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Book Review: Light Infantry Tactics: For Small Teams (Christopher Larsen)

In these latter days, many people in flyover country have been preparing for the Apocalypse. This is not the Apocalypse of St. John, depicted memorably, if flatly and with bad theology, in the “Left Behind” series of books. No, this is a secular apocalypse, driven by many different fears. These range from the semi-reasonable (pandemics leading to social breakdown) to the stupid (the magnetic poles flipping and leading to something or other). But in all cases, the fears drive a significant number of people, commonly known as “preppers,” to prepare, for something wicked this way comes. And of those preparations, some of the most common are military preparations.

Or rather, perhaps, pseudo-military preparations. Huge numbers, hundreds of millions, of military weapons have been bought by Americans who know nothing of war. Some, whether they admit it or not, harbor fantasies about their personal transmogrification, post-Apocalypse, into Captain America. Their tacticool weapons will fly to their hands and they, with perhaps a few friends, will hold their houses or their retreats against all comers, mowing their enemies down. Or perhaps they will attack and fell the Leviathan state, turned wholly evil, and at the end they’ll establish a new American Republic. Such people may haunt the fever dreams of Michael Bloomberg, but they are not materially helping themselves by their military preparations.

Others (like me) are not as captive to fantasy; we realize that weapons without organized group training are of little use, and that hard training with a team of trusted others would be necessary to effectively use weapons against anything but the most casual marauder, much less against trained enemies. But we figure that acquiring and understanding the weapons now makes using them later possible, and in a pinch training can likely be improvised, especially if some team members do have military experience. “Light Infantry Tactics For Small Teams” is directed to this latter group—practical-minded preppers aware that they have to start somewhere if they have no military experience, both for knowledge of how to effectively operate tactically with weapons, and for knowledge of how weapons will be operated against you. Presumably the idea, reasonable enough, is that book training is to be followed by actual training—and, to his credit, the author repeatedly emphasizes that actual training is indispensable.

In one sense, this preparation for light infantry combat, if done to prepare for a widespread, long-term anarchical social collapse, is silly. Such a collapse has not happened in the West for well over a thousand years, or ever, depending on your definition and your tolerance for disorder. The simple historical fact is that we, as social beings, will do almost anything to avoid anarchy, and even under extreme external pressure and resulting social fragmentation, new structures would quickly coalesce around a strongman, who would centralize control over weapons in each locality. In a real, widespread, permanent social breakdown, your weapons will be taken or you will become part of a larger group, whose leaders you will obey. Maybe all the people buying weapons don’t realize this. Or maybe they do, and they talk about such anarchical social collapse to conceal their actual, but less palatable focus, which is one for which military weapons would in fact be useful—civil war.

Now, I suspect that most preppers who have an eye on Civil War Two have a fantasy view of it, and do not realize the incredibly nasty nature of any civil war, and even more so a modern American civil war, which would not be likely to pit just armies against each other, but insurgents against elements of the military. It’d be like 1862-1864 Missouri, only more brutal and everywhere. But the fact remains that with light weapons and tactical training, you can run a civil war, effectively, in the right circumstances. Starting with a few AR-15s and a sufficient dose of courage and nastiness, pretty soon you have Javelins, RDX and AT-4s, and you’re off to the races. In the Age of Trump, a real civil war seems less likely, although perhaps that’s false optimism. But this book, which says nothing about civil war, is in practice at least partially directed at training for civil war, something which can never be ruled out, but nice people don’t talk about.

The problem is that “Light Infantry Tactics” is not a good book. While, as with having one gun rather than having none, this book is certainly better than nothing, I suspect (not myself knowing anything at all about practical military matters, on any level, from armies to squads) it is not much better than nothing. It is self-published book by a man, Christopher Larsen, who served in the 1980s as an Army non-commissioned officer, and worked as a contractor training Iraqi soldiers. He is also affiliated with a “tactical training” group called “One Shepherd,” to which he constantly refers without explaining what it is. Every page of this book shrieks out for a competent editor, but the cry goes unanswered. So what we get is basically a lengthy, rambling book-length blog post about light infantry training, by someone who may or may not be competent to provide basic light infantry training to military novices.

The book is disorganized. It is divided into general categories, such as “Patrolling Methods,” “Defensive Procedures,” and “Offensive Operations,” but they are disjointed and not adequately structured to serve a coherent larger whole. That’s not to say that there is zero useful information—in fact, the clearest and most coherent of the book is the first section, which includes communication procedures, including hand signals. But the book is informally written to a degree that it’s grossly sloppy. Massive amounts of typos and grammatical infelicities abound: The Vietnam-era combat ship is the “USS Dubuque,” not the “USS Debuke.” It is “heels,” not “heals.” It is “laid to waste,” not “laid to waist.” “Plain,” not “plane.” “Wave,” not “waive.” Frequently concepts are casually referred to and then introduced in detail later in the book. And on and on, jarring the reader and making him wonder if the author is equally sloppy with the core elements of his book.

Many, if not most, of the pictures are bad or pointless. Sketches are mediocre and frequently contain abbreviations found nowhere in the book or the glossary. The book contains numerous acronyms, which is fair enough, given that the real military runs off acronyms, but some acronyms are introduced and defined, some are not, and some of those aren’t even found in the glossary. How an acronym is treated and used is random. Similarly, on several occasions undefined military slang is used. There is no coverage of urban combat at all—all discussion centers around woodland combat in temperate zones, but there is almost no acknowledgement of the giant gaps this leaves. The net effect is rambling, not effectively communicative, and creates a sense of unease in the reader.

So, having read this book, I now know little more than I have picked up watching movies and reading occasional posts on military blogs or by military friends on Facebook. My next move, since I do think book training can be potentially useful, is to turn to the many United States service manuals, all available for free (e.g., the Army’s FM 7-8, “The Infantry Rifle Platoon And Squad,” which at a glance is lengthy, detailed, coherent and packed with potentially useful information, unlike this book). Sure, book learning isn’t nearly enough. But in the hands of a competent, motivated person or group of people, hopefully supplemented at need with actual training with an experienced person if time permits (although the magnetic poles may switch any day, you know), it seems to me book training can form part of a structure useful to reduce one’s chances of dying on the first day of an Apocalypse. This book, though, probably ensures you’ll die on the second day.

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