Book Review: The 4th Generational Warfare Handbook

Sunday , 6, March 2016 5 Comments

4th Generational Warfare HandbookI have been reading William Lind for about ten or eleven months. I generally go to the Traditional Right website very two weeks to see if Mr. Lind has a new piece up. Having read a good number of his online blog entries and also the downloads at the resources tab, I was eager to read The 4th Generational Warfare Handbook.  I read lots of military history including a big stack of Osprey Men at Arms booklets so this is pleasure reading for me.

The 4th Generational Warfare Handbook by William S. Lind and Gregory A. Thiele is the distillation of the theory of the predominate form of current warfare under one cover. What is 4th generation war? In a nutshell, it is guerrilla warfare though not exactly.

First, let us explain the generations of warfare:

First Generation is roughly the end of the Thirty Years’ War to the U.S. Civil War. Things like rank, uniforms, salutes come from this era. The tactics are line and column.

Second Generation is a result of technological advances. It is firepower/attritional warfare, with central control. The French developed it in WWI and after, the U.S. Army is still essentially second generation.

Third Generation is maneuver warfare. The Germans started it off with the storm trooper tactics in the last year of WWI and updated it for blitzkrieg. Mobility and initiative are important, self-discipline over imposed discipline.

Fourth Generation warfare is what we see now across the globe in failed states. With the failure of the state, you have clans, tribes, sects, religions using military force, which had been for a few centuries, the domain of the state. William Lind argues that there is no pure military solution as Fourth Generational Warfare is a political, social, and moral phenomenon.

William Lind provides some scenarios about occupation of a Middle Eastern country, basically Iraq in the Second Persian Gulf War. He contrasts the line infantry response to guerrilla warfare with insulated bases, midnight raids, punitive artillery and air strikes that drive the native population to resistance. He then has a scenario of the occupation forces billeting in the town, buying local produce, proportionate response, cultivating intelligence through constant interaction with the locals. It is more like good police work and de-escalates the situation.

Hafez Assad’s brutal crushing of a Moslem Brotherhood revolt in the city of Hama in Syria in 1982 is discussed. Using brute force can be effective if it is short.

Light Infantry is explained including a little bit of history of the chasseurs, jaegers, and grenzers in the 18th Century. The mentality is of being a hunter and on the move.

There is a chapter devoted to light infantry tactics and another on light infantry training. Interesting to see 20 weeks of training is advocated.

Another fictional scenario with a stand in for Afghanistan and the retraining of a Marine company into light infantry tactics.

Among the qualities for light infantry include:

Physical Fitness
Jaeger mindset- hunter attitude
Stalking skills
Proficient with organic and threat weapons
Comfortable operating at night and in varying terrain
Proficient utilizing demolitions

The conclusion is somewhat pessimistic that state militaries will be willing to make the changes needed to win any interventions in foreign countries. Lind mentions in a paragraph of fourth generation warfare within one’s own country which is an existential threat.

“If a state’s armed forces cannot defeat that threat, the state will disappear and its armed forces with it.”

I was reminded of Col. David Hackworth’s Vietnam Primer which had the following rules:

Never use trails.
Always take it for granted that the enemy’s watching.
Always have a go-to-hell plan.
Never assume anything.
Always expect the unexpected.
Talk to the Grunts, they always have the best feel for what’s going down.
Keep operations sledgehammer simple and remember: if it can be fucked up, it will be.
Train your force like a good football coach. Teamwork is the key and this is done by relentlessly repeating squad drills over and over until they are executed automatically and flawlessly. Then do them again!
And remember, squads who live by the basics of their trade make great Armies; Armies don’t make great squads. And these squads must be perfectly trained in the basic fundamentals of the killing trade.
And most importantly, NEVER, NEVER be in a hurry.
Col. Hackworth is mentioned in The 4th Generation Warfare Handbook.

There have been cases of state armies subduing foreign populations. I would have liked to see William Lind have more history on constabularies and paramilitaries. The Apache Scouts in the U.S. Southwest, the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL), the British King’s African Rifles in East Africa, and the Philippine Constabulary are all examples of paramilitary forces that kept the peace.

The KNIL and Philippine Constabulary performed horribly against the Japanese Army line infantry in WWII. The King’s African Rifles provided the basis for the East African Division used in Burma in WWII. The U.S. Army underwent transformation from a constabulary to a modern army under Gen. Leonard Wood before WWI. So, paramilitary forces can go either way depending if they have time to retrain and adapt.

This book should be handed out to every new minted 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and Marines.

This book was published by Castalia House in 2015.

  • Mike says:

    Lind, like Bevin Alexander, explains military theory clearly and passionately, and is completely accessible to civilians. His writings have inspired two of my short stories, and I know there’s still a lot to be mined from reading him.

  • Astrsorceror says:

    How understandable is it for the amateur military historian, or to those unfamiliar with the subject?

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