Fourth Generation Warfare, Postwar Japan and the Future of the West

Fourth Generation Warfare, Postwar Japan and the Future of the West

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

This famous adage has rarely been more accurate than in this instance. “4th Generation Warfare Handbook” is an essential book for understanding Western foreign policy disasters. Unfortunately, the cover, well… it isn’t that great. Let’s just leave it at that. If this book hadn’t been strongly recommended in a video by Mike Cernovich, I would have misses it (Thanks Mike!). Fourth Generation Warfare theory adds another dimension to my understanding of the War on Terror and modern wars. We all know that in conventional warfare the US is ridiculously strong militarily. The US has en equal number of aircraft carriers as the rest of the world combined (I think). They have thousands of planes, hundreds of warships, thousands upon thousands of armed vehicles and so on. The quality is also high compared to other armies with numerous equipment with a rather poor quality (I’m looking at you North Korea). So, why is Fourth Generation Warfare Theory (4GW) so important? It dares to ask a simple, yet poignant question. “What does it mean to achieve a goal?”.


The book early on has some absolutely terrific examples that flesh out the difference between the earlier generations of warfare and 4GW. Rarely has a book been this effective in conveying the central thesis with no more words than necessity dictates. The example is of a theoretical conflict between a US-like military in a Middle Eastern country. Insurgents are making life difficult for the soldiers. The response is a massive attack using conventional tactics and weaponry. A lot of civilians are killed and injured, together with massive property damage and destruction of livelihoods. This leads to insurgent and terrorist recruitment. If the goal was to kill and destroy, then the operation was a massive success. 4GW points out that you can’t achieve your goals with the tools of yesterday. Conventional tactics and strategies have become counterproductive.

This heavy-handed approach is weighed against a proposed alternative. Make the impact of your forces as small as possible for the civilian population. Compensate quickly any damage or injury, station your troops among the population, support local merchants, respect local customs, participate in civic projects and make it clear that you’re not there to take over permanently. The approach in general is compared to policing as opposed to the military approach (escalate and solve problems with force). This strategy results in significantly reduced civilian resentment and hopefully prevents people from wanting to harm your forces. In the end, you are much more likely to achieve your long-term goals, compared to the brute force approach. Insurgent and terrorist recruitment is seriously hampered and long term societal stability is likely to ensue.

The book goes on to talk about what kind of military force is suitable for fighting a fourth generational war. It goes into much detail about light infantry and how to train them. I’m not a military expert, so I won’t pretend to be more knowledgeable about the subject than I am. If you want to delve further into light infantry and its applications, I would recommend reading the book. 4GW is certainly a good theoretical framework to explain why the US didn’t achieve their long-term goals in Vietnam or more recently in Afghanistan or Iraq. Crushing your state opponent is relatively easy with a powerful force such as the US has and has had in the last century. But unless you understand all the dimension, you won’t know how to utilize your forces in furtherance of your objectives. As 4GW talks about, the moral, intellectual, local, operational and strategic dimension all intersect. Failure in one area will have dire ramifications in the others.

I think post-war US conduct in Japan and Germany can explain a lot about how those two societies recovered so quickly. It was feared that insurgencies would arise in both countries. In Germany, a stay behind network of diehards, fanatics called “Werwolf” was rumoured to be in the works during the last gasps of The Third Reich. Similarly, it was a widespread fear that the Japanese would refuse to surrender and rather make foolhardy, suicide attacks on the victors and occupiers. Both failed to materialize. I think that 4GW is a good explanation as to why. The US victories didn’t represent annexation or cultural destruction. Although monuments and institutions belonging to the regimes of the war were dismantled, a clear distinction between those and the wider culture was maintained. Thus, the civilians could see that defeat didn’t represent the doom that was predicted during the hostilities. An ample amount of interactions between the occupying soldiers and the population at large helped to bridge the gap. What took place is similar to the example from the book. Rather than clamp down hard on all aspects of the countries, they were allowed to rise again after a few short years.

The outcome could have been significantly different. Proposals during the war were very, very different from the actual outcome. A total extermination campaign against the Japanese was talked about (how serious and at how high of a level this was discussed at I don’t know). And as for Germany, deindustrialization was proposed. It was feared that a Third World War between the Allies and a future Germany was inevitable (they did have a track record of two wars of aggression). If this had been closer to the actual post-war strategy I’m confident that insurgencies and mass popular opposition would have materialized. It is quite frustrating to stand on the side-lines and watch foreign policy blunder after blunder committed by the West. The understanding of modern concepts such as 4GW is sorely lacking. Perhaps the desire to enrich politically connected arms manufacturers takes precedence. I’m confident that I will explore this topic further in the near future, looking especially at the current domestic troubles in Western countries.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *