Review: War of the Flea–The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare

5 Star, Insurgency & Revolution
War of the Flea
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September 8, 2007

Robert Taber

First published in 1965 and recently re-issued, this book is written by the only American who was with Castro instead of the CIA at the Bay of Pigs. In retrospect, and given that the anti-Castro Cuban exiles used their CIA training to assassinate John F. Kennedy (see Someone Would Have Talked: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Conspiracy to Mislead History, this American is clearly a just man and a wise man.

There are two bottom lines to this book:

1. No indigenous people have ever lost, in the very long run, to foreign occupiers. See also The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People

2. The win-win for both democracy and capitalism is to do away with unilateral militarism, immoral capitalism, and predatory “false” democracy that embraces dictators rather than publics. See Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy; Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions; The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project); Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror; and Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025, among others.

The author ends the book with three recommendations for US foreign policy that I for one happily adopt:

1. Abandon all forms of military assistance

2. Declare an Economic “New Deal” for the Third World starting in South America and the Caribbean and Central America.

3. Embrace the Revolution, and live up to our Constitutional ideals of justice and liberty for all.

The author packs numerous pearls of wisdom, firmly rooted in ground truth, into this book.

1. Governments assume they are legitimate when they are not, they assume a monopoly on force while ignoring crime. Legitimacy and morality are strategic assets that most governments have abandoned. Cf. The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century.

2. Terrorism has been the logical asymmetric response of the poor and down-trodden since time immemorial. The author points out the hypocrisy of Israel, which was founded on the basis of terrorism against the people, claiming that terrorism targets non-combatants, while we ignore the fact that the US Air Force bombs entire villages of non-combatants without a second thought.

3. Class war produces the conditions that spawn successful revolutions, which the author is careful to define as those revolutions that have or can acquire popular support. The corruption at the top, and the poverty at the bottom, eventually collide.

4. Guns are the least important tool of the guerrilla (and all of the guns are provided by the occupying power or the illegitimate military). Guerilla operations are a state of mind, a spreading awareness of the possibilities of ultimate invincibility, firmly founded in root legitimacy.

5. The author points out the two fallacies to avoid, both heavily characteristic of current US operations in Iraq:

a. Revolutions and insurgency are NOT a conspiracy, e.g. Iran may be aiding the insurgency in Iraq, but at root the insurgency is home grown and will continue until the US is driven out.

b. Counter-insurgency is NOT about tactical “methods.” The long war is about the will and rights of the people everywhere. As General Smedley Butler, USMC concluded, War Is a Racket: The Anti-War Classic by America's Most Decorated General, Two Other Anti=Interventionist Tracts, and Photographs from the Horror of It

6. The author is a gifted writer. He points out that conventional armies are burdened by a dependence on bases and “things” (vehicles, weapons systems) while the guerilla is “liberated” by their poverty, able to move past roadblocks by simply walking in the jungle 100 meters to the left or right. Conventional forces focus on patrols and real estate. The guerilla focuses on the message and the public.

7. The guerilla is a voice, a message. The fact that the guerilla exists means that the political process has FAILOED. The primary asset the guerilla has is not a weapon, but their relationship with the community of people within which they survive.

8. The author believes that in the era of globalization, the laboring class has been empowered but does not fully realize its power to carry out a legal general strike, to demand labor unions, to not consume products whose “true cost” is onerous.

9. The guerilla is militarily weak but politically strong and economically dangerous. I continue to marvel at the idiocy of Dick Cheney in seeking to capture Iraq's oil and intimidate Iran (Persia) while ignoring the fact that ten oil pumping stations in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, if blown up, can take oil to $200 a barrel overnight.

10. Three conditions are cited as being necessary for a revolution:

a. No other alternative.

b. Cause is compelling.

c. Possibility of success.

11. A general strike by the public can follow an armed insurrection, or stand on its own as a clear signal to the government that it has lost its legitimacy and authority. I cannot help but feel that the United States of America is today badly in need of a legal ethical general strike by the public that continues until Dick Cheney resigns from office and Congress declares an end to our unilateral militarism around the world.

12. The essence of guerilla warfare is to take the profit out of oppression and occupation (colonialism, corruption by corporations) with a clever strategy that is clearly and publicly enunciated, and popular as well.

13. Time, space, and will favor the people over any occupying force. Occupiers lose twice:

a. Their presence provokes anger in the people.

b. They supply the insurgents with all the arms, ammunition, food, and other supplies needed (this is one of two dirty little secrets of the US occupation of Iraq; the other is that we have returned 75,000 of our honorable men and women to America as multiple amputees who are not being well served by the Veteran's Administration).

14. US *talks* about hearts and minds but *spends* only on death and destruction. We are still not serious about global stabilization & reconstruction, humanitarian assistance & disaster relief.

As I put the book down on the flight back from Tampa, I thought to myself that this author is completely correct in pointing out that terrorism is of, by, and for the indigenous people, and it is neither deviant nor apart from the fabric of the society it seeks to save. The author also points out that terrorism is vastly less costly than conventional war in every sense of the word: dead, wounded, collateral damage, destruction of infrastructure, and financial as well as moral cost. The author makes it quite clear that the USA is in *denial* when if fails to understand that an insurgency is a civil war, not a conspiracy or communist or terrorist inspired “conspiracy.”

The latter half of the book provides a series of truly absorbing and sensible “lessons learned:”

1. Algeria taught us that urban areas can be occupied and dominated by torture, but at a cost so huge that the occupying government is weakened politically and economically. Cheney remains in denial on this point.

2. The three “failures” of indigenous revolution in the short term:

a. Philippines, government combined social work with amnesty and land grants that took away the basis for revolution among the Huks.

b. Malaysia, the insurgents lacked a rural base with its own food production capability, and could be isolated.

c. Greece, the guerillas lost contact with the public and lost militarily by engaging conventionally.

The author cites Sun Tzu in pointing out that there is nothing “modern” about terrorism or warfare. It is all based on deception and competing claims to legitimacy. He lists six conditions for a successful revolution in his conclusion:

1. Valid popular grievances
2. Sharp social divisions (or ethnic)
3. Unsound or stagnant economy
4. Oppressive or illegitimate government
5. Moral leadership within the guerilla movement
6. A foundation on the truth rather than lies

For the 27 secessionist movements in America, the author notes as have others that anytime an empire is engaged in a far-off debilitating military campaign, internal secessions are easier to accomplish.

In my view, the USA is clearly vulnerable to precision sabotage of the kind that Peter Black, Winn Schwartau, and I discussion in the early 1990's. We were ignored, and today our infrastructure is ten times to a hundred times more likely to collapse from its own decrepitude that from “enemy” action. The two “mainstream” political parties are so corrupt they have run American into the ground (Cf. Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It

I may never be Director of National Intelligence, since I am predisposed to tell the truth, the whole truth, and that is best gotten with the 96% of the information that the secret world refuses to notice. However, if I were, we would have three objectives and three objectives only:

1. Terminating all dictators through buy out plans they cannot refuse.

2. Ending all corruption by any government, organization, or individual.

3. Providing free connectivity and free on demand education in all languages to all people, with hundreds of millions of volunteer tutors able to education the five billion poor “one cell call at a time.”

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