Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Beaten, but not defeated?

Some of my colleagues and I have been engaging in idle speculation about the impact that psychological defeat has on the growth of an insurgency in the aftermath of a conventional military defeat. Note that the flavor of insurgency we're talking about here is one that emerges in the aftermath of defeat and occupation by a foreign power - not insurgencies that grow to resist foreign occupation over generations (e.g. Tibet) or insurgencies that seek to impose regime change on a local government (e.g. the FARC.)

What role does the psychological impression of losing the war that a population experiences play in their later willingness to restart or continue hostilities - through participating in or supporting an insurgency, for example? That is, does a population that doesn't experience defeat "up close and personal" somehow retain more of a will to resist than one that does? For example, neither WWII nor the American Civil War saw the emergence of a significant insurgency (yes, I know about the Ku Klux Klan and I know that the US Army was dealing with isolated acts of resistance into the early 1950s, but neither period saw resistance coalesce into something that could have changed the outcome of the war.) Both of those wars ended with the population on the losing side experiencing total defeat and social collapse. The Iraq war ended with the decapitation and replacement of the existing regime, but without the population experiencing national defeat. Is that a factor in the current insurgency? If so, what does that say about current warfighting techniques - do they render the defeat of a nation's government too bloodless to pacify a population? Or would an Iraq insurgency have risen regardless, given early US mistakes in the aftermath of Saddam's defeat?