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On Guerrilla Warfare by Mao Tse-Tung
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On Guerrilla Warfare (1937)

by Mao Tse-Tung

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407741,866 (3.67)3
One of the most influential documents of our time, Mao Tse-tung's pamphlet on guerrilla warfare has become the basic textbook for waging revolution in underdeveloped and emergent areas throughout the world. Recognizing the fundamental disparity between agrarian and urban societies, Mao advocated unorthodox strategies that converted deficits into advantages: using intelligence provided by the sympathetic peasant population; substituting deception, mobility, and surprise for superior firepower; using retreat as an offensive move; and educating the inhabitants on the ideological basis of the struggle. This radical new approach to warfare, waged in jungles and mountains by mobile guerrilla bands closely supported by local inhabitants, has been adopted by other revolutionary leaders from Ho Chi Minh to Che Guevara. Mao wrote On Guerrilla Warfare in 1937 while in retreat after ten years of battling the Nationalist army of Chiang Kai-shek. Twelve years later, the Nationalist Chinese were rousted from the mainland, and Mao consolidated his control of a new nation, having put his theories of revolutionary guerrilla warfare to the test. Established governments have slowly come to recognize the need to understand and devise means to counter this new method of warfare. Samuel B. Griffith's classic translation makes Mao's treatise widely available and includes a comprehensive introduction that profiles Mao, analyzes the nature and conduct of guerrilla warfare, and considers its implications for American policy.  … (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I can't believe I discovered this treasure in a Maryland antique store last week while visiting the Eastern Shore from Tennessee with my wife. As a long time student of the Vietnam conflicts and Ho Chi Mihn, and to a lesser degree, Mao Tse-Tung, I had heard of this classic guerrilla primer for some time, but I've never been able to find it. Until now. In hardback. And it was pricey. But worth it.

Mao wrote this small book in 1937 while leading the Chinese Red Army guerrillas against the Japanese invaders. The book was later translated and published by the US military in 1940. My edition was re-translated and published in 1961 by Brigadier General Samuel B. Griffith, who wrote a most excellent introduction to the book. In fact, while short, it's so excellent, that when combined with Mao's text, I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if the French and US governments and military had read the original first, and for the US later, this edition. They could have learned some lessons, taken some advice, maybe taken some pointers, and perhaps saved countless lives in futile efforts to take over a people. It's beyond idiotic. It's actually something I've long thought, dating back to Edward Lansdale's CIA efforts in 1950s Indochina and the conclusions he drew about probable guerrilla warfare the US would be facing if we were drawn into conflict there. Simply stunning how no one in charge ever listened to the experts, the "real" experts.

Mao wrote this primer while allegedly on the "Long March," I believe it's called if I remember correctly, which would have put him under serious stress while doing so. It's quite comprehensive for such a small volume. It covers things such as what guerrilla warfare is, the history of guerrilla warfare, the relationship of guerrilla operations to regular army operations, the actual organization of guerrilla units and armies, political issues for guerrillas, and more. He writes quite convincingly of his firm belief that while the enemy may be technologically superior, they can't fight on all fronts at all times of day or night and eventually a long term war will wear them down and defeat them. Griffith, the translator, makes a point that both Ho Chi Mihn and Castro used this primer and this strategy successfully and it's hard to argue against its success.

Mao writes of political goals for guerrillas. These include:

1. Arousing and organizing the people.
2. Achieving internal unification politically.
3. Establishing bases.
4. Equipping forces.
5. Recovering national strength.
6. Destroying enemy's national strength.
7. Regaining lost territories.

He also lists the essential requirements for all successful guerrilla operations:

1. Retention of the initiative; alertness; carefully planned tactical attacks in a war of strategical defense; tactical speed in a war strategically protracted; tactical operations on exterior lines in a war conducted strategically on interior lines.
2. Conduct of operations to complement those of the regular army.
3. The establishment of bases.
4. A clear understanding of the relationship that exists between the attack and the defense.
5. The development of mobile operations.
6. Correct command.

