Counterinsurgency and the United States Marine Corps

Counterinsurgency and the United States Marine Corps

Volume 2, An Era of Persistent Warfare 1945–2016

Leo J. Daugherty III and Rhonda L. Smith-Daugherty

McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2018, 473 pages

Book Review published on: May 11, 2018

Leo Daugherty and Rhonda Smith-Daugherty, authors of Counterinsurgency and the United States Marine Corps: Volume 1, The First Counterinsurgency Era, 1899-1945, continue their chronological examination of U.S. Marine Corps counterinsurgency operations and activities from 1945 to 2016 in volume 2. The study is divided into four distinct eras. The first counterinsurgency era (1945-1962) covers the Marine Corps’s advising of the Netherland Marine Corps prior to the latter’s deployment to the Dutch East Indies to quell Indonesian nationalism; the second covers the Marine involvement in the Vietnam War and the doctrinal debate between the Marines and the U.S. Army on how to best fight a counterinsurgency; the third covers the wars of low-intensity conflict in Latin and Central America during the 1980s; and the final era covers the response to the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

The authors open with a review of American diplomatic and security policies beginning 1945 to 2016. This provides context and background to the impact that the doctrines of “containment” and “limited war” would have over seven decades on the formulation of U.S. foreign and military policy. The Marines played a critical role in executing American policy throughout the world during this time period. A critical period examined by the authors is 1945 to 1948, when marines encountered Communist Chinese forces attempting to gain control of China. The primary mission was to disarm and repatriate thousands of Japanese forces in China. The authors note an interesting event when a combined force of Japanese tanks and infantry marched out of Lang Feng to join the marines in preventing Communist forces from overrunning the village. The marines continued to have encounters with the People’s Liberation Army, including combat, until they left China in December 1948.

Counterinsurgency and the United States Marines Corps sheds insight into how Marine Corps leadership viewed events taking place in Vietnam prior to the arrival of combat forces in 1965. Marine Corps commandant Gen. David R. Shoup advised President John Kennedy against escalation in Vietnam. Shoup, likewise, disagreed with increasing the number of Marine and Army advisors. Instead, he wanted the Marine Corps advisors to continue in a very limited role. Shoup is quoted “We don’t want to piss away our resources in that rat hole.” The authors indicate that he influenced Kennedy, and that the president had plans to pull out all American advisors out of Vietnam in 1964; however, Kennedy’s assassination ended those plans. President Lyndon Johnson’s concerns of being labeled soft on communism with upcoming elections decided to escalate U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict.

The authors challenge the insurgency myth by illustrating that the conflict was hybrid warfare. The Republic of Vietnam was facing an insurgency led by the North Vietnamese National Liberation Front and a conventional cross-border attack by the North Vietnamese People’s Army Vietnam. They also refute the perception that counterinsurgency efforts were failures in describing several successful counterinsurgency programs: the Marine Corps Combined Action Platoon, Army Special Forces Civilian Irregular Defense Group, and the Republic of Vietnam’s Chieu Hoi program. In countering these myths and false perceptions, the authors provide valuable lessons relevant for future counterinsurgency operations.

The authors’ extensive research describes a Marine Corps that continued to evolve with the threat throughout the period of 1945 to 2016. For example, during the Vietnam conflict as major Marine combat units were redeploying, the Marine Corps maintained a ready battalion off the coast of Vietnam that enabled the United States to project power ashore when necessary. These forces would participate in the evacuation of noncombatants during Operation Eagle Pull and the rescue of SS Mayaguez from Cambodian rebels in 1975. Later, the Marines would organize Marine Detachment One as one of its first Special Operations units following 11 September. More specialized units continued to organize as the Marines continued in developing capabilities in addressing a myriad of new threats worldwide. Success of Marine Detachment One and other related efforts would lead to the establishment of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command in 2006.

Insurgency and limited war will remain alive and well for the foreseeable future. The Marine Corps will remain America’s 911 force in responding to crisis around the world. The authors have done a tremendous service in reminding us of the Marine Corps role in conducting counterinsurgency and low-intensity conflict operations since 1945. Counterinsurgency and the United States Marine Corps bridges the gap between academia and practitioners and is a must read for those desiring a better understanding of Marine Corps history and limited warfare.

Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas