Peasant Roles in Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: A Brief Historical Analysis

Peasant Roles in Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: A Brief Historical Analysis

John Zambri

Insurgency and counterinsurgency has become the norm in modern military conflict and has been well documented. What has been less well documented, although an integral and central part of insurgencies and counterinsurgencies is the role that peasant populations played in the emergence, evolution, and ultimate success or failure of either as a strategy.  Insurgency has existed throughout history.  Development of counterinsurgency methods and application has ebbed and flowed in its effectiveness.  Although many studies have been initiated, the role and impact of the peasantry has been largely overlooked.  This work attempts to re-conceptualize the peasant factor in counterinsurgency solutions and outcomes relative to influence and impact insurgency and counterinsurgency had in Malaya, Philippines, and Vietnam.  In so doing this work seeks to advance institutional knowledge on the counterinsurgency relationship dynamic, between peasants and counterinsurgents, as relates to counterinsurgency operations involved in supporting the legitimacy of local governments, the limitation of support for the insurgency, and the elimination of insurgent leadership. 

Insurgency is a strategy generally adopted by groups which cannot attain their political objectives through conventional means or by a quick seizure of power.  It is a strategy used by those too weak to engage in conventional military means to affect their military, and ultimately their political, objectives.  Insurgency is characterized by the use of low-level, protracted, asymmetric violence to overthrow a political system or force, to a large degree, a fundamental change in the political and economic status quo, through use of complex terrain, psychological warfare, and political mobilization.[i]  Insurgencies are extremely difficult, messy, and defy the laws of warfare on any conventional level.  But this work is not solely about what defines an insurgency, its origins, the perceived disaffected, or the ideological underpinnings of low-intensity conflicts and uprisings, but the importance and critical role peasants play in insurgencies, and more importantly, in counterinsurgencies.  To fully understand the peasants’ role in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies therefore, it is important to understand the definition of both and how, in the interest of neutralizing an insurgency’s momentum, to win over and secure peasant support.

Irregular warfare, as manifested in insurgencies, is not new and indeed has existed, in one form or another, since Caesar’s occupation of Gaul over two thousand years ago.[ii]  Insurgency has been one of the most pervasive types of conflict throughout history, from Napoleon’s struggles against Spanish partisans in the early 19th Century, the German occupation of France, Poland, and various parts of eastern Russia, and to the U.S. and French experience in Vietnam. 

Insurgency has proven the bane of large scale western type military operations, and insurgents have successfully exploited the weaknesses of their larger, more powerful opponents.[iii]  This was primarily due to western concepts of warfare – large nation-state armies engaging in set piece battles – and a shallow view on the evolution of conflict in the post-World War II world.[iv]   Counterinsurgency was never fully studied and appreciated as thoroughly as conventional methods of warfare.  Strategies meant to defeat a conventional army in battle were usually counter-productive in counterinsurgency.  Whereas in conventional warfare the maximum use of violence is used to rapidly defeat the opposing army, in counterinsurgency it is necessary to use violence more discriminately in order to prevent alienating the population.[v]

The central characteristic of insurgency is the reliance on the population, specifically the peasant population, for active support or at least passive acquiescence.  This support, whether from affinity with or coercion from the insurgents, provides the insurgents with personnel, supplies, and critically, an information advantage over counterinsurgent forces.[vi] While there have been numerous studies and theories which have emerged since the end of World War II regarding the link between the insurgent and the population, its importance is only now being realized.  The British experience in Malaya, where the relationship between the counter insurgent force – the government – and the population proved the lynchpin in its success; the American experience in the Philippines from 1899 to 1902 where indigenous forces were critical; and during the latter half of the Vietnam War where Americans developed and employed Civilian Irregular Defense Groups and were making significant inroads towards neutralizing Vietcong forces, were largely overlooked as isolated phenomena in low intensity conflicts in third world countries.[vii]

Cutting off the insurgents’ from their support base, the peasant population, and then systematically eliminating their military capability is the cornerstone of counterinsurgency.[viii]  How is this achieved? What role does the peasantry play in insurgency – counterinsurgency? How important is their involvement? What is the relationship between insurgents and peasants, between government and peasants? How, under an insurgency/counterinsurgency environment does a relationship develop? What are the incentives and disincentives for the peasants in either case? Why is the peasant factor so important to the success or failure of insurgency/counter insurgency operations and objectives?  Considering the fact that there were more insurgencies during the latter half of the 20th Century than conventional wars, these questions are extremely relevant and integral to the study and further understanding of insurgencies and counterinsurgencies for the 21st Century.[ix]

