Guerrillas in our midst: Reflections on the British experience of counter-insurgency in popular fiction

Geraint Hughes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the past two decades the historical record of Britain’s wars against a series of insurgencies has experienced a fundamental academic re-assessment, challenging established beliefs about how the British state and its institutions–in particular the British Army–have waged counterinsurgency, and questioning traditional presumptions that Britain fought its insurgent enemies according to a doctrine guided by ‘hearts and minds’ and ‘minimum force’. This article shows that hints about the murky reality behind the ‘British way in counterinsurgency’ can be seen in novels published during the post-war era, some of which used recent conflicts as their subject matter, others of which referred tangentially to previous wars. Not only were these best-selling books with an international audience, but these authors had experience with Britain’s armed forces and intelligence services, and were either directly involved in counterinsurgency conflicts, or their works indicated insight and knowledge about them. Their books provided fictional illustrations of many of the themes–coercive tactics against civilians, special operations against insurgents, inter-departmental disputes, the lack of cultural understanding, the maltreatment of detainees and the excessive use of force against suspected insurgents and civilians–that have been identified and examined by military historians and other academic specialists covering Britain and counterinsurgency.

Original languageEnglish
Article number34/5
Pages (from-to)896-918
Number of pages23
JournalSmall Wars and Insurgencies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023


  • British army
  • Counter-insurgency
  • fiction
  • popular culture


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