Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level





Steven Rosales

Committee Member

Alessandro Brogi

Second Committee Member

Laurence Hare


American History, Counterinsurgency, Heavy boot print, Imperialism, Light boot print


At the end of the American Civil War, the U.S. federal government found itself with new grand powers in its final victory over the Confederacy. The Union had survived the fires of war from 1861 to 1865, the bloodiest in American history. In the final days of the war, General Ulysses Grant described his purpose for several triumphal marches north with his Union armies: “The march of Sherman’s army from Atlanta to the sea and north to Goldsboro… It had an important bearing… of closing the war. As the army was seen marching on triumphantly, however, the minds of the Southern people became disabused, and they saw the true state of affairs. In turn, they became disheartened, and would have been glad to submit without compromise.” The conventional part of the Civil War was ending and soon bringing Reconstruction, which concentrated on reintegrating the South politically and economically into the Union. Reconstruction aimed to mend the effects of the war, which had destroyed the South’s economy, with the additional aim to help the millions of the now-freed former slaves. As the Civil War’s conventional phase ended, the North believed the war had reached a successful conclusion. As Carl Von Clausewitz expressed, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” Directly following the Civil War, the South realized that it could not maintain their political aim of white supremacy in a conventional war or immediate overt political maneuvers, and they would now turn to a long war of insurgency. This insurgent phase first manifested with John Wilkes Boothe, who on April 14th, 1865, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Booth had developed a plan to kill all the heads of the federal government with the aim to leave the federal government in political chaos. Unknown to the North, a new phase of the Civil War had begun in the form of a Southern insurgency. The insurgency war came out of an amorphous association of returning home Confederate veterans, who reorganized themselves into networks of loosely connected militias. At times, nearly entire reconstitutions of Confederate battalions reformed. The most infamous of the insurgent groups was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), derived from the Greek word “kyklos,” meaning circle. The KKK started an invisible empire of the South striving to intimidate, terrorize, brutalize, and kill newly freed African Americans who participated in politics as well as white people who supported these efforts. KKK members attacked schools, churches, and homes of those involved. These terror tactics successfully cemented a solely white dominance in the South, which perpetuated white superiority in economics and politics. By 1901, the last African American Congressman, Henry White, gave his farewell speech to the House of Representatives, expressing how the South had reversed the political and societal progress experienced by the African American community in the post-Civil War period through this terror campaign of crime and murder. At the beginning of Reconstruction, Washington D.C. became aware of the growing terrorism in the South from the networks of the KKK, federal leadership took steps to deal with the insurgency, and President Grant would choose to increase federal troops in the South to their highest level. He authorized the use of more aggressive counterinsurgency tactics and militarized Reconstruction by turning the South into five military districts garrisoned with Army units of infantry and calvary. At times, Grant allowed the suspension of habeas corpus, allowing federal troops to arrest anyone suspected of KKK involvement, who could be held without charge, and if necessary, held indefinitely. Though by the 1870s, a core American failure in counterinsurgency implementation emerged, the American public opinion quickly waned for the continued militarized operations, which can be gauged by the way the American public voted. The public vote swayed to the Democrat party, with many southern members in their ranks. This public turn moved the political agenda away from the militarized Reconstruction: “The number of Federal troops stationed in the South dropped from 87,000 in 1866 to 20,000 in 1867 and 6,000 in 1876.” As the American public’s will weakened for fighting a prolonged counterinsurgency, white supremacist militias were able to endure in the South. The Congressional mid-terms of 1874 brought a Democrat majority to the House of Representatives for the first time since the Civil War. When this happened, President Grant’s militarized Reconstruction efforts stalled. Grant became politically isolated as Southern Democrats returned, and many northerners turned away from the idea of a continued federal military presence to handle the Southern insurgencies. In September of 1875, President Grant received a request from Governor Ames of Mississippi, asking for federal troops to be sent to Mississippi to aid in subduing white racial violence. Grant refused, fearing that more troops in the South would turn Americans away from the Republican party in the upcoming 1876 elections. President Grant knew, as did the returning white Southern Democrats in D.C., that the American public had moved passed the Civil War and waging a continued counterinsurgency effort in the South was politically unpopular. By 1877, federal troops were gone, and the South had won the insurgent war and now entered into a near hundred-year long unchecked reign of terror on African Americans and allied Whites who sought equality in law, economics, and politics. My objective is to explain the creation of the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency doctrine, which I contend is made in conjunction with the American public, the federal government, and the U.S. military leadership. This American counterinsurgency doctrine creation has undergone periodic transformations that I highlight to shine a clear light on this three-way conversation of creating U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, which is not reliant on the battlefield requirements. U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine evolved out of this tumultuous three-way conversation, with a reoccurring theme of the federal government’s repeated failure to understand this societal conversation. The U.S. federal government repeatedly desired short conventional wars, failing to understand post-war counterinsurgency operation requirements and the American public’s powerful role in guaranteeing the success or failure of such operations. I will show this reoccurring American phenomenon