The Carpetright Store, 7 August 2011

From Riots to Vigil: The Community, the Police and Mark Duggan’s Legacy

Yesterday the court ruled that it was “arguable” that the Coroner erred in his instructions to the jury regarding the standards for finding that the shooting had been lawful. The matter of whether this argument holds will be decided after hearings at a later date. This piece, originally written in the wake of the January verdict, is being reposted in light of this event and revisions based on subsequent research.


When the Coroner’s Inquest released its findings in January of this year the verdict that Mark Duggan’s shooting was lawful inspired assembly just as his death did. This time, however, it was promised to be a peaceful though disappointed demonstration in response to the official findings.

I would go, I had to. Being directly related to my riots research my attendance was required. It was a public order event to observe and in support of any work I find this eyes-on style offers more insights, views, knowledge and awareness than can be anticipated. But not knowing how things would turn out on the day, I noted to a friend as I made my way to North London, it was either the best or the worst idea I could have had.

This being the last in the series of thought pieces on my way to an historical treatment of the 2011 London riots, the vigil is the apt moment to open the exploration of the local Haringey and Greater London communities who identified with the personal tragedy of the Duggan family. More than just understanding them as an independent actor in the story, adding the people and the rioters also has the effect of completing, if not perfectly, the picture of the event. Looking upon this whole, if abstracted, landscape one is compelled to consider such issues as the greater meaning of the events. For me, if I step from history to policy, the most satisfying path forward leads to progress on the problems and challenges brought out by the long cycle of these events, and so the final section of this piece dovetails into my thoughts on where one might go from here.

Returning to the vigil, as it turned out, although contending with emotion and  contentious and difficult issues the event was mild, almost pleasant. Of course, as the MPS and Haringey Police must have scrambled to prepare given the short notice, to complicate matters there was also a home football match scheduled for the day. Between both events, the surrounding area was awash in hi-viz yellow. At the vigil site outside the police station I would dare say that it felt as if there were as many if not more workers, observers, police, clergy and pastors, and members of the media than demonstrators. Above all, the commitment by all present to maintain as much geniality as was possible given the context was palpable.

Being a vigil, of course, the religious component was obvious. But with respect to this as a public order event, this involvement had deeper significance. Those identified as the street pastors stood out as an intellectually inspiring and engaging image. Present not with a position on the vigil, they provided a caring and sympathetic voice and ear to attendees who might be distressed. Their sweet countenances were an unexpected though much appreciated sight. And in addition to other members of the clergy participating in the event itself, the senior chaplain to the MPS was in attendance and by my observation his presence was for the benefit of the officers on duty for the event. [1] In all, the pastoral and spiritual component had a positive influence upon the atmosphere.

The even more important image was that of the demeanour of the police. Against the chants of “No Justice, No Peace,” and others calling for an end to violence and injustice, the officers tasked with the public order function stood back and maintained a low-key and even pleasant presence. They strove quietly for the objective of facilitative, even in the face of anger towards them, and they succeeded.

In all, more than time had passed since last these groups met outside the Tottenham police station.

Thus, this event, without the sturm und drang of violent chaos but nevertheless full with the pathos and problems expressed on those turbulent August nights, provides the right vantage point from which to highlight what I have found to be important to consider about the people, lives and circumstances which fuelled the riots.

At the outset I should highlight the limitations to sourcing for this side of the story. I have sought out what there is by way of published material, and hounded as well as many of those individuals willing to talk with me. Lacking hubris, I do not claim to fully know their story. But there are impressions which have emerged from the research.

Complicating any understanding, one must accept that there is no single identification or entity which represents the affected community or all of the rioters, even as my purview is limited to London. For example, while there are shared broad or meta motivations – anger with the police, despair over dismal future prospects, an overwhelming sense of unfairness in society, the hypocrisy within the economic landscape – the proximate initiative to act on those nights was nearly uniformly independent, hyper-local, and individuated to personal experience. [2] Such heterogeneity characterizes the actors at the granular level.

With that disclaimer aside, what does become apparent is that emerging from this mix was – and remains – a shared understanding of Mark Duggan’s shooting, the immediate aftermath, the riots and the official and popular responses. The direct anger with the police and the next layer of political authority is palpable. Said one rioter on one of the Guardian/LSE’s “Reading the Riots” videos, “It was a war, and for the first time we was in control…we had the police scared.” (@9:55m) And more that remains beneath, either because it is as yet unacknowledged or is simply unspoken, is dissatisfaction with society at large for having forsaken them as well. Not just the riots, but the looting and attacks upon the city itself were seen by the participants as an act of revenge, whether for poor treatment at the hands of police or society.

Whereas the Guardian/LSE’s effort was of dispassionate outsiders looking in, Fahim Alam’s “Riots Reframed” documentary is the voice of the riot participant as creator of the narrative. Although much about the film and its contents is difficult to contend with – there is so much anger, disappointment and alienation – the fact of its creation is the embodiment of optimism. “Riots Reframed” is a work of thoughtful art and discussion, including not only voices from the community, but respected scholars and leaders (to include KCL’s own Professor Paul Gilroy.) It is in fact an opening for dialogue, as its contents and existence must signal a fundamental hope that things can improve. At the very least, what becomes quite clear is that these were not mindless, thoughtless, merely criminal events. [3] How do you do counter-radicalisation? You start by listening to and promoting efforts such as this one.

Thus, whether we can understand that side fully it still must be accepted that there was more meaning in the actions of the rioters and looters than mainstream commentary has been willing to admit. Even the “common looting.”

Moving from the nature of the group to the events themselves there are points I have consistently found compelling throughout my research. One in particular concerns the diplomatic brinksmanship which set the stage for that fateful Saturday night in front of the Tottenham Police Station. Looking back at that first night, when anger and disorder erupted out of the frustrated demonstration, one must wonder what might have been spared had the family and the police representatives been able to find sufficient common ground to retire to the station for a cup of tea while they awaited the arrival of officers of sufficient rank for the family’s peace of mind. [4] I attach the greater responsibility for this to those in positions of community leadership. They did not serve the family or community well in their recommendations for a rigid stand not to engage that evening. I am not suggesting or asserting malice in this act. Rather, my point is to highlight the risks of such brinksmanship, as this case more than demonstrates the ramifications of failure.

From this perspective it seems only reasonable to expect that community leaders should follow the ethos set out for the police in protest and public order, approaching their interactions in such events from the starting point of being a positive and productive force, of being facilitative. And in that many of them have extant relationships with the police it becomes almost a duty for them to use their “good offices” in such situations to help maintain dialogue and relations. It was the break in communications, in the relations between the police and the community that night, which was the final breaking point. And it was quite possibly unnecessary.

I make the point about this because, amidst the discourse on powerlessness in the community, on that night the Duggan family held the strongest position with respect to the police and other authorities. In that moment their satisfaction was vested with the collected interests (and hence power) of the entire community.  Power can be used to crush your opponent or raise both him and yourself. Inadvertently the former occurred, but who would not have chosen the latter? Furthermore, by correctly framing the relationships in this case the police can understand better the (potential) nature of such situations.

Another key point relates to the depths of cynicism that taint perceptions of the police on that first night. The rumour that the police had beaten a young woman was believed and spread as the rallying cry for disorder and violence. It remains an important part of the narrative in the community today. Making the entire matter very compelling, there seemed to be direct proof, a video which captured the event. However, the “girl in the video” as the spark of events must be questioned and examined with a critical eye. All evidence seems to suggest that this was not appropriately a casus belli for the outbreak of violence; in that matter it was more Gulf of Tonkin than Pearl Harbour. To begin, it is nearly impossible to see what is happening in the video – the viewer is moved more by the shouting female narrator than what is actually visible. As well, the timing is wrong: it is dark and the police are in full public order kit.[5] The disorder has thus already begun. I understand that a young female suffering police brutality has terrific cachet as a framework to justify the anger, but it is far better to render events accurately.

