The Marines, Counterinsurgency, and Strategic Culture

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324 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781626165557 (1626165556)

324 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781626165564 (1626165564)

ISBN: 9781626165571

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May 2018


Table of Contents

The Marines, Counterinsurgency, and Strategic Culture
Lessons Learned and Lost in America's Wars
Jeannie L. Johnson
Foreword by Gen. Jim Mattis, US Marines (ret.)

The United States Marine Corps has a unique culture that ensures comradery, exacting standards, and readiness to be the first to every fight. Yet even in a group that is known for innovation, culture can push leaders to fall back on ingrained preferences. Jeannie L. Johnson takes a sympathetic but critical look at the Marine Corps's long experience with counterinsurgency warfare. Which counterinsurgency lessons have been learned and retained for next time and which have been abandoned to history is a story of battlefield trial and error--but also a story of cultural collisions.

The book begins with a fascinating and penetrating look inside the culture of the Marine Corps through research in primary sources, including Marine oral histories, and interviews with Marines. Johnson explores what makes this branch of the military distinct: their identity, norms, values, and perceptual lens. She then traces the history of the Marines' counterinsurgency experience from the expeditionary missions of the early twentieth century, through the Vietnam War, and finally to the Iraq War. Her findings break new ground in strategic culture by introducing a methodology that was pioneered in the intelligence community to forecast behavior. Johnson shows that even a service as self-aware and dedicated to innovation as the Marine Corps is constrained in the lessons-learned process by its own internal predispositions, by the wider US military culture, and by national preferences. Her findings challenge the conclusions of previous counterinsurgency scholarship that ignores culture. This highly readable book reminds us of Sun Tzu's wisdom that to be successful in war, it is important to know thyself as well as the enemy. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the Marines Corps, counterinsurgency warfare, military innovation, or strategic culture.

Jeannie Johnson is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She was previously an intelligence officer and government consultant before pursuing her doctorate. She is the co-editor of Strategic Culture and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

"This is a timely and much-needed 'how to' manual for the study of strategic culture. In this rigorous book, Johnson introduces a new method of cultural mapping, which she uses to show how identity and norms shaped the US Marine approach to counterinsurgency. An essential read for anybody interested in military culture and modern conflict."—Theo Farrell, Dean, School of Arts and Social Sciences, City, University of London

"Jeannie Johnson has written a wonderful book about America's premier war-fighting organization, the US Marine Corps. The book is so well written it may be in danger of being categorized as readable social science. Persuasively, but not uncritically, Dr. Johnson applies the latest methods from cultural analysis to the performance of the Corps, especially in the context of the war in Iraq.  This book is a product of tough love—faults may be tolerated, but they are not simply passed over expediently in silence."—Colin S. Gray, Professor Emeritus of Strategic Studies, University of Reading

"Johnson provides a comprehensive overview of the history and evolution of the culture of the Marine Corps, with an appropriate focus on its struggle to achieve and maintain an independent identity separate from the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy."—Political Science Quarterly

Table of Contents
Foreword by Gen. Jim Mattis, USMC (Ret.)

Introduction: Learning Counterinsurgency

Part 1: The Strategic Cultures of Americans, The US Military, and Marines
1. Know Thyself: Turning the Strategic Culture Tool Inward
2. Bounding the Possible: The Impact of US National and Military Cultures on Counterinsurgency Practice
3. Life in the Seams: Establishing Marine Corps Identity and Role
4. Brothers in Arms: Marine Norms and Values
5. "We Do Windows": Marine Norms and Perceptual Lens

Part 2: Marines Across A Century of Counterinsurgency Practice
6. Setting the Stage: Small Wars and the American Mind
7. Contrasting Nation-Building in the Caribbean and Vietnam: Efficiency and Order as Enemies of Democracy
8. Counterinsurgency Readiness from Haiti to Vietnam: The Consequences of Craving Conventional War
9. Counterinsurgency in Iraq: Experiencing the Learning Curve

Conclusion: Lessons Learned and Lessons Lost
About the Author