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  1. #1
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default A Counter Terrorism reading list

    We have debated the COIN -v- CT issue, assembled a reading list on COIN and in various threads counter terrorism appears - including in 'What are you reading'.

    Abu M is currently canvassing views on a CT reading list, if you have some please add them there:http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawam...en-thread.html

    One day I shall try to assemble a reading list here, although I suspect many university courses have ample lists, but we are a different community with some "boots on the ground".
    davidbfpo

  2. #2
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    One day I shall try to assemble a reading list here, although I suspect many university courses have ample lists, but we are a different community with some "boots on the ground".
    I would beg you not to! Based on having been asked my opinion of two British Army reading lists, I think they are actually not helpful. Now before we all get too excited, "Follow me through,"

    a.) Reading a book can be immensely helpful. It can actually be life changing. - that is you found a book, read it, and you learnt something useful.

    b.) That is completely different from being given a list of books to read, that are usually symptomatic of an agenda. For example, "Abu Ms" reading list, is just that. I would never tell anyone not to read a book, but I will explain why some books are rubbish, and should be disregarded having been read. Without that level of guidance a reading list is useless.

    c.) The idea that you should let folks read the books and make up their own minds does not stand as a defence, since it assumes everyone gets the same thing from reading the same book. A book has exactly the same potential to mislead as it does to inform. -

    d.) Reading books is required. Reading lists are not, especially in an area like "COIN" that is riddled with pet-rock theories and pseudo-intellectual arguments. Reading lists are no substitute for education.

    Again, for the record. I passionately believe in good military education, based on rigour and deep understanding, for a practical purpose. Reading list do not serve that purpose!

    What we need is more rigourous and analytical reviews of the popular titles. Not mere recommendations as to what to read.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Default Why so vehement, Wilf?

    As far as I can tell, a book list really does no harm. It is only the compiler's view of what is good in the field. Other than, of course, when it leaves my incredibly brilliant, superbly written, and unquestionably correct analytical books off the list!

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    One of the dangers I have seen with reading lists is the "Cole's Notes" effect where people go off and get synopses rather than actual read them. Toss in a few quotes, vaguely refer to them and, presto-chango, you are now an "expert" in the area.

    Being able to read a book or article really says nothing about whether or not you are capable of understanding it (i.e. decoding the message the author intended). This puts us in the odd position of socially rewarding surface knowledge rather than thought (how very Quant of us !).

    That being said, I like the idea of reading lists, at least as long as they are put together with a specific end in mind and some suggestions on how to tie them together (not necessary in the case of John's work !).
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    As far as I can tell, a book list really does no harm. It is only the compiler's view of what is good in the field.
    A book list is, by it's nature, a recommendation, but why these books get recommended never seems to be made explicit. How would anyone feel about a list of books "not to read?" - so why feel comfortable with lists "you should read."
    These days I limit my recommendations to books because they inform and explain on very specific subjects. EG: I recommend 2-3 books which explain CvC well. Reading them will not ensure you really understand CvC though.
    Quote Originally Posted by marct View Post
    One of the dangers I have seen with reading lists is the "Cole's Notes" effect where people go off and get synopses rather than actual read them. Toss in a few quotes, vaguely refer to them and, presto-chango, you are now an "expert" in the area.
    Concur, or merely harvest them for convenient perspectives taken out of context.
    That being said, I like the idea of reading lists, at least as long as they are put together with a specific end in mind and some suggestions on how to tie them together (not necessary in the case of John's work !).
    I have no issue with recommending specific books for specific subjects. Indeed I see it as an essential tool in education. I strongly oppose the "read this lot and you'll know about COIN" approach, as exemplified by the CNAS type reading list
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

  6. #6
    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Wilf,

    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    I have no issue with recommending specific books for specific subjects. Indeed I see it as an essential tool in education. I strongly oppose the "read this lot and you'll know about COIN" approach, as exemplified by the CNAS type reading list
    I've been thinking about reading lists, more off than on, ever since I had to write my first comprehensive exam. In many ways, I was lucky because of who was on my committee; we actually talked for about 5-6 hours over lunch, coffee, beer, etc. on where the idea of a reading list came from and where it was now (now being the mid-90's).