What should be of concern is the extent to which this story affected subsequent action. Did knowledge of this event inspire future violence? If so, if this rumour turned anger into action over the coming days, then you have the very serious problem with the public profile and reputation of policing.

Finally and most importantly the influence of community sentiment must shape understanding of the events beyond tabloid hysteria now, and should have shaped responses then. The grievances of the immediate and greater London communities of concern here cannot be dismissed. The socio-economic issues within the community, the added burdens of budget reductions and cuts to services, the brewing antipathy to how stop and search was conducted, were known to Boris Johnson and David Cameron. A strong judicial response may have been the obvious answer, but the better one was for these leaders to recognize that party affiliation notwithstanding all members of society must be able to rely upon their government. Reasonable and fair are neither signs of weakness nor do they promote future bad action. [6]

What could the political leadership have done differently at the time? I think an approach along the lines of an amnesty was in order. This path, not harsh justice was the choice of greatest benefit to all. The repercussions of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graibh are the lessons that matter here – don’t sully your own character, don’t create disaffected citizens. Boris could have pulled it off with a charming nod to the police effort – by containing the riots in the least confrontational, least aggressive manner (supported by the overall casualty statistics), the former served their public order function while setting the stage for healing and reconciliation in the aftermath. The physical damage to the city, although costly and individually heart-breaking to the victims, was the far better loss.

I take the position that this was the best policy because the unavoidable truth made clear with “Reframed” and other similar efforts is that the emotion and desires of the riots did not deserve incarceration.[7] In fact, too many of them need release from the prisons of poverty, maleducation, and un(der)-employment. Responding to the riots offered a powerful moment to act with generosity and graciousness (and no small amount of gratitude for one’s own good fortune), so contrary to expectations that it would have had the capacity to achieve much progress against these issues. Great leaders seize such moments because they recognize this potential.

If we have dealt with the past and the present, what should be considered for the future? Returning to the opening scene and last Saturday’s vigil, for its public order efforts the MPS should take note of the result. A careful reckoning of what was done will serve future public order efforts well. By my initial cursory review it is clear that their approach to the event and their demeanour went a long way to maintaining as positive an atmosphere as possible.

The Street Pastors are a fantastic idea for public order and their future use should be considered. Not just for events with a religious facet, such as a vigil, a role for them could be defined to serve profitably across the spectrum of public order activities. Protest is inspired by varying levels and forms of distress, and it seems to me that this pastoral function has much to offer. More than that, the presence of the police senior chaplain argues for the broader consideration of this resource in public order policing. Certainly, when it is your function to stand amidst crowds at various moments of anger and emotion, at times directed at you specifically, a pastoral voice could serve as an influence of equanimity. And it bears considering whether such a presence, by humanizing the police might reduce tensions in public order events. Where NATO helmets and shields are seen as elements which can put negative distance between the police and protestors, it must be equally plausible that other visual cues can have beneficial effect. Finally, it must be admitted that a Chaplain, more than anyone else, could have been the one to calm the mood and coax the Duggan family in that fateful night in August. His seniority and core function would have been difficult to reject. Especially in cases where the source of friction is PoCo relations, recourse to his “good offices” should be reviewed.

On the broader issues of social justice, how does anything move forward from this moment, how will progress be pursued? Where the Coroner’s Inquest judged the shooting to have been lawful, that the officers “honestly held belief” stood, community dismay, especially at the local level, is understandable. Nevertheless, as difficult as it clearly must be, they will have to move to the more productive stance that even when things are done correctly tragedy and the wrong outcome can still occur. From there, progress becomes possible, which is how to improve where that “honestly held belief” lands with respect to members of the public (eg, being able to know with reliability that Duggan was not the sort to resist in such a moment). What can the community do? What can the police do?

There are any number of tactical, doctrinal, strategic and policy recommendations I could make on the policing side of the issue of police and community relations. But if I understand the context, the environment, the tone of the situation correctly, no first move from the authorities will overcome the prevailing scepticism, the community’s “honestly held belief” Yes, to any community initiated overtures it will be imperative for the police will have to respond well and with timeliness. But the first and critical barrier will only fall to action and intention from within the community. Contrary to all that might seem fair or just, healing and progress on this will only come at the end of the community’s outstretched hand. Nobody can say that they want no policing, so improving the relationship between the police and those whom they serve is necessary. The community and its consent are critical elements in British policing generally, and in this instance specifically, and so any progress will come in large measure from that quarter. By their positive and constructive actions the members of the community can lead the way to the greatest change.

Why it should be their burden to go first? In my mind I am chastised by one young Londoner in the documentaries who commented that the “police are not for us.” To that I will say that it is for you to make them yours. It is time to overturn the “culture of distrust.” Mentioned above, as on that Saturday night in August, it is a matter of which side holds the power. Here too, it is the community which has the greater power in this matter. But furthermore, if this tragedy can have any meaning, its best could be to serve as a bridge to better relations between police and community so as to avoid such tragic errors in the future? More importantly, I return your attention to the vigil. The reasonable discourse on the issues between police and community opened on Tottenham High Road that day in January is an opportunity. This is a moment to act.

When you are shouting about undue police violence while standing amidst a smiling constables giving directions you have to ask whether it isn’t time to give at your own end as well.



[1] Commentators should stop using the “softly, softly” description – it is ignorantly snarky and derogatory for political points not substance. The calm facilitative stance is not only necessary but often proven effective.

[2] Do I really need to acknowledge that there might have been a purely criminal element? But they were not the leaders, nor the inspiration, nor even likely the majority of those present on London’s streets those nights. It is obfuscation to lay the blame for these events upon criminality – comfortable, perhaps, but not at all useful.

[3] Another documentary that I found interesting was “Perfect Storm,” at There are very many more independent documentaries about the riots, some quite compelling others less so, some searching for a truth others attempting to build a narrative. What is clear is that these events have inspired very real urges to create something by which to understand or explain events. This is an important phenomenon.

[4] MPS, Four Days in August: Strategic Review into the Disorder of August 2011 – Final Report, p. 32 discusses the events surrounding Chief Inspector Adelekan’s efforts to engage the demonstrators.

[5] MPS, Four Days in August, p. 42, “By 2045hrs all the officers were deployed in full protective kit….”

[6] Before he made his fame as the father of modern British policing, Robert Peel was responsible for the rationalisation of the criminal law which, though aimed at its muddling nature, had the effect of making it more fair and defensible. Douglas Hurd, Robert Peel: A Biography, pp. 74 ff.

[7] There were clear dividing lines, thresholds below which it could be profitably argued that emotion, not criminality, was at work.


View from Tsar's Path, Yalta

Chess on the Crimean Riviera: What if Europe and the United States had been smart in the Ukraine?

It is very likely too late now, events are falling to sustain Putin’s actions in the Crimea. But what if we had been really quite smart about it? Made Putin an offer he could not refuse. Instead of trying to force him to capitulate, hold him to his word. He supported minority rights of the Ukrainian Russians in the Crimea? Then the US and Europe ought to have gotten on side and declared their agreement with him. Why wouldn’t we? My goodness, it is the right thing to do. The sad spectre of Yugoslavia is the analogy, not Munich. And that would have made for some great speech making material.

Follow quickly with a resolution in the UN, properly worded to describe the mission as one of a protective detail. Throw Putin a bone and let the Russians take the military lead, we are just happy to be there to help. Then you would have had a coalition of international forces in the country, there to protect the ethnic Russians.

In recognition of the favourability of self-determination, you can also recommend a delegation of Scots to discuss responsible plans to decide whether to dissolve political ties between the Crimea and Ukraine and establish those with Russia. This is not a decision to be taken or implemented at short notice. 

Simultaneously, you get the Ukrainians to awaken to the fact that lest they dissolve to pieces they need to get on the side of righteousness and light with respect to its ethnic minorities. The great lesson of the US and the UK is that immigrants and minorities are happy to support the home team if you only just let them feel at home. It really is that simple.

To those who will want to quickly dismiss the idea because Putin would block any action by the UN Security Council, please do consider how he would manage to explain his rejection of international support. And even if he did object, did resist, that decision would put Putin in a terrible diplomatic position in the world.  No, you must accept that he would have found himself on the horns of a dilemma. The only smart move would have been to smile and play ball, that being the lesser bad of the options.

I am weary of the same stale formulas to deal with crises. Too much is about seeming strong according to some hyped up highly kinetic standard. I, for one, would prefer smart. Forcing the territorial integrity side was the club. The issue of minority rights was the lever. We all know which choice is the better, for being strong by being smart. 

It is time for people to remember that strategy does not necessarily mean breaking things. And if we want to be historical about it, the reliance upon attrition as the strategic theme since WWI is to blame and needs to be dropped. Armed forces are too expensive, capabilities too destructive, and people too critical for this approach to be effective any longer. We need more Bismarck, less Moltke.

Westminster, London

No, You Can Trust the Police: Thoughts on the Ellison Report and Policing

The easy response to the findings of the Ellison Inquiry is that it proves a general negative about the police generally or the Metropolitan Police Service specifically.

I get the emotional responses. Nevertheless, these events in fact demonstrate the opposite. This is not to say that the errors did not occur and problems did not exist. Neither do I mean to suggest that they do not require redress. Of course that must happen. But none of this sustains a position of universal distrust. Furthermore and crucially, these events can inspire the opposite response and be the means to progress.

Turning first to the new information, to be fair a close reading of even the Summary of Findings suggests a more nuanced picture than is portrayed in the news. It is enough to point out, for example, that the issue of corruption covered in the report went only to a specific and somewhat rarefied portion of the Met or its work, not the force as a whole. But for the moment we will take the report’s findings as reasonable and mostly correct.

First, the findings demand perspective. It must be accepted that in any given population there will be bad eggs. (Crassly put, it is the Jackass Rule.) Furthermore, there is no escaping Murphy’s Law or that for every so many events there will be mistakes and bad action. This state of things is inevitable, but does not define the whole. The individuals who comprise the vast majority in any given population (including the police services) are decent to good and even often excellent, and most of their efforts are well within the limits of what society can tolerate. Thus, Ellison can stand and the Met can still deserve the trust of the people.

Next, given the first point, although it may seem as though there are many problems with policing, this is due to the oversight and public relations functions and not to a greater rate or intensity of occurrence. This process of review and revelation is a very good thing for society and a very necessary thing for policing by consent. Bear in mind, however, that if any segment of society were held to such account the results would not differ. Thus, if policing must be (and is) rigorously policed, then we also must be realistic about the fact that the bad will be found and made public. A “zero defects” requirement is not a viable option.

Accepting, then, that there will always be some bad news (within a vast sea of good and proper behavior and success), it is not fair, correct or productive to use that fact as a club with which to bludgeon all officers or sully entire institutions. The alienation of the individuals who serve and serve well is the consequence and is to the detriment of all. The title for this piece was inspired by The Times headline of the opposite meaning, a blanket indictment of all, which shouted to me early Friday morning. I further noted in the television coverage that the stock footage for this story prominently featured images of uniformed officers walking the streets, entirely unrepresentative of the actual story but unequivocally indicative of the vast bulk of the force. Imagine the furore if the criminal activities of a small percentage were used to sully an entire group? Ah yes, no imagination is necessary. We know that racial profiling for criminality is odious – upon reflection it ought to be clear that the approach is similarly tainted when used against any population.

More importantly, where the desired behaviour by members is to self police, protecting the whole against the sins of the few is necessary. Retribution for whistle blowing is the obvious usual obstacle to the act. And yet, equally as chilling to the proclivity of good people to step forward to speak out when wrong has occurred is the fear that such revelations will be used to taint the efforts or reputations of all. To encourage police officers to do the right thing in the face of wrongdoing, not only must they be protected from the wrath of the institution, but also the institution and its people beyond the wrongdoing must be protected from the undue wrath of the public and government. Taking recent revelations on their own would suggest major problems. However, pitting them against the millions of man hours of policing work done annually shifts the perspective. Police officers must be able to trust that the majority will be protected and not tainted on the way to rooting out problems.

And so, as I view the meaning of the independent review it is very important that it delivers on a mighty promise of civil society governed by laws. In this case, even after the passage of decades, the institution and its personnel remain responsible for their actions. To be held to such account is more than most could withstand. Whether the path from here is progress and reform or alienation and mistrust on both sides depends as much upon the willingness of the public and government to moderate the wholesale condemnation of all as on the willingness of the police and its organizations to accept the need for change. If not as easy, then, the better response is to regret the bad but value its identification. Such a stance can open the door to a healthier dialogue between policing and society to the improvement of the former, comfort of the latter and respect of all. A virtuous cycle.

It is right and proper to keep a watchful eye upon the organs of the state and government. They must necessarily exist, but whether they serve or distress society is dependent upon both vigilance and tolerance.


The Art of Victory

Victory, like many women, is largely misunderstood. Too many consider her terms as limited to military decision. Not only is this wrong, but the crude mis-focus opens the door for War to snatch her back from your embrace. As difficult as it may be to achieve, military decision is perhaps the easier of the requirements necessary for victory. The difficulties of strategy, tactics and campaigning notwithstanding, to translate the fruits of these efforts into the desired post conflict context is by far the more vexing. But Victory cannot be won until the peace sustains the policy, sustains the reasons for resorting to violence in the first place. Unfortunately, more attention goes to the former than to the latter. It is as if someone is waving a shiny distraction at thinkers and combatants, luring them to focus overmuch on only one aspect, to tragic-comic effect.

I have referred elsewhere to War’s cheeky to perverse sense of humour, [1] and its sharp end is in particular evidence in the competing difficulties on the path to Victory. Of course the need to fight well cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, the aftermath of military decision offers little respite to good judgement and critical decision-making, and War here inflicts similar sanction as in combat upon those who miss-step. You can do everything brilliantly to that moment, you can grasp the means to impose your will or lead an inspired new political direction, and you can stand on the very cusp of Victory…and still fumble spectacularly towards defeat. Because what comes after the bullets is as important as the fighting, even as it is not treated as such. The volumes written on getting to the point of military decision are legion and matched by the relative paucity on how to do the next part equally well. This is a problem, as you achieve nothing if a task is unfinished, just as certainly as to say that “I almost ran a marathon” does not impress much.

The contemporary historical record sustains the point. Particularly where decisive military defeat has led to the end of hostilities, events of the last two centuries suggest the primacy of the “after” effort. At the tactical level, the first effort after the bullets stopped in the Civil War was to feed the Confederate Army. At all levels, the campaign begun in Normandy and ended in Berlin would have been far more destructively undone had the circumstances on the ground in the days, months, and years after not been attended to by the Allied forces. The same can be said of Japan.

Fast forward to recent efforts and the Phase IV operations have not impressed. The rise of insurgencies and even the return of the opponent, coupled with the mismanaged re-emergence of civil society and functioning infrastructure altogether suggest a lack of imagination and sound thinking.

Especially within the armed forces the intellectual investment into managing this aspect of war is too often given short shrift. It is treated as the second effort, the small matter of a clean up to be handled as and when. Further complicating things, there is often a degree of confusion as to who (civilian or military, American or local) will “lead.” At the tactical level there is also some implicit expectation that because the phase of destruction and death has been (largely) terminated the work is easier. This is not at all the case. [2]

No matter the circumstances, the armed forces will have to maintain a presence on the former fields of combat. At least for the purposes of security and order, at most to participate in the recovery and reconstruction, the universe of tasks for this phase of war is wide and requires thought and some training and preparation. [3] There is also fact that at the strategic level the orientation may have to shift from enemy to nascent ally – even as the players might not change much. To achieve military decision may require ruthless brutality, but to consolidate military decision to policy benefit and victory may rely the more upon compassion and humanity.