John F. Kennedy, in his U.S. Military Academy graduation speech of 1962, emphasized the threat of insurgency, which he referred broadly to as “wars of national liberation:”

“This is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origins—war by guerillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration, instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him…It requires…a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, and therefore a new and wholly different kind of military training.”[x]

Insurgency, as a form of irregular warfare, has existed since ancient times. It is a protracted asymmetric tactic used by the weak to degrade and ultimately defeat the strong.  As recognized by President Kennedy, it was a new kind of war requiring a new kind of strategy.   It is a tactic of irregular warfare which hinges on the support of the peasant population. Mao, considered to be the primary influence in 20th Century guerilla warfare, recognized the importance of the people in the success of an insurgency.[xi]  Well organized guerilla units, in accordance with his concepts, are encouraged to take the initiative, applying hit-and-run tactics, fighting in the enemy rear and establishing bases for popular support and for spreading their influence.[xii]  Mao wrote his treaties On Guerilla Warfare in 1937, initially as a guide for the communist in China to wage war against the Japanese in a “war of national liberation.”  But he later framed his work to encompass communist doctrine, incorporating the political and social aspects to the “struggle.”[xiii] Mao emphasized that insurgency cannot be prosecuted separately from the populace.  This is important because the guerillas come from the people and are supported by the people. 

Successful insurgencies depend, almost exclusively, on internal support mechanisms.[xiv]  Insurgents are dependent upon the indigenous population for base areas, recruits, supplies and intelligence.  Successful counterinsurgencies also depend almost exclusively on the population.  That is to say that the population - the peasants - are the focus of support and legitimacy of the counterinsurgency solution and form the hub of counterinsurgency strategy.[xv]  The counterinsurgency conducted by the Malayans and the British in Malaya is an excellent example of how multiple approaches, applied in concert, focusing on the economic, military, social, political, and psychological facets of incentive/disincentive based strategies, formed the basis of British success.[xvi]

The security of the people was considered as essential.  To wipe out the insurgents’ internal support, it is necessary to protect the people from insurgent reprisals. This is important because even if the peasantry sympathizes with the government’s cause, they will not support the government if they fear the insurgents.[xvii]  David Galula, a French officer involved in his nation’s counterinsurgency operations in the post-colonial era, was one of the first to publish a lasting work on defeating insurgencies.  Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice develops two principles of counterinsurgency warfare.  First he identifies the limits of conventional warfare as the “enemy holds no territory and refuses to fight for it.”[xviii]  Second, and perhaps having the most lasting value to counterinsurgency strategy is his emphasis on the population as the center of gravity for both the insurgents and the counterinsurgent forces.[xix] Roger Trinquier, another French veteran of insurgent warfare, draws the same conclusion about the populace in his book, Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency.  He relates that the “support of the population is the sine qua non of victory in counterinsurgency operations.[xx]

Why is the peasantry so important? For the insurgents the peasantry provides food, shelter, recruits, supplies, and most importantly, information on counterinsurgent forces.[xxi]  They are the bases that provide essential support functions.  Mao highlights two key functions the peasant bases play: they serve as a means to politically convert the people to the movement and to arm and train them for self-defense and guerilla operations against the government forces; the local economy at the peasant base provides subsistence and finance from the people to the guerillas.[xxii] Further, winning over the majority of the peasantry gives the insurgency legitimacy and traction. For the counterinsurgents winning over the peasantry provides tactical and strategic gains.  On the tactical level it deprives the insurgents of their logistical base, lines of communication, food, recruits, and intelligence.[xxiii] Additionally it provides greater intelligence collections on insurgents and acts, as in the British Malayan campaign, as a force multiplier.  Strategically it enhances the governments control over the country and provides greater legitimacy to the governments’ effectiveness.

The British experience in Malaya is often cited as the example for counterinsurgency operations.  Over the course of fourteen years the British and Malayan forces were able to resoundingly eliminate the insurgency by integrating the population into the counterinsurgency solution.  Brigadier Richard L. Clutterbuck in his book The Long War provides a detailed account of the insurgency in Malaya.  Clutterbuck emphasized protection of the people and the government structure.[xxiv] Protecting the people in counterinsurgency operations means separating them from the insurgents.  Separating them is a painstaking process that requires much time and effort.  The army must move into guerilla controlled areas and force out the main body of insurgents.  They must also garrison the population centers in order to prevent the insurgents from reclaiming the area.[xxv]  The people must then be controlled in order to prevent them from aiding the insurgency, and identifying remaining insurgents.

