Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies: Guerrillas and Their Opponents since 1750

By Ian F. W. Beckett | Go to book overview

1

THE ROOTS OF INSURGENCY

The word 'guerrilla' itself, meaning literally 'little war', derives from the activities of Spanish irregulars or partidas against occupying French forces between 1808 and 1814, but the first documented reference to guerrilla warfare appears to have been in the Anastas, a Hittite parchment dating from the fifteenth century BC. The actual minutiae of guerrilla tactics portrayed in the writings of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) in the 1930s are not recognisably different from those described by the ancient Chinese military theorist Sun Tzu in his The Art of War, a text now thought to date from between 400 and 320 BC, but with additions between the second and eleventh centuries AD. Similarly, the Bible, which dates in part from the first century BC, has many references to guerrilla warfare. One of the best illustrations is the account in the Old Testament's Book of Daniel and the two books of the Maccabees in the Apocrypha of the revolt against the Syrians led by Judas Maccabeus in 166 BC. Operating from desert mountain strongholds, the Maccabeans ambushed Syrian forces, seized weapons, visited villages by night to rally support and forced the Syrians back into fortified garrisons, ultimately compelling the Syrians to conclude a treaty in 158 BC.

Similarly, the works of classical ancient historians such as Polybius, Frontinus, Plutarch, Appian and Tacitus catalogue a succession of guerrilla campaigns fought against imperial Rome in North Africa, Spain, Britain, Germany and Gaul by leaders like Viriathus in Spain, Vercingetorix in Gaul and Tacfarinas in the Numidian desert. Nor were guerrilla tactics unknown in the mediaeval period. The Welsh scholar Giraldus Cambrensis left an account in the late twelfth century that provides a strikingly modern description of Welsh guerrilla tactics against the English:

Though defeated and put to flight one day, they are ready to resume combat on the next, neither dejected by their loss, nor by their dishonour, and though, perhaps, they do not display great fortitude in open engagements and regular conflicts, yet they harass the enemy by ambuscade and nightly sallies.

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Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies: Guerrillas and Their Opponents since 1750
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • 1 - The Roots of Insurgency 1
  • 2 - The Roots of Counter-Insurgency 24
  • 3 - Resistance and the Partisan 55
  • 4 - Mao Tse-Tung and Revolutionary Warfare 70
  • Further Reading 85
  • 5 - Formative Experiences 86
  • Further Reading 118
  • 6 - 'Wars of National Liberation'? 121
  • Further Reading 148
  • 7 - The Transition to Urban Insurgency 151
  • 8 - Insurgency and the Superpowers 183
  • 9 - Forward to the Past 217
  • Index 253
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