Friday Book Discussion: The Dragons and the Snakes by Dr. David Kilcullen

Friday Book Discussion: The Dragons and the Snakes by Dr. David Kilcullen

This project is getting off to more of a rocky start that I would have anticipated. I am still able to keep up with all of my fatherly and husband duties…the kids are still fed but man the launch has not been as smooth as I would have hoped. The intent is for this book discussion post to go up every Friday but I did not want to wait another week to start. I have an unofficial end time for this particular discussion of June 8th so I didn’t want to delay. I went on Amazon last night to purchase the book was momentarily excited then I saw the delivery date of May 9….

When it comes to discussing modern warfare, Dr. David Kilcullen is one of my favorite authors. If you have not read The Accidental Guerilla and Blood Year I could not more highly recommend them. I own Counterinsurgency but have yet to get to it. In my opinion, every Special Operations warfighter should at least read The Accidental Guerilla to get an idea of what you are facing when you go down range. The concepts presented in that book are profound and timeless.

The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West is Dr. Kilcullen’s latest installment. The book description on Amazon describes it as such:

Just a few years ago, people spoke of the US as a hyperpower-a titan stalking the world stage with more relative power than any empire in history. Yet as early as 1993, newly-appointed CIA director James Woolsey pointed out that although Western powers had “slain a large dragon” by defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, they now faced a “bewildering variety of poisonous snakes.”

In The Dragons and the Snakes, the eminent soldier-scholar David Kilcullen asks how, and what, opponents of the West have learned during the last quarter-century of conflict. Applying a combination of evolutionary theory and detailed field observation, he explains what happened to the “snakes”-non-state threats including terrorists and guerrillas-and the “dragons”-state-based competitors such as Russia and China. He explores how enemies learn under conditions of conflict, and examines how Western dominance over a very particular, narrowly-defined form of warfare since the Cold War has created a fitness landscape that forces adversaries to adapt in ways that present serious new challenges to America and its allies. Within the world’s contemporary conflict zones, Kilcullen argues, state and non-state threats have increasingly come to resemble each other, with states adopting non-state techniques and non-state actors now able to access levels of precision and lethal weapon systems once only available to governments.

A counterintuitive look at this new, vastly more complex environment, The Dragons and the Snakes will not only reshape our understanding of the West’s enemies’ capabilities, but will also show how we can respond given the increasing limits on US power.

Now, I have not read this book but I think that it is going to be timely and accurate. After reading some reviews particularly this portion of one:

Kilcullen invents the word “liminality” — non-military tactics where the “actor seeks to remain below the enemy’s detection threshold”. Examples include “hackers, cyber militias, relationships with organized crime networks . . . propaganda tools” — plus alliances with political extremists or separatist groups and “perhaps even those involved in presidential campaigns.” Where the West “considers these non-military measures ways of avoiding war, Russia considers them part of war itself.” He implies we may already be at war with Russia and China, but we don’t know it.

I have a feeling instead of “liminality” we could also call this “the little brother syndrome.” Let me explain. Earlier this week 1 was whooping up pretty good on 2 and I had to break up the fight. It turns out the 2 got a touch more aggressive than he should have and took a beating. We had a little heart to heart that went something like this:

2, when you are a little brother you have to pick your battles wisely. As you know I am the youngest of 9 kids, 8 of which are boys. The fact of the matter is, I could get my butt kicked at any time. My brothers were bigger, faster and stronger. To win, I had to do things that would not draw the full force of there aggression. My father-in-law would describe it as a dog pecker gnat or if you prefer actual warfare terms a type of 4th generation warfare where my brothers had to decide how hard to fight back, where the lines could be blurred or crossed with parents. I understood, that being the little brother, I almost always had my parents at my back and I would force my brothers to choose whether to ultimately get in trouble or not. If I was not smart about picking my battles, I had to be willing to push the fight to a point where their victory would be costly. I remember one instance in particular when my brother, that was just older than me, and I were fighting and he had me in an arm bar. My choices were, tap out or get my arm broke. I bet that he did not want to face the consequences from mom and dad if he actually broke my arm so I called his bluff. He was so pissed. I didn’t give in and he quit the fight. I achieved victory by not actually winning.

I cannot wait to read the book. Unfortunately, like I said in the intro I will not get my book for a couple weeks. So what to do in the meantime? There is another author I would like to discuss, Dr. Kalev Sepp. Dr Sepp is:

Presently Senior Lecturer in Defense Analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He teaches graduate courses in special operations, strategy, and irregular warfare to officers from the U.S. Army Rangers and Special Forces, U.S. Navy SEALs, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and allied special mission units. He lectures on security issues at national defense universities in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East.

I don’t want Dr. Sepp to come across in anyway as unaccomplished. His bio is equally impressive. So next week we will discuss Dr. Sepp’s, Best Practices in Counterinsurgencies. 

One thought on “Friday Book Discussion: The Dragons and the Snakes by Dr. David Kilcullen

  1. Reply
    Book Discussion: The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West, Chapters 1-2. | The Cognitive Warrior Project
    May 12, 2020 at 8:21 AM

    […] and The Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West. We originally discussed this project here and here, the book summary from Amazon can be found […]

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