Mike Martin - An Intimate War

#1
Is perhaps best known as the book that the MoD tried to ban despite the fact that they actually commissioned it!

We've been offered two copies by the author who'd ideally like to have two reviews done on ARRSE; one by someone broadly sympathetic to his thesis and another by someone who isn't.

If you fancy taking this on then can I ask you to drop @Auld-Yin a quick PM letting him know which of the two camps you think you fall into. He'll sort out the details.
 

Auld-Yin

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#2
A quick bump for this book. The author is looking for someone who is generally sympathetic to the book's viewpoint, and sdomeone not so. Both reviews will go up and the author has agreed to lead/participate in an on-line debate.

PM me if you feel like reviewing and say which 'side' you are on.
 

Cold_Collation

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#3
I had to do a double-take then. I know a very colourful and interesting jour no called Mike Martin who toured Afghanistan off his own back all the way back in the Soviet days. Turns out it's not the same one.
 
#5
Auld-yin - did you get my PM?
 

Auld-Yin

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#6
Auld-yin - did you get my PM?
I did indeed ATG, and have a couple of others. I have to wait for the books to arrive and when they do I will get them out to the two lucky guys.

In the meantime, if anyone else fancies a pop at this (seriously) then PM me.
 
#7
Sweet - was concerned tapatalk hadn't sent it!
 

Stumpy4154

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#8
Just read an article in the DM about the book; sounds like a very interesting read. One for the "to purchase" list methinks.
 

Auld-Yin

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#9
I now have a couple of volunteers and hopefully the book review will be up in mid-Jan when a full discussion, including the author will take place.
 

Auld-Yin

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#11
Big fan of the book, but don’t think I could do the task justice.
Then you would be more than welcome to join in on any discussion once the reviews are up.
 

rampant

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#12
Then you would be more than welcome to join in on any discussion once the reviews are up.
Are you looking for selection of starter questions to get the discussion flowing or are we going for the trad arrse free-for-all?
 

Auld-Yin

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#13
Are you looking for selection of starter questions to get the discussion flowing or are we going for the trad arrse free-for-all?
To be honest I am not sure and won't be until the review comes in. I will drop a line to the author and see if he wants to kick things off.
 
#14
Are you looking for selection of starter questions to get the discussion flowing or are we going for the trad arrse free-for-all?
Oh god, the poor man will be asked his opinion on the SLR and the wegiment if we leave it an ARRSE free for all!
 
#15
Bit of a hospital pass being the unsympathetic reviewer, to be honest - good luck with that one. You are going to need to have a fairly impressive knowledge of Helmand (Afghan Helmand, not ISAF Helmand) to be able to counter the underlying thesis - those other westerners I know with this knowledge I can't see fundamentally disagreeing with the main tenets of the book, and I am not sure if there are many Helmandis on ARRSE.

I suppose you could argue that more focus on kinetic effect and less on human terrain mapping was just what we were missing, but you might run out of steam with that. A more interesting issue is whether we should have made some kind of accommodation with the likes of SMA in the early days, or whether our distate for shoddy compromise and unprincipled dealings with murderous and corrupt warlords was partly our undoing.

Anyway, that can wait until the debate. Unless we get onto more important stuff, like sideburn lengths and trouser twisters.
 

Auld-Yin

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#16
The book has now been reviewed and I have posted these on the book reviews area. I was asked to find reviewers with opposing viewpoints, but on a site such as ARRSE that was difficult to do :rolleyes: Seriously though, we are all basically on the same side so finding reviewers with totally different starting points was difficult. However we got two fine upstanding ARRSERs who volunteered to take this on, @alfred_the_great and @Cold_Collation so my thanks to both of them. The reviews can be found here:

ATG: http://www.arrse.co.uk/reviews/review-intimate-war-mike-martin/

Cold Collation: http://www.arrse.co.uk/reviews/review-intimate-war-mike-martin-review-2-2/

I hope that this can kick off a discussion on the pros and cons (if there were any) of going into Helmand when we did.
Over to the world of ARRSE.............
 

