French Origins of the “Ink Spot”


Categorie: Afghanistan, David Axe |


Ben Schott, a New York Times columnist and author of several books of miscellany — one of which adorned my bathroom for most of 2002 — links to my recent The Washington Times piece on the “ink-spot” strategy for Afghanistan. As a reminder:

The modified strategy represents a shift in degree from a more ambitious “population-centric” effort that would require large numbers of occupying troops to simultaneously protect most of a country’s civilians from attack and infiltration, thus isolating and “starving” the insurgents, military officials say. The ink-spot approach, by contrast, initially concentrates on just a handful of population centers and slowly expands outward.

Schott ruminates on the origins of the term “ink-spot” and traces it to 19th-century France. He refers us to Double-Tongued Dictionary:

Also known as the ink-blot strategy. The French version of oil-spot strategy, “tache d’huile,” was used in Indochina prior to 1895 by Joseph-Simon Gallieni, according to The French Overseas Empire (2000, Praeger Publishers) by Frederick Quinn. The French term was also used in English at least as far back as 1864 in a more general political context as a metaphor for something that spreads.

(Photo: David Axe)


2 Responses to “French Origins of the “Ink Spot””

  1. fooman says:

    Nice to know that all that is old is new again, we tried the oil spot technique in Viet Nam (again with liberal support from the White House) and decided that whatever gains we had made were not worth the casualties we were taking and we quit. Is the plan in Afghanistan?

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