Clutterbuck employed an extensive police force at the village level in Malaya in order to control the population and to gain intelligence.  He used the military only to provide security for the police and attacking guerilla combatants.  He emphasized the development of a close working counsel, consisting of indigenous civil government members, police, and military leaders, coordinating their efforts to defeat the insurgency.[xxvi]  Security measures in Malaya consisted of constant surveillance of the people, controlling their movements, widespread interrogations, issuing I.D. cards, creating a census, etc.[xxvii]  While the population may resent some of these measures, they are necessary in order to protect the people, gain their trust, and weed out the insurgents and their political agents.[xxviii] To temper the adverse impact of such tough control measures the British and Malayan leadership sought to win over the people through parallel efforts at improved economic and social services.[xxix]  Popular support was seen as essential to victory, as such, discriminate violence of action coupled with political, economic, and social integration of the populace in government decisions advanced counterinsurgency support.

Winning the confidence of the people is vital.  While it is true that the population may eventually help the government as the government begins to prevail, there is no better substitute for effective counterinsurgency than having the population willfully supporting the government.   While it may be impossible to gain the complete support of the population, it is possible to gain enough support to guarantee victory, as well as marginalizing those who support the insurgency.[xxx] During the Indian Wars of the 19th Century, the United States adapted tactics to the conflict and developed principles for fighting counterinsurgencies by employing methods to “win the hearts and minds” of the indigenous population, though it was not known by that term.[xxxi]

Primary principles were, close civil and military coordination, firm and fair governance, and reform of education and business.  In addition, policies provided for limiting mistreatment and civilian casualties. Tactics included disrupting insurgent Indians by inserting friendly Indians into their groups.  Other principles included dispersing the enemy, using mobility, and employing surprise.  The lessons learned from the Indian Wars recognized the multifaceted approach necessary for counterinsurgency operations, but specifically disrupting the Indians from within gets at the type of operations that keep the United States from looking like oppressors.[xxxii]

During the Philippine Counterinsurgency from 1899 to 1902, the United States was able to successfully use small unit operations to put down the insurrection.  Some of the tenants from that conflict were: to avoid large unit search and destroy missions, maximize use of indigenous forces, and win support of the peasantry with better schools, hospitals, and infrastructure.  Legitimacy for the Filipino regime was supported by allowing former insurgents to form opposition political parties.  Brigadier General John H. Pershing recognized the importance of the local culture.  He tailored the force and tactics to the specific people of that area.  In so he addressed the various approaches needed in counterinsurgency, specifically recognizing that operations are not United States operations, but operations by locals, for the good of the people, through actions of the people.[xxxiii]

Unlike the British and French experience with counterinsurgency, the U.S. approach to counterinsurgency has been dominated by a history of large wars against conventional enemies.  Winning the support of the people requires a sincere effort to listen to and address their grievances while simultaneously addressing security and offensive military action against insurgents, on a tactical level with small units. The British used small unit tactics to great effect. The British military learned that large unit operations simply did not work against small units of guerillas.  Large units were far too slow to react to guerrilla attacks and “broadcast” their movements.  By utilizing local police intelligence, small units of platoon size can quietly move to guerilla camps exposing them to overwhelming fire.[xxxiv]

The U.S. Marine Corps captured its lessons learned from counterinsurgency operations in Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1940 Small Wars Manual, emphasizing that small wars are not fought with conventional methods.  Operations in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua presented a vague operating area that placed a “keynote” on good relations with the population.  Heavy-handed military action should be considered in light of the relations. U.S. forces were encouraged to use indigenous forces to establish security and give no slack to the insurgents.  Other primary considerations focused on supporting the people rather than destruction, and achieving gains with as little use of force a loss of civilian life as possible.   These lessons learned clearly pointed out the importance of indigenous forces and establishing a solid relationship with the populace, actions other than conventional, and the importance of good public relations.[xxxv]

In order to degrade the legitimacy of the government and the counterinsurgents, insurgents will have promised to address the populations’ grievances, or perceived grievances, such as land reform or redistribution, lowering or eliminating taxes, or the promise of independence.  Astute government officials can pre-empt the insurgents and implement the necessary reforms, thereby causing the insurgency to lose its legitimacy, as the British promise to give independence to Malaya destroyed the cause of the Malayan Communist Party during the Malayan emergency.[xxxvi]

