“Ask The Strategic Genius” – 3


This episode of “Ask the Strategic Genius” is about logistics and the 2nd Amendment: two things you typically will not find connected in public discourse. Time to cure that!

“Amateurs talk about tactics, professionals study logistics” – Napoleon Bonaparte*

“I need guns in case the government gets oppressive, so I can defend myself!” – Stereotypical 2nd Amendment Fanatic

“Amateur.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

“Amateur.” – Mao Zedong

/Facepalm – Sun Tzu

The scenario looks like this, in some people’s minds: the US government becomes oppressive and installs a dictatorship, backed by the might of the army. The people need to begin an insurrection, and all those guns come in really handy, as the New Minutemen 2.0 rise up and once again throw off the shackles of oppression!! Freedom! USA! USA!

Consider: Vietnam, 1962 (North and South) – 200,000 square miles with a population of around 15 million in North Vietnam and 20 million in South Vietnam. The US military that fought in Vietnam was about 500,000..

Consider: The USA, 2015 (North and South) – 3,600,000 square miles – that’s 18 times the area of Vietnam – population 320 million. The US military got its ass humiliatingly kicked out of Vietnam when its troop strength was 1.4% of the population. To achieve a comparable troop strength to get a comparable ass kicking, the US dictatorship would need 4.4million soldiers in arms. To succeed with a military occupation, what, maybe 20 million? Our current military strength is about what it was during the Vietnam war, the dictatorship is going to have a really interesting recruiting problem.** That’s only the first problem; it gets worse for the dictatorship, quickly.

Where do the dictatorship’s supply lines run?

Where do the dictatorship’s airplane parts come from? Where does the jet fuel come from? Where does the ammo come from? Where do the nom noms come from? Where does the fuel for the tanks come from? Where do the ships dock? Where do the special forces get their socks? Where does the entire communications infrastructure of the US dictatorship come from?  Yeah, see? Logistics.

We, the people, sit right on top of the jugular of the US dictatorship’s military juggernaut.

The last square of the guard at Waterloo

The last square of the guard at Waterloo (Soldier 1: “The nice thing about being surrounded is now we’ve got interior lines of communication!” Soldier 2: /facepalm)

We, the people, would actually be paying the salaries of the US dictatorship’s military juggernaut.

A lot of We, the people, would be embedded in the US dictator’s military juggernaut, command echelons, supply chains, and intelligence operations.

You don’t need a personal arsenal to bring the US dictatorship’s military juggernaut to a screeching halt; just say “no”, a bit of E.Coli in the chili, some water in the fuel, a wrench in a jet engine, or just a general strike – that’d do it. Just go home – that’d do it. Unlike in Vietnam, the US dictatorship couldn’t very well resort to spraying Agent Orange on US farmland, or carpet-bombing LA – it needs them. And, in case you didn’t notice: none of that worked very well anyway.

In my Sunday Sermon where I discuss De Boetie’s On Voluntary Human Subjection one of the crucial points is that, to a certain degree, a tyrant cannot tyrant properly unless the people help. If the US turned into a dictatorship, one of these things would be the situation:

  1. The vast majority of people would go along with it and maybe even think it was a fine thing***
  2. The economy would fall apart as the US turned into a 3rd world country, and its military would fall apart with it****
  3. The population is divided in its support of the dictatorship and dissolves into a Syria-style hobbesian playground.

In scenario #1, the guns are useless because – no matter how much you don’t like to admit it – you lost the political battle and you’re an outlier, now. Your little (and it’d have to be little!) insurgency is going to end quickly and painfully.

In scenario #2, guns are useless because you have a situation like Mao encountered in China, and Lenin encountered in Russia: a nation that is on the verge of collapse, and needs a quick kick in the ankle to trigger a runaway reaction. When Mao started his revolution in China he had weapons – but not very many. What he had was the support of a lot of people, and interior logistics. Mao and Lenin “invaded” their countries by starting out there. If you’re across your enemy’s supply lines and have enough support, their troops join you.

In scenario #3, there are lots of guns to go around because there are military units on both sides of the conflict. What does happen, really quickly, is that the tech level of the fighting drops rapidly because both sides mutually destroy their supply chains – assuming a high-tech military. Scenario #3 is the 1861-1865 scenario: general civil war. When that happens, there will be plenty of guns and uniforms to go around; there will be too many, in fact.

Successful revolutions succeed at the point where enough of the military join the revolution that the establishment’s military decides it doesn’t want to fight – or the establishment’s military runs away and gets hunted down (interior logistics, again) like the White Russians, and killed like trapped rats. That realization is usually what sets off the cascade reaction in which a government collapses – as soon as the tyrants (or White Russians) realize the game is up, they’ll run for it and die tired.

