Missionaries of Modernity
Advisory Missions and the Struggle for Hegemony, from the 1940s to Afghanistan
Antonio Giustozzi and Artemy Kalinovsky
Hurst, London, 2016, 288 pages
Book Review published on: June 8, 2018
It was not without a little bit of terror when a member of my doctoral defense committee took out Missionaries of Modernity by Antonio Giustozzi and Artemy Kalinovsky and began asking me why I had not incorporated it into my dissertation. The simple reason had been that the book came out at a time when I was burning both ends of the candle trying to finish a case study that was ultimately rejected. The sense of irony is not lost on me.
Missionaries of Modernity is both the book I’d wished I had written and glad I did not. The level of thoroughness within this research and the subsequent book cannot be ignored, which I will explore in more depth. However, the book does suffer from overall thematic challenges, making it clear that it was a project cobbled together by many.
It begins with a strong introduction that does an excellent job in expressing definitions of concepts that are foundational to the very substance of the book. Readers first encounter this in the differentiation of mentors versus advisors. This may seem like a small point to quibble about, but I assure you that it is not. One of the biggest challenges the United States has had throughout its various forays into what I would refer to as military assistance is the lack of clarity between training, advising, and assisting. Indeed, this is something I experienced first-hand as part of the training and transition (TT) team mission in Iraq during 2007.
We all spoke of the mission as an advise-and-assist mission, but it largely ended up being a training mission. Why? Because the U.S. military understands how to train, and training is quantifiable and easily explainable—advising, on the other hand, is far fuzzier. In this regard, Giustozzi and Kalinovsky have done us all a fantastic service by differentiating the two. “Advisors,” they state, “should be more focused on the organization within which individuals operate, even if they may be assigned to advise a particular individual.” In contrast, their definition of “mentors” is quite similar to that of trainers. Furthermore, there are the descriptions of the different types of advisors: military, police, intelligence and security, and civilian. This comprises the framework of the book, which Giustozzi and Kalinovsky then apply to Afghanistan through the Soviet years and beyond.
The second part of the book delves into the military experiences of the United States, beginning with China and Greece, and then continuing on to Korea and Vietnam. After a lingering discussion on Vietnam, they move on to Latin America and parts of the Middle East—the title of the chapter being “From Success to Failure.” The rest of Part II includes a chapter on police and another on civilian advisors, essentially highlighting that “bureaucratic politics, lack of coordination, and inefficient management of advisory missions were all problems shared by the Americans and their allies with the Soviets.”
The third part is the true meat of the book, encompassing the advisory experience in Afghanistan. Beginning with the late nineteenth and early twentieth century advisory missions, one cannot help but appreciate why Afghanistan is often described as the “graveyard of empires.” Describing the German, Russian, and Turkish as well as other European experiences prior to World War II, Giustozzi and Kalinovsky explain how the internal politics of Afghanistan continuously complicated the advisory mission. Those challenges were exacerbated both during World War II and the Cold War as Afghanistan became a buffer state, first between the Nazis and Soviets, and then between the Soviets and the Americans. The next few chapters explain the Soviet advisory mission in technical detail, pulling in a work by Paul Robinson, Alfie Sorokina, and Kalinovsky that was completed separately. The last chapter, “Afghanistan after 2001,” delves into excruciating detail of coalition advisory mission in all its forms, describing the mission in all its various iterations. The charts, graphs, and most importantly, the acronyms, with the addition of having ten different phrases meaning exactly the same thing, will make any battle-hardened combat veteran feel right at home.
While this is a dense tome, Missionaries of Modernity accomplishes a number of desirable tasks. Most importantly, it gives clear definitions and delineations that can be easily understand and ideally will be incorporated into a military doctrine that has great need of such clarity. The book provides a solid history of the advisory mission in Afghanistan as well as prior missions of both the Soviet Union and the United States. Where the book becomes less convincing thematically is that it reads like a grouping of papers rather than a broader research project. There is no question regarding the useful concentration on Afghanistan, but there are a number of points, specifically at the opening of the book, where it is unclear how the authors will tie into a focused examination of the Afghanistan advisory mission, leaving the reader wanting more. Lastly, the style of the authors’ citations and endnotes will frustrate even the most patient of readers.
Overall, however, I would recommend this book, especially to anyone involved with or seeking to understand Afghanistan, with the caveat that this book is far more a historical review of the advisory mission than a book attempting to clarify broader issues. If any point is made through Missionaries of Modernity, it is that advising is hard to do, both for a nation and individual soldiers. Something to consider as we enter our seventeenth year of war.
Book Review written by: Maj. Jonathan Freeman, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C.