Satisfying the post-conflict terms of victory requires the balance between timeless principles and contextual flexibility. The timeless issues are those matters governing recovery and reconstruction, of society, the economy and the government. Such challenges would be sufficient to make any task difficult. However, the latter requirements, those which are ruled by the unique circumstances of the conflict, locale and participants, increase the complexity and often confound those whose only focus has been the fighting. One might be moved to consider that military decision is far simpler to achieve by comparison. By way of compensation, my sense is that when done well the fruits of such operations are obvious and influence the course of events.

It should be clear that the total Art of Victory, to include both the destructive and (re)constructive, deserves well more attention than it receives. To leave the modern battlefield when the fighting has ceased, to fail to prepare critically for what comes next, risks the dissipation of every gain made in combat. Perhaps “Phase IV Operations” lack the panache of fighting and leave off the opportunity for glory in battle. But there is no point in being a storied field commander to a lost cause. War does not end when the guns go silent, and victory will be elusive so long as “Mission: Accomplished” is seen come at the point of military decision.



[1] And this, in fact, is only one of its many traits. In truth, taking the sum of them all, the ‘thing’ in question takes on the sort of substance usually associated with an individual. I think a very good biographer – Claire Tomalin, Peter Ackroyd – could do an interesting treatment of War as its own character.

[2] Terry McDonald has written an interesting piece on approaches to stability operations, especially with respect to Humanitarian Assistance to Disaster Relief [HADR]. Many of the issues are similar between this work and the nature of post-hostilities operations. In the article he notes the inattention to this piece, writing that while the armed forces have learned thought much about the use of force on the modern battlefield, “the other piece of the operational triad remains ambiguous (that is non-kinetic) stability operations. Whatever shape future conflict may take, an urbanizing global population will likely see a higher number of stability operations….” (“Stability Center of Gravity: Planning with a Blank Sheet of Paper,” Small Wars Journal, October 29, 2013.)

[3] And as the recent soft power benefit in the Philippines demonstrates, HADR missions are likely to continue in the near future. As the two missions share many tasks in common, this regularity will provide the opportunity to work (in thinking, gear, and practices) the contours of the necessary tasks for post-hostilities operations.



Fast Forward to the ‘Space Between’ in Syria

Just over a year ago, when emotions were raised over the carnage in the Syrian civil war I wrote on the problems facing diplomacy:

Diplomacy requires leverage, but it seems there is nowhere to stand. Thus we face the bitter irony that having raised our consciousness of events around the world we must now accept the fact that we are quite helpless to do anything that is sensible to such situations. Maybe that is as it should be. As George Kennan famously argued on morality and foreign policy, the latter cannot be driven by the former. For a variety of reasons, national interest is the best inspiration that can or should spur effective intervention. Any other motivations will lead you to policy choices whose consequences are likely worse. Unfortunately, despite its reasonable and rational basis, this means that sometimes you can do nothing except watch a tragedy.

It seems that having watched one last tragedy which also touched upon larger issues of national security for other states that the space upon which to stand and exert leverage has been created.

What is curious is that it began with President Obama’s mad bomber approach. Then there was the seeming defeated pivot to ardent democrat with a pledge to gain Congressional approval for a relatively pointless military option. Add in the curious bedfellowing. France is a go and the UK is cautious. And yet, instead of trashing the UK or spoiling the relationship, Obama credited the operation of democracy. As well, I’m sure there was some nice fence mending over pomme frites.

I suspect the G20 as the locus of the arrangements arrived at in NYC (go hometown!) last night. Someone will have fun writing the history of that summit when the documents become available. He should have looked defeated, but Obama strode into the opening meeting with the dignity of someone who could get something done.

In any case, diplomacy required a step change in Assad’s actions and a curious force-to-diplomacy gambit to create the necessary space. One hopes they will be able to maintain the momentum on the way to peace talks.

By the way, wow, Iran too?? Twofer Thursday?


You Can’t Shoot Rioters*

When you are a military historian and you are contemplating engagement strategies and tactics, this fundamental difference between the general standards of public order policing and combat is good to keep at the forefront of one’s thinking. While public order policing may share many similarities with combat, it is the restraint of the former with respect to force that distinguishes the two. This characteristic also defines a critical and difficult feature of public order policing. As well, it is an issue which most interests me, both in my analytical approach to the London Riots and my conceptualization of the relationships between urban mayhem, future security, COIN, and what I generally see as the merging territory of concern between policing and defence. [1]

Putting aside lethal force, global public order standards allow a multitude of lesser options. But do not let their less than lethal status confuse, none of these are nice, not at all. Water cannons. Tear gas. Rubber bullets. Armoured vehicles. And yet, as bad as things were in London during those bleak days of August 2011, the police use of force remained remarkably restrained. Confronted with unbridled passion and anger, the targets of pelting violence, the Met’s officers (and those of other jurisdictions and branches who deployed to assist) on the streets and in command struggled to adhere to a standard of least force. This does not mean that there were not individual actions which exceeded this standard. Rather, as a whole, as an institution, the commitment to pushing back against the easy recourse to force was a clear priority. While many in the immediate aftermath brayed about the lack of “robustness” – and I have to sympathise with the police position that although such criticisms have delightful political romance they have no practical meaning – in the police response, I cannot help but find much to consider optimistically in the restraint exercised. [2]  Perhaps some was incidental to personnel mobilisation issues, restraint being a factor of insufficient numbers, but that only explains the smaller part of the story. Although this meant chaos and much damage and concern in the short term, in the longer run the value of this factor will be highlighted. And before you argue with this perspective please do read the end note to this below. [3]

Alas, the title is snappy, but it is not entirely accurate and hence the asterisk. There are important and meaningful exceptions even in an environment in which the use of force is constrained. For example, where disorder merges with extreme criminal behaviour, the use of potentially lethal force is acceptable when damage and violence to property and against the authorities spill over to threaten the physical security of members of the public. [4] And as the troubles in Egypt have accelerated from bad to worse to whatever comes after that in the past months, I paused to rethink this as the title for a piece on the use of force in public order policing. However, as I considered the context it became clear that this seeming Egyptian exception does not undermine the point because of the strategic and political ramifications of those events. [5] Sometimes you can shoot rioters. But you really do not ever want to have to do that, because it means you have arrived at a bad place.

Although the exceptions seem to be overtaking the title, the extreme nature of these situations in fact sustains the primary point that the use of force must be handled carefully in the bulk of public order policing. The complications of this issue, particularly for British policing, are many and important. Taking account of the manner in which they affect the landscape of public order, both in advance, during, and in retrospect, is critical to an understanding of the events of August 2011.

Returning to the extreme cases, I have used them intentionally. At the extremes one finds clarity – as Chesty Puller noted of his regiment’s status at Chosin, “we’re surrounded, that simplifies things.” [6] [Un]Fortunately, these extremes do not define the bulk of public order policing. Most of it operates within the space where force is unnecessary or inappropriate, where it creates more problems than it might be hoped to solve. Force is also problematic given the legal commitment to individual political and human rights, wherein the first obligation of the police is to commit to the facilitation of protest. And even as the extreme looms it should be quite clear that to err on the side against approaching use of force limits is best. The rioters, after all, really are your babies. [7] Thus, most decisions regarding any use of force must take place within a vast zone of ambiguities, relying on the discretion of officers, either in command or individually, who must keep a host of legal, customary, and professional requirements and standards to mind. And it must be remembered that there is no public consensus on what constitutes “appropriate” force in public order circumstances. To what must be the great frustration for the police, as they try to divine the correct path, “appropriate force” too often resembles the approach to art – people know what they like when they see it. Finally, much more than is obvious constitutes force in public order policing – and the evidence seems to be mounting behind the negative influence of police use of force on crowd behaviour. Clearly this is not easy or simple stuff.

On top of these complexities, the use of force presents unique issues for British policing. The essential challenge is that the unarmed stance of the bulk of officers has created the greater need and propensity to use physical methods at the lower end of policing, many for officer safety reasons (e.g. “distraction techniques”). Add to this the “toe to toe” philosophy of the police in public order which puts them within the potentially rising tide of anger. [8] Further complicating things, there is the current reality here that no images of the use of force, or violence generally, and the police redound to their benefit in the public eye. They lead to criticisms that the police must be either thuggish or timid, storm troopers or incompetents. At the foundation of all of this there is the office of constable and the individual officer’s obligations to the law to consider.