If enough people don’t want the US dictatorship, since they’re sitting on its supply lines, it’s going to evaporate. If enough people do want the US dictatorship, you’ll be the White Russians and history will record you as a dangerous reactionary who was eradicated by the forces of righteousness. It may be 100 years before an honest history of the time is written but, hey, dead people don’t complain about their historical legacy.

The size, or even the existence, of a personal arsenal will not affect any of those outcomes in the slightest. If you want guns to prevent dictatorship, you’re missing the point entirely. The way to prevent dictatorship is to try to keep your rulers honest, and not let a dictatorship get established in the first place. It is much more efficient to stop a dictatorship from happening than to go through the process of having a civil war; you’d think our 2nd amendment fanatics would have figured that out after what happened in 1861-1865.


PS – the best way to destroy the US dictatorship’s military is: put Donald Rumsfeld in charge of it. Then wait.

(* Kind of funny, coming from the guy who marched a pedestrian army to Moscow in the winter, equipped only with summer-weight wool uniforms and absolutely no cold-weather gear. One of Napoleon’s lesser known military maxims is “Do as I say not as I do”  Napoleon did, famously, send a directive to move a cannon he’d noticed in Marseille on his way back to Paris during the 100 days – get that thing on a limber and put it to use! He did understand his craft to an amazing degree; some of his early campaign analysis is amazingly perceptive – this was the guy who was perfecting combined arms warfare.)

(** The war in afghanistan is a notable failure because the Taliban fairly quickly realized that it was easy to plant recruits in the new Afghani army. Not only did they get fed and equipped, they were paid – until it seemed like a good time to frag one of the officers and head off for the hills. The “blue on blue” strategy, when the Taliban began to adopt it, separated the US troops from their support infrastructure and did a tremendous amount to end the “surge” in ignominy.)

(*** If you want something to be afraid of, that’s a good place to start. Fear your fellow Americans.)

(**** Read up on what happens to expensive high-tech military gear when political turmoil interrupts supply lines! You don’t need to shoot down the Iraqi air force, you simply let Saddam Hussein’s minions mis-manage it into virtual nonexistence. Think about this question: how many countries that are experiencing political turmoil have state of the art militaries? If the answer is “not many”, why not?

Logistics!

To keep an air force flying, you need an insane logistical capability. To have a navy, you need even more. To have a credible nuclear capability, you need yet still more. There is basically only one country that has built a nuclear navy with carrier-based aircraft, which is the craziest logistical train you can possibly achieve short of manned space travel.)

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Vietnam, … 200,000 square miles … The USA, 3,600,000 square miles – that’s 14 times the area of Vietnam…

    3,600,000 ÷ 200,000 ≠ 14.

    In the US, neither the “militia” monkeys nor the handful of leftists who like blathering about “revolution” show any signs of (tactical or logistical) military (or most other kinds of) competence whatsoever.

  2. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#1:
    3,600,000 ÷ 200,000 ≠ 14.

    /facepalm
    Fixed but I’ll leave this comment here. Thanks ;)

    Now you know why I are a software engineer! They wouldn’t let me play with real stuff. I pretend to be a strategic genius, here, not a math genius.

  3. lorn says

    I agree with your conclusion that small arms, in any numbers likely to be maintained by individuals or small groups, are likely to be useless against a dictator. In fact their presence will be used to justify more violent and indiscriminate tactics.

    A lot of this comes down to myths we learned in history class about the Revolutionary war and the effectiveness of the Minutemen. The fact is that until Washington raised a conventional army roughly in line with what the English had available we lost pretty much every battle.

    Minutemen are classic irregular, lightly trained, minimally equipped, light infantry. You can’t win a war with them and they will evaporate when facing off against regular infantry. They are great scouts when operating in familiar territory and are useful as skirmishers. They can harass an armies flanks and supply lines, and can be used as a rear-guard but they need room to run if engaged.

    The proof of the weakness of citizen militia to regulars is clear after the Revolutionary war during the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington sent in regular troops and put down the rebellion. It worked quite well.

    Your ideas on logistical tails and dictatorships are entirely backward. Stalin, as good a dictator as any had no great problems maintaining his military forces. Never underestimate the efficiency of a dedicated and fanatical secret police if allowed to operate without restraint. Even the upper level functionaries learned the dangers of failing to clap enthusiastically enough or being the first to stop clapping after a Stalin speech. The wider population rapidly learns that the reward for passive loyalty is being left alone.

    Russian and Chinese had sophisticated military units that could have easily given the Western powers a run for our money. They had logistical tails efficient enough to have nuclear powered ships and fighter aircraft that could match anything we had.

