The Malaya insurgency case (1948-1957)
The most notable issue with the British counterinsurgency practice in Malaya was that the British government was quick to identify mistakes and rectify those mistakes as fast as possible. Consequently, even if there were mistakes as it was the case in Vietnam War, these mistakes were rectified as soon as possible thereby the British government claimed victory over a short period.
With regard to shaping a strategic environment, Joes talks of providing a peaceful path to change. He claims that before doing anything else a counterinsurgency measure should start by establishing an efficient government that can help in smooth transition. According to Joes (2004), such a government is efficient in redressing grievances. With regard to this issue, the British government had for a long period enjoyed good ties with the Malayan people. In addition, it had for a long period enjoyed some form of control over local governments even if it did not have full control over them. This practice together with an enhanced learning culture as John Nagl calls it, worked in favor of the British government that had very few combat military (Nagl, 2005). Alongside with the support of local governments, the British government had a well organized system of governance that was headed by Malayans at various levels. Although these Malayans were not many as one would expect they supported the British government because they had interest in the British government.
Apart from providing a peaceful path to change through good governance, Joes also talks of amnesty. He claims that this is an efficient method of disconnecting followers from insurgent leaders. He also claims that this strategy can provide intelligence in an efficient manner. According to Joes (2004), amnesty should be provided to everyone except insurgent leaders and longtime real criminals. In the Malayan case, the British government understood this strategy quite well. Accordingly, after a long struggle with the insurgents, the government declared amnesty in 1955.
One of the conditions for the amnesty was that that the communists that were to surrender to the British government were not going to be prosecuted in the courts of law. Another condition was that the communists were to surrender to any person of their choice including the members of the public. Although the government declared that it was not going to organize general ceasefires, it promised to organize such ceasefires at local levels. Above all, the government promised to help the communists that were to surrender to regain their normal positions in their societies. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the amnesty decree was well publicized, very few communists heeded to it because insurgent leaders were on the other side warning their members from surrendering. This notwithstanding, the strategy helped the British government to reduce the impact of the insurgency (Yong, & McKenna, 1990).
Another critical counterinsurgency strategy identified by Joes is that of dividing insurgent leaders from their followers. Joes claims that the most efficient method in this strategy is providing security to civilians. According to Joes (2004), protecting and controlling the members of the public should be the first thing in guerilla warfare. Once again, the British government understood this strategy quite well because it took control of all populated regions. This strategy was executed by resettling squatters into specific regions and taking control over them. It was also executed by taking control over other resettlement areas. The key aspect in this plan was to clear the country slowly by slowly and dominate populated areas so that insurgent leaders could not come into contact with the members of the public. In addition, the key aspect in this plan was to build up a sense of security among the members of the public once resettled so that they could collaborate with the British government. This plan worked perfectly for the British government because it won the hearts and the minds of the members of the public; thus, they finally agreed to work with the British government (Yong, & McKenna, 1990). In other instances, the British government had used this strategy and even if it did not work perfectly in all cases, it helped the British government to take control of Malaya.
In summary, with regard to what is covered in Joes’ book, the British government was able to do the following. First, the British government was able to provide a peaceful path to change in the sense that it had an efficient government that enjoyed the support of local people. The said government comprised of Malayan people together with the British nationals thereby the local people felt that they had an efficient government for redressing their grievances. Second, the British government was able to distance insurgent leaders from the members of public and by so doing; the insurgency did not last long as it would have lasted otherwise. Third, it could be said that the British government was able to commit sufficient resources in the exercise in the sense that it reorganized its military force to gather intelligence. Although one could say that there were no additional resources that were physically introduced in Malaya, it is worth noting that the British government committed sufficient resources into the exercise that were already in Malaya.
Evaluating counterinsurgency measures in Vietnam and Philippine wars
To a great extent, it can be said that the US Philippine war of the 1900 was a great success in comparison to Vietnam War. This is in relation to the fact that the Philippine war lasted for a short period as compared to Vietnam War that lasted for a longer period. This part of the paper compares and contrasts the two wars with an aim of establishing what the US did wrong in Vietnam War.
To start with, during the 1900 Philippine war, the US government was successful in secluding insurgent leaders from their followers. The government did this by isolating the insurgents from the members of the public and protecting townspeople from intimidation and terrorism from insurgents (Einolf, 2014). This was the first strategy the US government used in this war. The same strategy was used in Vietnam War, but there were some slight differences between the two wars.
For the Philippine war, the US government started by securing Manila town and later on moved to pursuing the insurgent commanders that were fleeing northwards. With such a practice, the Philippines insurgent commanders turned to guerilla warfare as it was the case in Vietnam War. It was at this point, the US government changed its counterinsurgency measure and adopted a suppression footing measure (Beede, 2013). This measure involved taking control over key areas and keeping the members of the public into protection zones that were free from insurgency. According to Joes (2004), this was the most efficient counterinsurgency strategy for the US government in Philippine war. In contrast to this strategy, the Vietnam War involved body count. As opposed to assuring protection to the members of the public, the body count strategy inflicted fear on these people thereby the members of the public could not provide intelligence to the US soldiers (Joes, 2004). In terms of committing sufficient resources, the US government committed relatively sufficient resources because the number of soldiers in the two wars was sufficient or relatively good in comparison to the number of insurgents.
According to Joes (2004), the two mistakes the US government committed in the two cases were failing to acquire intelligence from local people and failing to establish a peaceful path to change. With regard to establishing a peaceful path to change, the US government in both cases relied heavily on its powerful machine guns and other weapons. Consequently, it did not see the need for establishing an effective government that according to Joes redress grievances.