During the 1950s and 1960s the initial focus of counterinsurgency research was on the problem of modernization and economic development.  This is important as disaffection and resentment of government and government institutions by peasants generally stemmed from feelings of inequality, oppression, discrimination.[xxxvii] Scholars observed that, in many societies, the negative consequences of economic development to which the developed nations adjusted over the course of decades and centuries were being experienced in the space of years by the developing countries.[xxxviii]  As the economic conditions underlying society began to shift, pressure built on traditional society.  This, in turn, put pressure on nascent governments, many of which had only recently acquired independence from colonial empires, and on those empires that sought to retain their colonies.[xxxix]  In many cases, governmental institutions could not keep pace with societal change, leading to disorder and instability.  This instability left societies vulnerable to insurgent influences.[xl]

Insurgents could thus take advantage of this flux to gain popular support, by promising alternatives to the government.  The government, unable to ameliorate the problems of the population, would increasingly be isolated and weakened.  The insurgent could acquire almost everything they needed from the populace, progressively attenuating government authority and creating “counter-institutions” to provide what the government could or would not (e.g., taxation or social services).  Eventually, either the government would collapse, unable to separate the insurgents from the people, or the insurgents could form their own armies and defeat the government in battle. This was the essence of what Mao called “people’s war,” and many Western scholars adopted the Maoist viewpoint on insurgency.[xli]

Once these two principles, the problems of modernization and the insurgent need for popular support, were accepted, the preventive solution becomes apparent.  The answer was to restore the hope pf the people and gain their support for the government.  In order to do this, counterinsurgency would consist of providing the people security from predations by government and insurgent forces and reducing the negative consequences of development while enhancing the positive aspects.[xlii]  Increasing political rights of the people, improving standards of living, and reducing corruption and abuse of government power were key prescriptions of the counterinsurgency theory, which came to be known as “winning the hearts and minds of the people,”[xliii]

Even if the government is unable to destroy the legitimacy of an insurgency by eliminating its cause, it can still win over the population.  If the insurgents are fighting to liberate a country from foreign domination or to replace an indigenous regime, it is necessary for the government to convince the population that the existing government is preferable to that which the insurgents propose.  This can only be done if the government clamps down on corruption and incompetence within its own ranks and makes an honest attempt to improve the lives of its subjects and respect their beliefs.  If the people see that the government, in its counterinsurgency effort, is genuinely interested in their welfare, and can protect them from insurgent reprisals, their support can be won, and the insurgents will be isolated.[xliv]

Through the careful study of counterinsurgency operations since World War II and the results of these struggles, some common themes in successful strategies and tactics repeat themselves and provide a basis for developing a robust counterinsurgency doctrine.  This doctrine cannot hope to become a rigid checklist of operational practices, but a fluid and flexible doctrine adapting to the operational environment. Just as Lawrence of Arabia described the Arab insurgency movement against the Turks as “an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting like a gas…the Arabs might be a vapor, blowing where they listed,” counterinsurgency doctrine must be flexible to counter the amorphous shape that insurgencies most often take.[xlv]

During the past century, most insurgencies failed. The majority were crushed before they developed a critical mass of skill and support, or were simply incapable of attaining such a critical mass.  No matter how powerful a nation is economically or militarily, however, it cannot defeat insurgent forces if it fails to gain the support of the population.  As long as the population remains under the control of the insurgent, the insurgents retain the initiative and the ability to choose battle on their terms.[xlvi]  This does not mean that the government must have the support of the entire population, as indicated earlier.  Trinquier correctly gauges the public with his assessment that “it is by no means necessary to enjoy the sympathy of the majority of the people to obtain their backing: most are amorphous, indifferent.”[xlvii] Instead, support is gained through an active minority.  From this base, the government can begin to collect more accurate intelligence and work to separate the insurgent from the population. [xlviii]  History has shown that in order to achieve victory in counterinsurgency operations, the insurgents must be permanently isolated from the population.

The government must make every effort to focus o the population.  This encompasses showing attentiveness to their needs in terms of food, clean water, and adequate shelter, but mor importantly to their security concerns.  On critical battle between insurgents and the government is over whether or not the latter can provide security to the people.  This is a key legitimating goal for any counterinsurgent force and difficult to achieve.  Furthermore, the government must have a strategy to establish, maintain, and expand secure areas for the population.  This satisfies two important goals.  First, it confirms the legitimacy and the effectiveness of the government or occupying force.  Second, it serves to further isolate the insurgent from its lifeblood, the people.[xlix]  The quick implementation of a strategy for providing security is also important because the more advanced the insurgency, the more difficult it is to begin a dedicated effort at maintaining and expanding security.

