Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Going Roman

First of all, LCDR Armstrong, pay attention - I found you another drinking partner.
The idea that it is possible to study warfare systematically, from a historical perspective, has already appeared in ancient times, but it received pronounced theoretical and practical endorsement at the beginning of the modern era. The aim of military theories, which had begun to develop since the Renaissance period, was to examine what the most efficient form of organization would be to build up, train and deploy an army in order to achieve the ultimate goal of operating a military force – victory. Many military thinkers have claimed that military theory should be created through a study of military history. The argument between the various schools of thought was (and still is) whether military theory can be universally applied. But at the same time there is a general consensus that military history should be studied in order to define the relevant military theory, and that historical research is the basis for military theory since throughout history it was war that provided clear lessons.
One of the most outstanding instances of historical research which created a theory is the book by Alfred T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1890). It may be said quite simply that Mahan created a naval theory after a profound study of the military history of naval warfare in the modern period, with a definition of a number of essential principles which in his opinion constituted the basis for the creation of sea power.
Like counter piracy now, there was no reason to be short of ideas for Counter Insurgency a decade ago. Heck, forget our hard learned lessons from Vietnam - the West has been at it for thousands of years. 

The great shame is that even now, repeating stupid mistakes of the recent and ancient past, there are those who want to forget everything about COIN. Like the saying goes, those who forget history ... 

In a must read extended article at Small Wars Journal, Dr. Tal Tovy, assistant professor of History Department at Bar-Ilan University Israel, outlines the very open history of COIN - if you just make the effort to read it. 

He gives a great primer on what "going Roman" really means, and though in living memory we have incinerated hundreds of thousands of civilians in an afternoon - perhaps some of the Roman methods are beyond our use today, but there is no excuse not to see the clear pattern and I pray that we do not let our hubris allow us to forget again for COIN and all the warfare disciplines whose larger answers are all written and waiting to be read.

Just an example of what you will find in Tovy's work.
A study of the sources dealing with the response of the Romans to the revolts of Tacfarinas, Boudica and Bar Kochba indicates that similar methods were used.
At the beginning of the revolt we see that the Roman army does not initiate offensive measures for the very reason that it did not have sufficient military forces. Another reason was the guerrilla methods used by the rebels, against which Roman tactics based on the regular forms of battle was ineffective. The lack of military preparedness and the use of inappropriate methods of warfare for the military situation were the cause for catastrophe and the defeat of the legions. The situation for the rebels changed for the worse in both instances on the arrival of officers who changed the warfare tactics of the Roman army and adapted them to those of the enemy as well as to the field conditions.
For example, the arrival in Judaea of Julius Severus, the governor of Britain, who had gained practical experience in mountain warfare acquired in Britain itself, mainly in Wales. This enabled him to deploy a military system against the guerrilla forces of Bar Kochba which was suited to the field and warfare conditions in Judaea. Severus brought with him the forces that had accumulated experience in mountain warfare, relied more upon archers and cavalry, as well as troops of German origin (numeri) which had operated as light and mobile units. Similar trends can be found in the suppression of revolts in North Africa. The Roman army ceased operating in large units and began using smaller and more mobile ones. The army took control over vital passageways and created a blockade by constructing fortresses. This restricted the movements of the rebels within the enclosed areas in which the mobile units operated, thus restoring the offense initiative and gradually crushing the revolt.
It can all be brought forward.
A framework for political and economic activities provides a broader operational basis. Modern COIN theories clearly determine that carrying out such activities can lead to calming a certain region through separation between the guerrilla forces and the civilian population. These methods of activity include building infrastructure, improving health and educational systems, increasing the efficiency of the economic system, etc. These processes can be regarded as parallel to the measures carried out by Rome in the areas it conquered and after the suppression of a revolt.
As an analogy, it may be said that the desire of the United States to establish democracy and liberalism, according to the American model, in the countries where it is active, resembles the process of Romanization. Also, the dependence of the United States on rulers who display pro-American tendencies, even if they are dictatorships, is parallel to the model of client states that Rome created. In many places around the world the United States has supported and even aided the accession of rules who presented an agenda that corresponded to American interests. During the Cold War period these were leaders who displayed a firm and aggressive stance against Communism, and today these are the moderate Islamic leaders who are opposed to the trends of Islamic fundamentalism. Thus, without going into philosophical speculations about the importance of studying history, we may also learn from the distant experience of Rome about warfare against guerrilla forces and against revolts that are occurred today as well in various parts of the world.
More could and should be spent on the lessons of Rome and others, but not now. Just remember to put up your guard, become exceptionally skeptical, and do not let others bully-boy their way to shutting you up when they cry, "All is new! War is different! This is unprecedented! This is revolutionary! Transformation! Everything has changed! Eleventy! Game changer! War winning technology!" 
No, that is the bleating of the ignorant and the agenda-born. Only tools change - the fundamentals are the same. To take a town, you need your men on the corner - forcing their will on the town with sword, pike, musket, or assault rifle. To embargo them you need a longboat, a sloop, a battleship, a submarine. Just ask a Roman, or Dr. Tovy.


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Unknown said...

If we can get the hubris of "Big Army", "Big Navy", etc. forces out of the way, I don't think we would have any problems using smaller, lighter, mobile units more appropriate for COIN. My main metric for saying that is the initial plan for entering Afghanistan vs. what actually happened. It seems like there are those inside the military with a pretty good grasp on core COIN concepts, but then everybody else wants to come to the dance, too.

Of course, if 'sequestration' kicks in, our soft and hard power projection will probably be non-existent, anyways.

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