Low-Intensity Conflict in American History

By Claude C. Sturgill | Go to book overview

Witness the day when Desert Shield became Desert Storm. Do you remember where you were and what you were thinking? Did you watch the news more than once a day, in the days that followed? Did you read your newspaper every day for additional items of information?

In a war, your attention becomes fixed on the daily events and news dispatches emanating from the battlefield. It is during the low-intensity conflict stages leading to a war, however, that important events may escape your notice. This can happen before you know anything is wrong. If our government is lucky, low-intensity conflict can move to "real war" and end in one day as in Grenada, or three days as with Desert Storm after the ground war began. That same government may also be carrying on a long, low-intensity conflict out in some jungle or desert. It passes unnoticed in the United States because it is little, it is quiet, and it does not involve American boys--or so they tell us.

How are you to tell when conflicts start, when they warm up, and when they become red-hot? How can you tell when they become a war? The system I have designed serves as a definition of low-intensity conflict. There are many synonyms for the term "low-intensity conflict." Some years ago members of the Army R.O.T.C. staff and cadets at the University of Florida played a lengthy word game with me. We listed words and phrases that called to mind low-intensity conflicts; the result was the following checklist. You should begin to use this checklist when you hear or see one of these terms used as few as three times, and you can work efficiently by recording the dates when events happen.

Aggressive containmentConvert wars
Ambiguous warsDark warks
Antibandit campaignsForeign internal defense
Antiimperialistic warsFourth-dimension warfare
AntiterrorismGuerrilla warfare
Armed peaceHigh-probability conflict
Attenuated conflictInsurgency
Brushfire warsInternal warfare
Civil warIrregular political warfare
Combatting terrorismInternal warfare
Concealed aggressionLow-level warfare
Conflict short of warLow-intensity warfare
Constrained operationsLow-intensity warfare
CounterinsurgencyLow-level warfare
Countersubversive warfareMarginal military operations
CounterterrorismModern warfare

-2-

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