour long movie Lawrence of Arabia at, believe it or not, an art-house theater in Fayetteville, NC. Yeah, there actually is one of those theaters in downtown Fayetteville, believe it or not. Anyway, what struck me about the character is that he, like I was at the time, was a bored lieutenant on someone's staff--over-educated and under-employed; he had a far greater sense of Middle Eastern politics and military strategy than his peers, and he was stuck with a mundane job. In his case, his job was to re-draw maps for briefings (which, in today's terms, would probably be akin to making PowerPoint slides).

Well, Mongo has introduced us to a new personality for all of us in the counter-insurgency/hybrid/4GW/pentathlete camp: a British intelligence officer named Orde Wingate. Mongo links to a book on Amazon about him (which, unfortunately, is not in Kindle format, so there's yet another book to lug around Iraq). Wingate had fought against the Arabs in Palestine, and had fought the Italians in Ethiopia alongside a brilliant strategist named Halie Selassie, a man who would gain future fame under the name "Ras Tafari". (Halie Sshould be no stranger to those who read The 48 Laws of Power and The 33 Strategies of War). He designed unconventional campaigns to prevent the Japanese from taking India and guerilla campaigns in Burma.

Now with brilliance comes a certain level of eccentricity. Lawrence had his peculiarities, but Wingate has him beat hands down. One tale described Wingate lying on his cot naked, combing his body hair with a toothbrush. Which, of course, is strange to us in the year 2009 because we've all discovered the art of manscaping. (Yes, admit it)

So thanks to Mongo, I have yet another book in my reading cache. I swear, I haven't been able to catch up on all the reading I want to do here. Looks like I'm going to have to finish off a few books when I take my mid-tour leave in a month or two.

Focus: We've discussed Lawrence and now Orde Wingate as leadership vignettes for counter-insurgents and "pentathlete warriors". Who else would you suggest as a pentathlete soldier?


Anonymous said...

Orde Wingate was the model of eccentricity. I first encountered him when I read a personal history of the WWII Burma campaign called "The Thousand Days of Lt. McHorton" which described many of Wingate's eccentricities - like carrying around a loud ticking clock and constantly repeating, "time's a-wasting" or whatever the British version would be.

If you're looking for a good example of an eccentric COIN warrior from U.S. history (I think there are MANY!), I would suggest the 2-time Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler - the USMC's "Fighting Quaker." Butler is talked about at length in Max Boot's fine book "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power" (2002)

Interestingly enough, after serving in a mind-boggling array of small wars (Spanish-American War, China's Boxer Rebellion, Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Haiti, Nicaragua, etc), Butler wasn't given a combat command in the First World War. Though his bravery and valor were legendary (he'd already won the 2 medals of honor by WWI), he was considered "unreliable."

Here's something interesting to consider: Do the qualities it takes to be a successful counter insurgency commander (flexibility, more independence of judgment, cultural adaptability, etc) actually work against the officer in a "big war"? Someone needs to look into the service records of the COIN fighters of the pre-WWI & WWII periods to see if they actually got combat commands in the big fights. Junior officers like Patton (who served with Pershing in Mexico) I don't think should count.

Greg in Mexico

Guy said...

Wingate is hands down the craziest mother in all of WW2. Totally snooker loopy. Strictly speaking though the Night Squads weren't Haganah though many joined that organisation after the SNS was disbanded. He's actually buried in the US. A biography is well worth buying as he wanders from his messed up childhood to drug addiction to leading whole regiments through Burma.