I’m re-reading Networks of Rebellion for the umpteenth time. Really, for the third time but it feels like more.
It’s a dense, data rich, academic view of insurgency. Not for the weak of mind or those who get bored easily, but the payoff is the knowledge of what makes and breaks insurgent networks.
The greatest take away so far is that peacetime networks form the basis of wartime insurgent networks.
In other words, you go to irregular war with the friends you have, not necessarily the friends you want.
And it reminded me of one of David Kilcullen’s books called The Accidental Guerrilla. Kilcullen explains Usama bin Laden’s strategy of marrying into the family of Mullah Omar (or maybe Omar married into UBL’s), which is how UBL became ingratiated into Afghan Pashtun culture.
And under the code of Pashtunwali, the Pashtuns were obligated to protect UBL. The Taliban couldn’t give up UBL based on this honor code, which virtually assured a ground war in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and vanquish al-Qaeda.
Whether you believe the 9/11 attacks were truth, half-truth (as I do), or a lie; you have to admit that UBL chose probably the best human terrain on Earth to protect himself from a U.S. invasion. That’s how the Taliban became “accidental guerrillas,” as the book so well explains.
Kilcullen describes this as UBL’s plan all along: mire the U.S. into Afghanistan to fight against a people they didn’t understand and to wage a ground war they couldn’t possibly win.
And we go back to peacetime networks being the basis for wartime networks.
The Taliban were already a government and a fighting force prior to 9/11. And they had a predecessor in the Mujaheddin, the guerrillas who fought against the Soviets from 1979-1989. Some of those dudes who fought against the Soviets were fighting the Americans 20-30 years later.
The established networks of family members, friends, acquaintances, and others have already built networks based on similar beliefs, goals, and most importantly, trust.
While there are many “critical” factors, those three are absolutely critical for insurgent networks early on because you have an agitated social base that becomes armed in pursuit of the same or similar goals.
This is like watching a football game between two distinctly different teams:
- Team A, consisting of players who don’t know each other, have never practiced together, and lack a leader to assign players to their correct positions; and
- Team B, consisting of players who know their positions and assignments, and spent the past 10 weeks in training camp together.
As Networks of Rebellion proves, insurgencies that lack cohesion and don’t have deep ties to the local populace — in other words, those lacking strong peacetime networks — are most often destined for failure.
I’ll end with this: I look at the United States. There are undoubtedly political factions. Some of those factions have undoubtedly armed in preparation for armed conflict (the Right) or are doing so now (the Left). And at some level, both sides are developing influencers who might in the future steer these armed factions into an armed conflict.
Because of the ubiquitous adoption of social media and entire generations of Americans living their lives online, if Big Tech/Big Gov don’t yet understand the peacetime networks of both sides very well, then they can likely figure it out in the near future.