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Phantom Soldier: The Enemy's Answer to U.S. Firepower


"Phantom Soldier" is now on the U.S. Army's most prestigious pre-deployment reading list for a reason.  it won't please those who have come to believe that wars are won and casualties limited through technology, or that the victor's version of one is always correct. But, all U.S. security personnel should read it. Possibly the West's best treatise on Oriental warfare, it sheds new light on what Asian infantry can do: (1) alternate between guerrilla, mobile, and positional warfare; (2) use "ordinary forces" to engage and "extraordinary forces [infiltrators]" to defeat; and then (3) retreat to save lives. What occurred in history doesn't change, but one's perception of it does -- as he comes to better understand his former foe. Here's what really happened at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, and Hue City.  Those who believe this book’s cover art to be fantasy have only to google the term “dac cong.” Through how the NVA held their own without resupply, tanks, artillery, or air power, U.S. grunts could better survive the more lethal enemy weaponry of the 21st Century.

What People Are Saying

On the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center’s “Military Deployment Reading List”- Fort Leavenworth's Combined Arms Research Library, 1 January 2018

“We very much appreciate John’s work . . . every red teamer should read not only Phantom Soldier, but his other books as well.” — Red Team Journal, 6 April 2015

“This book suggests [that] recorded history can . . . change as one comes to better know his highly deceptive opponent. It talks about what goes on at the nitty-gritty level of infantry combat.”
Armor magazine (January-February 2004)

“The Eastern warrior, a master of stealth, deception, and flexibility-as characterized in the thought-provoking Phantom Soldier-and his tactics, are worth of study and possible emulation.” — Infantry magazine (Winter 2003)

“An interesting summary of how Asian forces . . . fight battles.” Military Review

“Acompelling look at the enemy.  Book written for small-unit leader.” Camp Lejune Globe

“Although . . . written prior to Sept. 11, 2001, much of its content is prophetic for the battle . . . in Afghanistan today. . . . [It] can help every infantryman . . . deal . . . with asymmetric conflict.” Special Warfare magazine (June 2002)


“This affordable book needs to be read by all combat arms soldiers, all special operators, and all generals.” — Army magazine, December 2001

“The author . . . has filled the . . . gap . . . in small-unit leaders’ training. — Leatherneck magazine, March 2002

“Well-researched and authoritative, the book describes the differences between Eastern and Western military traditions.” — Newport News Daily Press, 6 January 2002

“Book teaches . . . individual and small-unit survival skills.” — Camp Pendleton Scout, 1 November 2001

“[A] must for all those who . . . meet the reality of . . . 21st century [war].” — Fort Myers Pentagram, 30 November 2001

“John Poole . . . has studied how Asian armies . . . fought in previous wars, and says Western armies need to pay attention.” — Fayetteville (NC) Observer, 28 October 2001

“Phantom Soldier makes exciting reading for [the] rear-area defender, student infantryman, and armchair warrior.”  — Military Illustrated (Issue 158)

“By revealing how Eastern soldiers . . . hold . . . without resupply, tanks, or air support, Phantom Soldier shows what U.S. infantrymen must do to survive the more lethal weaponry of the 21st century.” — Command Magazine (Issue 55)

“Both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps should make this fine book required reading for all small-unit leaders.” — Col. H. David Hackworth U.S. Army (Ret.)


". . . presents the Oriental way of war . . . understandably. If official [U.S.] field manuals remain largely unimaginative and uninspired, there is no reason [American] squad leaders and platoon and company commanders must let their own tactics and techniques be set-piece and predictable. Here, as in his previous books, John Poole offers a better way."  - William S. Lind author of Maneuver Warfare Handbook 


". . . looks - through the eyes of the enemy - at Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, Hue City, and other battles in Vietnam. The code to Oriental infantry tactics has finally been broken."  - Col. Robert V. Kane U.S. Army (Ret.) publisher emeritus, Presidio Press