Together all of these factors combine to create the conditions for a very thin margin for success and almost contradictory, often shifting standards for what constitutes proper conduct in public order policing. 

Thus, every tactic and approach the police can use in public order situations has a use of force consideration. In every grade of public order event, from a kumbaya pro-peace rally to full on riot, every choice, plan, resource, and tactic must be “fit for purpose.” This charmingly economical term packs tremendous punch in the meaning it conveys – seriously, think about it a moment – good, right? I intend to use it liberally in future writing. Returning to the point, this means that for every planned or spontaneous decision or action in any situation the force component must be well-suited to the standards, laws and objectives, both strategic and tactical. [9]

Finally, with respect to force and public order the police must now accept a new understanding of their influence upon events. Recent findings in crowd psychology have expanded the lexicon of force in public order policing so that it is wider than overt acts. It is now recognised, for example, that how the police appear communicates force – or lack thereof. [10] And where mere demeanour and equipage [11] can be taken as a form of force, then any uses of force will of necessity have a larger meaning. The importance of force in public order policing is also evolving to comprehend a new understanding of the role of police behaviour upon the tone of an event and the crowd. A light touch – or rather, the lightest possible touch permissible under circumstances – seems to have a positive effect. [12]

I am in the vanguard of none to put forward the strategic and tactical stance of least force across a broad spectrum of conflict. Good. Do consider that most of future conflict – both domestic turmoil and war – will occur in urban settings or among civilian populations, and so least force capabilities will be valuable. Collateral damage, in rubble or lives, will become too costly to continue at currently tolerated levels. The costs in resources and strategic consequences are already manifesting themselves and will only get worse. And so it is the component of lesser force that is part of what has attracted me to examine this piece of history and the larger subject matter of public order policing. There is a very intriguing model in the British approach to public order policing, difficulties and complications notwithstanding. [13]

Larger considerations aside, London, England, and beyond are all better for the fact that no rioter or officer was killed in those 4 days in August.



1. Other issues, such as training and equipment, exert a great influence upon public order policing. Although they are not the subject of this discussion, I am aware of their role, especially when one considers the matters of national coordination and inter-force reciprocal assistance.

2. Police Oracle article, Chief Constable Ian Learmonth, national lead on public order, discusses the issues surrounding the use of more extreme tactics in the aftermath of the London Riots. He seems to suggest that greater leeway is being established. However, even as forces are trained in the use of these tactics, and “top cover” is being provided, whether they will ever be resorted to remains a significant question. “The Changing Face of Public Order,” 22/08/2013.

3. I choose not to make this a direct part of the discussion in this essay because it is a bit harsher than the rest. To sustain my conclusion above I reckon in part that least force was exercised given that no police fatalities resulted. This should be recognised as to the benefit of the rioters, sparing them the burden of a lifetime’s guilt over taking the life of an officer cut off from his or her comrades by the overzealous applications of offensive tactics. The very unfortunate consequence of the level of anger necessary to go over to riot is that it leads to a nearly uncheckable group mentality which too often can become lethal. And yet, no matter the anger and righteous justification, to cause another’s death is a wound that can never fully heal.

4. I prefer to think I would recognise this fact in the moment, but I was grateful from the writer’s perspective to have this distinction brought to my attention. It remains a brutal truth to accept and even further to ask of people, which is the need to take a life to save a life.

5. I do not intend to speak to the justification for the actions taken by authorities there, but I would argue that the specific nature of that drama highlights the strategic and political potential of urban disorder in some instances. Those masses are not merely expressing discontent but are in rebellion against the [barely] standing rule – again. While it is easy to counsel not to stray from the above injunction when dealing with public expression even as that might cause some degree of social or commercial disruption, whether a regime or a society must stand by and allow its own collapse or violent overthrow is another matter. However, at that point you must decide whether civil war is worth what you hope to achieve. Of course, it bears remembering that how expression is handled on a regular basis will likely exert a significant influence upon whether the dilemmas posed by serious political disorder will become an issue.

6.  It is a terrible tactical situation, but there are very few questions about what must be done.

7. I have written earlier that the appropriate mentality for COIN is one which frames the insurgents and population as “babies” in your charge. As in, you do not and cannot win in parenting if the baby dies.

8. Home Affairs Committee, (2008/2009), Policing of the G20 Protests, “toe to toe” reference, p. 23.

9.  What constitutes public order policing? What are the standards? What laws control? What societal expectations govern? Very comprehensively the ACPO (et al.) 2010 Manual of Guidance on Keeping the Peace lays out the current doctrine and standards in public order policing, to include relevant discussions of use of force in each area of concern [e.g., command, planning, tactics, resources...]. It’s a gripping read, an excellent follow on to the 2004 edition.

10.  Adapting to Protest, p. 9, for example, discusses the force implications when the police deploy “with officers in NATO helmets…”; “Hermes Insurgent” makes mention that the police officers on the Strand were in low profile black uniforms. As it turns out this is a proactive choice. Ha! See ACPO manual, p. 36, “Setting the policing style and dress code. For example, Code 1 dress and shield deployment may be a justifiable level of protection, but may also send a message to the crowd that should be reserved for higher levels of threat.” This, in fact, was part of the decision-making and planning for Tottenham on 6 August 2011. See 4 Days in August, pp. 28, 29, 36 and 37; on page 40, discussing the moment when the event shifted from protest to disorder, the report notes that at 2045 the PSU which had been assigned to the station to provide support for the demonstration first deployed with their full public order gear.

11. Kit – shields, batons, helmets, trucks (armoured and more armoured). The first several facilitate close quarter interaction (the toe to toe model) and the last allows go forward options into the maelstrom. All involve as well issues of officer safety. Remember as well that different batons have different uses and capabilities – MPS extensible baton suitable for downward slashing movements, others better to provide space by poking. (Holy hell I need a better way to describe that. Please, if you have read this far and have a better suggestion do let me know.)

12. See, e.g., Stephen Reicher, Clifford Stott, Patrick Cronin, and Otto Adang, “An integrated approach to crowd psychology and public order policing,” Policing, Vol 27, No. 4, 2004. Has anyone done research on whether (and if so which) there are any circumstances were police ‘passivity’ has sparked anger and disorder?

13. Yes, some of it ends up a bit left hand, right hand, but that could certainly be remedied without harm to the model. In the worst case scenario that it cannot ever be perfectly remedied, better that flaw than many others.



George Dixon’s No Storm Trooper

This piece introduces the institutional culture of British policing and its role as a perspective to keep in mind as part of the study of the London Riots as a piece of military history and in consideration of issues relevant to the future of urban security. It will also be published at the Small Wars Blog, under the title “What’s British for ‘Oorah’?” I was uncertain whether the George Dixon reference would travel. 


One day I was walking from Clerkenwell to London Bridge Station. At some mad intersection of several roads in or near the City I stopped to watch something curious. A Police Constable standing on the corner watched something happen, shook his head and shouted ‘Oy, you!’ Within about 30 seconds a rather sheepish looking bicycle messenger rolled up, dismounted and presented himself. The officer proceeded to lecture him on the expected subjects, which the latter took dutifully. It was amusing at the time because I was fairly certain that very few officers in New York City would expect to be able pull over a bicycle messenger with nothing more than a common hail. Adding the backdrop of the institutional culture at issue in this piece, the episode has more meaning for me now.

The HMIC review of UK public order policing in the wake of the G-20 disturbances does not oversell itself by way of its titled intention to “nurture” the British Model of Policing (“BMP”). The report refers to the phrase relentlessly and repeats its terms in liturgical fashion. [1] This repetition had the effect of imputing near physical substance to the concept. Even if it is only an ideal, there is no room for doubt that something of importance is going on.