Stumpy4154

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#17
Just read two cracking reviews on this book. Well done chaps, it sounds like it was hard going at times.

From what is in the reviews we were woefully unprepared for Afghanistan in what we were there to achieve and how to go about it, and were played rather well by the local population due to our "tunnel vision" of things. It would be a sad legacy to say we failed in Afghanistan, despite all the many bits of good PR by the troops on the ground, but that is what I sense from the reviews. Very sad.
 
#18
I think my first reaction, having read @alfred_the_great's review, is that it's gratifying that we managed to draw the same broad conclusions. Leading on from that, that suggests to me that Mike Martin was bang on - or, at least, as close as anyone is likely to manage.

Now, whether that leaves us room for a debate... :-D
 

Sarastro

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#19
There is definitely some debate possible about what seems to be (sorry, haven't read it in full yet) one of the thrusts of the book, which is the viability of understanding this kind of environment in future, and if viable, how to do so.

I disagree with Alfred's suggestion that it is an impossible task. The demonstration for this is Mike himself: I am fairly certain that he didn't speak Pashto and wasn't an Afghan specialist before 2001. More to the point, the information in his book wasn't available only in hindsight. I found his thesis in a Background Reading folder in theatre in 2012, and very interesting it was. Part of the problem is that nobody else in the community within which I worked (J2) had read it as well. There is also another precedent of a sort for this, which is Rory Stewart as a CPA administrator Iraq in 2003-4, who, despite being much more attuned to the regional and cultural differences he was operating in than the average Army officer, still reported that he didn't know nearly enough.

Moreover, we have to listen to the experts when we have them. I have heard far too many readbacks from many different individuals after hearing Mike brief (whether as an advisor in TFH or on PDT) that he was "hard work" or who disliked the fact that "some TA Captain" was briefing them as an expert. Utter ******* bollocks. The sad fact is that the information has been there, has been available, and from individuals eager to impart it, no less. It has failed to translate because many of our people are incapable of rising above our own petty cultural insularity, and therefore have little hope of being open enough to engage with others. I would suggest that the instances over the past decade where we have been more concerned with [shirt sleeves; shaving; looking professional for the Americans; ironing in Bastion; etc.] than our failure to understand Afghan culture, openly stated to be critical to our mission success, is a large part of the problem. When it came to the crunch, we prioritised our own cultural concerns over those of the population or enemy we needed to win over. Unsurprisingly, we lost.

So the points I would draw from both are:
  • We are never going to understand 100%. But understanding 50% is better than 5%. 100% may not be necessary: what we need is enough to get us over the critical threshold to achieve what we want.
  • It is possible to develop Western (i.e. trusted) specialists who understand that 50%, but it takes time. This suggests the requirement for cultural specialists, area specialists, Raj-era political officers, exploring officers, or whatever you want to call them...something that I know Mike has been and continues to be instrumental in developing.
  • The knowledge is out there. The problem is ensuring our people make use of it.
In short: it is possible to understand the culture of other countries and environments, not completely, but well enough for our purposes. Our problem is that we allow our own institutional culture where the majority don't really try.
 
#20
@Sarastro - yes and no. Perhaps another way of looking at it is that we prioritised our cultural concerns because our political masters dictated that we must. The closing chapters of An Intimate War make the point that there was an awareness among UK service personnel but that those awarenesses didn't square with the political narrative, which chimed more with a certain former Prime Minister's Messianic tendencies and a desire to make the whole situation fit into a newsreel-sized soundbite ('Us' good/Taliban evil).

I'm sure there was hubris among those in uniform; debates over 'up and in' versus 'down and out' and stories of seniors using drones to spy on and b*ll*ck those in FOBs doing PT topless make me realise that the minutiae-obsessed/blinkered dinosaurs are still there and that I'm very happy to be out. Equally, my impression is that no matter how enlightened people may have become they would still have been told to get back on-message - the influencers being from outside the services and who tend to spend a lot of time in and around Westminster.
 

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