Guerrilla Warfare: Kings of Revolution

Guerrilla Warfare: Kings of Revolution

Peter Polack
ARRSE Rating
1 Mushroom Head
Guerrilla Warfare: Kings of Revolution is by lawyer and reporter Peter Polack. He has selected ten guerrilla leaders from William Wallace in thirteenth-century Scotland to Velupillai Prabhakaran in Sri Lanka in the 1990s and 2000s.

The choice of leaders is interesting and had sufficient range that there were some who were entirely new to me (such as the Boer Koos de la Rey and the Tamil Prabhakaran), others I knew little about (FARC’s Manuel Marulanda and the Angolan Jonas Savimbi) and some I had heard of more than a few times (China’s Mao Zedong and the Vietnamese Vo Nguyen Giap). Polack does well to compare these leaders and their different situations.

I struggled to finish this book; I couldn’t help but feel that the author had tried to write about too many people in too short a book. This resulted in each individual receiving, at best, a cursory examination or too much focus on only one or two aspects of what were often long careers. It’s not helped by a rather vainglorious opening by Polack, extolling the virtues of his own book and how useful it would be to governments in pre-empting insurgencies.

The book is crying out for a concluding chapter to summarise the themes that Polack has identified. These are touched upon throughout the book, with some being listed in each chapter, and a review would be very beneficial. This is a shame as some of those identified, such as the frequent occurrence of internal murders by guerrilla leaders to maintain control of the organisation are worthy of further exploration.

Polack generalises too much and frequently presents events without explaining why they are important. He also seems to not see the irony in the Boer Koos de la Rey fighting for freedom from the British after he had helped suppress the native Basutho people after the Boers invaded them.

His sympathies lie, very obviously, with the guerrillas rather than the governments they opposed: apparently it was acceptable for William Wallace to massacre English soldiers who had no chance of escape but not for the English to execute him (admittedly by hanging, drawing and quartering) for treason, murder, robbery and burning churches in the accepted manner of the time. This approach is reflected elsewhere in a number of the chapters and is coupled with a ‘means justifies the ends’ approach (most notably when discussing the huge numbers of casualties sustained by the Vietnamese under Giap and how Ibn Saud retained power after his victory in Saudia Arabia) which is quite dogmatic and used to excuse various events. He also seems to not understand formed armies when describing the leftist army officers who led the 1974 military coup in Portugal by as “the very contradiction in terms”. I can think of a number of armies where the officers are required to be leftist and to whom such a statement may come as something of a surprise!

I find it difficult to recommend this book. It has too much bias, has too many generalisations and lacks a coherent finish. It could have added significant value as being a useful introduction but it’s too narrow in its outlook and too simplistic.

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