On Guerrilla Warfare


“On Guerrilla Warfare” by Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung is a groundbreaking and influential work that explores the art and strategy of unconventional warfare. Originally written in 1937 during the Chinese Civil War, this timeless classic provides profound insights into the methods of revolutionary struggle.”

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Key Takeaways

  1. It is often said that guerrilla warfare is primitive. This generalization is dangerously misleading and true only in the technological sense. If one considers the picture as a whole, a paradox is immediately apparent, and the primitive form is understood to be in fact more sophisticated than nuclear war or atomic war or war as it was waged by conventional armies, navies, and air forces. Guerrilla war is not dependent for success on the efficient operation of complex mechanical devices, highly organized logistical systems, or the accuracy of electronic computers. It can be conducted in any terrain, in any climate, in any weather; in swamps, in mountains, in farmed fields. Its basic element is man, and man is more complex than any of his machines. He is endowed with intelligence, emotions, and will. Guerrilla warfare is therefore suffused with, and reflects, man’s admirable qualities as well as his less pleasant ones. While it is not always humane, it is human, which is more than can be said for the strategy of extinction.
  2. Mao has aptly compared guerrillas to fish, and the people to the water in which they swim. If the political temperature is right, the fish, however few in number, will thrive and proliferate. It is therefore the principal concern of all guerrilla leaders to get the water to the right temperature and to keep it there.
  3. The British, unable to cope with Marion, branded him a criminal, and complained bitterly that he fought neither “like a gentleman” nor like “a Christian,” a charge orthodox soldiers are wont to apply in all lands and in all wars to such ubiquitous, intangible, and deadly antagonists as Francis Marion.
  4. It is interesting to examine Mao’s strategical and tactical theories in the light of his principle of “unity of opposites.” This seems to be an adaptation to military action of the ancient Chinese philosophical concept of Yin-Yang. Briefly, the Yin and the Yang are elemental and pervasive. Of opposite polarities, they represent female and male, dark and light, cold and heat, recession and aggression. Their reciprocal interaction is endless. In terms of the dialectic, they may be likened to the thesis and antithesis from which the synthesis is derived.
  5. Sun Tzu wrote that speed, surprise, and deception were the primary essentials of the attack.
  6. An officer should have the following qualities: great powers of endurance so that in spite of any hardship he sets an example to his men and is a model for them; he must be able to mix easily with the people; his spirit and that of the men must be one in strengthening the policy of resistance to the Japanese. If he wishes to gain victories, he must study tactics. A guerrilla group with officers of this caliber would be unbeatable. I do not mean that every guerrilla group can have, at its inception, officers of such qualities. The officers must be men naturally endowed with good qualities which can be developed during the course of campaigning. The most important natural quality is that of complete loyalty to the idea of people’s emancipation. If this is present, the others will develop; if it is not present, nothing can be done.
  7. A guerrilla group ought to operate on the principle that only volunteers are acceptable for service. It is a mistake to impress people into service. As long as a person is willing to fight, his social condition or position is no consideration, but only men who are courageous and determined can bear the hardships of guerrilla campaigning in a protracted war.
  8. Guerrilla troops should have a precise conception of the political goal of the struggle and the political organization to be used in attaining that goal. This means that both organization and discipline of guerrilla troops must be at a high level so that they can carry out the political activities that are the life of both the guerrilla armies and of revolutionary warfare.
  9. Further, in such an army, the mode of living of the officers and the soldiers must not differ too much, and this is particularly true in the case of guerrilla troops. Officers should live under the same conditions as their men, for that is the only way in which they can gain from their men the admiration and confidence so vital in war. It is incorrect to hold to a theory of equality in all things, but there must be equality of existence in accepting the hardships and dangers of war. Thus we may attain to the unification of the officer and soldier groups, a unity both horizontal within the group itself, and vertical, that is, from lower to higher echelons.
  10. Quick intelligence that constantly watches the ever-changing situation and is able to seize on the right moment for decisive action is found only in keen and thoughtful observers.

What I got out of it

  1. It was interesting to learn about how Mao thought about guerrilla warfare nearly 100 years ago and how it impacted his strategies

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