Since the population is the center of gravity for an insurgency, the strategy to defeat it must be defined in a way much different from strategies to defeat a conventional army. The primary concern is avoiding a strategy that does not subordinate military operations to political objectives.  The British clearly emphasized this in their doctrine with the statement: “undue focus on military action clouds the key political realities which can result in a military-dominated campaign that misses the real focus of an insurgency.”[l]  All agree that the best place to begin de-emphasizing military operations is by building a strategy around effective intelligence. This is where the populace provides the critical component to counterinsurgency solutions.

Sun Tzu’s timeless advice to “know the enemy and know yourself” is fundamental for both sides in the counterinsurgency struggle.[li]  While technology may play and important role in counterinsurgency operations, effective human intelligence is the most critical element.  Human intelligence, through the populace, enables a government to help connect the divide with the population that the insurgent forces are working to widen.  Instead of making large, obtrusive patrols hoping to find clues about an elusive enemy, good intelligence enables an efficient use of military force and limits collateral damage among the population.[lii]  At the same time, quality human intelligence enables the government to isolate the insurgents from the population. 

Winning the “hearts and minds” of the populace, denying insurgents of their primary support structure, makes them extremely vulnerable.  Not only will insurgents be short on weapons, manpower, and supplies, but two of their greatest advantages, safe haven and intelligence on the counterinsurgents movements, will be neutralized as well.  Since the insurgents have been isolated from the indigenous population, they will be unable to effectively hide among the population, and will either hid in the cities, and be caught or rendered harmless without the support of the people, or flee to remote parts of the country, as Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist fled to the Shaanix region of China after barely escaping annihilation by the Nationalist Forces in 1934.[liii]

Without their base of support, it becomes a matter of hunting the insurgents down, with the help of the people, dismantling their tactical capability.  Even though the primary purpose of the counterinsurgent force so far has been to gain the support of the population as well as isolating the insurgents’ support, this does not mean that the military had been inactive in attempting to find and destroy the enemy.  The key to subjugating the remaining insurgents is to hunt them continuously and methodically.  A perfect example was General Challe’s offensive during 1959 in Algeria that moved from the west of the country to the east to push what was left of the F.L.N. insurgents into the Morice Line, systematically destroying insurgent capability.[liv]

While previously it would have been difficult to find and destroy the insurgents, due to their initial advantage in human intelligence and their ability to withdraw to other parts of the country, the counterinsurgent forces would have the advantage since the population would be actively supporting them, and the continuously mounted operations should catch most, if not all, of the insurgents between the numerous cordon and search operations.  The clearing operations should continue as long as it takes to completely eliminate or severely degrade the insurgents’ ability to mount a viable threat.  Sir Robert Thompson, recounting lessons learned from previous counterinsurgency operations reinforces that counterinsurgency will require stamina and follow through.

It is a persistently methodical approach and steady pressure which will gradually wear the insurgent down.  The government must not allow itself to be diverted either by countermoves on the part of the insurgent or by the critics on its own side who will be seeking a simpler and quicker solution. There are no short-cuts and no gimmicks.[lv]

To defeat an insurgency it is necessary to cut off its support structure, and then to hunt down the remaining insurgents.  Insurgencies are dependent upon internal support for recruits, base areas and supplies, and upon external support for weapons and equipment.  Without this support they cannot effectively replace their losses or build up enough forces to overthrow the existing government.  To cut off the insurgents’ internal support the counterinsurgent forces must protect the people from insurgent reprisals as well as wining the hearts and minds.  Effective counterinsurgency is long, expensive and difficult to implement.  Success should be measured by the active cooperation of the populace rather than the number of insurgents killed or captured. 

Irregular warfare, as manifested in insurgencies, is not new.  Insurgency has been one of the most pervasive types of conflict throughout history, from Napoleon’s struggles against Spanish partisans in the early 19th Century, the German occupation of France, Poland, and various parts of eastern Russia, and to the U.S. and French experience in Vietnam.  The asymmetric nature of insurgency has proven difficult to overcome for large scale western type military operations, and insurgents have successfully exploited the weaknesses of their larger, more powerful opponents.  This was primarily due to the fact that counterinsurgency was never fully studied and appreciated as seriously as conventional warfare.  Strategies meant to defeat a conventional army in battle is usually counter-productive in counterinsurgency.  Whereas in conventional warfare the maximum use of violence is used to rapidly defeat the opposing army, in counterinsurgency it is necessary to use violence more discriminately in order to prevent alienating the population.

