The image that you see above is iconic because it shows everything you need to know about guerrilla warfare in a single picture. Guerrilla wars demonstrate better than any other the three levels of warfare identified by Martin Van Creveld, William S. Lind, and other proponents of a school of warfighting and martial philosophy known as “Fourth Generation Warfare”, or “Non-Trinitarian Warfare”. This school of warfighting argues that the old world order, and therefore the old rules of fighitng wars, revolved around the concept that the State, alone, possesses a monopoly over violent force in the context of war and the maintenance of law, order, and security. This order of things has existed since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which has essentially defined the entire concept of the nation-state.
The power of the nation-state rests on a three-way covenant made between the people, the political class, and the military – hence the “Trinitarian” concept of power. In exchange for surrendering the right to violence to the military, the people and the political class gain its protection and its allegiance. The military derives its moral legitimacy from the people and its authority from the political class, in exchange for upholding their security. And the political class enforces the will of the people through the military, while being kept in check by the very oaths of fealty that they required the military to take.
In other words, the Trinitarian way of doing things is all about balance and trade-offs, recognising limits to power, and exercising power in prudent ways. And, when all of this is done properly and correctly, it bloody WORKS.
The problem is that, over the past few decades, this balance has broken down.
The Power of Guerrilla Warfare
Anyone who has observed the track record of nation-states in fighting guerrilla wars over the past 300 years, cannot help but come away feeling rather depressed. Nation after nation, empire after empire, has FAILED to handle the rather specialised requirements of guerrilla warfare.
Why is that? Because guerrilla warfare is, by its very nature, completely non-Trinitarian. The old checks and balances no longer exist. The people, the military, and the government become effectively one and the same.
Trinitarian warfare works at a state level because there is little to no ambiguity over who is “us” and who is “them”. Under Westphalian rules of engagement, opposing forces have to identify themselves clearly, and the differences between officer and non-commissioned ranks are clear. Make no mistake, those gaudy and colourful uniforms worn by the foot-sloggers and cavalrymen of the old Napoleonic Wars that we modern-day oiks love to make fun of, actually served a purpose. The British didn’t wear those incredibly stuffy and uncomfortable red coats just by way of a fashion statement, y’know. They wore them as a way of distinguishing their troops from the Prussians, the Frogs, the Russkies, the Dutch, the Spanish, and so on and so forth.
If you are used to fighting that kind of war, then fighting people who blur those lines with abandon is very, very difficult indeed.
On top of that, you have to account for the three levels of war – physical, mental, and moral – which Van Creveld, Lind, and others have long identified as critical to victory.
1. Physical Strength
The physical level is the easiest – it simply amounts to who is capable of landing the most amount of damage, either through sheer firepower or numbers, or through technological or material superiority. In this, the Trinitarian approach to warfare genuinely excels. Nation-states have the ability, and indeed the right, to call upon and even conscript vast amounts of manpower. They can direct the entire productive capacity of a nation toward the terrible business of war. And when you have an entire nation dedicated to the singular practice and philosophy of warfighting, as with Sparta, then you have the ingredients necessary to create the most feared nation around.
2. Mental Mastery
The mental level is much more difficult. This involves having a well-trained, disciplined, lean, eager, capable force that will not break under fire and will achieve its objectives. The men who fight must be highly competent in their chosen fields. They must be trained not to miss, either accidentally or deliberately. And they have to have, at some level, the mental control and the agility to put aside their own humanity in order to kill others.
This is very hard to do. Most people who do not understand war, think that any dumb brute can become a soldier. That might have been enough for Caesar and his legions – though any decent examination of history will tell you that it was not so. But today’s soldiers in real armies are so skilled and specialised and capable as to rate the rank of “master” in their chosen field of trade.
3. Moral Superiority
But the hardest level of all to master is the moral level. The first two levels are all about how to fight. But even the leanest, toughest, most battle-hardened army will fall to pieces and become a howling mob of undisciplined rabble if it does not know WHY it fights.
