Lessons for the Libyan Rebels

Without discipline, leadership, and goals, the Libyan rebellion will fizzle.

News footage of civilians wearing what uniforms they can find and choosing of their own free will to bear arms and risk their lives fighting tyranny might tempt the Continental Soldier in all of us to root for them and hope they can depose their domestic despot.  Of course this optimism is instantly chilled by the distinct possibility that these rebels would simply install their own tyrant (possibly of the radical Islamic persuasion), but for the moment let us suspend this concern.

How could any self-respecting American not feel the temptation to approve an occasion when the downtrodden or oppressed find their inner rebel?  Rebellion is what we do!  We fought King George III; President George Washington had to deal with the Whisky Rebellion; Mister Shay and Nat Turner had their rebellions, and there was also that little rebellion among the Southern States.  The Republic of Texas had her rebellion for independence from Mexico, a fight which we proudly absorb into our national legacy of orneriness.  I daresay that until recently, we had a national problem with authority, a trait I credit with our former state of freedom and liberty.

As I watch television coverage of the Libyan rebels, I want to smack myself for thinking of them and the Continental Army in the same breath.  Who are these high spirited fools on my television?  I think that if the Libyans were serious about their rebellion, they could learn a lot from American rebellions.  We wrote the book on rebelling.

If the Libyans fired as many rounds toward the Loyalists as they fired into the air, they'd have won by now.  Seriously, how does this behavior help?  Based upon my pre-deployment training for my own tours in Iraq, I am aware that this "celebratory" firing into the air is chalked up to cultural norms; it's supposedly a show of strength.  I think this is ridiculous excuse making.  It's a regional bad habit.  It's a foolish display of bad discipline and a failure to realize that what goes up must also come down.  The Kalashnikov rifle was introduced 64 years ago. I'd have thought it would take longer to create a deep cultural norm, especially since I doubt most Libyans have ever had the freedom to hold a rifle.  Americans have had firearms (in private ownership, no less!) for the entire history of our nation, and we never developed any such absurd behaviors.  The various rebel armies of America had the sense to save their ammunition for the enemy and enough discipline to fight professional armies face to face.  Incidentally, the regular Libyan Army was never well trained due to Gaddafi's fear of creating a threat to his power. This is to the rebel's advantage.

Cultural norms will not supply the rebels more ammunition for their AK-47s or rounds for the anti-aircraft cannon which appear to be their most numerous heavy weapon.  While the Third World may have no shortage of ammunition for weapons of Soviet origin, it would seem prudent to husband a finite resource.  While these citizen soldiers are by definition amateurs, amateurish behavior like this will be no foundation for defeating the Loyalist Libyans.

The rebels need to learn to take a stand.  I credit them immensely for standing up and marching against Gaddafi, but running with their tails tucked whenever the Loyalists advance or take a stand will not yield victory.  Do they expect that firing enough rounds into the air and riding around in Toyota pickups will depose the tyrant and win international support?  Have they stood and fought yet?  While the rebels may not be able to call in direct air support, they do in fact have the de facto support of the United States Navy and Air Force, leveling the playing field immensely.  While I personally believe the Allied operation should be totally European funded, managed, and executed, this distinction wouldn't matter to the rebel rifleman.

I can see two possible rebel strategies in Libya.  For the first and most likely, the rebels feel that victory lies only in preserving their forces until someone comes to their assistance.  Until George Washington crossed the Delaware and attacked Trenton, his most significant feat of arms was simply surviving.  Washington kept the Continental Army intact, wearing the British down and hoping for French help.  When the Texans fought and died in the Alamo, they delayed the Mexicans, and their sacrifice rallied more Texans and Americans to their cause to secure final victory over Mexico.

While they were ultimately defeated, hundreds of thousands of American rebels from the Southern States fought and died for four years in the American Civil War.  The second Libyan approach could be the same as that of the Confederate States; to win enough on their own to gain international ground support.  If this is the case, they need to try harder.

