Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 03:49 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 03:49 | SYDNEY

Legitimacy and disorder


Andrew Carr


12 August 2011 12:40

I've been on a bit of a reading binge about American revolutionary history of late, and one thing in particular has stood out: how unweildy, unwilling and often incompetent the American revolutionary 'army' was. Here's George Washington, in a letter home, after US forces had lost New York, almost without a fight:

To place any dependence on militia is, assuredly, resting upon a broken staff. Men just dragged from the tender scenes of domestic life — unaccustomed to the din of arms — totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill, which being followed by want of confidence in themselves when opposed to troops regularly trained, disciplined, and appointed, superior in knowledge, and superior in arms, makes them timid and ready to fly from their own shadows.

One obvious historical comparison is with the fighting in Libya. Now, I raise this not to weakly claim that because one was successful, the latter's victory is assured, but rather to note that the disorder of rebellions is not a bug, but a feature.

We regularly see analysts condeming the Libyan rebel army's lack of arms, tactics and skill, wondering if we've erred in backing such an incapable force. They're right to be concerned, but it's partly because these rebels are poorly organised that we grant them any legitimacy as a popular uprising. 

Of course, Washington didn't have NATO strike bombers overhead (though the role of the French in the American Revolution is too often forgotten), and the Continental Congress was a better body than the Libyan National Transitional Council. But disorder is inherent in genuine popular uprisings.

Image by Flickr user The National Guard.