in Reconstructions failure, the Philippines, Vietnam, El Salvador, and the Iraq war following the 2003 invasion. Returning to Reconstruction, the Union had won the conventional war only to lose the post-war peace. After the Civil War, the federal government had grown drastically in power, size, and ability to wage a grand conventional war, yet the South won the long war of peace through the use of an exhausting insurgency. Networks of terror cells in the South dramatically outnumbered the limited capabilities of the continually dwindling U.S. Army in the South. The South’s insurgent networks worked hand-in-hand with the Democratic political leadership to produce the political win they desired and create a legal system of racial segregation in the South, cementing white supremacist rule in the legal code of Jim Crow laws in the South, which delayed the goals of Reconstruction until the mid-twentieth century with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. Counterinsurgency is an ancient tool used by various militaries in governing internal sectors and external territorial claims. As early city-states began to expand their political influence over wider realms outside their original territory, insurgency movements developed in these newly dominated foreign political spheres. Pulling my Webster’s thesaurus off the bookshelf, it defines “insurgency” as “open fighting against authority (as one’s own government).” The thesaurus uses the same definition for insurgents, who are “rebelling” against the political sovereign over an area. A study of counter-rebellion does not have the same ring to it as the name of counterinsurgency, nor does it have the stinging rebuke for the so-called rebels. Because Americans love to root for an underdog, the language must be worded carefully to mark enemies. By labeling enemies as insurgents, Americans often align them with terrorists or terrorism. Even the American Revolution was labeled a rebellion (insurgency), although they rebranded themselves as patriots. Defining terms is particularly important because many of these words are carelessly used today in the public and media and are poorly understood. The aim here is to explain the creation of the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency doctrine and the unique three-way conversation of the American public with the political and military leadership, who together formed existing U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine throughout American history. I analyze this conversation creating doctrine by using declassified government documents, official military analyses, U.S. military field manuals, and politician statements and memoirs in conjunction with military leaders’ statements and news articles at that time. I do not always agree with the U.S. actions or condone them. My research began with two monumental counterinsurgency manuals: the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Small Wars Manual (1921) and the U.S. Army’s 3-24 Field Manual Counterinsurgency (2006) published for the Iraq Surge; however, I found these manuals to be incomplete regarding the elements brining about their creation. My search took me far beyond both military manuals, forcing me to grapple with the American public’s influence, lack of government leadership, and accountability and to research the United States’ foundation. This process required an analytical approach into understanding the relationship of the American public’s attitude during each conflict examined, its leadership, election results, and the current politics of that day. Outline Chapter One The first chapter traces the foundational works that set the U.S. on a course to dramatically expand to the West. This blueprint of a nation was a British-lite empire mirrored after the Roman and Venetian Republics. The U.S. experienced forms of counterinsurgency campaigns with the Native American tribes, who found themselves in the growing political sphere of U.S. dominance. U.S. counterinsurgency doctrines were not written into a formal military field manual but were instead passed down through military experience. Local commanders were left to learn and produce their own fighting styles and doctrines. Developing U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine was not a cohesive approach. Chapter Two As the US became a multi-continent empire after the Spanish-American War, the Philippines required the U.S. to manage counterinsurgency operations on a global scope. Two different campaigns occurred in the Philippines, a northern and southern campaign, requiring the U.S. military to deal with new insurgency types. Unlike in the American West, a white settler class was not near to aid the U.S. military operations. The U.S. military learned how to build indigenous assistance to dismantle the insurgent movements. Crucially, the American public supported overt American imperialism at this time, which was witnessed in the election and reelection of Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Despite scrutiny against these U.S. military campaigns; the anti-imperialist criticism was not strong enough to change the political setting. After World War One and in the depths of the Great Depression, the U.S. reexamined its imperial role in the world. Chapter Three This chapter investigates the Vietnam War, which included an Americanization of the war, which means that the U.S. prosecuted the war on its own effort with increased war material and troop strength. This approach is termed a heavy “boot print” for U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine due to the country’s focus on conventional force strategy and tactics using large conventional troop deployments. As U.S. military operations grew in Vietnam, the U.S. news media and American public became growingly critical of prolonged U.S. military operations due to mounting U.S. casualties and seemingly endless conflict. The American public sentiment was tied to the receding desire of being a global empire, which was heavily critiqued by the political Left, the Soviet Union, and the American anti-war movement. Although the U.S. government held the media’s approval for a time, this changed with the 1968 North Vietnamese Tet offensive, which altered the media’s perception, including counterinsurgency styles used against the Viet Cong. In addition, it was believed that the South Vietnamese government was not willing to fight for themselves due to corruption and low morale. With news outlets reporting on the war and discontent for the draft daily, the American public moved politically to end the conflict post Tet offensive. By 1968, the U.S. federal government understood the American public’s disdain for the Vietnamese counterinsurgency efforts; and sustaining the war was politically impossible. Chapter Four This chapter