John Lennon: Counterinsurgency Pioneer?

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Foreign Policy's Tom Ricks, who expertly chronicled the rise of counterinsurgency within the U.S. military in Iraq in his award-winning books, has written a brief postulation that Beatles singer John Lennon was an early theorist of counterinsurgency strategy. Lennon was famous, especially in his post-Beatles career, for opposing warfare with songs such as "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance." Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, even held demonstrations in 1969 protesting the Vietnam War. So Ricks's theory is an unusual one. He explains:

I was thinking about how the great but necessary leap in counterinsurgency is to arm the locals, even if the central government opposes it. Once you make them able to provide their own security, they can start making choices, and you can start thinking about leaving.

It occurred to be that this essential move can be summarized with two catchphrases of the 1960s: "power to the people" and "think globally, act locally." That made me wonder if other '60s phrases might also apply. Question authority? If it feels good, do it?

It's unclear how "If it feels good, do it," would apply to military theory. But Ricks should know better than anyone the value that "Question authority" has had in the U.S. implementation of counterinsurgency. In 2004 through 2006, as Ricks chronicles in his books, the U.S. military and civilian leadership refused to acknowledge the immense failures of the war in Iraq. Those failures were only turned around once dissenters inside and outside the U.S. government aggressively questioned their leadership and the underlying assumptions of the war. Ultimately, counterinsurgency proponents convinced President George W. Bush to dismiss his top leadership for Iraq and try out a new approach.

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