07/06/05 - guerrillas

In today's excerpt - the historian Jay Winik -- and though written before the current Iraq war -- illuminates why terrorists continue to have so much success. In places where Winik uses the term 'guerilla', simply substitute the term 'terrorist':

"Throughout the years variously referred to as 'guerrillaism,' or 'guerrilleros,' or 'partisans,' or 'Partheyganger,' or 'bushwhackers,' guerrilla warfare is and always has been the very essence of how the weak make war against the strong. Insurrectionist, subversive, chaotic, its methods are often chosen instinctively, but throughout time, they have worked with astonishing regularity. Its application is classic and surprisingly simple: shock the enemy by concentrating strength against weakness. And, as Mao would one day explain, 'The strategy is to pit one man against ten, but the tactic is to pit ten men against one.' Countering numerical superiority, guerrillas have always employed secrecy, deception, and terror as their ultimate tools. They move quickly, attack fast, and just as quickly scatter. They strike at night—or in the day; they hit hard in the rain, or just as hard in the sunshine; they rain terror when troops are eating or when they have just concluded an exhausting march; they assault military targets, or, just as often, hunt down random civilians. In short, they may hit at the rear of the enemy, or at its infrastructure, or, most devastating of all, at its psyche; the only constant is that they move when least expected, and invariably in a way to maximize impact.

"And as military men have often learned the hard way, guerrilla warfare does the job. By luring their adversaries into endless, futile pursuit, guerrillas erode not just the enemy's strength, but, far more importantly, the enemy's morale as well. Every American, of course, in the final third of the twentieth century saw just how effective guerrilla warfare is. They watched it be turned against then with frightening success in Vietnam. But neither has America been its only victim. An astounding number of other world powers, large and small, have been humbled by guerrilla war in the past century alone: at the turn of the twentieth century, the heavily outnumbered Boers in South Africa would stave off the mightiest force on the globe, the British Empire for a full four years. The Algerians used guerrilla tactics with devastating success against the far more powerful French; Castro handily deployed them in Cuba; the Khmer Rouge employed them to come to power in Cambodia; the PLO exploited them for over three decades in the West Bank of Israel; and just as notably, against enormous odds the Mujahadeen managed to humiliate the Soviet army in Afghanistan."


Jay Winik


April 1865: The Month That Saved America


HarperCollins Publishers


Copyright 2001 by Jay Winik


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