Teaching men why they fight, instead of just HOW to fight, is the hardest task of all. Entire military academies have been created for precisely this reason. Some, it must be said, are better at teaching this than others. But all of them exist precisely because soldiers need to know why they fight.
How to Lose Wars
Now that you know (if you didn’t before) what constitutes true military superiority, you know exactly why America and its Western allies seem to keep losing wars.
It is not because America’s military is physically inferior to those of its opponents. The very idea of physical, technological, or material inferiority is absolutely ridiculous in the face of the evidence of the past 100 years. In EVERY war in which America has fought since 1918, it has ALWAYS had the physical advantage, either in terms of numbers of forces, or in terms of technological capabilities, or both.
Nor is it because America’s military is poorly trained. This is simply not true. I do not call the US military an $800 billion paper tiger soaked in battery acid because of a lack of training. The men who serve in the modern American military are afforded a level of training practically unheard of in any age prior to this one. I am not joking when I say that the average Army or Marine duckfoot is better trained, smarter, more disciplined, and more physically capable than 95% of all college graduates, including those from the very best universities in the country.
It is entirely because America keeps fighting wars for which there is absolutely no reason for it to be fighting – or at least, there wasn’t any real legitimate reason in the eyes of the people, and in many cases even in the eyes of the military.
Korea. Vietnam. Somalia. Kosovo. Afghanistan (after the defeat of the Taliban). Iraq II. Libya. Yemen. Syria. The list of such conflicts is longer than my arm.
Every single one is a war that America lost, usually badly, sometimes catastrophically so.
How to Win the Hard Wars
The primary reason why guerrilla wars are so hard to win is because the easiest levels are so easy to attain, and the hardest levels are nearly impossible.
Look up at that picture at the top again. Without any context whatsoever, whom do you think occupies the moral high ground?
It’s certainly not the Israeli crew driving that gigantiferous death-machine bristling with weapons of war.
Moral superiority in a war is relatively easy to attain when you know you’re fighting against men in uniform on a clearly defined battlefield with clear rules of engagement and laws about treating prisoners appropriately. It is nearly impossible to attain when you are fighting against women and children in civilian garb who pretend to be friendly and then blow themselves up using vests packed with nails and ball bearings that actually don’t kill too many of your friends, but leave most of them with horrific injuries from which they will never recover.
So how, then, does one actually win a guerrilla war?
There is one recent example, which the West has largely overlooked, from the Dirt World, that may prove instructive.
The Long Sri Lankan War
The story of the Sri Lankan civil war against the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) has to be read in full to be appreciated properly. This article from The Diplomat summarises both the course of the war, and the manner in which the Sri Lankan government finally won, very well indeed, and is worth reading in full. Here is the most important part:
The combination of the three factors of adopting a strategic objective matched to the adversary, using a grand strategy that focused the whole-of-the-nation on this objective, and adopting an optimized, subordinate military strategy proved devastating. The LTTE was completely destroyed. The government proved able to change its strategies in response to continuing failure and win, whereas the LTTE doggedly stuck to its previously successful formula and lost.
Some have criticized the Sri Lankan victory as only being possible because the government disregarded civilian casualties and used military force bluntly and brutally. This view correctly emphasizes that wars are by their nature cruel and violent and should not be entered into or continued lightly. However, it unhelpfully neglects critical factors and explains little. As this article has discussed, victory came to the side with the most successful strategies – even if it took the government more than 22 years to find them.
As the article correctly notes, the Sri Lankan government won by mastering all three levels of warfare. But doing so necessarily required a level of brutality with which Westerners are not comfortable.
