About theories and their application in general

I did recently mention the concept of accidental guerrillas; the idea that killing one wrong person spawns multiple new enemies.
A commenter stated that he doesn't believe in this theory because the Taliban would have spawned way too many enemies pre-2001 if it was correct.

Well, this touches on a very general problem; people have misunderstandings about how to apply theories (or non-scientific attempts to explain what's happening).

Many scientific theories look at an issue from one angle, on one spot and make a correct statement with very limited applicability. The correctness depends on the correct conditions. A neutron can split an atom, but it has to be the right kind of atom, and the neutron's energy needs to be right as well. Newton's mechanics apply, but only at non-relativistic speeds. Certain theories about an optimal currency area are valuable, but only if labour is really mobile. A drug may cure a disease, but only so if the bacteria isn't resistant yet.

In this case, the "accidental guerilla" explanation seems to be valid for the 2001-2011 time frame of the Western occupation of Afghanistan, but incorrect for the previous Taliban rule.
Why? Well, the Taliban ruled under different conditions. The Hama option was feasible and valuable for them and an effective counter to the accidental guerilla problem, but to us it would be a perversion and has a negative value. Different circumstances - different dominant approaches - different outcomes.

This is of course also applicable to my attempts to contribute to military theory (one of the things that differentiate this blog from almost all other MilBlogs). All but the most general theories apply only under certain circumstances in (hopefully well-defined) cases. Sometimes it's even up to other theories to define the limits of a given theory. That's how science and much else advances in the Western World; by incremental improvements coupled with a readiness of at least some people to accept the complicated or complex nature of their field of interest.



  1. Defending "sloppy" thinking as "its complicated, you dont understand" is not science.
    Or even critical thinking.

    I'm sure there are people who have been motivated to fight ISAF because ISAF accidentaly bombed their brother/mother, but to argue that it is a majority is just verbage unless you can come up with some pretty solid facts on numbers. And those, I havent seen.

    I have seen numbers showing that most of Iraqs insurgents were simply poor and looking for work.
    If you needed $50 a month for food, and someone was willing to pay you $50 for fireing an RPG at a Humvee, most men did it.

    One particular example of the Hydra Theory that tends to stick with me, as an example of extreme stupidity, goes roughly as follows.

    There was a US Base, linked by road to a US base, and every week, there was a supply run.
    This Supply run came under harrasment fire from a heavy machine gun.
    No one was injured, and the convoys just ignored for the better part of a year.

    Then one night, a USMC company assaulted the village by Helicopter, with gunship support, and killed some 15 men who resisters.

    The article then stated as fact, that the families of those 15 men, not all of whom were involved in the original shootings, would hate the US and go suicide bombing.

    Thats onme possible outcome of course, but another, just as likely outcome, is that that village, and all the villages nearby, will take a very stern line on people shooting Americans, because they are the ones who will suffer the wrath.

    And of course, if the "Taliban" are manning these positions and killing any villagers who resist, the US is unlikely to be high on anyones priorities...

    There might be some "Accidental Guerillas", in fact, I'll go as far as to say there are some, but compared to mercanaries, bandits, ideological fighters and local independant forces, I refuse to accept they are significant.

  2. Disregarding "accidental guerrillas" is just as silly as pretending that civilian casualties automatically result in "accidental guerrillas."

    Whether or not people turn to violence against a government or occupying power obviously depends on myriad motivational factors. Killing civilians obviously does not win many friends, but it can intimidate or terrorize people into cooperation or acquiescence.

    Terror works if it is followed by a measure of control. Hama was retaken by the Syrian government because it committed a massacre but then followed on by occupying the area and flooding it with police and military forces to rout out the rebels. The same happened in southern Iraq in 1991.

    Terror fails if it is followed on by nothing or with ineffective attempts at control. Bombing a village but not engaging with it or following on to provide some level of control over it does nothing to discourage violence, but instead can encourage it through "accidental guerrillas". Libya 2011 is an excellent example where the violence of Gadhafi's security forces in the eastern part of the country resulted in a violent backlash by the population. OTOH, in western Libya where his security forces had more resources and supporters, Gadhafi has managed to maintain a level of control through terror.