The Libyan rebels could learn a thing or two from the tenacity of America's various rebels.  Southerners and Continentals fought in threadbare homespun uniforms while eating poor rations.  They marched through four seasons in bare feet, often depending on what supplies and arms they could capture.  It appears the Libyan rebels are in somewhat better shape than either barefoot Confederates or Continentals dying of disease and hunger in Valley Forge.

The Libyan rebels have been fighting in warm weather for only a few weeks.  Over 8,000 rebels died in the Revolutionary War.  Over 300,000 rebel soldiers (and over 300,000 of their Union brothers) died in the Civil War.  Are the Libyans also ready to lay down everything in battle?  They have no choice, as they'll surely die if Gaddafi wins.  Our rebels organized military units: companies and battalions like The Green Mountain Boys, the Culpeper Minute Men, and Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia to name a few.  Do the Libyan rebels have any military leadership or organization at all?

Who are the Libyan leaders?  Who is galvanizing these rebels?  Where are their Jeffersons and Franklins to explain to the world just who they are and what they are fighting for?  Our colonies had the correspondence of Benjamin Franklin to Parliament, the writings of Benjamin Rush and Thomas Paine for philosophy, the petitions of the Continental Congress pleading for the King's understanding and finally the Declaration of Independence to tell the world exactly what our intentions were.  No such leadership is coming from Benghazi.

When France supported American independence, it may have been a convenient way to stick a thumb in Britain's eye, but at least they knew what they were getting should the colonies win.  A little reassurance would help the Libyan rebels secure more support from the West.

Until the rebels get their act together and have an actual platform for their rebellion beyond simply deposing Gaddafi, the West will be leery of further involvement.  Without a set of principles, leaders, and some disciplined Soldiers who are ready to stand and fight, their rebellion will only be flailing and foolishness, a game of waiting for Gaddafi or the West to sort everything out.

J. Kowalski is the pen name of a US Military officer.
Without discipline, leadership, and goals, the Libyan rebellion will fizzle.

News footage of civilians wearing what uniforms they can find and choosing of their own free will to bear arms and risk their lives fighting tyranny might tempt the Continental Soldier in all of us to root for them and hope they can depose their domestic despot.  Of course this optimism is instantly chilled by the distinct possibility that these rebels would simply install their own tyrant (possibly of the radical Islamic persuasion), but for the moment let us suspend this concern.

How could any self-respecting American not feel the temptation to approve an occasion when the downtrodden or oppressed find their inner rebel?  Rebellion is what we do!  We fought King George III; President George Washington had to deal with the Whisky Rebellion; Mister Shay and Nat Turner had their rebellions, and there was also that little rebellion among the Southern States.  The Republic of Texas had her rebellion for independence from Mexico, a fight which we proudly absorb into our national legacy of orneriness.  I daresay that until recently, we had a national problem with authority, a trait I credit with our former state of freedom and liberty.

As I watch television coverage of the Libyan rebels, I want to smack myself for thinking of them and the Continental Army in the same breath.  Who are these high spirited fools on my television?  I think that if the Libyans were serious about their rebellion, they could learn a lot from American rebellions.  We wrote the book on rebelling.

If the Libyans fired as many rounds toward the Loyalists as they fired into the air, they'd have won by now.  Seriously, how does this behavior help?  Based upon my pre-deployment training for my own tours in Iraq, I am aware that this "celebratory" firing into the air is chalked up to cultural norms; it's supposedly a show of strength.  I think this is ridiculous excuse making.  It's a regional bad habit.  It's a foolish display of bad discipline and a failure to realize that what goes up must also come down.  The Kalashnikov rifle was introduced 64 years ago. I'd have thought it would take longer to create a deep cultural norm, especially since I doubt most Libyans have ever had the freedom to hold a rifle.  Americans have had firearms (in private ownership, no less!) for the entire history of our nation, and we never developed any such absurd behaviors.  The various rebel armies of America had the sense to save their ammunition for the enemy and enough discipline to fight professional armies face to face.  Incidentally, the regular Libyan Army was never well trained due to Gaddafi's fear of creating a threat to his power. This is to the rebel's advantage.

