With strategic success in Iraq and Afghanistan far from certain, comforting beliefs about Britain's superiority at counterinsurgency have come under increasingly sceptical scrutiny. This article contributes to the debate with particular reference to the supposedly pivotal principle of minimum force. After discussing the recent literature on the subject, the article critiques the methodology employed by advocates of the traditionalist view on British COIN, arguing for a more rigorous historical approach based on primary sources. Following these historical matters, it is argued that conceptually, minimum force should be analysed dialectically in relation to practices of exemplary force, and above all, on the evidence of what happens in a conflict. Arguably the value ascribed to doctrine in strategic analysis has become unduly inflated, and we must look beyond it to understand war and political violence.