Sunday, October 25, 2009

Did McChrystal (or Petraeus) Read Henry V?

I was astonished to read in today's Times that the authors of the U.S. military's current counterinsugency doctrine are steeped in contemparary scholarship of the 100 Years' War (among many other conflicts).

Astonished, because apparently a bit of throwaway literary free association I indulged in last week, comparing McChrystal's articulation of how to win the local population's hearts and minds to that of Shakespeare's Henry V, apparently has some basis in reality.

I did wonder while writing the post whether Shakespeare's version of Henry's approach to "playing for a kingdom" by being "the gentler gamester" itself had any basis for in reality. The Times article indicates that it did: the time Henry landed near the mouth of the Seine on Aug. 14, 1415, and began a rather uninspiring siege of a town called Harfleur, France was on the verge of a civil war, with factions called the Burgundians and the Armagnacs at loggerheads. Henry would eventually forge an alliance with the Burgundians, who in today’s terms would become his “local security forces” in Normandy, and he cultivated the support of local merchants and clerics, all practices that would have been heartily endorsed by the counterinsurgency manual.
Of course, Henry's aim, ruling a foreign country by remote control, would not be endorsed by the counterinsurgency manual - not consciously, anyway. But that's pretty much what critics of current and pending policy like Rory Stewart see the U.S. trying to do.


  1. I thing Henry thought of himself as French as much as English. I don't think anyone in a position of power in Washington had any desire to add AF to the American Empire.

  2. Henry may have considered himself French (though he was the first Norman king to make English the language of state), but the French ultimately didn't -- or at least, not his successors.
    No question that the current admin does not "want" to rule Afghanistan. The question is whether they're effectively signing up to do so.