btripp_books (btripp_books) wrote,
btripp_books
btripp_books

And now for something completely different ...

What can you really say about a book like On Guerrilla Warfare by Mao Tse-tung? It has at least three things going against a broad discussion … first, it is “a classic”, generally placed in the same category as Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, etc., second, “we know how it came out” (the book itself is written mid-struggle against Imperial Japan) leading to speaking more about things other than the book when discussing it, and finally, it's not that much of a book, being fairly short and not very specific. This is almost a philosophic treatise, looking at how Guerrilla Warfare fits within various struggles (military, political, societal, etc.), rather than a manual dealing with the execution of a guerrilla campaign. A more tactical volume kept coming to mind while reading this, that being Abby Hoffman's Steal This Book, which is arguably more of a “guerrilla manual” than Mao's book. This is long on the over-all place of guerrilla actions within Mao's war, and short on “in situations like A, B, and C, you will likely want to set X number of charges at Y rail facilities, accompanied by Z distracting actions” (which would have made for a much more interesting book).

Instead, this talks of how guerrilla forces can be assembled, used in conjunction with standard armies, how they need to interface with the local peoples, and their utilization of existing geographies and situations. All of this is within the context of the war against the Japanese invaders of China. The book was initially written in 1937, and Mao's communist forces were just one element within the military and political spectrum. The introduction (written by translator Samuel B. Griffith of the USMC) notes that at this time Mao, although having obvious “bad intentions” towards them, was making a point of showing a “united front” with the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek and the book focuses primarily on the “liberation struggle” and less on the political front. It is interesting, however, to note (in the sections dealing with group organization) the importance given to “Political Officers”, one of which was assigned to every command level.

The introduction is a key part of this book (taking up 1/3rd of its pages), having been initially written in 1940, just a few years after the book had been published in China, and it appears to have been an official Marine Corps analysis of Mao's book. Mr. Griffith later added, in 1961, further commentary, which put Mao's theoretical material into the context of eventual Chinese history, as well as looking at what developed in Cuba and Viet Nam.

One of the more evocative passages was when Mao was discussing the odds of success with guerrilla operations:

China is a country half colonial and half feudal; it is a country that is politically, militarily, and economically backward. This is an inescapable conclusion. It is a vast country with great resources and tremendous population, a country in which the terrain is complicated and the facilities for communication are poor. All these factors favor a protracted war; they all favor the application of mobile warfare and guerrilla operations. … Thus the time will come when a gradual change will become evident in the relative position of ourselves and our enemy, and when that day comes, it will be the beginning of our ultimate victory over the Japanese.
Much of why the Chinese communists fell away from their Russian brethren arises in these perceptions; Mao understood that the China he was born into was not prepared for an industrial workers' uprising, but that the power had to come from the rural peasantry. The focus provided by the Japanese invasion allowed Mao and his cohorts to strip away the feudal and colonial influences, and create their own brand of communist regime.

On a personal note, I found a few things somewhat amusing about the book, on various levels. First, within the book, there are organizational charts and Public Relations departments are a major function, often with as many officers in place as the intelligence staff (hey, I could get a job!). I also found it amusing that (when I added this to my LibraryThing collection) I discovered that I'd had a hard cover edition of this from back in the days of my reading a great deal of military history. And finally, I found it “interesting” that, of all the books that I'd ordered from the Barnes & Nobel after-after-after holiday sale, this was the only one (out of 13 books) that was shipped separately (hmmm … did it have to get registered by Homeland Security before delivery?).

The present edition of On Guerrilla Warfare is from Dover (although not one of their “thrift” editions), and has a fairly reasonable cover price (although I got this for under two bucks), so if you're thinking of getting this, you might want to keep it on the "bump up to $25" list, as paying shipping on the new/used guy's copies would take this pretty much up to cover anyway. This certainly is an interesting look at a particularly chaotic bit of world history, but if you're not particularly fascinated with that sort of material, this probably isn't for you.


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