When is a revolution over, completed, fulfilled? Traditionally, we prefer to quantify revolutions as ending in a win, loss, or negotiated settlement. While this framework is helpful for shaping theory, it neglects that reality is often much more complicated and messy. As John Maynard Keynes said, “it is a method rather than a doctrine, an apparatus of the mind, a technique for thinking, which helps the possessor to draw correct conclusions.” Simply put, it is only a guide towards understanding history and human nature.
For instance, the American Revolution did not end with an American colonist’s win over the British Empire. Rather, the conflict was the beginning of a long, arduous process that continues today. As Richard Edens notes, “the American Revolution created an imperfect union. In addition to legalized and racialized enslavement in a land of equality and freedom, the limited power state of the 18th century was inadequate for the dynamism of 19th century industrial capitalism rather than an economy dominated by agriculture. These unresolved and irresolvable tensions led to the Civil War.”
James McPherson in the conclusion of his book on the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom, writes,
. . . when secessionists protested that they were acting to preserve traditional rights and values, they were correct. . . . The South’s concept of republicanism had not changed in three-quarters of a century; the North’s had. With complete sincerity the South fought to preserve its version of the republic of the founding fathers – a government of limited powers that protected the rights of property and whose constituency comprised an independent gentry and yeomanry of the white race undistributed by large cities, heartless factories, restless free workers, and class conflict. … Their secession was a pre-emptive counterrevolution. … ‘We are not revolutionists,’ insisted James B.D. DeBow and Jefferson Davis during the Civil War, ‘We are resisting revolution . . . . We are conservative.
The tensions of an imperfect union continue to this day with a re-revolution and a counter-revolution, an on-going revolution for a changing context and resistance to revolution and a changing context.
In his seminal work, Rethinking Insurgency, Steven Metz challenged our community to rethink the existing assumptions and relearn how to counter insurgencies. Moreover, over the past decade, scholars challenged the accepted military definition that an insurgency is “an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict.”
Yet, with all the evidence, scholarship, theories, and analysis, we continue to muddle through small wars. Why? Perhaps, we often choose mass over maneuver and speed over subtle influence in attempts to control the problem. Small wars are wicked problems. If we continue to plug and play the latest "new" idea to tame a problem, then we will just muddle along and only make the problem worse.
In the last decade, we jumped from pre-emptive war to counterinsurgency, and we are now moving to Foreign Internal Defense (FID)/Security Force Assistance (SFA) without a serious debate, informed discussion, or collaborative endeavor. There is no imagination. There is no fully formed, holistic, comprehensive strategy. We continue to muddle in tactics bypassing strategy.
Today, we are in a time of unprecedented economic, environmental, technological, and political change. “The Agricultural Revolution was a roughly 3,000-year transition, the Industrial Revolution lasted 300 years, and this technology-led Global Revolution will take only 30-odd years. No single generation has witnessed so much change in a single lifetime.” We could be facing a generation of revolution as changes occur in the Americas, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia.
Before we can hope to distill any lessons learned from this past bloody decade of war and rewrite the existing counterinsurgency manual and find a suitable foreign policy for this new century, perhaps we should first seek to better understand the nature of revolution.
We need to start rethinking how we see revolution. One place to start is with the great contributors at Small Wars Journal.
For instance, Col (Ret.) Robert C. Jones’s proposes that we relook our definition and consider,
Insurgency is an illegal political challenge to government, rising from a base of support within some significant and distinct segment, or segments, of the populace; and employing any mix of violent and non-violent tactics.
This is just a primer to help us move past the COIN, CT, FID, and SFA debate in order to start thinking about strategy. Perhaps, if we look at our own history, see that the United States is still a revolution in process, an imperfect union; it can help guide us towards better understanding the world around us. Before we try to change the world around us, perhaps we should first seek self-awareness.
In the upcoming weeks, we will examine recent scholarship that argues that we should consider the Civil Rights Movement as an insurgency.
 See Ben Connable and Martin C. Libicki’s Rand Study How Insurgencies End, Gordon McCormick and the Naval Postgraduate School’s Defense Analysis Department internal databases, and Mark Safranski’s Do Oligarchies Create Insurgencies? among other notable scholars.
 Richard Edens, Second Sunday of Advent Sermon, United Church of Chapel Hill, NC. 4 Dec 2011.
 Ibid, Edens.
 Steven Metz, Rethinking Insurgency, June 2007, Available at http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=790
 Andy Stern, China's Superior Economic, Wall Street Journal, Accessed on 6 December 2011, Available at http://professional.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204630904577056490023451980.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read#articleTabs%3Darticle
Carl Prine, Crispin Burke, James Few, Evolving the Coin Field Manual: A Case for Reform. Available at http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/evolving-the-coin-field-manual-a-case-for-reform
 Frank Hoffman, Counterinsurgency Doctrine In Context, Small Wars Journal, Available at http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/counterinsurgency-doctrine-in-context
 Robert C. Jones, “Understanding Insurgency: The Condition behind the Conflict” Small Wars Journal. 1 October 2011. Accessed on 4 December 2011. Available at http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/understanding-insurgency-the-condition-behind-the-conflict