Over 100 years ago, British Army junior officer and aspiring journalist Winston Churchill penned an account of an expeditionary campaign in Central Asia, which he called The Story of The Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War. Churchill’s observations remain relevant, especially those concerning the habits of the Pashtun tribes of the Malakand hinterlands:
“Except at the times of sowing and of harvest, a continual state of feud and strife prevails throughout the land. Tribe wars with tribe. The people of one valley fight with those of the next. To the quarrels of communities are added the combats of individuals. Khan assails khan, each supported by his retainers. Every tribesman has a blood feud with his neighbor. Every man’s hand is against the other, and all against the stranger.”
A few lines from the preface about the price of intellectual integrity also bear repeating:
“Indeed, I fear that assailing none, I may have offended all. Neutrality may degenerate into an ignominious isolation. An honest and unprejudiced attempt to discern the truth is my sole defence, as the good opinion of the reader has been throughout my chief aspiration, and can be in the end my only support.”
Servicemembers charged with duty in the Middle East and abroad may benefit from a reading of Churchill’s selected works.
The Swat River flows through the district down towards Charsadda District where it falls into the Kabul River. Malakand District is bounded in the north by Lower Dir District, in the east by Swat District, in the south east and south west by Mardan and Charsadda districts respectively and in the west by Mohmand and Bajaur agencies.
The Siege of Malakand was the 26 July – 2 August 1897 siege of the British garrison in the Malakand region of colonial British India’s North West Frontier Province.
These categories help us understand the aggregate behavior of individuals as they come together to form different types of human societies. What’s worth noting, especially, are David’s insights with respect to the universality of tribal identity: tribalism is the first and final form of social organization. A sense of belonging is a core need, and is, in part, at least, what radical extremists exploit when recruiting new members. From SWJ (my bold):
Recent research has shown that isolated and marginalised groups and individuals are more likely to be lured by the messages of vengeance (perceived social and political justice) and a utopian life of the Caliphate (perceived sense of belonging and purpose).
Journal Articles are typically longer works with more more analysis than the news and short commentary in the SWJ Blog. We accept contributed content from serious voices across the small wars community, then publish it here as quickly as we can, per our Editorial Policy, to help fuel timely, thoughtful, and unvarnished discussion of the diverse and complex issues inherent in small wars.
…in modern societies in Europe and North America, the tribal paradigm is constantly reiterated in large ways and small—not only in expressions of nationalism and “national character,” but also in the often-clannish organization and behavior of civic clubs, social circles, sports fans, urban gangs, and even “cyber-tribes,” to note a few examples. All such expressions reflect the tribal paradigm, for they are more about traditional desires for identity, honor, pride, respect, and solidarity than about modern desires for power and profit.
From In Search Of How Societies Work, Tribes — The First and Forever Form, by David Ronfeldt, page 57, before chapter titled, Modern Manifestations of the Tribal Form. (My bold text.)
A few more thoughts from the first commander in chief:
4th. Whatever Prisoners you take, must be treated with Kindness and Humanity. Their private Stock of Money and Apparel to be given them, after being strictly searched, and when they arrive at any Port, they are to be delivered up to the Agent, if any there; if not, to the Committee of Safety of such Port.
George Washington to Charles Dyar, January 20, 1776 (also to William Burke and John Ayres) IMAGES Head Quarters Cambridge, January 20, 1776. Sir: You being appointed Captain and Commander of the armed schooner Harrison in the Service of the United Colonies are to pay all Attention and Obedience to the following Instructions.
Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner] … I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause … for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.
George Washington to Benedict Arnold, September 14, 1775, two same date IMAGES Camp at Cambridge, September 14, 1775. Sir: You are intrusted with a Command of the utmost Consequence sequence to the Interest and Liberties of America.
Republican President Abraham Lincoln was one of the first world leaders to attempt to legally curtail the cruelty of modern war with the Lieber Code, authored by Napoleonic War veteran and legal scholar Francis Lieber:
A prisoner of war is subject to no punishment for being a public enemy, nor is any
revenge wreaked upon him by the intentional infliction of any suffering, or disgrace, by cruel
imprisonment, want of food, by mutilation, death, or any other barbarity.
One of the more curious experiences I had after signing up to serve was being offered large sums (for a poor kid from North Carolina, mind you) to work as a defense contractor. Contractors take on the same tasks as soldiers, but earn pay that can be very high compared to the set military scale. The result of the DoD’s contracting focus is that America ends up with a surplus of contractors who hold positions that could be done by uniformed personnel for less expense. Veteran Special Forces operator Lloyd Sparks has written an insider’s account of working life in America’s defense industry, outlining its curious culture and contradictions; his views add weight to calls for reform.
Buy Boondoggle: My Unexpected Career as a Military Defense Contractor on Amazon.com ✓ FREE SHIPPING on qualified orders
An older interview with the respected commander:
German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer braved a visit to ISIS strongholds in Syria and Iraq in late 2014. He mentions the importance of “knowing the enemy” as motivation for his trip.