The Bayonet

Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013

Author speaks about guerilla warfare future

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Military historian and foreign-policy analyst Max Boot made a visit to Fort Benning Friday to talk about his latest book as part of the Combat Leader Speaker Program.

The book, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, deals with the history of guerilla warfare, a practice Boot said is not as strange or uncommon as many think.

“Even when you have the rise of the first conventional armies, most of their adversaries were not other conventional armies,” Boot said. “Most of their time was spent fighting rebels within and nomadic raiders without. In other words, guerillas. What that suggests to me is the way we think about this entire topic is all screwed up because we talk about unconventional warfare and irregular conflict and suggest there’s something wrong with it or that it’s not the way you are supposed to fight. In fact, it is the way mankind has always fought.”

The existence of guerilla warfare since the beginning of recorded history made for a very broad topic of research, something Boot said was a challenge while writing Invisible Armies.

“What I did in this book is ambitious and quite possibly foolhardy,” Boot said. “What I tried to do was pack 5,000 years of guerilla warfare history between two hardcovers.”

While forms of guerilla warfare have existed throughout history, Boot said relatively recent changes have shaped the way the practice is conducted in a modern setting.

“By stressing the ancient origins of guerilla warfare, I don’t mean to pretend that nothing has changed over the millennia,” Boot said. “Obviously, there have been some very significant changes. To my mind, the biggest change of all is the rise of what I call the three P’s — politics, propaganda and public opinion. These factors have become absolutely crucial in warfare over the last couple of centuries, and they were not so significant before that.”

Boot offers several examples of the importance of these new factors throughout Invisible Armies, but said that public opinion first became key to warfare during the American Revolution.

Boot said while many history classes teach that the war ended after the American victory at the Battle of Yorktown in October 1781, it was not until February 1782 that the British House of Commons voted to formally end offensive operations.

Rather than attributing the decision to the American victory, however, Boot said mounting public opinion against the war both in North America and Britain were the driving factors.

“This wasn’t an accident that this happened,” Boot said. “This was something that the colonists actively plotted to bring about. That was the point of documents like the Declaration of Independence, which was written not just to influence public opinion in North America, but also to influence public opinion in Europe and especially in England to convince the people of England they should stop fighting against this American rebellion. That campaign worked. That’s pretty significant. It’s hard to exaggerate the significance of that because here you have this great superpower of a state that had the physical capacity to continue fighting, but decided not to do so because public opinion had turned against the war.”

Since the American Revolution, Boot said, the tactic of attempting to sway public opinion has been used numerous times, often with success.

“This was not something that happened prior to the American Revolution, but it has happened quite a few times since then,” Boot said. “It is certainly the centerpiece of the strategy that our enemies have pursued in places like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.” Invisible Armies offers many other examples of guerilla warfare from past conflicts, but Boot said the understanding of the practice should not be limited to past conflicts. He said America’s enemies will likely continue to use guerilla tactics in the future, rather than conventional warfare.

“Our enemies are not complete imbeciles,” Boot said. “They do have a capacity to learn from history, and they understand that challenging us on our own ground and fighting us precisely in the kind of war that we would prefer is not a good bet. You’re much more likely to have success against a superpower by using irregular warfare tactics, and not surprisingly, that’s exactly what they’re doing.”

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