The Guerrilla Myth

guerrillamythOne of the first things David Kilcullen points out in his book, Counterinsurgency, is that, despite the popular knowledge and what we’ve been told or taught, irregular warfare is pretty regular.  In fact, he says that 80% of all armed conflicts since 1815 have been “irregular” –  non-state actors against the state or against other non-state actors.

So I recently read a WSJ essay by author Max Boot – another military historian – entitled, The Guerrilla Myth.  Boot says that there’s not a single conventional, uniformed force on uniformed force action in the world right now.

Iraqi militias like Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) didn’t wear uniforms, nor did they stand like uniformed armies (parades awash in the drool of Muqtada al-Sadr don’t count).  In large part, JAM was successful (they continued in existence after the US occupation ended) because they defied the simple resistance model; and because out of it poured al-Sadr’s political aspirations.  Mao Tse-tung wrote that guerrilla forces will necessarily develop into standing armies and political powers because this is how the force consolidates and keeps its gains.  Because of the political nature of the developed world, any population that lends support to militias and irregular fighters will necessarily need to lend their support to the political wing of those forces.  This means that without a representative political party, the irregular force doesn’t have legitimate political representation (which largely contributes to the need of an irregular force in the first place).  Today, the Sadr voting bloc of Iraq remains a large portion of that country’s political strata.  As far as repelling an invader who has an expiration date (as was the case with US military intervention), I believe JAM to be a great example of combined militia and political resistance.

(Also I should say that I write this article as an academic exercise and to illustrate a particularly effective model of resistance against a foreign invader – federal regimes included.  For those who have lost buddies at the hands of the JAM – myself included- I am deeply sorry.)

In The Guerrilla Myth, Boot writes,

…experience suggests that few people have ever chosen guerrilla warfare voluntarily; it is the tactic of last resort for those too weak to create regular armies. Likewise, terrorism is the tactic of last resort for those too weak to create guerrilla forces.

Any nationalist force (and I refer to the current Patriot movement as a nationalist force; what else is it?) too weak to confront a invading army with disparate training, technological, infrastructural, spending, and supply gaps needs to focus on local-level organization and action.  JAM utilized “cellular” organization; small teams of ideologically-committed individuals.  While there was a hierarchy of command, cell leaders and members operated at the local level within their communities.  Due both to political egg shells and ease of movement, Sadr City (an area of Baghdad) was denied terrain.  JAM simply owned Sadr City; it was a homogenous area where the popular support was (among other areas); and that’s where the majority of the JAM militia was.

How easy or difficult would it be to deny terrain to a federal regime or foreign invader?  What would a resistance force need?  Could it be done in a rural area?  Could it be done in an urban area?  Would the use of terrain denial be beneficial to the force?  What would the response be from local occupation leadership?  These are the questions a resistance force must answer.

Because irregulars refuse to engage in face-to-face battle, they have not gotten the respect they deserve—notwithstanding their consistent ability, ever since the barbarian assaults on Rome, to humble the world’s greatest empires.

Brigadier General Samuel Griffith, USMC (Ret.) wrote that one of the greatest misunderstood strengths of the guerrilla fighter is that he runs away before the regular force mounts to counterattack.  The guerrilla fighter’s running away, he says, is offensive in nature.  This is how the guerrilla fighter maintains what we call ‘the initiative’; this is how we maintains ever being on the offensive.  The guerrilla fighter chooses his battleground, chooses the duration, and chooses the intensity.  This is how occupation graveyards are built on a tactical level.

In reality, though guerrillas have often been able to fight for years and inflict great losses on their enemies, they have seldom achieved their objectives. Terrorists have been even less successful.

According to a database that I have compiled, out of 443 insurgencies since 1775, insurgents succeeded in 25.2% of the concluded wars while incumbents prevailed in 63.8%. The rest were draws.

I’ve read several times that guerrilla forces rarely succeed.  Look at Iraq and Afghanistan: there will be no military victories, short of Pyrrhic, that end these conflicts.  The end of these conflicts lay in political negotiations and “elections”.  In terms of revolution, guerrilla forces that fail to carve out a new nation from the old one will rarely see their own country.  In a stunningly large country with a mixed but fervent bag of political differences, the expectation that a relatively small nationalist force can salvage the entirety of the nation is folly.

Much of the explanation [for more successful guerrilla campaigns] can be found in the growing power of public opinion, brought about by the spread of democracy, education, communications technology, mass media and international organizations—all of which have sapped the will of states to engage in protracted counter-insurgencies, especially outside their own territory, and heightened the ability of insurgents to survive even after suffering setbacks.

There were considerable benefits to [Romans] participating in the Pax Romana, which won over subject populations by offering “bread and circuses,” roads, aqueducts and (most important) security from roving guerrillas and bandits.

Just like a business selling a product, militias must be able to market and show themselves to be a positive development for the community (safety, etc.).  Militias must build popular support.  Whether its by ethnic, racial, class, or religious lines – as in the case of the Shi’ite JAM – the militia represents the ideals of something.   But if $1,000 walks and talks in your community, it will walk and talk for a federal regime or foreign occupation.  Popular support is the bedrock for any resistance movement and movements without popular support aren’t movements at all.

If an alternative of bread and circuses is promised or presented, would your community participate?  Much of America is participating in bread and circuses.  If your community supports bread and circuses, then move.  It’s as simple as that.  There will be no popular support for you.

Max Boot’s article can be found here: The Guerrilla Myth.



  1. Joseph Coyne says:

    Good article

  2. If we keep moving to avoid the “Liberal”(commie) trash, where are we gonna end up, the reservation?

    So at what point between digging the ditch you’re told to dig and being shot into it are you going to fight back?
    Guns without the will to use them or the resolve to do what will be required to restore Liberty here are nothing but toys. That is the situation we face now.
    Don’t understand? Follow my links. Read the quotes page first.

    • Samuel Culper III says:

      No, I understand.

    • Russell Bolton says:

      Although I agree with your comments, there is always the moral need to follow the path of exausting all remidies in law. However we don’t seem to have a generation that wants to do that, even among Patriots.

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