Unpleasant lessons from the Roman method of counterinsurgency?

Nov 2014
412
ph
#1
"They Make a Solitude and Call it Peace": Counterinsurgency - The Roman Model | Small Wars Journal

So after reading this, what caught my attention, was not the carrot used by the Romans in their COIN strategy, but the stick used. So that brings about a very unpleasant conclusion that the reason why COIN efforts by the West since Vietnam may have failed, is not because of the lack of use of carrots, but the lack of fortitude to use sticks if necessary? Or the lack of harshness of the sticks used in case the use of carrots fail, which they invariably will do in places like Afghanistan of Vietnam? Now this may really be pushing the Overton Window a lot, or may not be politically correct, but this seems to be the conclusion from how the Roman Empire did counterinsurgency? Basically Afghanistan may not be digestible for 21st century America, but it may be easily digestible for 2nd century Rome, just as Britania, Gaul, or Roman Germania was digestible.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,320
Dispargum
#2
Do your readings suggest any propaganda efforts by the opposition to turn Roman atrocities against them? One reason for the lack of sticks today is the desire to avoid feeding the enemy propaganda machine. Word would naturally spread of Roman atrocities, but to really maximize its potential requires concerted effort by the propagandists. If there are no propagandists then there is less incentive to avoid the use of sticks.
 
Nov 2014
412
ph
#3
Do your readings suggest any propaganda efforts by the opposition to turn Roman atrocities against them? One reason for the lack of sticks today is the desire to avoid feeding the enemy propaganda machine. Word would naturally spread of Roman atrocities, but to really maximize its potential requires concerted effort by the propagandists. If there are no propagandists then there is less incentive to avoid the use of sticks.
You can read about Roman war crimes in Jewish history.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,320
Dispargum
#5
You can read about Roman war crimes in Jewish history.
Given that there were at least three Jewish uprisings against Rome, it would appear that the Roman use of the stick did not end the unrest the first two times. So the pattern would seem to be: Jewish unrest -> Roman atrocities -> Jewish propaganda -> renewed Jewish unrest. So the stick didn't always work. This is why modern COIN ops are reluctant to overly rely on the stick.
 
Jul 2016
9,680
USA
#6
"They Make a Solitude and Call it Peace": Counterinsurgency - The Roman Model | Small Wars Journal

So after reading this, what caught my attention, was not the carrot used by the Romans in their COIN strategy, but the stick used. So that brings about a very unpleasant conclusion that the reason why COIN efforts by the West since Vietnam may have failed, is not because of the lack of use of carrots, but the lack of fortitude to use sticks if necessary? Or the lack of harshness of the sticks used in case the use of carrots fail, which they invariably will do in places like Afghanistan of Vietnam? Now this may really be pushing the Overton Window a lot, or may not be politically correct, but this seems to be the conclusion from how the Roman Empire did counterinsurgency? Basically Afghanistan may not be digestible for 21st century America, but it may be easily digestible for 2nd century Rome, just as Britania, Gaul, or Roman Germania was digestible.
COIN efforts by the west since Vietnam haven't failed. Malaysia was a success. Vietnam was a close success in the early 70s, as the VC were near totally neutralized as a threat (the NVA invading was a conventional war, which made the war in South Vietnam both COIN and resisting a conventional land invasion). Northern Ireland was a success. West Bank and Gaza were both successes. Even Iraq was a success until control was fully turned over to the Iraqi Baghdad govt who completely bungled it and managed in four years to turn it into another sectarian civil war.

Want to play Roman COIN? Awesome. But you need to take everything with it. If you want to go in and massacre the entire population of a rebelling people, you need to be able to do that whenever you want. Live in a time when only might makes right. To have a society who thinks nothing of putting entire people to the sword, they need to be desensitized to violence, most easily done through a lifetime of animal sacrifice, watching gladiatorial blood sports fought to the death, watching slaves being beaten and murdered with impunity. Oh yeah, we're going to need LOTS of slaves too, because that entire culture back then, everyone (including the rebels) had slaves. So we're again regressing to the point of owning other human beings. We're also going to need to ditch all those rifles, grenades, tanks, etc., and pick up swords and spears again. And ditch all the rest of our tech too. Not just the US, but we have to make sure the rebels/insurgents don't have access to any force multipliers. Two thousand years ago the only successful way to resist the Romans was to collectivize with lots of hand weapons. Good luck attacking a Roman camp with that! Right now someone can drive a truck loaded with about 2,000 lbs of homemade explosives into a military camp and detonate it right at the entry control point/gate. Then drive another through the dust and detonate that one a little further in. Then drive another truck through the dust and detonate that one a little further in. ISIS has been known to use up to twenty SVBIED in conjunction with a ground attack. Mind you, the first IED leaves most of the camp concussed to the point their ears are bleeding, followed by up to nineteen others.

But that won't do with Roman COIN, so we have to find some way to nullify two thousand years worth of understanding of warfare and chemistry. How do you think we can go about that?
 
Likes: Abraham95
Jul 2019
580
New Jersey
#8
War crimes, really? What you can read in Jewish history about people who lived in the Promised land before Jews?
Chronicles 25 tells about 10,000 Edomite prisoners being hurled off a cliff by Amaziah's armies, for one. Jewish tradition is rather critical of that action. Then there's that whole wiping out Canaan.

That being said, war crimes is a silly term to use for an era which had no such conception as international law. As far as I know, the Book of Deuteronomy is the only source from that time-period which actually lays out some RoE.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,828
Sydney
#10
Romans were following the usage of their times

while open warfare was allowing some degree of surrender , revolts were treated much more harshly
Vecingetorix surrendered to Caesar , his troops suffered slavery but not execution while the revolted Icenni were slaughtered in a deliberate genocide

One of the oldest tradition of warfare was that while a besieger would usually negotiate some surrender
once an assault was given against a fortified town , the soldiers would be given full licence unto the inhabitants
up to total extermination

We live in times where officers control of their troops discipline is much tighter
any excess is seen as frivolity reflecting poorly on their authority
this has been enshrined in laws , under the principle of commander accountability and responsibility
on the other hand war prisoners of either side are not supposed to be skinned alive anymore
 
Likes: Isleifson

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