Over in another forum we had the argument raised, once again, on the theme of “you can’t fight the military with rifles…” I’ve addressed that before but I wrote a slightly different response to this one:
Ah, the old “lightly armed irregulars in the US can’t successfully fight the US military.” Let me ask you, do you also share that position regarding lightly armed irregulars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a little place called Vietnam?
Here’s the problem (one of them anyway). A resistance to a government gone rogue wouldn’t be like the American Civil War with setpiece battles with one group on one side of the field and the other group on the other side of the field and they shoot at each other until one side is dead or fled. It won’t have defined lines here people on one side are “your people” and the people on the other side are “the enemy’s people.” It would be all mixed together: allies, enemies, noncombatants all mixed together.
What exactly is the military to do with all its heavy weaponry? Is it to carpetbomb Boise because some insurgents are hiding in the population? Roll tanks through Des Moines because of an illegal propaganda operation somewhere within it? Nuke Indianapolis because a few home workshops are turning out copies of Sten guns (not that hard, actually)? How many of your. own. citizens. are you willing to accept as collateral damage in order to take down those insurgents?
Now, maybe the person giving the firing order on that cruise missile aimed at, say, Kansas City doesn’t have friends or family living in the area likely to be damaged/destroyed. Maybe nobody on the missiles prep or maintenance team does. But you can be bloody sure they know somebody who does. That’s the thing about an all volunteer force. It becomes really awkward to use it indiscriminately against your own people.
Now, you might be able to convince your force that the rebels are a threat to the nation and need to be shut down and that it’s their job to do so. It would take some preparation, both in terms of how you “paint” the rebels and also by making sure that you remove “unreliable” elements from the military in advance (perhaps by declaring the politically unreliable as “extremists” and the purge as “removing extremist elements”). Still, it’s a lot harder to convince that force to use force indiscriminately. You need to be selective. You need to be able to distinguish actual opposition force from allied civilians and noncombatants.
That requires “boots on the ground”, individual soldiers who can go into the population, target the actual individuals who present the threat, and do minimal harm to those who are not. And those individual soldiers are vulnerable to individual weapons. And armed United States Citizens outnumber the combined US military and police forces by about 50 to one, as a very conservative estimate. For that matter, armed United States Citizens outnumber the entire world’s combined military and paramilitary forces by about three to one. And that’s not counting the individuals who could arm others who come late to their “Road to Damascus” moment.
James Madison alluded to that in The Federalist Papers. While the anti-Federalists had serious…misgivings is too mild a term…about having a standing army, Madison noted that there were necessary tasks that simply were not well handled by a citizen militia. He gave the example of manning forts in the frontier. He noted, however, that the largest standing army a nation could realistically support (as a function of population, about twice what we have now) could be countered by a citizen militia at least an order of magnitude larger.
But let’s go further. Suppose, just suppose, you manage to convince the military, through a combination of propaganda and purging, to actually use the heavy weapons on US Citizens, to actually be willing to drop those bombs, roll that armor, launch those missiles, on American Citizens in the United States. You could level cities, certainly, and there’s little that the insurgents could do, directly, to stop you. But that doesn’t mean you have it all your own way. That army needs to be fed. The food has to come from somewhere, and it has to be transported to your bases and your troops. That transportation is vulnerable. The food is vulnerable to interception and/or contamination. How effective is your army going to be if a shipment of food gets laced with LSD (for example)? Are you going to test every shipment of every kind of foodstuffs for every possible contaminant? Well, maybe, but that’s a lot of manpower that’s taken away from actually fighting the insurgency.
And now trustworthy is that manpower? Can you be sure they will diligently perform their tests? That they won’t be subborned? That they won’t need to be suborned because they’re already irate with you because you just bombed Grandma in Boise and left Cousin Earl homeless after a tank ran through his house in Des Moines?
Now add in fuel, electronic spare parts, batteries, ammunition, and every other bit of the logistics it takes to run a modern army. And guarding the supply lines for all that logistics once again requires “boots on the ground”.
And, guess what, those “boots on the ground” guarding the supply lines are vulnerable to those lightly armed irregulars.