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During the second half of the twentieth century, the British Army developed a reputation for engaging in successful counterinsurgency campaigns with minimum force and a hearts and minds approach to population-centric strategy. Much work has been done by historians to undermine this rosy picture of British wars of decolonization which were neither uniformly successful nor nonviolent. However, the construction of this reputation has yet to be fully explained. This talk will argue that part of the answer was the development of the Special Air Service (SAS), a unit that lays particular claim to an expertise in violence, technology, and leadership. Founded in the North African desert during World War II, the (SAS) was revived during the Malayan Emergency and participated in campaigns in Oman, Aiden, Borneo, and Northern Ireland during the period of decolonization from 1948 into the 1990s. They developed claims of expertise that covered counterinsurgency and counterterrorism culminating in the highly televised rescuing of hostages at the Iranian Embassy siege in 1981. This talk will argue that the SAS and their anonymous but highly visible expertise helped shape notions of a particular British aptitude for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism activities. This sense of British exceptionalism was baked into the culture of the SAS starting with the process of selection through deployment and even into post-military job opportunities.  By examining the culture of the SAS, as well as how they presented their expertise to the British government and the public, this talk will help explain how counterinsurgency and later counterterrorism methods used by the British Army came to be understood as uniquely British.

Dr. Katya Maslakowski is an Assistant Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi where she is a Fellow of the Dale Center for Study of War and Society. She earned her PhD at Northwestern University and was a 2022- 2023 Fellow at the Weatherhead Institute for International Affairs at Harvard University. She is currently working on a book about British counterinsurgency expertise and how cultural practices impact the development of British military tactics.


All welcome- but booking is required.

Please note that registration for this seminar will close 24 hours in advance. Details about how to join the seminar will be circulated via email to registered attendees 24 hours in advance.