Chicago Press Edition
A Radical Field Manual
This counterinsurgency field manual challenges much of what is holy about the American way of war. It demands significant change and sacrifice to fight today's enemies honorably. It is therefore both important and controversial. Those who fail to see the manual as radical probably don't understand it, or at least understand what it's up against.
The official story is simply that U.S. doctrine needed updating to help U.S. forces combat insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. But this can hardly explain the voracious public appetite for 282 pages bristling with acronyms and numbered paragraphs. With over two million downloads after its first two months on the Internet, the counterinsurgency (COIN) manual clearly touched a nerve.
The unprecedented interest in a military field manual reflects confusion about the nation's strategic purpose in the wake of September 11, 2001. Americans yearn to understand a world in which old assumptions and advantages no longer seem relevant. They wonder if it is possible to secure the Somalias, Afghanistans, and Iraqs, let alone advisable to try. As doctrine, the manual is a recipe for conducting the most complex and maddening type of war. But in explaining what it takes to do this, the doctrine raises fundamental questions about the legitimacy, purposes, and limits of U.S. power.
Demand for the field manual may also reveal Americans' moral anxiety. The nation is trying to heal wounds caused—once again—by failings