Although several works inform this piece, for obvious reasons it is the single-minded focus within “Adapting to Protest: Nurturing the British Model of Policing” which demands this review. And it is a happy scholarly discovery, as the issue of institutional culture, of the importance of a controlling and shared ethos, weighs heavily in the practice of military history. To wit, any history of 1st Marine Division at Chosin is incomplete without due consideration of Marine Corps culture.

Sustaining what I read in Nurturing and Adapting, the intellectually formative experience of the BMP as a concept came to me by way of a colleague here in London. I had just begun reading on the riots and public order when I started noticing references to the concept and chatted with her about it – aspects of policing are her area of expertise. But that description is incomplete to understand her influence on my thinking. So, in addition she is fiercely protective of her political rights, and with relish describes herself as a traditional defender civil liberties. She will not hesitate to protest against wrongs; woe betide you who might unjustifiably try to deter her. And when you mention the BMP, the notion that the police are answerable to the law not the government and serve at the consent of the public she will go well-nigh misty-eyed with pride. In fact, she holds it so dear that she expressed concern about tainting it with militarism by way of this review. It is quite important that the ideals which comprise the institutional culture are held and understood beyond the organization.

At this stage, I am limiting this to a review of the subject from the perspective of the period between the G20 protests and the events of August 2011. Yes, there are well more sources beyond this limited purview, but I thought a view to the idea on the eve of the events of concern would be an apt focus for this piece. The two HMIC reports (“Adapting to Protest” (“Adapting”) and Nurturing) and a delightful bit of scholarship on the history of the BMP’s export abroad (Clive Emsley, “Marketing the Brand: Exporting British Police Models, 1829-1950,” Policing, 2012) offered the best talking points within the time frame.

Of importance to a military history of the London Riots, there are two questions regarding the institutional culture of British policing which form the basis for my interest.

The first concerns whether the BMP can serve both the full spectrum of protests as well as full-on disorder. This is clearly of concern, as HMIC asks early in Nurturing, “how…should the police as a service adapt to the modern day demands of public order policing while retaining the core values of the British model of policing?” [2] The horns of the dilemma upon which this question rests was identified previously in Adapting, when they set the objectives of modern public order policing as “balancing the rights of protesters and other citizens with the duty to protect people and property from the threat of harm or injury,” all in a manner consistent with the BMP. [3] If the 3 Block War and Hearts and Minds based COIN offer good, useful points of discussion and consideration for public order, then it is clear that the police must be able to orient themselves to the needs of both tasks – facilitate protest and combat disorder. On the hand that might seem manifestly unfair. Nevertheless, if they are aware of the contrasts, competing needs, contradictions, they can prepare – mentally, structurally, tactically, etc.  Considered from the military perspective, this is a policy statement which requires strategy and tactics that can satisfy it. Challenging, yes, but likely better than the options.

The second question is why a review of this institutional culture is important to a historical approach to the riots. The most obvious reason is that awareness of this factor is necessary for a full understanding of events and the police response over those several days in August.  As discussed above, institutions and their cultures matter to inquiries of this sort. More broadly, the BMP offers a useful alternative model by which to describe an ethos which can inform a people-centric approach to COIN. Contrary to what some might expect as part of a larger consideration of the implications of a future wracked by urban chaos, I am of the opinion that this, for lack of a better description, noble character should stand Metropolitan Britain in good stead and could serve as a model for others. [4]

We must also understand what the concept of institutional culture entails. In the simplest terms, the term refers to the character of an organization based upon its history, traditions, customs, sense of self, described identity, and so forth. In the same way we expect or understand behaviours based upon national cultures, so too in the case of institutional cultures. It need not be all-encompassing or necessarily deterministic, but it should have a significant influence and importance.

Also, while I understand that there is no unitary or single entity of the ‘British Police,’ there is nevertheless a common thread shared across the UK law enforcement landscape. As scholars and HMIC assert the existence of this shared identity, so too do I feel comfortable considering the collection of the parts as a single institution for these purposes. Thus, even as the “British Police” are really only a loose federation of largely independent forces run at a local level, shared among them there exists a self-conception, a desired self identification that conforms to known terms.

Giving the document its due, it is to Nurturing that we turn to for an explication of this model in its detail, including its specific application to public order policing:

The British model of policing places a high value on tolerance and winning the consent of the public. Neither value should be underestimated. Consent is not unconditional. Police have won it by convincing people that they can be trusted to uphold the law and to protect the freedom and safety of individuals with impartiality and restraint. Our review of the international practice of the policing of protest suggests that alternatives to the British police model exist. Many put more distance between the police and protest crowds. Some assign responsibilities for mediation or direction of protest events to other third parties. Whilst there are some elements of these alternative models that may be attractive in principle, the British policing model attributed to Sir Robert Peel, of an approachable, impartial, accountable style of policing based on minimal force and anchored in public consent, seems in the round to be well suited to today’s dynamics. [5]

This is no better exemplified than by the trend in recent years to apply the model as an ideal abroad. Of course, this is only the latest in a series of episodes during which this desire to export the model has come to the fore. Reviewing the historical record on similar efforts in British foreign policy, Marketing notes the claims against the strict “universality” of all British policing, as well as pointed cynicism regarding the ideals, but argues that “it was almost certainly the case that [there have been] individuals in the job who believed the rhetoric about the ‘Bobby’ and sought to live up to it.”

It is equally important to note that this character and culture emerge in fiction and drama. Even when drawn in affectionate if caricaturish fashion, this presence does not diminish the ‘truth’ conveyed. Marketing points to the character of PC George Dixon as being quintessentially “solid, avuncular, courageous and wise,” all according to the ideal of a London (and hence British) police constable. This should not disconcert. The culture of the US Marine Corps leaps out of the celluloid from similar archetypal depictions, and does not Horatio Hornblower illuminate something true about the Royal Navy circa the Napoleonic Wars (and beyond)? I have written elsewhere about Dodd, and as a general rule I don’t think any historian will deny that such icons are useful as they convey in simplest format a wealth of information about the culture (beliefs) they are meant to represent. [6]

On the specific matter of consent, I will return your attention to the opening anecdote. The obvious interpretation that will come to most minds first is that of the police gaining the consent of the people. This is not incorrect, but neither is it complete. Given the balance of authority, it is sensible for the police to provide the momentum to sustain that state of consent. [7] However, I would submit that the apex of the consent at the heart of the BMP is one which is mutually expressed. It is not merely that the police serve the law faithfully, but also that the public accepts its responsibility to the law as well. As an expression of that mutual consent, of that relationship between the police and the public in shared respect of the law and its place in society, the opening anecdote becomes quite valuable.

Connecting the police function in protest and public order to the BMP, HMIC identifies the critical nexus between consent and tactics. Reminding that the UK is a “democratic society policed by consent,” the report is clear that in public order policing “planning and action at every level must be seen to reconcile all…factors,” or more simply “be designed to win the consent of the people.” [8]

Influencing public order policing at all levels, the BMP has a marked effect on tactics, nowhere more obvious than in their approach on the day. “British policing has always had a clear identity, separate from the rest of the world no more so than in its approach to public order…[of] putting the police amongst the people to maintain security and facilitate protest.” [9] The first consequence of this is an ideal that deserves a place of honour if it can be done correctly. That is, it is the police who, in service to the law, are charged with the duty to protect and facilitate the right of free and public expression – from both the tyranny of the government and the vitriol of the community. It is a concept of liberty and a manifestation of democracy which smirks boldly in the face of cynicism.

Also important to keep in mind, this style means that in public order events the UK police are outnumbered and unarmed, often within the maddening crowd. This is no better demonstrated than in the G20, the images of the MPS high visibility yellow overrun by protester black. This reference to the police being overrun is not as a criticism. To the contrary, it’s evidence of something important that they accept the numerical disadvantage in such potentially volatile circumstances. [10] What drives that is the theme hammered at in Nurturing, as HMIC sought to use this common ethos to frame public order policing. However, the exposure to this vulnerability, as well as the close proximity to the madness, put the police in the position to interact more frequently and personally with the crowds. There are consequently more opportunities for tempers to flare dangerously, or for momentary or isolated or justified incidents to be taken out of context, either equally to the detriment of the necessary consent. It is an approach which demands the highest discretion in application.

