Colouring his account with gripping battlefield experience from the highlands of Southeast Asia, the mountains of the Afghanistan—Pakistan border, and the dusty towns of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, David Kilcullen argues that neither counterterrorism nor traditional counterinsurgency is the appropriate framework to fight the enemy we now face. Traditional counterinsurgency is more effective than counterterrorism when it comes to entities like Al-Qaeda, but, as Kilcullen contends, our current focus is far too narrow, concentrating on only one geographical region and one state. Western armies have done a poor job of applying different tactics to different situations, continually misidentifying insurgents with limited aims and legitimate grievances as part of a coordinated worldwide network. This highly readable and closely argued book is essential for all those thinking about and fighting wars today. Kilcullen skillfully interprets the future of counterinsurgency, the proper use of military force and what we must learn from our losses and mistakes.
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During its COIN conflicts in the last hundred years, the United States military has fallen especially prey to the thinking trap of lumping all its opponents into the same category. In this phenomenon, occupying forces mistake local and regional resistance movements fighting for their interests as part of a larger organization. The American military and its civilian superiors have always been more comfortable with unambiguous state-on-state conflict rather than more nebulous conflicts with multiple actors.
This condition has held since the earliest days of colonial-era warfare; the problems of guerrilla warfare are not new. Here, American forces encountered Californian militia forces that fought to defend their homeland. While the American invaders associated the Californians with the Mexican state, the militias were, in fact, a separate faction that had rejected Mexican attempts to reassert control throughout the previous decade.
American dealings with the Californio leaders neglected this basic fact and made a potentially peaceful occupation into an uprising. What could have descended into a bloody and protracted guerrilla war instead ended in a negotiated peace due to unconventional approaches from an Army officer.
There is much that we can learn from California — and much that has yet to be learned. The Californio Rebellions It will come as a surprise to some that before the American annexation of California, it was a lightly populated region remote from its mother country.
California only had a population of about Hispanics in , along with around immigrants — mostly white Americans — and an unknown number of Native Americans who were not part of the body politic. Its Hispanic residents, the Californios, were a relatively well-educated and prosperous people who took full advantage of the open spaces for the raising of livestock.
California was almost exclusively dependent on the Pacific for its connections to the Mexican heartland and had virtually no internal infrastructure. Both the Spanish and the Mexican governments had treated California with something like benign neglect. With no military garrison, almost no taxes, and only minimal oversight from Mexico City, California was basically on its own - with the downside of no Californian representation in the central government.
The Californios had grown used to this lack of interference in their local affairs and were defensive of their independence. They shared a collective identity as Californios but bore little outright attachment to a notion of Mexican nationalism. The Centralists passed a new Constitution of that replaced the Constitution of It revoked many of the privileges that the independent regions of Mexico formerly had; they imposed steeper taxes on the majority of Mexico, sent out centrally appointed governors from the Mexico City racial and urban elite, and outlawed all local militias.
This reduction in autonomy even applied to far-flung border regions such as California, which had never known the heavy hand of state institutions and depended on the militia for self-defense. California saw no reaction at first, but the abstract became real in April when their new Centralist Governor, Colonel Mariano Chico, arrived in Santa Barbara.
Chico instantly encountered open displays of Federalist sentiment, urban disturbances, and veiled threats from Californio notables. The defeat and capture of Santa Anna by Texas rebels only weakened his position and prestige still further. By July, the veiled threats and pressure forced Chico to flee back to Mexico. The Revolution of , as it came to be known, declared Alvarado Governor and produced an ambiguous Declaration of Independence November 7, , asserting that California was free until the Centralists restored the Constitution of This document explicitly appealed to Californian, rather than Mexican, patriotism.
Alvarado was already facing resistance from his fellow Californios, who had split into northern and southern factions, and Castillero was able to strike a deal. Alvarado would rescind the Declaration, accept the new Constitution, and lay down his arms; in return, the Centralists would allow him to continue as Governor.
Alvarado hastily conceded to this offer on July 12, , and the rebellion ended as quickly as it had begun. Once again, the Californios self-appointed one of their own — Pio Pico — as Governor. The Californio pattern of rebellion was distinguished by three aspects: the Californio insistence on autonomy, the demonstrative and bloodless nature of their resistance, and the importance of rebellion as a form of both protest and negotiation.
