From the Archives, 2015.
I got asked this question the other day by a close friend and it occurred to me that I had never really plainly answered that question on this blog, even though I talk about the subject frequently. I think the best way to approach this subject is through historical precedent. It is no coincidence that in the study of Asymmetrical warfare, that the historical study and analysis is often the first step in understanding how to apply the principles of GW (Guerilla Warfare) in a practical and concise manner. So it is fitting that this same historical analysis be the very thing that quantifies it and makes it relevant to the “Average Joe”.
Since the beginning of time, man has sought to have power over other men. Before Democracy was birthed, we can read in volume after volume of history books about the terrible political experiments that were carried out through the ages to try to satisfy this thirst for control and power. No matter what people called them: Dictatorships, Totalitarianism or Communism, all of them eventually failed. And though it can be argued by historians and political scientist alike WHY exactly each of these experiments failed, whether it be Atheism or political corruption or both. The layman can piece together a fairly good explanation without a Phd to back it up. In a simple word: Tyranny.
Websters defines Tyranny as:
“Cruel and unfair treatment by people with power over others; a government in which all power belongs to one person; the rule or authority of a tyrant.”
The Free Dictionary defines it as:
“Unjust or oppressive governmental power: A government in which a single ruleris vested with absolute power.”
No matter how you define it, or which definition you prefer, one thing is for certain from the historical record: Tyranny will only be tolerated for a season. Good people will only take abuse for so long before they FIGHT back and if history is an indicator, in most cases, PREVAIL. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at a couple of examples from History and see if this notion does not hold water, so to speak.
The first example comes from America’s very own beginnings. That’s right. The nation you live in and love and cherish (I Hope) was birthed out of REBELLION TO TYRANNY. See, way back in the 18th century there was this thing called the 13 Colonies and this really power-hungry country called England…Stop me if you have heard this one before. One thing led to another and there was this thing called The Boston Tea Party and then the “Shot heard round the World” and finally this document called the Declaration of Independence. Yeah, you get the picture. Well, something you may not know is that besides the Colonial Army, which George Washington was the General of, there was also these things called Colonial Militias.
Now these militias were composed of every day civilian joes like you and me. They would meet up regularly to train with their RIFLES and work on their battlefield tactics. Well, long story short it was these militias that often dealt the British the most grief during the Revolutionary War. And by “grief” I mean these militias not only frustrated the British Army brass by their tactics, but also Killed a great number of their soldiers. Answering the “how” of this is quite simple: The militias very often did not fight like the British Army fought. The European battlefield standard in the 18th century was for two armies to ceremoniously march their armies out into a field, line up across from one another, aim their rifles and upon command, fire. You do not have to be a brilliant military strategist to realize that this method was about as stupid as pissing in the wind and wondering why you are getting wet.
Well, the militias also shared this opinion. So they employed different tactics, what the British back then called “Indian Fighting”; something the English army were painfully familiar with from the French and Indian War. During that period, Indian tribes allied with the French (like the Delaware, Huron and Shawnee) would often decimate entire British companies in the field using a combination of speed, knowledge of the terrain, surprise (ambush) and extreme violence of action (very often vicious hand-to-hand fighting with tomahawks, knives and clubs.) Instead of standing out in the open, the indian would hide behind a tree. Instead of fighting in an open field, the indian would attack in the thick woods, choosing the time and place of the engagement, thereby controlling it and ultimately winning. The militias, took notice of these skill-sets and tactics and applied them accordingly. Not exactly what you would call “conventional military tactics” for that time period.
The Colonial militias utilized every aspect of this so-called “Indian fighting” (later to be termed Guerilla Warfare) to harass and decimate the British up and down the colonies. But nowhere were these tactics more evident and successful than in South Carolina, by a man named General Francis Marion, aka “The Swamp Fox.” To this day, Marion is credited with being one of the “fathers” of modern Guerilla Warfare methodology and is credited in the lineage of the US Army Rangers. Consequently, it was the US Army Rangers namesake, Robert Rogers and The Rogers Rangers who were credited with first adopting many of these “indian style” guerilla tactics and adapting them to light infantry reconnaissance while fighting with the British during the French and Indian War.
Moving across the globe to South Africa and ahead in time to right around the turn of the 20th century, we can find another great example of your average “joe” civilian forming militias and using “unconventional” tactics to fight a tyrannical invader. The Second Boer War was yet another example of British Colonialism gone awry. You would think by now after getting their asses kicked out of America they would get the hint, but that is the curious thing about the English; their hubris sometimes blinds them to the obvious.
Before we get into the meat of this story, it will help you tremendously if you first understand who the Boer people were. THIS is one of the best descriptions I think. One of the qualities of the Boers that I think is VERY important to understand for the modern-day armed civilian is that they were a people who were very COMFORTABLE with firearms and their use, most particularly the Rifle. Living in rural Africa during that time period (and even now) you had to be handy with a gun, not only for hunting but for PROTECTION from predators such as lions.
It is this “Familiarity” with Firearms that Boer parents encouraged with their children at a very young age that eventually created a nation of RIFLEMAN. It would be these rifleman, who in small squads, and using guerilla “hit-and-run” tactics would harass and at times, decimate the British Army by making “every round count” and using the terrain to their advantage to make the larger numbers of the British count for nothing.
