October 29, 2013
The term “Hearts and Minds” has long been associated with the Vietnam War, in which armed conflict was defined not only by military power, but also by winning the backing of civilians. But such counterinsurgency, or COIN, measures have been undertaken by U.S. forces to suppress “Native American rebellions in the 19th century” and stretch into the 21st as part of “post-9/11 attempts to crush anti-American insurgencies as part of the Global War on Terror,” writes Hannah Gurman in Hearts and Minds: A People's History of Counterinsurgency (The New Press, 2013).
In her edited volume, Gurman, a clinical assistant professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, highlights examples from Malaya, the Philippines, Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, and Afghanistan to focus on the civilians enmeshed in these conflicts.
“These stories clarify why it is so difficult for any counterinsurgent military to appear as a benevolent force,” writes Foreign Affairs in its review of the book. “The conclusion may be less that it is hard to win over hearts and minds and more that it is easy to lose them, owing to the insensitivity of foreigners, the careless use of firepower, counterinsurgents’ readiness to reduce risks to themselves at the expense of endangering host populations, and an inability to grasp foreign cultures and political currents.”
Gurman has previously authored The Dissent Papers: The Voices of Diplomats in the Cold War and Beyond (Columbia University Press, 2012), which explores the overlooked opposition of U.S. diplomats to American foreign policy in the latter half of the 20th century, beginning with the Cold War and concluding with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
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