by SWJ Editors
The People in Arms
A Practitioner's Guide to Understanding Insurgency and Dealing with it Effectively
by Colonel G. L. Lamborn, Small Wars Journal
Since Clausewitz's day, many thinkers, military and civilian, have written about the problem of insurgency or, as Clausewitz put it, the people in arms." Unfortunately, on the one hand, many of these works were written at the level of the political scientist or sociologist, and were therefore largely theoretical, and thus of little interest to the tactician. On the other hand, many works were purely tactical in nature -- useful to the man at squad or platoon level, but lacking any broader theoretical context to explain why what is observed exists. These tactical manuals thus became formulaic" -- in such and such a circumstance, do this." But explanations of why a particular insurgency came to be, or its specific dynamics or vulnerabilities, have generally been given short shrift or ignored entirely. Thus, many tactical books are long on how to conduct kinetic" activities, but woefully short on what really matters about dealing effectively with insurgencies. The theoretical books are long on what ought to be done, but often lack an operational perspective that would provide some idea as to how to go about doing what is recommended.
Clausewitz himself admits (Chapter 26) that his understanding of the people in arms" was limited, though he states that the importance of this form of conflict would grow with the passage of years. Clausewitz evidently did not understand that the people in arms" was to become far more than merely a useful adjunct of conventional operations, such as the partisan or resistance movements in Napoleon's day or in Nazi-occupied Europe. From peasant uprisings and relatively unfocused tribal warfare in remote areas of the globe during the nineteenth century, irregular warfare has evolved into a distinct species of conflict with its own rules" and dynamic. Unfortunately, many senior Western military officers, trained in the strategy and tactics of conventional warfare, are slowly (sometimes very painfully) learning that the rules" of conventional warfare as taught at Sandhurst, West Point, or Saint-Cyr do not necessarily apply to insurgency.
The author has been a student and observer, and sometimes a participant, in various insurgencies since his initiation" in Vietnam in 1969. What is presented in this work is a distillation of those experiences and studies gathered over approximately forty years on four continents, to include some firsthand experience with the contemporary American struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as some experience in working with insurgent movements in the 1980s. This short work is intended to give the reader an understanding of the true nature of insurgency and a glimpse at the reasons why we have not always dealt with it effectively. If the reader gains some insight into insurgency, and can apply his knowledge intelligently, Jimmy Doolittle's wish will come true: we will start fighting more from the neckline up -- and less from the neckline down.