“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”
– T. E. Lawrence, “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”
You’ve taken the first step and read Lawrence’s Twenty Seven Articles. Some are germane to a fight on American soil and some not so much. We are entering a phase in world affairs where the economic troubles and collapses that are occurring around the globe will come home to roost in America. Like most governments, the US central authorities in DC will do everything in their power to retain the power and control they now practice over their tax jurisdiction. Like the other USSR in 1989, a fracture is in the future and one state declaring secession will start a stampede the likes of which this country has not seen for nearly a century and a half. The 320 million subjects are critical components in the tax-eater system to continue feeding the Federal beast. These cattle will not be permitted to go gently into the night.
Lawrence discovered that successful insurgencies must retain the initiative and establish solid support among the mass base for all actions. Whether we examine his successes against the Turks, the Irish divorce from the United Kingdom in 1916-1922 or the Basque success against the Spanish government to carve out their semi-autonomous province in Northeastern Spain, the initiative must be seized and retained.
This initiative can be maintained on a shoestring. The force calculus for insurgencies is a meager ratio compared to the forces Counterinsurgency (COIN) and conventional forces must maintain to defeat incipient and long term guerrilla forces.
The IRA in both its pre- and post-WWII configurations fielded less than a thousand active fighters at peak strength against tens of thousands of deployed British and Northern Irish contingents. German Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck fought more than a half million deployed British and Allied forces to a standstill in German East Africa for nearly four years during WWI with a force that rarely numbered more than ten thousand and at one point had 1200 effectives left. No less than 127 General officers failed to vanquish him and at the conclusion of the war, he remained the only German General (he was promoted in abstentia in 1917) to be undefeated on Earth in 1918. He sought to be self-sufficient and managed to manhandle naval guns off the ill-fated Konigsberg in the Rufiji all the way up to the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.
This illustrates that much like the irregular actions in both the First (18th century) and Second (19th century) American Revolutions, a tremendously small number of active fighters and triggermen can cause a disproportionate headache to large formations of conventional armed forces arrayed against them. U.S. Grant had to take huge chunks of his fighting forces and devote them to protection of his lines of communication during his siege and investment of Vicksburg. I would suggest that Napoleon was not necessarily wholly defeated by Wellington at Waterloo in 1815 so much as emasculated by French (southern) and Spanish guerrillas in his lines of communication after his atrocities and overreach enraged the local populations of these areas. Before, 1850, France was not the monolithic nation state we are accustomed to today. There were areas of it, like Germany, that did not even share dialects or language.
Lawrence paid attention to these details and more. He studied the culture and the history deeply. He was a brilliant and eccentric scholar whose steeping in Medievalism may have given him an edge in understanding the dynamics of the war he was waging with the indigenous forces against the Turks (and at times, against British post-war interests). He delegated authority to tribal and clan leaders in ways that increased his combat and mission effectiveness. He deferred to local authority to develop strongholds and effective placeholders when his mobile forces pursued other targets.
If you carefully examine his Articles and replace the use of “Ashraf and Bedu” with Appalachian, Inland Northwestern or Basque, the tenets become universal assignations for the leveraging of cultural intelligence for fighting effectiveness and combat power. I hope to develop a future compendium that examines every article in detail but brevity dictates that I entertain just a few examples.
14. While very difficult to drive, the Bedu are easy to lead, if: have the patience to bear with them. The less apparent your interferences the more your influence. They are willing to follow your advice and do what you wish, but they do not mean you or anyone else to be aware of that. It is only after the end of all annoyances that you find at bottom their real fund of goodwill.
Lawrence is cataloguing what at first glance appears to be an observation savvy only to the tribes he was working with but it makes perfect sense in almost every Western situation. Why American forces in the Middle East who are the alleged COIN experts fail to grasp the importance of discrete stakeholder-ship in the forces they are mentoring to fight the indigenous fight is beyond me. In one successful insurgency after another which is at their essence full contact sports to wrest control of a nation or parts of it from the previous insurgency, the mass base and its acquiescence to the insurgents will determine their success. Once the moral high ground is lost by either antagonist, the fight will be about legitimacy for the present government or the aspirants who seek to replace it or divorce a part of the country from its suzerainty.
22. Do not try to trade on what you know of fighting. The Hejaz confounds ordinary tactics. Learn the Bedu principles of war as thoroughly and as quickly as you can, for till you know them your advice will be no good to the Sherif. Unnumbered generations of tribal raids have taught them more about some parts of the business than we will ever know. In familiar conditions they fight well, but strange events cause panic. Keep your unit small. Their raiding parties are usually from one hundred to two hundred men, and if you take a crowd they only get confused. Also their sheikhs, while admirable company commanders, are too ‘set’ to learn to handle the equivalents of battalions or regiments. Don’t attempt unusual things, unless they appeal to the sporting instinct Bedu have so strongly, unless success is obvious. If the objective is a good one (booty) they will attack like fiends, they are splendid scouts, their mobility gives you the advantage that will win this local war, they make proper use of their knowledge of the country (don’t take tribesmen to places they do not know), and the gazelle-hunters, who form a proportion of the better men, are great shots at visible targets. A sheikh from one tribe cannot give orders to men from another; a Sherif is necessary to command a mixed tribal force. If there is plunder in prospect, and the odds are at all equal, you will win. Do not waste Bedu attacking trenches (they will not stand casualties) or in trying to defend a position, for they cannot sit still without slacking. The more unorthodox and Arab your proceedings, the more likely you are to have the Turks cold, for they lack initiative and expect you to. Don’t play for safety.
Again, Article 22 speaks volumes about the importance of local traditions and what may constitute a military maturity that in Western eyes is unfamiliar and seems on its face, absurd. Yet after ten years in Afghanistan, there is no safety on the roads for Allied occupiers nor does the enemy afford the military hyper-power a set-piece engagement or lucrative target sets by gathering or bundling in single places. You will notice the disproportionate number of hits in the last few years on logistical tails such as communications or fuel nodes. The mujahedeen know that they cannot defeat the Allied forces in stand-up fights so they take the fight to the weaknesses which become apparent to them over time through careful observation and canvassing of sympathetic members of the mass base in locations across the terrain.
Even our much ballyhooed victory over Muslim rebels in 1902 is rather premature when considers the no-go areas in Philippine Muslim strongholds like Mindanao. There have no Muslim insurgencies defeated since the end of WWII. None. Like General Giap in Vietnam, they too pay attention to Lawrence. They realize that the British were defeated not once, but twice in Afghanistan; the Russians followed their lead and then America, much like the dull schoolboys we were following the French in Indochina, thought technological and economic superiority trumped all other aspects of military victory. America is defeated by a little known law: Buppert’s Law of Military Topography dictates that most mountainous terrain held by people who are savvy riflemen cannot be militarily defeated whether it be the Chechens, Swiss or Afghans. This may be one reason why the Appalachians in the US were not fully tamed until about the 1930s. One may find a few historical instances where that may not be true but then there are dozens of other examples that prove it out. Take a look at Zomia
Lawrence provides a terrific blueprint for how to conduct a proper insurgency. In the next installment of this series we will examine the exploits of a man whose efficacy and merit as a warrior matched that of Lawrence in breadth and scope of achievement but on a distinctly different playing field, Michael Collins.
“I’d like to have Two Armies: One for display with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, staffs, distinguished and doddering Generals, and dear little Regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their General’s bowel movements or their Colonel’s piles, an Army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country.
The other would be the Real One, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage uniforms, who would not be put on display, but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That’s the Army in which I should like to fight.”
– Jean Lartéguy, author of The Centurions and The Praetorians