The Laws of War
Whether Westerners like it or not, the reality is that war is horrifying, brutal, awful, hideous, and hellish. War must NEVER be fought for trivial, transient, foolish, or opaque reasons. To have any hope whatsoever of prevailing in a modern environment, where state authority and legitimacy are breaking down at record speed, militaries must have:
- The right tools and technologies for warfighting;
- Appropriate levels of training and discipline among both the rank-and-file AND the officer corps; and most importantly,
- An absolutely indisputable, unquestionable morally sound reason to engage in war;
To this, we must add one further point:
The Laws of War must be observed to the letter.
What are these laws? They are not nice, kind, or sentimental, but they ARE designed to help Trinitarian warfighters identify “us” from “them”. They have developed over centuries, if not MILLENNIA, of human warfare. I repeat, there is nothing nice about these laws, and if you were to apply them properly, most (misguided) human rights groups and NGOs would absolutely condemn you for it.
Here’s one example – I’m lifting this directly from LTC “Genghis” Tom Kratman’s book, A Desert Called Peace, by the way. In the event that a siege becomes necessary, and the enemy refuses your offer of unconditional surrender, you give the enemy forces occupying a city some time to evacuate the women and children – and you exclude male children above the age at which they can bear arms from that list. You provide one or two exits from the city which they can use to evacuate those people, and you vet them carefully.
Anyone caught pretending to be a civilian is summarily shot. (See what I mean about “not nice”?)
Then, you systematically shut off all water, food, and power to the city. You wait until the remaining inhabitants have eaten dogs, cats, and rats, and are desperate from hunger, possibly to the point of cannibalising the dead. Then, you bombard the city to dust and slaughter, without mercy and without hesitation, every last living thing within the walls.
This is horrifying to contemplate – yet it is lawful and just.
Here’s another good example, taken straight from the Geneva Conventions concerning the treatment of prisoners of war.
To qualify for PoW status, an enemy combatant must wear clearly identifying clothing, carry his arms openly, and surrender those arms. When captured as PoWs, the value of these prisoners is HIGHER than that of one’s own fighting men – they get better treatment, as a general rule, than one’s own soldiers, and one must do everything in one’s power to protect them from harm.
However, there are circumstances in which, if an enemy does not identify himself, and secretly takes up arms against his captors while pretending to have surrendered, he has no rights and can be legitimately shot after a certain time period.
Conclusion – Winning the Hard Way
To win wars in the future, the West must re-learn how to fight with a moral purpose. “The savage wars of peace” are pointless, foolish, wasteful, and utterly immoral. If barbarians and illiterate savages from a 7th Century Izzlamist mindset want to kill each other by the thousand, that’s THEIR problem and not the West’s.
Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE shows the way. The military must be equipped correctly for guerrilla warfare – stealth bombers and tactical nuclear weapons are basically useless against horse-mounted militia armed with AK-47s who don’t even know how to use radar. Furthermore, it must be trained correctly in the kinds of tactics that work, not the bump-into-the-enemy-and-rain-down-artillery approach that most Western militaries seem to favour endlessly these days. That means learning how to manoeuvre, how to live off the land, how to use light as well as line infantry, and when (if ever) to use heavy armour and integrated combat operations. There is a reason why the Afghanistan War was, initially at least, a victory won by SpecOps types working in concert with local support from tribal groups.
And that last point brings us on to the third, and most critically important, element for Western warfighting:
The West has to know why it fights.
Bringing “freedom” and “democracy” and LGBTQWTFISTHISSHIT ideology to a bunch of tribalist barbarians is not a good reason to fight. Attempting to remake the world in the West’s image is not a good reason to fight. Trying to secure Middle Eastern oil supplies for the sake of a bunch of fat Muslim autocrats sitting in Riyadh, Doha, and Abu Dhabi, is not a good reason to fight.
The West loses wars precisely because it has failed to master any of the three levels of war. Its opponents – whether at the state level, like Russia and to a much lesser extent China, or at the non-Trinitarian level like the Taliban – have mastered two or more of them. Against that kind of opposition, the West will keep losing and failing until its empire finally collapses – which is not far in coming anyway.