highlights U.S. military operations in El Salvador from 1977 to 1992. During these operations, the U.S. military made a counterinsurgency doctrinal change from Vietnam, by using an exceptionally “light boot print” focused on small deployments of Army Green Beret units that were used to train, equip, and supplement the El Salvadorans capabilities. At this point, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the only global empires, and the media paid close attention to their military actions. The Soviet operations in Afghanistan were strongly criticized by media outlets, forcing the U.S. to carefully walk a fine line of fighting a war as humanely as possible in El Salvador. This strategy would fail. In the Salvadoran conflict, a U.S. troop “light boot print” was created and centered on arming and training the host nation’s forces. This approach went go awry, and the war led to a slaughtering of civilians by forces under direct U.S. military support and guidance. A light footprint was found to be lacking in El Salvador as well. Driven by a new fear of a communist invasion, the American public desired to be tough on communist groups but did not want the American military linked to genocidal operations. At the same time, they did not want large troop deployments to the El Salvadoran conflict. This U.S. military failure compelled a new evolutionary change in U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, seeking to align more with the American public will. Chapter Five This chapter is focused on the American troop surge to Iraq in 2006 to 2007, which occurred at the last moments of the height of American military and global imperial preeminence. The surge was a new form of counterinsurgency in a population-centric doctrine. The new doctrine had American troops live in neighborhoods that they patrolled in an effort to win the local populace through a sense of protection, respect, and community reconciliation. The U.S. military encouraged Iraqis to provide intelligence on the insurgent networks through local security gains and payment incentives. The surge brought an appropriate presence of a U.S. military boot print that was not too heavy or too light, but just right. This approach produced an effective counterinsurgency doctrine centered on effective local governance, proper policing, and separating the Iraqi population from the insurgent networks, which was based on building an American troop core backing the Iraqi troop presence. The surge allowed for Iraqi troops to gain experience, morale, and to feel responsible for their nation’s success while being properly paid, observed, and supported by American military troop partnerships. Crucially, the American public supported the Iraq war effort post 9/11 through a desire to be tough on international terror networks; however, political pressures in D.C. forced changing the Iraq war’s counterinsurgency efforts in 2006 due to the war’s post-invasion chaos. These events brought the counterinsurgency doctrinal movement to the U.S. troop surge and population-centric strategy. Driven by this time period witnessing the apex of news media scrutiny on U.S. counterinsurgency operations, generating a quick turn around on altering tactics and strategies for the better. Final Thoughts The closing chapter describes the new phase of counterinsurgency challenges the U.S. is in post-2007. After the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008, Russia quickly expanded its political and military operations globally. Russia then entered the global war of counterinsurgency operations in competition to the U.S., witnessed in Syria, Libya, and the Central African Republic. France returned to the global scene with its military operations across much of its former colonies in North and Central Africa in the Sahel. China has made a resurgence as well, having built military bases in Djibouti, Pakistan, and across the South China Sea in an effort to expand its military umbrella. China has grown in international preeminence from its “One Belt, One Road Initiative.” China has not openly engaged its forces in military counterinsurgency conflicts globally; instead, it has turned its efforts internally. It has aided other allies in crushing internal insurgencies, such as Myanmar. As France, Russia, and China have entered military counterinsurgency operations globally, the U.S. is now finding its own counterinsurgency doctrine is one of many again. This will now require the U.S. to market its counterinsurgency doctrines internationally to both its allies and competitors and I contend, to the American public. The alternative is to continue to watch the world turn to far harsher counterinsurgency tactics and strategies of the gruesome past. With the global dilemmas of emerging competitors, developing nations, and stabilizing failed states, the importance of effective counterinsurgency doctrine is crucial to prevent vast sums of bloodshed in these unstable environments. This is not only essential for the U.S. and her partners but for global stability. Developing and marketing successful counterinsurgency doctrines at home and abroad, even to non-allies, may help those powers less inclined to human rights concerns to lessen their use of brutal forms of counterinsurgency tactics and the use of annihilation type doctrines. As seen in Aleppo, by the actions of Syrian and Russian forces, and by Chinese actions in the mass relocation to concentration camps of the Uighur Muslim populations. New counterinsurgency studies will help the U.S. understand the political, sociological, cultural, and economic importance of insurgent conflicts. Even if these conflicts appear not to affect the U.S. outright, they do effect America’s long-term interests and its allies from conflicts changes in mass-migration patterns and global market instability. Proper counterinsurgency doctrine is necessary to create global initiatives that can successfully intervene in failing states to prevent killing zones, as the world saw in Yugoslavia’s breakup or Syria’s recent civil war and the insurgent conflicts that induced famines in Somalia. The goal of creating long-term success through proper counterinsurgency doctrines within nations with complex ethnic and religious backgrounds is imperative. This can be compared to the results of military frustration in such operations, which can lead to population annihilation as seen in the current conflict of Yemen. Global conflicts are continuing and are increasingly connected through globalization, which has allowed the proliferation of globally coordinated and connected insurgent networks to destabilize on a wider global scale. The world needs further evolution in developing U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, which I consider to be hinged on winning over the American public.