For the Philippine case, the US government understood quite well that the Philippines were unprepared to govern themselves. However, the US government did not establish an efficient government for the Philippines. Consequently, the Philippines did not embrace what the US government was doing. In Vietnam War, the same mistake was repeated because even if there was a transition government, the said government was not embraced by the local people (Long, & United States, 2008). In both cases, the US government could be regarded as taking control over local people without establishing proper governance mechanisms as the British government did in Malayan case.
With regard to intelligence, the US government did not rely significantly on the local people that could help in fighting the insurgents. Instead, the US government relied heavily on the intelligence of its soldiers. According to Joes (2004), recruiting local people into the army or in other key areas such as scouts and police is an important aspect in counterinsurgency exercise. This does not mean that the US government had to recruit local people into its military, but it means that the US government had to device means of gathering intelligence from the local people.
According to John Nagl and Max Boot, the main problems with the US COIN effort in Vietnam was the inability of the US soldiers to change their tactics to meet the war demands as they were in Vietnam. Nagl in particular addresses this issue in his book and concludes that the US soldiers were reluctant to change. The first part of Nagl’s book valuates how soldiers learn while the second part of the book evaluates how the British soldiers learnt during the Malayan war. The last part of the book evaluates the critical aspects of a learning organization that lacked in Vietnam War (Nagl, 2005).
Max Boot, on the other hand, claims that the high ranking military officials were unable to change their tactics because they were used to conventional tactics. In particular, Max claims that the US soldiers were used to finding enemies, fixing them and annihilating them using fire power machines. This is what took place in Vietnam War, but to the surprise of the US soldiers, Vietnam War required a flexible strategy. Critics of conventional military strategy argue that Vietnam War required an alternative strategy that could secure the members of the public rather than pursue insurgents with an aim of destroying them. Critics argue that such a strategy would have attracted the insurgents to the US military bases thereby enable the US soldiers to attack the insurgents in case they fought back (Moore, 2007). All things said and done, the strategy that was used in Vietnam has been criticized because it resulted to high number of casualties among the civilians.
Comparing British experience in Malaya with US Vietnam War
Largely, it can be argued that the British Malayan case was a great success while the US Vietnam case was a great loss. This part of the paper evaluates the two incidences with an aim of establishing what the British government did in Malaya that the US government did not do in Vietnam.
To start with, the British experience in Malaya was not different from what the US experienced in Vietnam. This is in relation to the fact that the British government too was unprepared for war as probably was the case for the US government in Vietnam. Nonetheless, the British government was able to counter the insurgency in a friendlier manner than the US government did. The most notable thing with the British government is that it had established an efficient government that although did not comprise of Malayan people only, it was friendlier to the local people (Long, & United States, 2008). For this reason, majority of the local people were part of the British government. In relation to this fact, the British government had loyal local people. This notwithstanding, the British government also incorporated Malayan people into its police force, and by so doing, it was able to receive intelligence from the local people. On the contrary, the US government did not see the need of liaising with the local people. Consequently, even if the local people provided intelligence to the US soldiers, they did not do so as they did in the British case. In particular, as Nagl argues the US soldiers did not bother to understand the Vietnamese language (Nagl, 2005). For this reason, they did not understand much about Vietnamese people.
Alongside with establishing an efficient government, the British government also focused much of its attention on protecting the members of the public. At the same time, the Malayan British high commissioner at the time facilitated change by enabling British soldiers to address challenges as they emerged. On the contrary, the US commander did not facilitate change. In fact, as Nagl and Max argue, he gave orders and in most cases ignored soldiers that were on the ground (Wiest, 2009).
According to John Nagl (2005), the main differences in the approach of the U.S in Vietnam and the British in Malaya were the processes rather than the concepts. Throughout his book, Nagl argues that the British organizational culture helped the British government to learn and implement efficient counterinsurgency measures. In contrast, the US government was unable to learn and implement such measures in Vietnam War because it had a different organizational culture. According to Nagl (2005), American organizational culture in battle fields focuses its attention on combating and using firepower equipments. While arguing this, Nagl claims that the US combat mission is usually to destroy insurgents in the battle in the hope that they will surrender (Nagl, 2005). On the contrary, the British commanders have learnt with time to adapt in the battle field rather than expect too much assistance from their government back home.
Evaluating what the British government did in the Malayan war, it is quite evident that the British government did not use excessive force as the US government did in Vietnam War. It is also evident that the British soldiers encountered a myriad of challenges as the US government encountered in Vietnam. In spite of this fact, the British soldiers were quick to change their tactics because they had learnt to do so during the Second World War. Consequently, during the Malayan case, the British government resulted to coordinating its military efforts, its police force and social as well as political issues rather than using excessive force. More importantly, the British government focused its attention on assisting and advising Malayan security forces in protecting the members of the public and ensuring that the insurgents were cut off from the rest of the people (Weichong, 2014).
In contrast, the US government had not learnt this lesson from previous instances. Accordingly, it resulted to using excessive force in the hope that the insurgents would surrender easily. Nevertheless, the insurgents developed new tactics that proved tricky to the US soldiers (Wiest, 2009). In relation to this issue, Nagl claims that the US soldiers that were on the ground were ignored by those giving orders from the military bases in USA. Nagl also claims that the US soldiers did not see the need of learning the cultural practices in Vietnam (Nagl, 2005). By so doing, the US soldiers were unsuccessful in countering the Vietnamese insurgency.
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