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Book Review - Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife

By: John A. Nagl (830.2/35724)
Publisher: University of Chicago Press ISBN: 0226-56770-2

Armies are often accused of preparing to fight the previous war. In Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, Lieutenant Colonel John A. Nagl-a veteran of both Operation Desert Storm and the current conflict in Iraq-considers the now-curtial question of how armies adapt to changing circumstances during the course of conflicts for which they are initially unprepared. Comparing the development of counterinsurgency doctrine and practice in the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960 with what developed in the Vietnam War from 1950 to 1975, Nagl – the subject of a recent New York Times Magazine cover story by Peter Maass-argues that organizational culture is key to the ability to learn from unanticipated conditions, a variable which explains why the British army successfully conducted counterinsurgency in Malay but why the American army failed to do so in Vietnam.

With a new preface reflecting on the author’s combat experience in Iraq, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife is a timely examination of the lessons of previous counterinsurgency campaigns that is baeing hailed by both military leaders and engaged civilians.

“Nagl’s study is especially relevant today, and one that military leaders and interested citizens at all levels should read. It suggests how to encourage the spirit of innovation-a spirit that helped the British Army succeed in Malaya and that is currently transforming America’s Army in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and around the globe” _ From the foreword by General Peter J. Schoomaker.

October 2007


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