Cultural norms will not supply the rebels more ammunition for their AK-47s or rounds for the anti-aircraft cannon which appear to be their most numerous heavy weapon.  While the Third World may have no shortage of ammunition for weapons of Soviet origin, it would seem prudent to husband a finite resource.  While these citizen soldiers are by definition amateurs, amateurish behavior like this will be no foundation for defeating the Loyalist Libyans.

The rebels need to learn to take a stand.  I credit them immensely for standing up and marching against Gaddafi, but running with their tails tucked whenever the Loyalists advance or take a stand will not yield victory.  Do they expect that firing enough rounds into the air and riding around in Toyota pickups will depose the tyrant and win international support?  Have they stood and fought yet?  While the rebels may not be able to call in direct air support, they do in fact have the de facto support of the United States Navy and Air Force, leveling the playing field immensely.  While I personally believe the Allied operation should be totally European funded, managed, and executed, this distinction wouldn't matter to the rebel rifleman.

I can see two possible rebel strategies in Libya.  For the first and most likely, the rebels feel that victory lies only in preserving their forces until someone comes to their assistance.  Until George Washington crossed the Delaware and attacked Trenton, his most significant feat of arms was simply surviving.  Washington kept the Continental Army intact, wearing the British down and hoping for French help.  When the Texans fought and died in the Alamo, they delayed the Mexicans, and their sacrifice rallied more Texans and Americans to their cause to secure final victory over Mexico.

While they were ultimately defeated, hundreds of thousands of American rebels from the Southern States fought and died for four years in the American Civil War.  The second Libyan approach could be the same as that of the Confederate States; to win enough on their own to gain international ground support.  If this is the case, they need to try harder.

The Libyan rebels could learn a thing or two from the tenacity of America's various rebels.  Southerners and Continentals fought in threadbare homespun uniforms while eating poor rations.  They marched through four seasons in bare feet, often depending on what supplies and arms they could capture.  It appears the Libyan rebels are in somewhat better shape than either barefoot Confederates or Continentals dying of disease and hunger in Valley Forge.

The Libyan rebels have been fighting in warm weather for only a few weeks.  Over 8,000 rebels died in the Revolutionary War.  Over 300,000 rebel soldiers (and over 300,000 of their Union brothers) died in the Civil War.  Are the Libyans also ready to lay down everything in battle?  They have no choice, as they'll surely die if Gaddafi wins.  Our rebels organized military units: companies and battalions like The Green Mountain Boys, the Culpeper Minute Men, and Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia to name a few.  Do the Libyan rebels have any military leadership or organization at all?

Who are the Libyan leaders?  Who is galvanizing these rebels?  Where are their Jeffersons and Franklins to explain to the world just who they are and what they are fighting for?  Our colonies had the correspondence of Benjamin Franklin to Parliament, the writings of Benjamin Rush and Thomas Paine for philosophy, the petitions of the Continental Congress pleading for the King's understanding and finally the Declaration of Independence to tell the world exactly what our intentions were.  No such leadership is coming from Benghazi.

When France supported American independence, it may have been a convenient way to stick a thumb in Britain's eye, but at least they knew what they were getting should the colonies win.  A little reassurance would help the Libyan rebels secure more support from the West.

Until the rebels get their act together and have an actual platform for their rebellion beyond simply deposing Gaddafi, the West will be leery of further involvement.  Without a set of principles, leaders, and some disciplined Soldiers who are ready to stand and fight, their rebellion will only be flailing and foolishness, a game of waiting for Gaddafi or the West to sort everything out.

J. Kowalski is the pen name of a US Military officer.

RECENT VIDEOS