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"cruel to the weak and cowardly in the face of the brave"
February 11, 2013 1:14 PM   Subscribe

The Evolution of Irregular War - Insurgents and Guerrillas From Akkadia to Afghanistan
Pundits and the press too often treat terrorism and guerrilla tactics as something new, a departure from old-fashioned ways of war. But nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout most of our species' long and bloody slog, warfare has primarily been carried out by bands of loosely organized, ill-disciplined, and lightly armed volunteers who disdained open battle in favor of stealthy raids and ambushes: the strategies of both tribal warriors and modern guerrillas and terrorists.

Killer Swarms
The answer to the puzzle is that Napoleon and his forces were beaten by what a young Russian hussar, Denis Davydov, called his "indestructible swarm" of Cossacks and other raiders who constantly harried the French columns on the march. They also struck relentlessly, repeatedly, and to fatal effect at the Grande Armée's supply lines. As David Chandler, an eminent historian of Napoleon's campaigns, put it: "raids of Cossacks and partisan bands did more harm to the Emperor than all the endeavors of the regular field armies of Holy Russia."
(Un)limiting War: "Perpetual War" in Historical Perspective
I mention all of this because, as Micah Zenko and others have pointed it out, the possibility of a peacetime President seems increasingly distant. Zenko outlines a security policy where drones, SOF, and cyber capabilities all play a role in poorly-defined and vaguely-legitimated conflicts. I’m tempted, though, to frame things in a different light. Drones, SOF, and cyber certainly stand out as instruments with much more prominence, but they are also symptomatic of wider changes. Frequent military intervention, as I’ve explained above, is not unusual. What is unusual is that these ostensibly limited interventions and brushfire wars are now not simply prolonged, but massive in comparison to any historical antecedent.
Some, such as Andrew Bacevich here, suggest this is symptomatic of a “new American way of war,” in which inexpensive and small forces allow for perpetual warfare. But in a long-term perspective, we are not seeing traditional wars becoming wars in the shadows, but instead a strategic context where brushfire wars take on gargantuan proportions.
The Nomad Paradox
posted by the man of twists and turns (10 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not sure if US military drones fit into Boot's narrative about irregular warfare. It's a new regular paradigm surely ( I'm talking about the USAF and US Army running drones , not guerrillas or intelligence agencies)

Boot should have discussed the Special Operations Executive , the unique asymmetrical warfare operation Britain created to challenge Nazi domination in Europe.
posted by Bwithh at 2:11 PM on February 11, 2013


Kennedy's "nomad paradox" is really a guerrilla paradox

Boot is conflating different historical phenomena.

Boot is right to point out that not all societies seek battle. The idea that conflicts can be resolved in an afternoon by smashing armies together is a relatively recent invention in human history, beginning with the Greeks and Chinese. Michael Ignatieff (yes, that Michael Ignatieff) covers this pretty well in A Warrior's Honor. However, there's more than one reason a warrior might want to avoid battle.

Modern guerrilla warfare is about slowly wearing down the enemy until they give up and go away. Guerrilas avoid battle because they would be wiped out in a head-on collision with regular troops.

Herders were raiders, but their balance of power with the armies of farmer societies was always much more even. When they invaded and sought battle they often conquered. They avoided battle not because they were weak but because a raid was sufficient to give them what they usually wanted: loot. If what you want is loot, why wait around for a battle? Charge into town, loot it and disappear before the farmers' army gets out of bed. Herders usually had the power to fight battles but lacked a motive.

If Boot can't distinguish between guerrillas and herders, I have little confidence in his generalizations about all insurgencies since WWII.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:14 PM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've often wondered if a lot the objections to our recent sudden-death-from-above tactics stem from the inherent unfairness of it. Much noise is made about the operators sitting halfway around to world from the people they're killing, as if sitting one block over from the target would be better -- but actually I think it would sit better for a lot of people. Shooting at people who can't shoot back is not something the good guys do.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:24 PM on February 11, 2013


I was listening to radio coverage yesterday of this incident in Sudan. There was a great deal of emphasis on the "tribal" nature of the conflict but I wonder if it's really any different from a range war in the American West.
posted by XMLicious at 3:25 PM on February 11, 2013


We are winning the war on peace through attrition!
posted by srboisvert at 3:58 PM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


as Micah Zenko and others have pointed it out, the possibility of a peacetime President seems increasingly distant.

The Warrior King: Isn't this an awful lot of war for President 'Peace in Our Time'?
posted by homunculus at 4:56 PM on February 11, 2013


Herders were raiders, but their balance of power with the armies of farmer societies was always much more even. When they invaded and sought battle they often conquered. They avoided battle not because they were weak but because a raid was sufficient to give them what they usually wanted: loot. If what you want is loot, why wait around for a battle? Charge into town, loot it and disappear before the farmers' army gets out of bed. Herders usually had the power to fight battles but lacked a motive.

Umm. The Mongols and Normans and Hyksos would politely disagree. With cavalry and lots of it. By the same token, the Royal Navy eventually figured out how to squash piracy in the Atlantic almost completely.

The US is attempting to crush islamic insurgency and narco-armies the way the British Empire did the Golden Age of Piracy: overwhelming firepower and ruthless, dogged pursuit with no quarter. I'm not certain it will be effective in the long haul, but the U.S., under leadership from both parties, is comitted to the long haul.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:12 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


"cruel to the weak and cowardly in the face of the brave"

Err Drones that fly up multiple tens of thousands of feet by people on a different Continent, controlled by signals relayed via a satellite?

How the hell are the people with muskets 'sposed to hit that?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:20 PM on February 11, 2013


How the hell are the people with muskets 'sposed to hit that?


With a white flag.
posted by ocschwar at 6:40 PM on February 11, 2013


Err Drones that fly up multiple tens of thousands of feet by people on a different Continent, controlled by signals relayed via a satellite?

There are plenty of good reasons to be bothered by the trajectory of our drone policy, but I don't think this is one of them. War is not about honor. It's not about courage, or playing fair. War is about winning in the broad sense of achieving your objectives (a significantly different statement than saying it's about winning battles) with the least cost to yourself. As Patton put it, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”

Drones and other mechanized distance-warfare devices (long-distance missiles, high-level bombing) are ways to achieve your objectives while minimizing your own casualties. In today's world, there's a concomitant desire to minimize innocent casualties and uphold broader notions of rule-of-law, which is where the discomfort with drone usage really belongs. The idea that drones are a coward's weapon, is well, not even wrong. It's completely beside the point.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:41 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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