This work has revealed that the central characteristic of insurgency is the reliance on the population, specifically the peasant population, for active support or at least passive acquiescence.  This support, whether from affinity with or coercion from the insurgents, provides the insurgents with personnel, supplies, and critically, an information advantage over counterinsurgent forces. While there have been numerous studies and theories which have emerged since the end of World War II regarding the link between the insurgent and the population, its importance is only now being realized.  The British experience in Malaya, where the relationship between the counter insurgent force and the population proved the lynchpin in its success; the American experience in the Philippines from 1899 to 1902 where indigenous forces were critical; and during the latter half of the Vietnam War where Americans developed and employed Civilian Irregular Defense Groups and were making significant inroads towards neutralizing Vietcong forces, were largely overlooked as isolated phenomena in low intensity conflicts in third world countries.

Cutting off the insurgents’ from their support base, the peasant population, and then systematically eliminating their military capability is the cornerstone of counterinsurgency.  To do so the population, the peasantry, is absolutely essential and integral to its success.

Numerous books, magazine articles, official documents, and studies were used as references.  Material on counterinsurgency, low intensity conflict, and peasant life abound.  However, information on the interaction or counterinsurgency-peasant dynamic is scarce and is still somewhat conceptual.

The views and opinions in this work are solely that of the author’s and do not reflect the views or policies the U.S. Government or any law enforcement agency.

End Notes

[i] Bernard E. O’Neill, Insurgency and Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare. (Washington: Brassey’s, 1990).  p. 2. These are not mutually exclusive, and an insurgency can take on dimensions of both, or shift from one to the other over its course.

[ii] Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage and Culture: Landmark battles in the rise of western power. (Anchor Press: New York, NY. 2001), p. 23.  Caesar’s legions faced constant harassment from Gaul insurgents throughout their occupation. 

[iii] Richard Shultz, Douglas Ferah and Itamara Lochard. Armed Groups: a Teir One Security Priority (Boulder, CO: INSS, 2004). p. 18.

[iv] John A. Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, Paperback ed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 50.

[v] Ian F. W. Beckett, Modern Insurgencies: Guerilla and their Opponents since 1750 (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 24-25. Political agents are vital in counterinsurgency operations as they form the basis of support among the peasantry.  In the later part of the Vietnam war guerilla activity in areas where Combined Action Platoons and Civilian Irregular Defense Groups were developed and employed fell dramatically.  Integrating and empowering peasants in their security and growth, and employing a discriminate and systematic guerilla targeting approach, proved to garner ever greater support for the counterinsurgency.

[vi] Noel Barber, The War of the Running Dogs: How Malaya Defeted the Communist Guerillas 1948-1960, Paperback ed. (London: Cassell Military Paperback, 1971). p. 35.; James Bennet. The Mystery of the Insurgency (New York Times, May 15, 2005). Sec. 4, p. 4.

[vii] Joseph G. Rehak. Discrete Operations in Support of Global Counterinsurgency Operations (U. S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle , PA. 2007). p. 4.

[viii] Anthony James Joe, Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counter-Insurgency (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2004). p. 5-6.

[ix] Max G. Manwaring, Shadows of Things Past and Images of the Future: Lessons for the Insurgencies in Our Midst, Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2004).

[x] John F. Kennedy, Speech delivered to USMA graduation of 6 June 1962,

[xi] Samuel B. Griffith, Brig. Gen, USMC. Mao Tse-Tung On Guerilla Warfare (New York: Fredrick A. Praeger, 1961).

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid

[xiv] Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, 27.

[xv] Noel Barber, The War of the Running Dogs: How Malaya Defeated the Communist Guerrillas, 1948-60, Cassell Military Paperbacks (London: Cassell, 2004), 78.

[xvi] Ibid., 74–77.

[xvii] Roger Trinquier. Modern Warfare: A French view of counterinsurgency (New York: Fredrick A. Praeger, 1964). p. 27.

[xviii] David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (New York: Fredrick A. Praeger, 1964). p. 71.

[xix] Ibid, p. 74.

[xx] Trinquier, p. 8.         

[xxi] Barber, The War of the Running Dogs, 78.

[xxii] Griffith.

[xxiii] Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, 71.

