Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Popular Support in a Guerrilla war

Irregular (Guerrilla) warfare has a number of additional features that make it even more difficult to get a grip on what is actually occurring. Because at least one side is ‘hiding’ within a civilian population, it is very difficult to get a good idea of the relative strength of the irregular side. The number of men carrying guns is easier to judge, but how about the percentage of the population who supports them? Many motivations come into play here. Take the German occupation of France, 1940-1944.

The strongest and most effective part of the French resistance was made up of communists. They did not have the majority support of the entire French population. Other groups existed and were active. What percentage of the population was supportive of these efforts? Even today, we have a problem figuring this out. At the time, during occupation, many people understandably stayed out of the way. Maybe they saw something, or suspected something, but did not do anything. Do you count them as supporters? After the war, it was to your advantage to consider yourself a supporter, but at the time, were you really? Then you have the outside angle.

Britain and the United States were helping the French resistance. This is not uncommon in irregular warfare. A government or other entity that has a stake, or wants influence without directly interfering can also be playing a part. Then you have the problem of scale.

Who do you include when determining ‘popular support’? Take the problem with the Kurds in Turkey, for example. The Kurds are only a small percentage of the Turkish population. The guerrilla force they support may have a significant percentage of support from the Kurdish population, but if you include the entire Turkish population, (I am certain the Turkish government does) the guerrilla force in no way has ‘popular’ support. How you view the situation can make a huge impact. These motivations and influences can be difficult to judge. On top of this, everyone has an angle. Take Iraq for example.

On the side that is supportive of United States efforts to create a democracy, you tend to see more things in a way that are supportive of this view. You are more tolerant of negative news. You see support of the ‘terrorists’ among the Iraqi population as being limited. ‘Outsiders’ are causing most of the problem. Positive news is viewed as being more important than the negative. If you are on the political side opposed to our presence in Iraq, you probably believe that the war is not winnable. You probably believe that withdrawal is our best move. You see many events as being counterproductive toward swaying the population to join us and encouraging more people to join the insurgency. Irregular warfare makes it very easy to see what you want to see. Toss in the fact that in our democracy, we have two political sides who always appear to oppose the other.

We have politicians whose careers are dependent upon these potentially biased views. It is very difficult to obtain an actual objective view of the war. Even the news reporting is effected.
News reporting has its strengths and weaknesses, just like everything else. The news in the United States is world class when the subject is political. As a result, wartime news reporting tends to be viewed through a political prism. This helps explain why wartime news reporting understands the fundamentals of warfare so poorly. Politics and warfare do not mix well. All of this adds to the general ‘Fog of war’ and can cloud the picture even more.

The phrase "Popular Support" can be misleading and our understanding of it inaccurate in the extreme. With measurements that can be so far off like this, it is best to stick to general views. And even then, we must be very careful how it is used.

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