Table of Contents
Part One: The Eastern Way of War
Chapter 1: Unheralded Success
Chapter 2: Strategic Advantage  
Chapter 3: The False Face and Art of Delay
Chapter 4: The Hidden Agenda 
Part Two: The Differences in Tactical Technique
Chapter 5: Ghost Patrols and Chance Contact
Chapter 6: The Obscure, Rocky-Ground Defense 
Chapter 7: The Human-Wave Assault Deception 
Chapter 8: The Inconspicuous, Low-Land Defense 
Chapter 9: The Absent Ambush 
Chapter 10: The Transparent Approach March 
Chapter 11: The Surprise Urban Assault 
Chapter 12: The Covert Urban Defense 
Chapter 13: The Vanishing Besieged Unit 
Part Three: The Next Disappearing Act
Chapter 14: How Much Has War Changed? 
Chapter 15: The One-on-One Encounter
Chapter 16: America's Only Option 
Appendix A: Strategies for Deception
About the Author 
Name Index


Throughout most of the modern era, any non-Western military force that wanted to fight Western armed forces had to copy them.  It had to adopt Western military discipline, tactics, training, and technology.  Failure to do so meant inevitable defeat, as the Chinese, among others, found over and over again in the 19th century.

          But this is no longer true.  In the second half of the 20th century, a new pattern began to emerge:  when Western armed forces fought non-Western opponents, they lost.  The French were defeated in Vietnam and in Algeria, the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the Americans in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia.  The Israeli Defense Forces, once the best “Third Generation,” maneuverist armed forces in the world, were defeated in Lebanon by Hezbollah and are currently being defeated again by the Intifada.  As we move into a world not just of nations but of cultures in conflict, the implications of this vast sea change are profound.

          In this book, John Poole explains one non-Western way of war, the Oriental way of war.  He does so not in academic or theoretical terms, but practically, in terms of small-unit tactics and techniques — the sort of thing NCOs and junior officers need to know.  A former Marine Staff NCO himself, John Poole understands what is important in enabling others like him to stay alive and prevail in small-unit combat.

          Soldiers and Marines in Western countries need to understand the Oriental (and other non-Western) ways of war for two reasons.  First, they are likely to come up against it.  For no good strategic reason, the United States and China seem to be on a collision course.  The Chinese now have and know how to employ modern weapons.  But their techniques, tactics, and strategies are not likely to be simple copies of those used by the West.  They have a long military tradition of their own, and it leads them in some fundamentally different directions.  The better we understand the differences beforehand, the fewer lessons we will have to learn in combat, the hard way.

          Second, as we study the Oriental way of war, in this book or elsewhere, we may find that, at least in some cases, their approach makes more sense than our own.  This is especially true for a Second Generation military, which is what the U.S. Armed Forces largely remain, official U.S. Marine Corps doctrine to the contrary (as Marines often put it, what the Marine Corps says is great, but it’s not what it does).  Second Generation warfare reduces war to little more than the methodical application of firepower to destroy targets.  The Oriental way of war is far more sophisticated.  It plays across the full spectrum of conflict — the moral and mental levels as well as the physical.  Even at the physical level, it relies on the indirect approach, on stratagem and deception, far more than on simple bombardment.  Seldom do Asians fall into mindless Materialschlact or “body counts”; and while Oriental armies often can (and have) taken many casualties, their tactics at the small-unit infantry level are often cleverly designed to spare their own men’s lives in the face of massive Western firepower.

          A truly professional military is always looking for better ways to do things.  One of the most common sources of new and better ideas is foreign practice.  Between the World Wars, American military journals were full of articles on foreign tactics and techniques.  Sadly, that is no longer the case.  Perhaps because of the delusion that wars are won by the side that has the most complex technology, we have largely stopped trying to learn from others.

          This book offers an important, perhaps a life-saving, opportunity to reverse our short-sighted current practice.  It presents the Oriental way of war in depth, but also understandably.  If official field manuals remain largely unimaginative and uninspired, there is no reason squad leaders and platoon and company commanders must let their own tactics and techniques be set-piece and predictable.  Here, as in his previous books, John Poole offers a better way. -- William S. Lind, author of Maneuver Warfare Handbook


ISBN 0963869558

Paperback: 359 pages, and 70 illustrations