[xxiv] Richard L. Clutterbuck, Brigadier. The Long War: Counterinsurgency in Malaya and Vietnam. (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1966).

[xxv] Barber, The War of the Running Dogs, 85.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] Barber, The War of the Running Dogs, 78.

[xxx] Trinquier, p. 53.

[xxxi] Elizabeth Dickinson, “A Bright Shining Slogan,” August 23, 2009, The phrase gets used for the first time in its modern sense -- to refer to counterinsurgency objectives -- during the Malayan Emergency, an uprising by local rebel forces to oust British colonial rule. "The answer [to defeating the insurgents] … rests in the hearts and minds of the Malayan people," says Gen. Sir Gerald Templer. - See more at:

[xxxii] Robert M. Cassidy. Winning the War of the Flea: Lessons from Guerilla Warfare, Military Review 84 (September-October 2004). p. 41.

[xxxiii] Ibid., p. 43.

[xxxiv] Clutterbuck,.

[xxxv] Cassidy,. p. 43.

[xxxvi] Wikipedia article on the Malayan Emergency:

[xxxvii] James C. Scott. The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia. (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1976). p. 35-38.

[xxxviii] Ibid.

[xxxix] Ralph Thaxton, “On Peasant Revolution and National REsistance: Toward a Theory of Peasant Mobilization and REvolutionary War with Special Reference to Modern China,” World Politics 30, no. 1 (October 1977): 24–57.

[xl] W.W. Rostow. Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Center for International Studies, 1959).

[xli] Griffith.

[xlii] Barber, The War of the Running Dogs, 84.

[xliii] Austin Long. On “Other War:” Lessons from Five Decades of RAND Counterinsurgency Research. (National Defense Research Institute, RAND, 2006). p. 26.

[xliv] Wikipedia,. III, 73-77

[xlv] T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph. (Oxford: Alden Press, 1935), p. 192.

[xlvi] David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, PSI Classics of the Counterinsurgency Era (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2006).

[xlvii] Trinquier, p. 109.

[xlviii] Galula, p. 77.

[xlix] Ibid., p. 35.

[l] John Nagl. Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya to Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soups with a Knife. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2002). p. 27.

[li] Sun Tzu. The Art of War. (Oxford University Press, 1963). p. 84.

[lii] Barber, The War of the Running Dogs, 116.

[liii] Wikipedia., I, p. 72.

[liv] Ibid., V; p. 123.

[lv] David E. Hill, Jr., The Shaft of the Spear: US Special Operations Command, Funding Authority, and the Global War on Terrorism, Strategy Research Project. (Carlisle, PA: US Army War College, 2006), p. 2.


Your rating: None


It's ironic that a member of the LAPD has written an piece about counter-insurgency.

I was under the impression that various LA county street gangs number over 100,000 members. Surely good government, clean water, a generous welfare system, adequate health care and free public K-12 education who have made joining a gang unnecessary or outdated.

US foreign policy WRT counter-insurgency is marked with hubris and a clumsy blindness to reality. If the three levels of government can't control parts of most major cities in the US- with long service cops and other government services who can actually speak to the "insurgents"- why would anyone think that it would work abroad? If the US is unable to win "the hearts and minds" of California's peasants why would one think it could do so for Helmand's?

Let us consider contemporary "Peasant Roles in Insurgency and Counterinsurgency" from the following perspective:

a. Who actually are the "insurgents"/the "revolutionaries? And, thus, who actually are the "counterinsurgent/the counter-revolutionaries?":


... in classical theory, the insurgent initiates. Thus, Galula asserts that “whereas in conventional war, either side can initiate the conflict, only one — the insurgent — can initiate a revolutionary war, for counterinsurgency is only an effect of insurgency”. ...

But in several modern campaigns — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chechnya, for example — the government or invading coalition forces initiated the campaign, whereas insurgents are strategically reactive (as in “resistance warfare”). Such patterns are readily recognizable in historical examples of resistance warfare, but less so in classical counterinsurgency theory.

Politically, in many cases today, the counterinsurgent represents revolutionary change, while the insurgent fights to preserve the status quo of ungoverned spaces, or to repel an occupier — a political relationship opposite to that envisaged in classical counterinsurgency. Pakistan’s campaign in Waziristan since 2003 exemplifies this. The enemy includes al-Qa’ida (AQ) linked extremists and Taliban, but also local tribesmen fighting to preserve their traditional culture against 21st century encroachment.

