Book review: A quick and dirty guide to war

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A quick and dirty guide to war is a treasure trove of information, a gold mine of facts to virtually every conflict currently raging on the planet – and any that can be expected up to 2025.
Now in its fourth edition, A quick and dirty guide to war builds on the solid foundations of the 1985, 1991 and 1996 editions. Authors James F Dunnigan and Austin Bay aver that wars “don`t just happen. Organised violence, like the weather, is never a complete surprise. There are signs and long-term trends. You cannot predict the exact outcome of a war or battle any more than you can predict exactly what the weather will be at noon tomorrow. You can, however, analyse past and ongoing conflicts and use the results to project the major trends shaping similar and future events.
“No one can predict the outbreak of war by psychic magic or mathematical hocus-pocus. Intelligence analysts can estimate the likelihood of war or armed conflict in the same way meteorologists predict a hurricane`s path.”     
Dunnigan, a wargaming pioneer who runs strategypage.com has penned many excellent books, including the highly regarded How to make war, a fourth edition of which appeared in 2003. While How to make war explains air power, the difference between an infantry division and an armoured battalion as well as the distinction between war and disorder to layman readers, A quick and dirty guide to war, tackles the latter aspect.    
The book tackles each global region in turn, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Also thrown into the mix is a databank on wars and armies “present and potential”.  
Although the book can be read cover-to-cover, it is meant as a reference guide to provide context and background to the many news reports we receive on conflict, disorder and war every day, also here on defenceWeb. “Our primary technique in projecting the future is to predict the past, with the idea that the future is an extension of the past. Details may differ, but patterns remain remarkably consistent.”
Thus, to use one simple example, whether czar or commissar, the behaviour of the occupant of the Kremlin was influenced by the same geopolitical considerations. Russia now elects its autocrats but the problems facing Vladimir Putin (and his front-man Dmitri Medvedev) are the same that confronted Peter the Great and Stalin.
This is a remarkably prescient book and it is up-to-date to about September 2008 meaning the past from which the future can be extrapolated is very fresh. This alone makes this a must for all policy and strategy professionals in the defence, intelligence and foreign relations fields.
A quick and dirty guide to war – 4th edition
James F Dunnigan & Austin Bay
Paladin Press
Boulder, Colorado, USA
2008