Book Review: War Without End – American Planning for the Next Vietnams

This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email

Review: War Without End — American Planning for the Next Vietnams

by Nancy Abramoski

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 5, No. 2,  March 1973, p. 31 – 32
by Michael T. Klare

Michael T. Klare’s War Without End is a chilling and well-documented history of American military strategy in the 1960’s and the forms it will take in the future. A strong political and economic analysis frames the wealth of information packed into this book, to show the values and motivations underlying military strategy. The text is divided into three major parts: the first details the development of the counterinsurgency establishment in the Pentagon and in the scientific and academic communities; Part II describes the operational structure of the counter-insurgency research network, the strategies of rapid deployment and the electronic battlefield; Part III deals with the third arm of counterinsurgency strategy, the use of indigenous merceneries. Additional facts and figures are contained in six appendices. Extensive notes, a research guide and a research bibliography complete the book.

The political and economic analysis is crucial to understanding why military strategy was changed from a sole focus on massive retaliation in the event of nuclear attack to also include counter-insurgency as a major focus. In his introduction Klare sketches the military as the armed force of American foreign policy and those who make it. The latter are none other than the corporate elite, the ruling class of America. The interests of America in foreign policy are indeed those of big business, as the Monroe Doctrine, the Open Door policy and the prolonged war in Southeast Asia suggest. Historically, our economy has expanded abroad to cure domestic ills, and foreign investment has increased dramatically since World War II. In the capitalist scheme of things, the developed countries with sophisticated technology and a strong industrial base need underdeveloped countries as sources of key raw materials and cheap labor (see “Runaway Electronics“, Science for the People, January, 1973), as outlets for greater and greater surplus investment capital, and, increasingly, as markets for consumer goods. But also since World War II there has been increasing resistance to American economic hegemony by Third World people who refuse to accept perpetual underdevelopment and exploitation. In this context military strategy was bound to change.

After World War II American military strategy concentrated mainly on rebuilding Europe and Japan to stave off an invasion of the Soviet Red Army and World War III. By the end of the 50’s with revolutionary movements active in a number of Third World countries (and successful in Cuba) a drastic change was effected. Under the leadership of John F. Kennedy and Robert McNamara revolutionary movements were targeted as a serious threat, and the new thrust of military strategy became counter-revolution and counterinsurgency. Part I of War Without End describes the counterinsurgency establishment, beginning with a detailed look at foreign policy under the Kennedy administration. The Kennedy liberals focused on flexible response—the non-nuclear capacity to meet any crisis anywhere in the world to insure that American interests prevailed. Flexible response today involves four key components: rapid deployment capability, the electronic battlefield, a mercenary army apparatus (Asians fighting Asians or vietnamization) and social systems engineering (winning hearts and minds). Kennedy read Mao and Che on people’s war and personally began to organize counter-insurgency strategy. He and his advisors chose Vietnam as the laboratory in which their new strategy would be tested and perfected. General Maxwell Taylor told a Congressional committee in 1963:

Here we have a going laboratory where we see subversive insurgency, the Ho Chi Minh doctrine, being applied in all its forms. This has been a challenge not just for the armed services, but for several of the agencies of Government, as many of them are involved in one way or another in South Vietnam. On the military side, however, we have recognized the importance of the area as a laboratory. We have sent teams out there looking at the equipment requirements for this kind of guerrilla warfare. We have rotated senior officers through there, spending several weeks just to talk to people and get the feel of the operation, so even though not regularly assigned to Vietnam, they are carrying their experience back to their own organizations.

The rest of Part I details the working out of the new counter-insurgency strategy—first in the Pentagon and then in the universities and research institutes. Scientists, students and scholars will be especially interested in Chapters 3 and 4, which show the importance of their work to counter-insurgency and exactly how their research passes into the hands of the military. For example:

The Department of Defense can easily obtain most of the information it requires on minority groups from the literature of scholarly anthropological research The Cultural Information Analysis Center (CINFAC) of the Center for Research in Social Systems maintains an up-to-date computerized index to all anthropological studies produced in the United States, including PhD dissertations, conference papers, and field reports. Studies of military significance are duplicated and distributed by the Defense Documentation Center. Most of the time, the authors of these studies are totally unaware that their research is being used to plan military operations.

Part II deals with the technological war, the contemporary face of warfare. The chapters are so dense with information that smooth reading slows and bumps along, as in a reference book. Early in this section Klare states:

By directly supervising the activities of the Pentagon’s own in-house laboratories, and by controlling the assignment of defense research contracts to universities, think tanks, and private industry, the Director (of Defense Research and Engineering) effectively sets policy for the nation’s scientific and technical community.

The Pentagon’s laboratories are profiled, one after another. One of the major parts of counter-insurgency strategy is a rapid deployment capability — to be able to move an American force of just the proper size, up to an army, anywhere American interests are threatened. This is in large part the story of the CS-A, a nearly-miraculous airplane which can carry tanks, heavy artillary, helicopters, hundreds of soldiers, and which saved the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation from bankruptcy by its price tag (which included a $2 billion cost overrun). The third chapter in this section gives a long account of the development of the electronic battlefield, detailed descriptions of its components, and a notion of the automated warfare that is its future direction. (see “Toys Against the People or Remote Warfare,” Science for the People, January, 1973.)

The chapters in the last section of War Without End discuss mercenary armies and police, which are an integral part of counter-insurgency. These forces are made up of Third World soldiers whose officers are trained in the U.S. and whose equipment and arms are all American. They make their bread by ensuring that the local elites that command them stay in power to maintain a favorable climate for American investment and trade. Klare looks in detail at Project Agile, whose specialized R&D (research and development) has aided client regimes in Asia. He also discusses police training programs and the role of the military in Latin America. The final chapter discusses the U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia and the various mercenary armies used there, including the Secret Army in Laos. The mercenary forces are extremely important in counter-insurgency strategy, because they form the first line of defense for American interests abroad. Only when they fail must the electronic battlefield and rapidly deployed American forces be brought into play.

Two strong and diametrically opposed social forces create the conditions for perpetual warfare.

Only through revolution can the people of the Third World begin the process of development and acquire some measure of self-dignity; only through counterrevolution can the American business elite preserve its wealth and power. For the United States, the only possible outcome of this global conflict is participation in a long series of limited conflicts, police actions, and stability operations—the War Without End.

In the preface Gabriel Kolka criticizes the scientists and scholars whose value-free bent and narrow specialization have made it convenient for them not to question the limits of American power or the future direction of our society. Klare transcends these limits, combining accurate research and clear writing with a radical perspective.

>> Back to Vol. 5, No. 2 <<