    One of the key observations coming out of that discussion was that reading lists were originally used to define the "core" of a discipline; the "must reads" as it were to understand past and current debates. One analogy that was used referred back to the Bible and noted that you really can't talk in any meaningful way about Christianity until you had read it. And, since we're talking PhD level discussions now, you couldn't have a "meaningful" discussion about the New testament unless you could read it in the Greek; you just wouldn't understand the debates.

    But there is an assumption lurking behind all of this which is that you actually have the time to read and re-read a work and then think about it, and follow up on your thoughts. That takes a lot of time, and it takes even more time to put those thoughts down on paper and start engaging in the actual debate and, quite frankly, most people just don't have the time to do this, hence Cole's Notes and other synopses, and reading lists getting turned into glorified picture display volumes on someone's bookshelf or coffee table.

    This time conundrum lies at the heart of many different facets of our society, and most cultures have handled it in a similar manner; the creation of some designation of "expert" or "specialist", someone whose social function is to take the time to do the thinking and then translate that thinking back for the rest of us.

    Where it starts to get really interesting is when you look at how much specialist "translation" is necessary, and this brings us back to general reading lists. Will they be bowdlerized and used as a mine for pithy quotes for PowerPoint presentations? Yup. At the same time, if an audience can be expected to know at least a little about a subject area, including some of its central terms, then you don't have to translate as "far", so it is actually quite useful to have audiences that know something about a topic.
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Timing

    Another serious question to consider is "when in my career do I read certain books?"

    This is a phenomena that is coming to fruition in the business world now- most undergrad students are highly recommended to go work for a couple of years before pursuing an MBA. The payoff of the advanced learning is much greater once someone has some experience under their belts. I think the same holds true for the military. To whit, as a cadet, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu were gibberish to me. As far as CT goes, to the experienced practisioner, academic, or the interested layman, I'd recommend anything by McCormick or Arquilla.

    Quote Originally Posted by marct View Post
    One of the dangers I have seen with reading lists is the "Cole's Notes" effect where people go off and get synopses rather than actual read them. Toss in a few quotes, vaguely refer to them and, presto-chango, you are now an "expert" in the area.
    Marc, I imagine having you as a senior advisor is gruelling. Thanks. I'm sunk in deep depression over anything that I've ever written. Now, I know why your students drink so much . Damn anthropologists and their ubiquitous observations.

    v/r

    Mike

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Mike,

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeF View Post
    Another serious question to consider is "when in my career do I read certain books?"

    This is a phenomena that is coming to fruition in the business world now- most undergrad students are highly recommended to go work for a couple of years before pursuing an MBA. The payoff of the advanced learning is much greater once someone has some experience under their belts. I think the same holds true for the military. To whit, as a cadet, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu were gibberish to me. As far as CT goes, to the experienced practisioner, academic, or the interested layman, I'd recommend anything by McCormick or Arquilla.
    This is a really good point. One of my "complaints" with some of my colleagues is that they take an exclusionary version of this; the "Oh that's too hard for you to understand dear... Just read my book about it...". Mike, I'll make you a bet that even if Sun Tsu and Clausewitz were "gibberish" to you as a cadet, somewhere along the line you got hit with an "A ha!" experience and went "Damn! So THAT'S what he was talking about!!!". It may not make sense when you are reading it, but your brain stores it and, when a pattern gets matched, you already have an interpretive framework sitting in the back of your mind. "Evil", yeah, but useful, too .

    I agree, the payoff in terms of time vs. actual "learning" is much greater after you have experience under your belt. Sometimes, however, that can backfire on you as well. For example, I've had some students who were in their 30's who got totally indignant over a reading not because they disagreed with it, but because they were truly mad that they had never seen it before! The "Why didn't anyone TELL me this?!?!" reaction.

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeF View Post
    Marc, I imagine having you as a senior advisor is gruelling. Thanks. I'm sunk in deep depression over anything that I've ever written. Now, I know why your students drink so much . Damn anthropologists and their ubiquitous observations.
    LOL - you wouldn't believe how much tea I drink with my students, either . Yeah, I can be gruelling as a senior advisor, mainly because I don't let my students get away with handing in Cole's Notes versions. The "drinking", and it's much more of a set up a safe space type thing which for many Canadians means a pub (drinking age in Ontario, BTW, is 19), is really all about encouraging people to play with ideas and not be afraid of doing that.
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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