    It is not the dictators forces facing a resistance that faces real problems. It is the resistance. Vietnam, Revolutionary China, Revolutionary war with Britain all point to one point. The key to any resistance is external assistance and a means of logistic communication to that external power. Russia and China in the Vietnam war, Western allies supporting the People’s army in China, and France with the war for independence. Lacking external support revolutions seldom win. Without external assistance they revolutionaries are isolated, starved, and swept away.

    There are other things that help if you do have an outside patron: A means of recruiting replacements from a wider area. An area that the defending nation finds, because of terrain and/or political considerations, essentially impossible to attack to set up a command structure, supply and training bases, and safe areas to rest and recover.

    In Vietnam the NVA forces had easily accessible safe zones/supply routes in Laos and Cambodia. In China under Japanese occupation the western and south western area were safe zones. During the Revolutionary war the interior was usually safe from British troops and French supplies and reinforcements typically had easy access from both north and south.

    Keep in mind that France was vital to our revolution. They supplied the navy, half of the artillery, a good number of officers, and a some of our best troops. They also provided essentially all of the fledgling US government’s operating budget. They spent so much helping the colonists free themselves from England that France couldn’t keep its own people happy. This, and the inspiration of a people rising against royalty and governing themselves, set the stage for the French revolution.

  4. says

    lorn@#3:
    The fact is that until Washington raised a conventional army roughly in line with what the English had available we lost pretty much every battle

    Was it Washington who did that, or was it Von Steuben? And there were a lot of other european military professionals around to stiffen the rabble. But.. yes you’re right.

    minutemen: They are great scouts when operating in familiar territory and are useful as skirmishers.

    I’m not sure how good they were as scouts and skirmishers; they were pretty amateurish at first. They probably did more to announce the presence of rebels than otherwise. Not like the vietcong (who were probably amateurish, too, sometime in the very distant past) or the Afghanis: when the civilian population are acting as your sensor/scouting array, you are truly finished.

    The proof of the weakness of citizen militia to regulars is clear after the Revolutionary war during the Whiskey Rebellion.

    Yes. “So much for your guns and liberty, hurr hurr!”
    That was one of the things I was remembering when I wrote this piece. The Whiskey Rebellion would have turned out very differently if and only if there was a preponderance of popular sentiment on the rebels’ side. In that case it probably would not have come to blows; there would have been a political resolution. It seems to me that, in general, revolutions like the one in Syria and Somalia don’t happen very often, because political workarounds are preferable to the chaos of a drawn-out rebellion. Although when I think about Syria I have to say I think that rebellion would have been very very short (as would have been the one in Libya) if other powers had not intervened with the intent of making the conflict much worse for their own ends. That’s what happened during the US Revolution as well.

    One of the topics I didn’t go into (which I should have) is the degree to which successful revolutions depend on outside aid and resources. I see you mentioned the role of Cambodia in the Vietnam war – that’s a great example. It’s crucial for insurgents to have a reservoir they can fall back on, where national troops can’t cross some border or natural obstacle, to get at them. If insurgents have a reservoir like that, they can bleed a government for a very long time.

    Your ideas on logistical tails and dictatorships are entirely backward. Stalin, as good a dictator as any had no great problems maintaining his military forces. Never underestimate the efficiency of a dedicated and fanatical secret police if allowed to operate without restraint.

    I’m not saying that it’s going to automatically be the case that an oppressed people are going to be able to overthrow a dictatorship with a walk-out. No, that’s not how it happens all the time, and yes, some dictatorships (Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot…) are able to create enough of an environment of fear that the people are going to sit back and take it. My point is that, once repression cracks, it’s that shift in the political landscape that has more effect than private gun-ownership. Those shifts don’t look like the minutemen – they look like the Romanian revolution, the Egyptian revolution, the Ukraine revolution, etc. In those cases, the key swing-factor was the military either dissolving, switching sides, or standing by and watching because they were undecided too. I won’t mention the 1st Hungarian revolution because it was quashed by outside forces, but when Hungary liberated itself from the Warsaw Pact, finally, it was because the people just … stopped being part of the Warsaw Pact and the military stopped with them. Private gun ownership plays a trivial role in these things.

    The key to any resistance is external assistance and a means of logistic communication to that external power.

    That is certainly one of the keys.

    On the list of key items for a successful revolution I don’t see private gun ownership.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    Gun nuts hate like hell to be told that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq & Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya were both saturated with civilian firearms.

  6. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#5:
    Gun nuts hate like hell to be told that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq & Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya were both saturated with civilian firearms

    Ha! I bet they do!

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