Monday, February 21, 2011

When is a Civilian Not a Civilian?

In a typical military, the ratio between combat and support troops is between 1:5 and 1:15. I believe the United States army is currently about 1:11. In WWII, the U.S. military was 1:12. In The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence stated that for every guerilla he fielded, there were fifty supporters carrying supplies, messages, providing intelligence, or shielding their activities. If that is a typical number, the ratio in an insurgency is 1:50.

In an insurgent war, however, those 50 are counted as civilians, though analogous functions within a military would clearly be uniformed personnel. A general's driver would be a soldier and a legitimate military target. The guy driving a forklift on the base would be a soldier and a legitimate military target. The mess cook would be a soldier and a legitimate military target. In an insurgency, the driver is a civilian, the porter is a civilian, and the cook is a civilian. Clearly, the uniformed services are playing against a stacked deck.

Now, I hesitate to move entirely toward a role-based definition of military personnel, as that was the rubric under which total war was constructed (contributing to the economy helps the war effort, after all), but I think that, in terms of insurgency, we define "civilian" too broadly. I think that we should define insurgent civilians as military personnel based on whether the role they perform in relation to the insurgents is analogous to a role performed by uniformed support troops in regular militaries. If most militaries have that function performed by a soldier, the "civilian" performing that role could rightly be counted as an insurgent, and thus legitimately targeted.

Of course, short of finding an extensive org chart, all of this is extensively impractical, but I bet, where in rigorously applied, the number of "civilian" casualties in insurgent wars would be astoundingly reduced.


Blogger Noumenon said...

That's a great point!

8:08 AM  

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