The deconstruction of conventional warfare and cultural banditry

The word guerrilla means “small war” in Spanish. It was first used with its current connotations in the Spanish War of Independence (1808-1814). The conflict is called the Peninsular War in English language historiography, as it started when Spain and France attacked Portugal and its British allies in 1807. With the Spanish crown’s unknowing collaboration, Napoleon surreptitiously invaded Spain while advancing towards Portugal. He took over all the major cities, imprisoned king Ferdinand VII, and sat his brother Joseph in the Spanish throne. The French Army’s excesses inspired an uprising in Madrid, with the local population attacking the world’s most powerful army. Mass shootings were performed the following day as retaliation: a scene famously depicted by Goya. The Spanish population proceeded to ally themselves with their former English allies, assaulting and killing French troops, assets and allies (the progressive afrancesados”) wherever they could find them. As the French lacked any control of the territory outside of the main strongholds, the campaign turned into a logistical and strategic nightmare for Napoleon, who tasted defeat for the first time. The Spanish freedom fighters employed tactics which crossed the line into banditry constantly. Indeed, cutthroat highwaymen (“bandoleros”) hiding in the woods and trying to make a buck out of French couriers were turned into national heroes, all in the benefit of the war effort.

Guerrilla tactics are obviously much older than the Spanish Independence War. They have been employed for millenia by various tribes, notably nomads from the Central Asian steppes and the deserts of the Arab Peninsula and the Sahel. In modern history, Lawrence of Arabia became the icon of the romantic guerrilla fighter, leading the Arabs against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Lawrence would be asked in 1929 to write the entry for “Guerrilla” in the Encyclopedia Britannica, a milestone in the formalization of such a doctrine in Western military thought.

The same concepts employed by Lawrence and countless other leaders in the past saw a mechanical iteration in what foreign observers deemed the “Toyota wars” of the 1980s, which occurred in the context of the Chad War (no pun intended) and featured mobile units covering hundreds of kilometers in a few hours to raid Libyan territory, only to later disappear into the sand. In the same decade Guattari and Deleuze were publishing A Thousand Plateaus and establishing a new school of Post-Modern thought. One prediction made by the French authors was that Post-Industrial Societies would see an increase of the competition posed by new, rhizomic social systems against “arboreal” organizations and institutions. Rhizomic systems, working as distributed networks, would lack centralized leadership and tigh-knit hierarchies, relying instead on interconnected nodes.

Practical military applications of these ideas started to appear after the Gulf War. Strategists like John Arquille and David Ronfeldt, analyzing the lessons learned from the conflict, concluded that a mobile and connected force, using smart equipment and procedures, would be able to swarm and destroy a bigger and less technologically enhanced enemy. This justified an increased focus in the integrated capacity known as ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance), as the competitors the US Armed Forces were preparing against were already utilizing, instinctively, these very principles. The term Netwar was coined to describe this type of conflict, which basically amounted to a technologically enhanced guerrilla benefiting of constant, precise and multi-directional communication. The concept proved to be strategically successful in the Afghanistan offensive a decade later, pushing the bulk of Al-Qaeda militants into the mountains and towards Pakistan.

Roughly at the same time, a group of Israeli military thinkers were developing their own ideas based on Deleuze and Guattari’s work. Organized around the Operational Theory Research Institute and figures such as generals Shimon Naveh and Aviv Kochavi, these unorthodox thinkers aimed to “deconstruct” urban warfare. They got a chance to do it in the Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000-2005). When charged with taking over the West Bank city of Nablus in 2002, instead of a slow advance through the city streets, Israeli forces came up with a different plan. They knew that Palestinian militants had meticulously prepared for the assault, fortifying every crossing and booby-trapping every door and window. The assailants decided to develop a “negative geometry” and to ignore the “urban syntax” of Nablus. They saw streets, blocks and walls as a mental construct, and thus came from all directions, drilling holes into houses and other obstacles, as if “digging” a straight, over-the-surface tunnel. Despite the obvious material damage done to the city, they managed to capture it with minimal casualties among civilians and their own soldiers.

With America’s strategic focus shifting of theatre, there has been a lot of talk in military and defense circles about applying netwar concepts to confront conventional enemies aswell. The new doctrine might include drone swarms and small teams capable of coordinating flash amphibious assaults from small vessels; a very different image from the one provided by the materiel warfare conducted in the South Pacific during the 1940s. There has been less discussion, however, on the cultural-ideological netwar being waged within the West. The presumption of veracity of formal, establishment institutions, such as the mainstream media and the universities, has been diluted. What Moldbug referred to as the Cathedral is now garrisoned in their well protected sanctuaries, hiding from the outlaws lurking in the roads. Whether the rovers are only in it for the money, or whether they will help expel the invaders remains to be seen. Free spirits as we are, here at the Outpost we declare ourselves loyal to only one cause: the liberation of the intellectual Motherland.