Pressfield on Tribalism

Some of you may recall that a while back, October 2006 to be exact, DNI ran an op-ed by Steve Pressfield on tribalism. Now, the novelist (Gates of Fire, The Afghan Campaign, Killing Rommel, etc.) has a new video blog series about tribalism.

He maintains that “The enemy in Afghanistan today (and in Iraq and Pakistan) is not Islamism or jihadism. It’s tribalism.  Think of this series as a crash course on tribalism.”

Retired Marine Colonel T.X. Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone and who has a number of pieces on this site, notes:

Steven Pressfield is known to a generation of Marines for his book The Gates of Fire. In that work, he captured the essence of why western soldiers fight. With this video series, Pressfield draws on his research for The Afghan Campaign to provide essential insights into why tribal warriors fight. He discusses the unchanging aspects of two millenniums of western experiences fighting Afghan tribal warriors. He explains why, for very good reasons, western ideas about government simply do not apply to these tribal peoples.

DNI Reviews of Steven Pressfield:

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Filed in Misc. | 5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Pressfield on Tribalism”

  1. Snouckon 09 Jun 2009 at 7:30 am 1

    It is so that Afghanistan is a tribal society and that the conflict revolves around the tribe.

    The reason WHY the US led coalition is in Afghanistan at all is definitely Islamic. The goal of the Al-Qaida attacks was to draw the US into a human battlefield which plays on Western weaknesses. This is what OBL told Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based “Al-Quds al Arabi” newpaper in 1996. In 2001 Al-Qaida finally got the desired response.

    It will be very difficult to explain a tribal-centric strategy to the home front. And therefore it will be very difficult to create the perception of victory.



  2. Maxon 09 Jun 2009 at 9:23 am 2

    What is “tribalisism”?

    Can one look to the native N. Americans ?

    Followers of revolutionaries, and counter revolutionaries ?

    Is it reletively small groups bound by background, geography,
    religious, scocial, genetic, political, cultural, financial, lingustic characteristics or interests, that offers more in common and at stake to fight for, in deference of central authority ?

    All, and/or none of the above ?

    It’s a nebulous concept, perhaps the important thing
    to develop is an appreciation and recognition of the trait,
    in all it’s forms, inspirations, and aspirations.

    Make no mistake, this is a very powerfull force, once mobilised,
    and as Lind describes can overcome seemingly
    insurmountable odds.

    What’s currently missing from the simmering US domestic
    succesionsit movement, is TRIBALISIM, but that too, is
    in the very early stages of festering.


  3. Ed Beakleyon 09 Jun 2009 at 12:04 pm 3

    An excellent add to this is Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias – The Warriors of Contemporary Combat by Richard H. Shultz, Jr. and Andrea J Drew from Tifts University’s Fletcher School.

    Also, as Bill Lind has listed a “generations of war canon,” it would seem that a 4GW “canon” could be suggested to include:
    1) Transformation of War, 2) Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, 3) The Sling and the Stone, 4) The Utility of Force, and 5) Accidental Guerrilla.

    Not being a fan of “4GW equals Insurgency” as a risky underdefining of the 21st Century problem sets, what is missing is discussion on the gang and crime elements. Suggestions and agree/disagree?

    OBTW, David Killcullen’s book is outstanding.

    [CR: As I and Tony Echevarria have written, and for which we’ve both taken a lot of grief, if 4GW = insurgency, then we don’t need the new buzzword. It is amazing that we’re still having this debate: Some 18 years ago, Van Creveld talked about a “transformation of war,” which suggests something fundamentally new. And an historian of van C’s stature can hardly be accused of not knowing about insurgency.

    The problem seems to become, if it transforms too much, then is it still war? Can you wage war on gangs? Drugs? Terror? The answer is that you can, but if you rely on the military as your tool, which is what the word “war” seems to imply, you aren’t going to win. By the way, this is a point van C also makes.]

  4. rmhitchenson 09 Jun 2009 at 2:56 pm 4

    A minor, very minor point — I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize Pressfield’s magnificent novel _The Gates of Fire_ as capturing “the essence of why western soldiers fight.” It is a splendid evocation of the Spartan military culture, but I am less sure that the least democratic of the Greek city-states had much of enduring value to teach us about why the Western European polities wage war so much more effectively than other states and cultures.

    [CR: A good point — it’s important not to think that any ancient culture was just like ours, but older. Sparta, for example, was anything but a military dictatorship. For one thing, who would the dictator have been? They had a system with 2 royal families, for example, and 2 kings, and the ephors were elected. Many Greeks, including many Athenians, felt that Sparta epitomized the Greek virtues.]

  5. Ed Beakleyon 10 Jun 2009 at 12:35 pm 5

    Further from cross posts at Fabius Maximus and on Pressfield’s site:

    “(In beginning) In sum, soldiers and warriors are not the same. They come from different traditions, fight with different tactics, see the role of combat through different eyes, are driven by different motivations, and measure defeat and victory by different yardsticks… (in closing) If we fail to take these key principles of warfare into consideration and grasp their importance when fighting armed groups in tradtional societies – the warriors of contemporary combat – we will encounter bloody suprises and make deadly miscalculations.” – from ‘Insurgents, Terrorists and Militias; The warriors of Contemporary Combat’ by Richard Shultz Jr. director of the International Securities Studies Program at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, and research associate Andrea Drew.

    Published in 2006, I found it a major eye opener in an area of investigation even the “out-of-the box” 4GW writers had not touched on. More recently, David Killcullen’s new book ‘The Accidental Guerrilla” also discusses the major impact “tribal” has on both Afghanistan and Iraq, specifically addressing the fact that while a major context, it is distinctly different in the two environments and must therefore be addressed in country context.

    Problems are hard to solve unless one understands both surface and subsurface context. Before writing off operations as “buying off the tribes” (as in al Anbar Awakening) one should read Killcullen’s tribal context in Chapter 3. So good on you Mr. Pressfield for stirring the pot.