One thing Mao makes clear is guerrilla warfare is to be an offensive-only operation. Strike and strike quickly, move fast, run away if you have to, run away a lot, hit from behind, from the flanks, at night, strike supply lines, get arms and supplies from your enemies. His original guerrillas had perhaps three rifles and a few pistols per unit. The rest had swords and spears. They had to wait until they had successfully attacked and defeated Japanese units and taken their equipment before they could arm themselves.

Of course it's always important for guerrillas to win the hearts of the people, especially in China's case (and Vietnam's later), the peasants. Everyone -- even children -- can help out. Anyone can be militia, spy, courier, cook, medic, soldier, etc. It's imperative to politically educate the population so everyone will know why you're fighting and why it's important to fight. And why it's important to find and eradicate traitors.

Griffith's introduction, as I mentioned, is short but excellent. He gives a brief overview of Mao himself, on the nature of revolutionary guerrilla war, on strategy, tactics, and logistics of such a war, and some conclusions. Among his conclusions are the notion that fighting such guerrillas is definitely a losing proposition for a conventional army and even counter-guerrilla tactics won't work! He even goes on to say that if any country or government were to try to aid a country or government fighting against a guerrilla army, it would be wise to ONLY offer advisers and equipment. Remember, he wrote this in 1961, about the time when America was starting to openly send advisers to South Vietnam. I guess he could foretell things. Pity no one in the US government read this or listened to him or took him or this book seriously. Cause he was right. We had no chance. And if you believe Mao -- and Griffith -- virtually any government or army fighting a conventional or counter-guerrilla protracted war against a "revolutionary" guerrilla army is pretty much destined to lose. Fact. Tragedy. Too much loss of life.

This book was everything I'd hoped it would be. It was superb. It was a history, a strategy, a tactic, a warning -- it was fascinating. And to read it with the benefit of history's hindsight made it especially amazing. Mao wasn't right about everything. He couldn't be. But it seems to me that Ho picked Mao's brains and used what he could and improved upon everything to totally destroy the US effort in the war we lost against North Vietnam, a war that could have been avoided if we had only looked at history. This is a book I'm keeping in my library and will undoubtedly be reading again. It's quite short and easy to read. And it's most highly recommended. ( )
  scottcholstad | Dec 1, 2015 |
Mao's work breaks down guerrilla war into its component parts, with amazing detail. The translation is clear and strongly worded, yet concise and to the point. ( )
  bdtrump | May 9, 2015 |
This was a fascinating little book written as a pamphlet by Mao Zedong to aid in the destruction of the invading Japanese. I read this book immediately after finishing Sun Tzu's Art of War which made it easy to see the influence Tzu's work had on Mao. A good read if you are interested in military affairs.

( )
  dtn620 | Sep 22, 2013 |
Writing during the Japanese occupation (the book was originally published in 1937), Mao focused mainly on strategy and organization, to which he took a relatively formal approach. There is no detailed discussion of tactics such as in Ernesto "Che" Guevara's Guerrilla Warfare. One of his central tenets is that guerrilla forces need to be used in conjunction with regular forces to achieve victory.

Mao stated that political indoctrination was critical to success and political officers were included at the senior level of all units in his tables of organization. There is however no discussion of communism in this book. Apparently that subject was covered in other publications, leaving this one devoid of political rhetoric (except that directed at the Japanese). ( )
  ChrisElyea | May 30, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mao Tse-Tungprimary authorall editionscalculated
Constandse, A.L.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Griffith, Samuel B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hofland, H.J.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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...the guerrilla campaigns being waged in China today are a page in history that has no precedent.  Their influence will be confined not solely to China in her present anti-Japanese struggler, but will be world-wide - Mao Tse-Tung, Yu Chi Chan, 1937
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At one end of the spectrum, ranks of electronic boxes buried deep in the earth hungrily consume data and spew out endless tapes.
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