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America’s Dirty Wars: Irregular Warfare from 1776 to the War on Terror, Russell Crandall

Reviewed by John A. Nagl



The title of this book by Davidson College professor Russell Crandall is inaccu­rate; fortunately, the subtitle corrects the error. America’s Dirty Wars describes both American and, more briefly, other countries’ experiences in irregular warfare beginning with the American Revolution, when a band of insurgents defeated the world’s dominant military power in a war that was not particularly dirty by the standards of the time. Crandall acknowledges as much, noting that “the United States, where it has involved itself in dirty wars, has in fact done so on widely varying levels of engagement, and with various levels of commitment and dirtiness” (p. 6). He himself has a varying level of commitment to the term “dirty war,” often preferring the more accurate “irregular war,” and one suspects that the racier word was chosen to drive sales.

Despite the less than scholarly title, this is a serious survey of the most common form of warfare in the post-Westphalian era. It notes the moral ambiguity that often flows from the choice of combatants to eschew uniforms and renounce the international norms and laws of warfare as well as the too often ignored fact that the Unite

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