Francis J. "Bing" West (Boston, Massachusetts, May 2, 1940) is an American author and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs during the Reagan Administration. His 2004 book The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the First Marine Division, written with United States Marine Corps General Ray L. Smith, received the 2004 William E. Colby Award, as well as the 2004 General Wallace M. Greene, Jr. Award given by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for "distinguished non-fiction dealing with U.S. Marines or Marine Corps life."
West writes about the military, warfighting, and counterinsurgency. In the Vietnam War, he fought in major operations and conducted over a hundred combat patrols in 1966-68. For the United States Marine Corps, he wrote the training manual Small Unit Action in Vietnam, describing how to fight in close combat. As an analyst at the RAND Corporation, he wrote a half dozen detailed monographs about fighting against an insurgency. Later, as Assistant Secretary of Defense, he dealt with the insurgencies in El Salvador. From 2003 through 2008, he made 16 extended trips to Iraq, going on patrols and writing three books and numerous articles about the war. Since then, he has made six trips to Afghanistan.
Life and career
West is from the Massachusetts communities of Dorchester, Boston, Milton and Scituate. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA) and Princeton University (MA), where he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow.
West was an infantry officer in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He led the mortar platoon of 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines. Later, he served with a Combined Action Platoon that fought for 485 days in a remote village. He was also a member of the Marine Force Reconnaissance team that initiated "Operation Stingray": small unit attacks behind enemy lines. He authored a study at the RAND Corporation entitled "The Strike Teams: Tactical Performance and Strategic Potential". This paper was the featured event at the 1970 Department of Defense Counterinsurgency Research and Development Symposium. The RAND Military Systems Simulations Group implemented a classified model of West's concept. This doctrinal innovation was directly opposed by Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), which favored the Army's concept of Air-Mobility "Fire and Thunder Operations". By way of rebuttal, West wrote The Village, chronicling the daily lives of 15 Marines who protected Vietnamese villagers by living among them in their hamlets. The book became a classic of practical counterinsurgency and has been on the Marine Corps Commandant’s Required Reading List for five decades.
West served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Ronald Reagan administration, and chaired the United States Security Commissions with El Salvador, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, South Korea, and Japan.
Among other awards, West is the recipient of the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, the Department of the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, and Tunisia's Medaille de Liberté. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Infantry Order of St. Crispin, he appears frequently on C-SPAN and The News Hour on PBS.
West is the author of nine books. His collaboration with retired Marine Major General Ray "E-Tool" Smith, The March Up, was awarded the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation's General Wallace M. Greene, Jr. Award for non-fiction, as well as the William E. Colby Award for military history. West also authored a foreword for Boredom by Day, Death by Night: An Iraq War Journal by Marine Sergeant Seth Conner. The Veterans of Foreign Wars presented West with its National Media Award in 2005, after he wrote the book No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah. His book The Strongest Tribe, is a history of the Iraq War that was a New York Times Best Seller and was ranked by Foreign Affairs magazine as #7 among the top foreign policy books of 2009. Into the Fire ranked #8 on the New York Times Best Seller List.
In The Strongest Tribe and in a subsequent article in Military Review about counterinsurgency lessons, West argued that the current doctrine of nation-building and winning hearts and minds by economic development was based on Western liberal theory rather than the realities of battle. West has grave reservations about extolling the effects of "non-kinetic COIN" (counterinsurgency). He believes that the warriors, not the people, defeat warriors, and that America's mistake in both Iraq and Afghanistan was to concede all authority to appoint and to remove for cause military and police officers. He believes insurgencies proceed from the bottom up, and must be dealt with at the local level. To that extent, each American battalion operates as a separate franchise. Variations among units are extraordinary because the high command has lacked a set of practical guiding principles.
His articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The National Review, and The Washington Post He is the recipient of the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, the Marine Corps Heritage Award (twice), the Goodpaster Prize for Military Scholarship, the Father Clyde E. Leonard Award, the Free Press Award, the Marine Corps Correspondents’ Distinguished Performance Award, the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ National Media Award and the Marine Corps Russell Award for Leadership.
West lives with his wife, Elizabeth, in Newport, Rhode Island. He has two daughters, two sons and eight grandchildren.
- Small Unit Action in Vietnam, Summer 1966. ISBN 0-405-00018-9.
- The Village. ISBN 0-7434-5757-9.
- The Pepperdogs: a Novel. ISBN 0-7434-5643-2.
- The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the US Marines. ISBN 0-553-38269-1.
- No True Glory: a Front-line Account of the Battle of Fallujah. ISBN 0-553-80402-2.
- The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq (Random House, 2008) ISBN 1-4000-6701-4
- The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan ISBN 1-4000-6873-8.
- One Million Steps: A Marine Platoon at War. ISBN 9781493017324
- Into the Fire:a Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War ISBN 978-0-679-64544-3
- West, Francis J.; Ray L. Smith (2004). The March Up : Taking Baghdad with the 1st Marine Division. New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-38269-3. OCLC 56890719.
- Marine Corps Heritage Foundation website
- "The 8th Annual "Honor the Free Press Day"". Naples Press Club. 11 January 2012.
- "Hon. Francis 'Bing' J. West". Defend Democracy.
- Blankenship, Janie. "Vets of WWI Through Vietnam Became Famous in the Literary World", VFW Magazine (April 2015), p. 52.
- Official Website
- Bing West index at The Atlantic
- Tripping Light Press
- Review of West's The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq from The New York Review of Books
- Interview on No True Glory at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library on November 10, 2005
- Interview on The Wrong War at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library on March 9, 2011
- Conversation with Dakota Meyer on Into the Fire at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library on October 3, 2012
- Appearances on C-SPAN