This is even more important in an age of mass and immediate image communications. Impressions of these tactical issues are critical as police activities become increasingly visible. A function of the rise of citizen journalism, in public order policing perceptions can strengthen or weaken the model. Adapting makes clear that as “large public audiences have access to documentation,” it ought not surprise that “images of police officers using force, including distraction techniques, have the potential to undermine the public’s trust in police.” [11]

There are concerns that the police are being led down a garden path to kindly ineffectiveness. These sustain one segment of critique of police action during the first night and next day of the disturbances. The belief is that the response on THR, e.g., was too restrained as a result of the critique of policing at the G20 and the rise of what has been dubbed the ‘softly, softly’ approach. [12] As HMIC notes in Adapting, “Faced with dispersing a crowd of protesters which may contain a disorderly element, police have to think very carefully whether the conventional range of tactics is appropriate for ensuring the minimum use of force.” [13] According to the roots attributed to Sir Robert Peel, this last bit on the minimum use of force is critical to the consent piece. It is foundation for the disarmed stance of the force, a feature which cannot be overlooked. However, there is no value to the model if it is misunderstood and undermined by assumptions regarding politically correct tactical timidity, etc.

Despite the criticisms and potential misunderstandings, my sense is that the model may have particular utility given the modern context of protest and disorder. Defined as creating a force or service whose individuals stand as the representation of the law in uniform, independent of governments and parties, the BMP exists as an important element with a web of many institutions, customs and traditions which form British society. In this instance it is the primacy of the law and that how the police function heeds the requirements of the customary fear of arbitrary government and political tyranny. As the British Army serves parliament and not the monarch, so British policing ultimately answers to the law, all of which are meant to keep British safe within their own borders. [14]

Given all of the ideals it conveys, rationalizing public order policing according to the BMP should only be for the good. At an even deeper level, for British law enforcement generally the maintenance of this institutional culture serves the valuable purpose of setting a high standard of service. No organization was ever harmed following that banner. As proof, it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that the Marine Corps has positively thrived under such a regime, despite often being starved for attention or resources. Standards and discipline enhance the value of the Corps’ identity, which in turn drives the desire to maintain the standards and discipline – a virtuous circle. In a near term of budget constraints confronted by increasing demands the institutional culture embodied in the BMP should prove a valuable asset.



[1] I stopped counting the iterations of the phrase at 50. I started noting the incidence of the phrase at page 30.

[2] Nurturing, p. 5

[3] Adapting, p. 41

[4] Some think my views on urban security in the future context is alarmist. If I am, it’s not in the traditional sense – or for traditional purposes. My fear is not the attack but the response – draconian domestic legislation and control and/or relentless costly (blood and treasure, all sides) conflicts – in the event of surprise. So, if I am sounding an alarm it is to awaken people to the notion that restraint, thoughtfulness, and serious long term consideration are the best characteristics of response – none of which can happen if we are predisposed to fall into domestic storm trooperism. (Mktg. P. 45, the British Empire, policing and COIN.)

[5] Nurturing, p. 9

[6] Marketing, pp. 44 and 49; Jesus on the Cross is a story in an image, is it not? (p. 44)

[7] In “The Hermes Insurgent” I noted a particularly convivial exchange between a constable and two members of the public after Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. I would submit that it is often these small efforts which do the most to

[8] Adapting, pp. 5 and 42

[9] Adapting, p. 15

[10] In testimony to the Home Affairs Committee’s review of the policing of G20 protests, Commander Bob Broadhurst, the MPS lead for the entire event reiterated the tactical model and its consequences: “We as a service come toe-to-toe far quicker…than any other jurisdiction in the world…which does then mean that we put our officers…in that very invidious situation of being toe-to-toe with sometimes a violent and antagonistic crowd, and then having to work out who are the decent people and who are those that are trying to attack me.” (“Policing of the G20 Protests,” 2009, p. 23)

[11] Adapting, p. 8/Note, and pp. 17, 25 and 54

[12] In the near aftermath of the G20, Lothian and Borders Police faced protests in response to NATO in which the emergent “softly, softly” approach was implemented (at least in part). The effort was reviewed by Hugo Gorringe, Michael Rosie, David Waddington & Margarita Kominou in ‘Facilitating Ineffective Protest? The Policing of the 2009 Edinburgh NATO protests’ (2011, Policing & Society, 21 (4)).

[13] Adapting, p. 8

[14] And when Marketing references a “Protestant people protected by Providence,” politically blessed as well as a “free people with a balanced Constitution,” but nevertheless always concerned with the “state of liberty,” I get all reverential for the Patriots of 1776. Go Founding Fathers. (pp. 46-7) Disclaimer: whether the first is true or useful, the intended adherence to the latter portions was wisdom incarnate.


Hagiography was not my intent: General Mattis e-mail goes viral‏

If anything, I wanted to nerd him up a bit.

I originally received the now famous email in the autumn of 2003. I have shared it with colleagues on every appropriate occasion because it truly is a nifty bit of writing on a subject dear to our (military historians and similar) hearts, the pursuit of knowledge through wide reading. It is the sort of thing to inspire scholarly giddiness.

The decision to publish it came only recently, after a discussion with my King’s colleague, Pablo de Orellana. I shared it with him under the same circumstances as above, and he was as surprised as impressed – it was not the sort of thing that made the Euro academic press. He wanted it on Strife, he was adamant that it was a necessary corrective to usual depictions of American officers.

As for me, I saw two points of interest. The first is that in general the concept of commanding historiographies is fascinating to me - I can see the book, What Generals Read, a collection of essays on the subject by leading historians. Super nerdy and geeky stuff. Lots of footnotes. Sigh. And second, with respect to the emails particularly, my feeling was that while his original message was impressive, his willingness to engage critique was the real gem, what I thought made the whole thing valuable. He’s quite certain he doesn’t have all the answers, doesn’t just want to hear from people that he’s smart and right, and is open to new ideas, corrections, different interpretations, and so forth. And that, my friends, is the result and purpose of wide reading – humility and the unflagging zeal to continue seeking more knowledge.

I would point out, as well, that my decision to publish was premised on obtaining the General’s permission. Not only was it necessary – they were his words, after all – but I also knew that it would reign in any inclinations to get too reverential and lose the scholarly perspective. I’ll admit I got a bit carried away with Clio and Hegel (no, not SecDef), but that was in reference to the idea of General’s entry into the historical process, was a by-product of his action but not his intention. I also specifically eschewed the Mad Dog, in the title or the text. [1]

Bottom line, the purpose was to put to the world an important primary source that had some real meat for discourse. The better conversation about his email – and the one I think General Mattis would enjoy seeing – than an elegy to his greatness would be a scholarly review of his reading. If he read Bell, what did he miss by not reading someone else? Who has the latest and most authoritative work on Lawrence? He cites so many works, it’s a gold mine. Or a discussion of the issue of how historiographies influence the conduct of war.

But if you want to sum it all up with a famous General Mattis quote, I think the admonition against triangulation by bumper sticker – or tweet, or meme for that matter - is particularly apt in this case.



[1] Ok, in my mind I may have toyed with “Professor Mad Dog” for the title, but that was only for fun. And by the way, the original title was important, a play on a military history of the Boer War, With Rifle and Bayonet.


4/29: When Casualties Came Home from War

When the casualty incident described in this piece occurred, it fell to me to tend to the unit’s “family.” Beyond those directly affected, the rest experienced these events through my messages. They chronicle a small piece of what happens on the home-front when casualties come home. [1] These events unfold regularly in our midst, but most in the general public have no experience of this aspect of war; they should.


Reflecting upon the decade of conflict that has been unleashed in Iraq at the instigation of the military operations to end the regime of Saddam Hussein, there are so many issues. Most fundamentally for me I never believed it was a good idea. Breaking states should only be a strategy choice of last possible resort, and even then it is probably best avoided.