END QUOTE (See bottom of Page 2 and top of Page 3.)

b. Why and how might these -- thus understood -- counterinsurgents/counter-revolutionaries fight to preserve their way of life, their way of governance, etc.; this, in the face of foreign "transformative" aggression):


The overt attack on Afghan social values was presented, by the resistance forces, as an attack on Islamic values. This was also seen as an attack on the honor of women. The initiatives introduced by PDPA -- to impose literacy on women and girls -- inevitably raised questions as to the potential role of women outside the home. This provoked defensive actions from men, concerned with protecting the honor of women with their families, and to also ensure that traditional roles of women within the domestic sphere continued to be performed. It also generated fears that the important roles of women, as the primary vehicles for passing traditional and Islamic values from one generation to another, would be undermined if they were exposed to external and, particularly, non-Islamic values. This enabled the exiled radical Islamic parties to claim leadership of the resistance and to also declare a jihad. (On Page 58, in Chapter 4 entitled "The Soviet Military Intervention."


c. Finally, how might the insurgents/the revolutionaries (by now, you should know that this is the foreign intervening power and/or his local government proxy) overcome this such resistance -- to unwanted political, economic, social and value "change:"


It must be understood that the success of the revolutionaries is not due to the application of new principles of warfare, or psychological warfare, or to the technical efficiency of revolutionary forces and their tactics, or the terrain; in spite of their importance, these factors, no matter how favorable, would not be sufficient to assure success. The number of warriors armed with rifles and hand grenades is not the decisive factor.

The decisive factor is more in the nature of power. And the success of the revolutionaries can be primarily assigned to two extraordinarily powerful factors, namely:

a. Their closeness and appeal to people -- that is, their ability to win over the population -- and:

b. Their ideological conviction.

END QUOTE (See bottom of first column and top of second column of Page 79.)

Bottom Line Thought -- Based On The Above:

If U.S./the West comes to understand that it (the U.S./the West) is the insurgent/the revolutionary, then the U.S./the West can come to understand what it will need to do; this, to (a) achieve its such revolutionary goals via (b) the support of -- rather than resistance from -- the peasantry.

Given the "clear and present danger" -- that alien and profane "modern western" political, economic, social and value "changes" pose -- this, to the state and non-state actors which, today, say that they espouse, and fight for, such things as "traditional values" and "traditional ways of life."

Given this such clear and present danger, one would think that the job of:

a. Overcoming the peasantry -- of such states and societies -- and, specifically, their seemingly rational, logical, natural and normal objections to such unwanted, alien and profane modern western "changes;" that this such job would be difficult indeed. And, likewise, would be the job of:

b. Rallying these peasants (and/or elements thereof) to the side (to wit: to our side) which -- instead of fighting to oppose/thwart/prevent these such unwanted alien and profane modern western changes -- actually seeks to actively support/facilitate/help achieve same.

As to both "a" and "b" above -- and minus such things as "universal western values," "the overwhelming appeal of the western way of life" and/or a western version of the "end of history" -- minus these, it would appear that, in the place of same, some kind of exceptional skill, exceptional ability, exceptional effort and exceptional success at, shall we say, "ideological indoctrination" of the peasantry (and/or of a cadre thereof) will be necessary. For example: Such as:

a. The Soviets/the communists were often so good at in the Old Cold War? But such as:

b. The U.S./the West seems to believe that it is too good to do/is above doing today?

This, to overcome the natural, normal, logical and rational objection of the peasantry -- in such a non-"universal western values" world -- to such alien and profane modern western "modernizing" transformations as we hope to achieve.

Herein to suggest that, accordingly, the "Peasants Role in Insurgency and Counterinsurgency" -- today -- this may need to be viewed more along the Old-Cold-War (but reversed) "political warfare" conflict environment lines I have described above.

Lines which, today, find the U.S./the West now doing "expansion," and the so-called "Four plus One Threats" (often saying they are the champions/the protectors of "traditional values," "traditional ways of life," etc.?) now (a) doing "containment" and "roll back" re: our such "expansionist" efforts and, thus, now (b) standing directly in our way?

Bottom Line Question:

With the obvious failure of the U.S./the West's "soft power" -- this, to adequately inspire, motivate and organize the peasantry of the states, societies and civilizations of the world that we seek to "transform" -- given this such "soft power" failure, the U.S./the West must look to other ways and other means to achieve its such "transformative" objectives, for example, to those ways and means that were used by the similarly-challenged/similarly soft-power-deficient Soviets/communists of the Old Cold War?