Another important element of why the civilian should study Asymmetrical warfare, most importantly, the historic aspect, has to do with learning about the successes and mistakes of past counter-insurgency campaigns. Why? You may ask. Because by learning about these past successes or failures, you can better exploit, as a future guerilla (or insurgent) the mistakes of your enemy in future conflicts as it relates mostly to PUBLIC OPINION and SENTIMENT. Let me give you an example.
In the latter years of the War, the British in response to the successes of the Boers Guerilla Campaign by their “Kommandoes” (or Mounted Infantry Unit or Regiment) instituted what would now be coined a “Scorched Earth” Policy. Any civilians who were thought to have aided the guerillas had their farms and houses burned, their livestock slaughtered and were typically sent off to “concentration camps”. As you can imagine these tactics were resented by the civilian populace; the Boer Kommando exploited that resentment and hate against the British to build consensus with the civilian population, whereby gaining a strong ally, both in the field and politically.
It can be said then that the Boers were successful in their Guerilla Campaign because of three Primary things:
They tapped into NATIONALIST Sentiment.When a man or woman has PRIDE in what they are fighting for, they will often fight harder than they would otherwise.
The Boers got the MAJORITY of the Population behind them. Public sentiment (both locally and globally) swings a big stick in Counter-Insurgency; it basically either makes you legit or not. Without public support, the British did not stand a chance. Look at any modern COIN example, like Afghanistan and you see the parallel.
The Boer Kommando continuously sought to agitate the British to STRIKE out at the civilian populace; because the more the British pissed off the public, Two things happened: the more the Boer’s Guerilla ranks would grow with new recruits and the LESS popular support the British would get. You see the cycle forming? That’s the essence of Guerilla Warfare right there.
So with just these two examples I just presented of everyday civilians having to take up the burden of becoming Guerilla Fighters in order that tyrannical government no longer rides rough-tread over their liberties and lives, I ask you, do you still wonder why an everyday civilian such as yourself should study Asymmetrical Warfare? Yeah, that is what I thought!
But alas, my story is not finished yet. Because even though these two stories were relevant and inspiring, they both happened quite a long time ago, and like all things that pass with time, warfare has modernized also. And oh yeah, there were these things called the personal computer the internet and social media invented somewhere in between all of this, so where does all that fit in? The simple answer to that is it fits in EVERYWHERE. Technology is King. The US Department of Defense announced that cyber-warfare is now the “fifth dimension” of warfare (To join Sea, Air, Land and Space.)
Here is a quote from their website concerning the new “cyber-mission” force:
“State and non-state actors threaten disruptive and destructive attacks against the United States and conduct cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property to undercut the United States’ technological and military advantage. DoD must develop its cyber forces and strengthen its cyber defense and cyber deterrence posture.”
Used too to be to rob a bank you needed a mask, a gun and a big set of nuts. Now, all you need is a good DSL connection and the cyber black hat skill-set’s that a large portion of teenagers across the globe possess. Used to steal state secrets you needed really talented spies, now, yeah you guessed it, all you need is a good DSL connection and the cyber black hat skill-sets that most teenagers across the globe possess. Point being, technology is a weapon; and like any weapon it is inherently not good or evil, it just is. The good or evil comes from HOW it is used.
So where does this leave the 2015 modern guerilla? Where on the one hand you can look at how terrorist groups like ISIS exploit social media and the web for their own benefit; since guerilla warfare is essentially about “Controlling the Narrative” and gaining popular support to make their cause legitimate, there is no better place to do that than social media. One the other hand, the modern guerilla can look at how DEPENDENT not only modern armies but ENTIRE developed nations are on technology and see that as a definite weakness to be exploited..and they have been exploited BIG TIME. Consider the latest US Government OPM (Office of Personnel Management) Hack; called by one cyber-analyst our “Cyber Pearl Harbor.” To put it simply: EVERY Federal Employee’s and Retiree’s information and up to a Million former federal employees personal information was compromised.
So, ultimately it can be said, that regardless of modernization and technology, there are definitely”Baseline” skill-sets that should NEVER change for the Guerilla, regardless of the time period. The Guerilla, to maintain his edge, can never “depend”on technology to the degree a modern military (and the World) does. Example, the infantry officer that skips his compass and map reading training because he things he will always have his Garmin GPS unit…or the Artillery officer that never learned how to compute his firing solutions manually because of being spoiled to a computer, or worse of all, a Government agency that leaves senstive date unsecured. In all these cases, they are one EMP blast or one black hat hack away from being put back in the stone age and then what? What about the American civilian without their cell phone? Yeah, one word: Lost. These sheep have become so spoiled to “modern” conveniences they have become totally useless in the real sense of survival.
So in closing, the Modern Guerilla must know how to exploit and use technology, but never get too dependent on it to function. and survive. The guerilla must accept that the forthcoming battlefield will have a cyber element to it, without a doubt, but using the modern insurgencies of the time as a harbinger; the real battles will ultimately be one one bullet at a time and one bad PR news story (or Facebook Post) at a time, just like in our previous two examples showed. As I said, the Weapons (including technology) may change over time, but the Fundamentals of Guerilla Warfare never do.
Stay Alert, Armed and Dangerous!
Bibliography and Suggested Reading:
Future Crimes by Marc Goodman
Invisible Armies by Max Boot
The Savage Wars of Peace by Max Boot
War on the Run by John F. Ross
The Boer War by Thomas Parkenham
Special Operations in the American Revolution by Robert Tonsetic
Memoirs of a Rifleman Scout(Ebook) by Major F.M. Crum (British sniper whose career spans from the Boer War to WW1.)