Blogs > Liberty and Power > Re: Guerrillas Always Win!

Jan 20, 2005 5:25 am

Re: Guerrillas Always Win!

William Polk’s piece in The American Conservative is, indeed, of interest, both for what he includes, and what he leaves out.

The American Revolution is not considered a classic guerrilla insurgency because the British during most of the war controlled very little of America beyond New York City. On the guerrilla activity outside there, see my article on the Dutch-American Guerrillas in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction and reprinted in M. Norval, ed., The Militia in 20th Century America. The British two times ventured inland, both times losing armies to American forces composed in great part of troops engaged in partisan warfare. The Brits evacuated Philadelphia because, as the leader of the Hessians admitted, they couldn’t keep it supplied in the face of American partisan attacks along the short, 15 mile route from Chester. This was occurring even as Washington’s shrunken army of marginal men (most of the farmers with land had returned home until spring) survived at Valley Forge. See several other of my pieces on the Revolution in the Commentaries at

The Guerrillas don’t always win!

Neocons, such as Max Boot, then of the Wall Street Journal, now of The Council on Foreign Relations, early on argued that the Filipino Insurgency was a perfect model for invading Iraq. Had he explored other than several books, he might have learned why the Filipinos failed, in no small part because of lack of firearms, having to resort instead to bolo knives in many battles. Again, see several of my articles on this at the above web site.

On a global scale by the 1880s the technology of firearms and their acquisition was beginning to tip toward insurgents, who, unlike the warrior Zulu in Africa, chose to use guerrilla tactics rather than charge head long into gatling guns. East African tribes, having obtained guns from the Belgians, were able to effectively fight the British, who were later able to shut off this source of supply and achieve victory.

It is my own belief that the decision of the Berlin Conference to give King Leopold the Congo was related to this development. The American delegate in this, Henry Sanford, after whom a city in Florida is named and where his papers are, was thick with Stanley, the Brit imperialist of Dr. Livingstone fame.

The Marine Corps Handbook of 1935, which some are attempting to rewrite today, was an early effort to condense American experiences on counter-insurgency warfare. Even as this was done, Army Capt. John R.M. Taylor was still trying to get his study of the Philippine adventure published in case the US ever found itself engaged in another such war in Asia. W.H. Taft had stopped its publication because the study compromised too many Filipinos who had become"our" guys.

After WWII, and until the present, the American military, drawing on Wehrmacht experts and others, has made an intensive study of this type of warfare and how to combat it. They certainly never needed the advice of Mr. Boot! That this failed in Vietnam and other places is, of course, evident, and why the advocates of Empire are now more desperate than ever for a success.

The real problem today is that the guerrillas not only have guns, they have discovered Terror, even at the sacrifice of their own lives. Note the anonymous observer:"A Terrorist is someone with a bomb, but without an air force."

It remains to be seen how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, etc., will develop tactics to deal with this in their"War on Terror." Some have taken to calling the development of such tactics,"rational war," or"Fourth Generation Warfare."

Meanwhile, the Iraq adventure is proving a bit troublesome. We are beginning to see the clay foundation upon which the Age of Empire was built!

Perhaps the best book on this at present is George Friedman, America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between American And Its Enemies (2004).

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More Comments:

William Marina - 1/20/2005

I wouldn't call 220,000 dead Filipinos a wonderful occupation.
I hope we don't bring those kind of blessings of liberty to Iraq.
The Filipinos might have secured independence from Spain without such loses.

Keith Halderman - 1/20/2005

You use the Philippines as an example of unsucessful insurgency. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't the Philippines a soverign nation. And if it was not, if it was still occupied by American troops do you not think there would be people there trying to kill our soldiers, just like in Iraq. If you think in terms of how long it took the Irish to achieve their freedom then you have to view the Filipino insurection as highly successful. Also, maybe South Africa is not a country run by the Zulus per se but it is a country run by Blacks.