George Packer’s Knowing the Enemy article in The New Yorker has generated a significant amount of necessary discussion on the global information war we’re in. There are many fine commentaries on Packer’s article to read, including Wiggins’ insightful series, so I’ll try to not to be repetitive here. In fact, I’m going to generally avoid getting into those facts and instead offer two other thoughts largely, if not entirely absent, from discussions over Kilcullen provocative and “Occam-like” ideas.
The first thought. As I read Packer’s description of Australian Army LTC David Kilcullen, I couldn’t help but think about Samuel B. Griffith. Griffith was the captain, later Brigadier General, who translated Mao Tse-tung’s On Guerrilla Warfare and Sun Tzu’s Art of War between 1940 and the 1960’s.
Which took me to another thought. As I see it, what Montgomery McFate, Robert Scales, George Smith, Robert Pape, and Marc Sageman describe (see third bullet point here for titles from these authors, including some hosted on MountainRunner) is something Kilcullen synthesizes and may also be found in Griffith’s introduction to On Guerilla Warfare:
Historical experience suggests that there is very little hope of destroying a revolutionary guerrilla movement after it has survived the first phase and has acquired the sympathetic support of a significant segment of the population. The size of this “significant segment” will vary; a decisive figure might range from 15 to 25 per cent.
You can’t force people to buy into your vision without their participation, just like you can’t force democracy. You must be aware revolutionaries, extremists, or [insert other descriptive noun here] rule and own outcomes if allowed to, converting or coercing the middle ground and destroying any opposing or balancing force. This leads us to the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City that I consider a text on counter-insurgency, or rather how to create and fuel an insurgency.
On a side note, going back to Griffith’s “intro” to On Guerilla Warfare, he notes that “much attention is being devoted to the development of ‘gadgetry'” for counter-insurgency. He cites a 1961 Newsweek article on a “new and fiendishly ingenious anti-guerrilla weapon” and reminds the reader that “mechanical panaceas” do not exist for COIN.)