But my professional and intellectual opposition was challenged by personal obligation. In 2004, when I attended their Summer Seminar in Military History, I remember watching the veterans among the West Point faculty experiencing both cognitive dissonance as well as resonance as they confronted their intellectual material. I could tell that they were comparing their experiences with their scholarship, but I did not understand what that meant at the time. Humbled by my own small experience, I have a sense of how they must have felt. My hope is that this glimpse into the wider experience of war and conflict will offer a similar bit of enlightenment for others.

My former husband was a Marine. In 2007, as a Major, he deployed to Iraq in command of a Military Training Team (MTT). I was the unit Key Volunteer, which made me the point of contact between the unit/Marine Corps and the families of the serving Marines and Sailor. For the most part my job was to provide official and correct information to the families on a timely basis. Secondarily, as possible, I tried to offer some measure of support and coordinate any assistance the unit or the families might require. [2] It is the sort of responsibility that anyone not afflicted with terrific arrogance will feel that they have done inadequately.

By way of background on the deployment, Fallujah in the first half of 2007 was roiling. At the time of these events the Marines and the Iraqi Army battalion they were training had already seen significant and regular combat action. Their AOR, an area known as the “Pizza Slice,” was particularly dangerous, with regular and daily insurgent activity. The commanding officer of the Iraqi battalion was a professional officer who had served during the Hussein regime. [3] Pragmatic and hopeful, he was a willing and able partner in the rebuilding of Iraq. The battalion and its training team would endure several months of sustained attacks until the insurgency broke – of its own stupidity and the civilian population’s shifted allegiance – early in the summer.

Before that break, on 29 April, in the afternoon, towards the end of a day’s activity a sniper ambush which led to the casualties occurred. An element of the battalion and its trainers had been conducting a dismounted patrol of Marines and Iraqi soldiers with vehicles in support. As the last task of the patrol, they had stopped to conduct a search. With the units’ vehicles deployed along narrow and twisted streets, the dismounted elements cleared a building which had been identified as a potential insurgent base. Finding nothing in the building, as the Marines made their way to their vehicles the attack opened with precision sniper and general supporting fire.

Within short order, no more than five minutes of fighting, the three casualties had been taken. The remaining 15 to 20 of minutes combat was fought as the dismounted Marines struggled to safely remove the fallen to the vehicles and those in the vehicles provided cover for them. Fighting to hold the ground, the timely arrival of the QRF (quick reaction force) ended the engagement. It was a close run thing, as the Marines engaged on the ground were running out of ammunition to continue their fight.

I think I was munching bagels and driving with my son and dog from NY to Newport, RI, while these events were occurring. (Yes, you do stop to note the surreal aspects of such moments.) I remember this period clearly. I had just returned from the annual Society for Military History conference and was energized for my research. [4]

It was later that night when the Major sent me the following email:

Do NOT say anything/tell anyone.  The worst happened.  Notifications are being made.  I’m still alive.


 [Continues on page 2]




The Hermès Insurgent: Camouflage and Culture in War

Concerns over the potential for disorder, as well as the regular requirements for such events had the MPS out in force on Wednesday for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. Should I feel guilty that I experience a bit of intellectual giddiness when life presents a research opportunity? Clearly I spent several hours observing the deployments as well as the interactions between police and public.

Here’s the thing – I lingered, loitered and studied. How were different officers kitted out? [1] How many officers were deployed to cover a piece of territory? What was their demeanor? [2] What were the visible specifications of the vehicles used for the public order detail kept on standby in the event of violence? By all standards this behavior ought to have sparked some mildly suspicious curiosity by the police. If I were a male I’m certain there would have been a conversation, some officer sent to ascertain my intentions. But who is going to worry about a woman with an Hermès scarf? (Let’s be clear, I own only one and I had to ask a friend to give me lessons in what to do with it.) And you can be quite certain I don my camouflage intentionally – I don’t need to be making law enforcement nervous, thank you very much.

More important than musings on my field research, there are two issues that come to mind. The first concerns expectations regarding who is a threat. The second has to do with how culture is used in war. And finally, a cautionary comment on our reliance upon technology in war. (Or, if you prefer the imagery of comic superheroes and Hollywood, we have here the Hermès Insurgent and the Burqa Commando taking down SkyNet. [3])

With respect to identifying threats, be they at the tactical or national security level, we tend to operate according to expectations. Obviously, it is not my intention to warn against the dangers of scarf-clad insurgents. But 9/11 is not that far in the past, and that event proved that things which we take for granted as safe or normal can in fact become part of the calculus of war. When we become too comfortable about what is threatening we risk being caught looking in the wrong direction when the next threat arrives. This is not to promote paranoia or silly security regulations, but simply to act as a reminder to question these assumptions from time to time.

Turning to culture and war, there is often a lot of hand wringing that our (the West) freedoms, laws, ways of life – that is our very culture – allow our enemies to take advantage of us in our own countries. I’m not sure I can even agree with this (Gitmo), but  if it were the case, we should simultaneously recognize that culture is a strength and weak point for all parties.

To wit, you could get a lot of mileage out of weaponising the Burqa.

Okay, weaponise might give the wrong impression. I do not propose the deployment of veiled suicide bombers. But I could see an intelligence gathering value in neighborhoods and regions where this practice is expected. Like me to the London police, a veiled figure is assumed to be non-threatening. And it might not be too far to contemplate the stealthy deployment opportunities this camouflage provides. Rotary wing aircraft are an obvious insertion platform for Western forces. And before you scoff, can you really argue there is much difference between this and learning the woodland skills necessary to move unnoticed in that environment? I certainly cannot.

Better still the particular upside to such a practice is that it would likely spell the end of the garment’s use. Quite frankly I can’t think of a better or more fitting end to this bit of barbarity.

In anticipation of a critique of my cultural insensitivities, I have two responses. First, I will remind that terrorists and insurgents have used this cultural dress to tactical advantage. The sanctity of the outfit has already been sullied from within its own community. Second, the demeaned place in society for women that this garb represents gives me a certain license. There is historical precedent for one to be adamant and mildly aggressive in the face of wrongs. William Lloyd Garrison provides the model, in his fight against slavery: “I am in earnest; I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard.” [4] So, with my apologies to the women who might choose this garment, I cannot get behind you on this. Full face coverage is a bridge too far.

Finally, I would like to point out that with very little investment I have proposed to thwart or replace billions of dollars worth of technologically based military and security equipment and training. The recent “tipsheet” found in Mali suggests that Al Qaeda’s thinking is not dissimilar. Clearly we are spending too much for what technology can realistically do. More worryingly, I fear many overlook the shortcomings and rely too much upon technology and the quantification it demands. These are dangerous blinders to choose given that our preferences are so obvious.

As for me, I’m just going to keep on looking innocuous.



[1] On The Strand, none were in high-visibility jackets. It made for a more pleasant view, which must have assisted to keep the tone of things low key.

[2] Afterwards, in front of the King’s Strand Campus -which was beautifully quiet and peaceful without the usual traffic – the mood as they continued to police the route for the occasional vehicle returning from St. Paul’s was light. I watched one constable from the Bromley area (if I read the identification correctly) chat with two women, one younger the other grandmotherly. They had a grand old time, joking, laughing and exchanging pleasant views on the events of the day and life. His supervisors would pass by and smile, offering no indication they thought he should stop. As I will discuss in my next piece for the riots as military history on the British Model of Policing, those sorts of interactions can be seen as bulwarks in a model dependent upon the consent of the public.

[3] Yes, I was channeling Doctrine Man!! as I wrote this bit.

[4] I feel honoured to quote a famous Bostonian in this week that my fair New England city has taken such a beating. And by using Garrison’s words in this matter of injustice, I too “lift up the standard of emancipation in the eyes of the nation, within sight of Bunker Hill and in the birthplace of liberty.” Although from New York, I have many roots in New England, of which Boston is in many ways the central city. I have always felt an affinity for it. [The Inaugural Editorial, William Lloyd Garrison, “The Liberator,” 1831.]