Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Roger Trinquier wrote Modern Warfare after the French defeat in Vietnam and just before the final French defeat in Algeria, when terrorism was a new tactic:

The terrorist has become a soldier, like the aviator or the infantryman.

But the aviator flying over a city knows that antiaircraft shells can kill or maim him. The infantryman wounded on the battlefield accepts physical suffering, often for long hours, when he falls between the lines and it is impossible to rescue him. It never occurs to him to complain and to ask, for example, that his enemy renounce the use of the rifle, the shell, or the bomb. If he can, he goes back to a hospital knowing this to be his lot. The soldier, therefore, admits the possibility of physical suffering as part of the job. The risks he runs on the battlefield and the suffering he endures are the price of the glory he receives.

The terrorist claims the same honors while rejecting the same obligations. His kind of organization permits him to escape from the police, his victims cannot defend themselves, and the army cannot use the power of its weapons against him because he hides himself permanently within the midst of a population going about its peaceful pursuits.

But he must be made to realize that, when he is captured, he cannot be treated as an ordinary criminal, nor like a prisoner taken on the battlefield. What the forces of order who have arrested him are seeking is not to punish a crime, for which he is otherwise not personally responsible, but, as in any war, the destruction of the enemy army or its surrender. Therefore he is not asked details about himself or about attacks that he may or may not have committed and that are not of immediate interest, but rather for precise information about his organization. In particular, each man has a superior whom he knows; he will first have to give the name of this person, along with his address, so that it will be possible to proceed with the arrest without delay.

* In France during the Nazi occupation, members of the Resistance violated the rules of warfare. They knew they could not hide behind them, and they were perfectly aware of the risks to which they were exposing themselves. Their glory is to have calmly faced those risks with full knowledge of the consequences.

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