In both the and revolutions, the Californios sought autonomy within the Mexican state rather than outright independence. The Declaration of Independence was a front - a bargaining tactic intended to wring concessions of autonomy from the Centralist government. The Californio resistance was bloodless since they recognized that an excess of violence would raise the stakes and force the Centralist government to respond in kind; demonstrative acts of rebellion were more useful for their ends than outright violence.
Finally, the Californios sought to present a strong and united front and use this to leverage concessions from the government. This method of rebellion as negotiation was a common tactic in northern Mexico at this time, and for the Californio rebels, it yielded dividends. In both and , they achieved their goals of autonomy and recognition within the Mexican system.
Then, of course, the Americans arrived. The American Invasion The United States Navy had tipped its hand regarding California in , when an erroneous report of war with Mexico led Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones to seize Monterey, only to withdraw once he realized his mistake. By August , Commodore Robert F.
Simultaneously, American explorer and Army officer John C. The American invasion was underway. These were all tenets that Californios had learned in their struggle against the Mexican Centralists. Stockton did not understand the Californian context of rebellion as negotiation, and only observed nation-states as viable participants in any such negotiation.
Pico and Castro fled south to Mexico to seek reinforcements, leaving their fellow Californios to carry on the fight. Stockton established small garrisons in the coastal towns, including Los Angeles. After a few weeks of occupation, however, the Californios of Los Angeles revolted on September 24, , and expelled the small garrison with no casualties to either side.
The garrison was allowed to surrender and withdraw with its arms. This was in the pattern of previous Californio revolts. In essence, an urban rebellion had ousted the enemy in a bloodless victory with a show of force, and now negotiations could take place.
To mollify their opponents, the Californios failed to exploit multiple opportunities to destroy American forces throughout the Los Angeles revolt. Stockton, however, still refused to negotiate or treat with the rebels. The struggle had already turned deadly. Colonel Stephen W. The Americans had the worst of the ensuing battle with 17 killed — already more than had died in the previous two California rebellions combined. Kearny himself almost died in the battle, but nevertheless united with Stockton and continued to engage the Californios with no hope of negotiations.
It fell to the worldly, ambitious John C. They were a separate faction with which he could negotiate. On January 12, , he and the rebel leaders negotiated a generous peace at Cahuenga that offered significant concessions to the Californio insurgents. Though Stockton was enraged at the presumption, it was a fait accompli. The conquest of California was at an end.
Conclusions The Americans based their invasion of California on the presumption that all opposing forces were agents of the Mexican state, that armed civilians were simple rebels, and that all hostile activity was undertaken based on outright violence rather than in a demonstrative or posturing sense. The Californios based their resistance to the United States on past experience with their government: a lack of casualties or outright violence, demonstrative shows of force and willingness to fight, and constant offers of negotiation.
Commodore Stockton, and later Colonel Kearny, spurned attempts to negotiate because they did not recognize the Californios as a faction of their own. The Californio militias that fought the American invasion were motivated by local patriotism and a sense of their own identity and nationality, separate from that of Mexico.
American failure to perceive this led to early missteps in policy, resulting in an insurgency that claimed American casualties before it came to an end. American leaders stumbled on a complicated political situation without proper context or intelligence. In a situation that diplomacy could have resolved early, they responded with reflexive force. The American military establishment still has its problems with leaders that go against the grain of conventional thought, with understanding the nature of its enemy, and with the misuse of force in situations that call for intelligent, subtle approaches.
The experience of the California Campaign is not as distant as we think. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Army, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense. Log in or register to post comments About the Author s James T.
The Accidental Guerrilla - David Kilcullen
During its COIN conflicts in the last hundred years, the United States military has fallen especially prey to the thinking trap of lumping all its opponents into the same category. In this phenomenon, occupying forces mistake local and regional resistance movements fighting for their interests as part of a larger organization. The American military and its civilian superiors have always been more comfortable with unambiguous state-on-state conflict rather than more nebulous conflicts with multiple actors. This condition has held since the earliest days of colonial-era warfare; the problems of guerrilla warfare are not new.
The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
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