Teaching Insurgency through the Prism of the American Revolution

By Fawley, Darrell E. | Infantry, April-August 2012 | Go to article overview
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Teaching Insurgency through the Prism of the American Revolution

Fawley, Darrell E., Infantry

After the President announced a shift from ground wars to a strategy focusing on air-sea battle, many are probably breathing a sigh of relief, happy to be done with the frustrating police action inherent in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. However, a simple analysis of history and the current state of the world should lead most to believe that the U.S. Army's need to understand low intensity conflict and stability operations is far from gone. Beginning in the earliest days of the 20th century, the Army has found itself in a COIN environment several times only to later forget those lessons and prepare for the next big war. As the Army's role winds down in Afghanistan and in the wake of the end of operations in Iraq, most Infantry officers are happy to turn back to high intensity offensive and, to a lesser degree, defensive operations, which are often mischaracterized as full spectrum operations (these operations are in fact the highest end of the spectrum but not the spectrum in itself). However, COIN will be a necessary skill for the foreseeable future, and it should remain a focal point of our professional education and development for years to come.

By teaching NCOs and officers counterinsurgency in the interwar period, we ensure that we are prepared the next time the nation asks us to counter an insurgency instead of being caught off guard as in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Iraq to name of few. Further, when our Infantry leaders understand insurgency, they will better understand how to fight it. They will not make the usual mistake of seeing their enemies as cowards, idiots, or thugs. They will understand what motivates their enemy, what makes him strong, and where he is vulnerable. They will be able to develop an effective plan to defeat him and deny him the populace. And they will do this much faster than has been done in wars past where needless lives, resources, and time were wasted fighting the wrong fight.

The Army has no shortage of lessons learned and examples of COIN operations. However, the problem will be that as new officers and NCOs rise, those who have never found themselves in that environment will not have the same point of reference. They will not have a historical understanding of low intensity wars. Their understanding of Vietnam is likely to be more from the point of the culture of the times, the larger politics, the draft, and the mental effect on the veterans. The trick to getting them to learn about insurgency, which they must get before learning how to counter it, is to use historic examples that they already understand. The American War of Independence provides the perfect vehicle for this. Nearly all officers and NCOs will understand it, and it should interest them to learn that their own nation was born from that dreaded thing called an insurgency. This article will provide an outline for how to teach concepts from FM 3-24, Counter insurgency, and FM 3-24.2, Tactics in Counterinsurgency, to leaders of all backgrounds using the most common point of reference.

Historical Background

1763 - Britain determines that the Colonies should pay for their own defense thus beginning a series of unpopular taxation. Also, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 prevented settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains.

1765 - The Quartering Act is enacted forcing civilians to quarter troops against their will, and the Sons of Liberty political organization forms.

1770 - The Boston Massacre occurs.

1772 - The Gaspée Affair occurs (angry locals board, loot, and torch a British trade enforcement ship).

1773 - The Boston Tea Party occurs.

1774 - The Massachusetts Government Act leads the Colonialists to expel the British-appointed government and storm British army forts. Provincial congresses spring up, and Massachusetts establishes a defense network.

1775 - British General Thomas Gage (the appointed Massachusetts governor) sends regulars toward Concord to seize arms and arrest revolutionaries.

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Teaching Insurgency through the Prism of the American Revolution


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