As an undergraduate student in the mid-90s, I stumbled quite by accident across a book entiled “The Sandino Affair.” Written in 1967 by history professor (and former officer in Castro’s army in Cuba) Neill Macaulay, it is a riveting assessment of the U.S. Marine Corp’s “dirty little war” in Nicaragua against guerilla insurgent Cesar Sandino from 1926-1932. The book was great, but what I always remembered was the post-script, a short chapter entitled The Ghost of Sandino. The post-script gives a brief survey of events in Nicaragua after the Marines’ defeat (and Sandino’s death), and traces Sandino’s influence in guerilla insurgencies from Cuba to Vietnam and Algieria. The reason I’ve posted the post-script here, however, is for the discussion near the end in which Dr. Macaulay discusses the principles of countering guerilla warfare. Although his discussion centers on Latin America in the mid-60s, contemporary readers will find many proofs of his words in more recent reports of operations in the War on Terror, the Arab Spring, the War on Drugs, and other recent events. Effectively countering guerilla insurgency is possible. However, the Ghost of Sandino may leave you questioning whether we are truly willing to do what the task would require.
The Ghost of Sandino is reprinted with the kind permission of Mrs. Nancy Macaulay.
You may obtain the complete work from Wacahoota Press.
The Ghost of Sandino
by Neill Macaulay
Although the United States was not directly involved in the assassination of Sandino, it was, and is, widely believed in Latin America that the crime was instigated by “Yankee Imperialists.” The United States was in fact guilty to the extent of supplying the murder weapon – the American-trained and -equipped Nicaraguan National Guard. If the United States government did not intend that the National Guard be used for such a purpose, it did little to prevent the perversion of the role of this “non-partisan constabulary.”
To many, American duplicity seemed clear: with one hand the Americans supervised honest elections in Nicaragua, fully realizing that the winner was likely to be Dr. Sacasa – whose possible ascension to the presidency six years before had provoked the landing of the Marines. But with the other hand the United States arranged for the incoming President to be placed in the custody of a military force whose chief was hand-picked by the Yankees. Knowing that Sacasa would come to terms with Sandino, the United States depended upon Somoza to eliminate the elusive guerilla by means that would have been unbecoming of straight-shooting North Americans. Having done the Yankee’s dirty word, Somoza met no opposition from Washington when he deposed Sacasa in 1936 and made himself dictator of Nicaragua. It was all part of a deal between Somoza and the Yankees, many Latin Americans contend, and twenty years of extravagant American praise for the Nicaraguan dictator proved that the “imperialists” never regretted the bargain. Thus the United States gained a satellite in Central America – and confirmed the worst suspicions of Latin Americans from California to Cape Horn.
There is, however, no evidence of a formal ‘deal” between Somoza and American officials for the murder of Sandino and the establishment of the Nicaraguan dictatorship. But Somoza was in effect a time bomb, planted in Managua by the Hoover administration, and Franklin Roosevelt allowed it to explode. Given the “Good Neighbor Policy” announced in 1933, Roosevelt could hardly have done otherwise. The United States pledged not to intervene in the internal affairs of its neighbors under any circumstances – not even to prevent the establishment of a military dictatorship. After 1936, when Nazi infiltration in Central America became a real problem, U.S. relations with the pro-American Nicaraguan dictator became quite cordial. “He’s a sonofabitch,” Roosevelt is reported to have said of Somoza, “but he’s ours.” (1) After World War II American fear of Nazism was replaced by fear of communism, and United States friendship for the anti-communist Somoza continued.
Nicaragua made progress of a sort under the rule of Anastasio Somoza. Private enterprise was encouraged, and foreign capital was welcomed in Somoza’s fief. He paid special attention to the development of agriculture and himself acquired ownership of an estimated one-tenth of his country’s productive land. During World War II and the Korean War world cotton and coffee prices boomed, and Nicaragua began showing a healthy trade surplus. Of course, much of the Nicaraguan produce sold on world markets came from the dictator’s farms. Somoza’s interest in agriculture did not cause him to ignore commerce and industry. His personal holdings included rum distilleries, textile, soap, and cement factories, sugar mills, cotton gins, and a steamship line. At the time of Somoza’s death in 1956, Nicaragua’s gross national product had risen to a respectable $310 million. A good share of this accrued to the dictator himself, whose personal fortune amounted to some $60 million. Nevertheless, the standard of living of the average Nicaraguan did not rise appreciably under Somoza, especially during the prosperous 1950’s when many schools, hospitals, and roads were built – with the help of American foreign aid.
Nicaraguan economic progress has continued under the regime of Somoza’s sons, who also have permitted some political advances. The more obnoxious practices of police state control have been discontinued, and a measure of freedom of the press has been tolerated. Luís Somoza stepped down as President in 1963 – after elections that were preceded by spirited debate, violence, and the withdrawal and imprisonment of the principal opposition candidate. The presidency devolved upon Luís Somoza’s hand-picked successor, René Schick, who has continued his predecessor’s liberalization program. But the all-important Nicaraguan National Guard remains in the hands of Chief Director Major General Anastasio Somoza, Jr. – better known as “Tachito.” Should President Schick carry liberalization too far, or threaten the vast Somoza economic interests, or try to obstruct Tachito’s own presidential ambitions, the National Guard commander would be in a position to deliver a military coup.
Thus the Nicaraguan political situation is somewhat similar to that of early 1936. But a military coup in Nicaragua today would provoke a much stronger popular reaction than did the coup of 1936. Today Nicaraguans are experiencing a rising standard of living and rising democratic expectations after a long period of oppression. The situation is like that of the Dominican Republic in 1963. If this “revolution of rising expectations” is suddenly cut short by a military coup, or the fraudulent election of a military President, the resulting discontent could lead to violent social upheaval. Revolutions are seldom bred in abject poverty or under the oppression of an iron dictatorship. Revolutions usually come when things are getting better, when the dictatorship begins to weaken – when people are conscious of the improvement but consider it “too slow.’ Any attempt to arrest Nicaragua’s current progress toward democracy would be dangerous indeed.
The spirit of Sandino has reappeared in Nicaragua since the death of Anastasio Somoza. In 1958 Tachito had to put down a miniscule guerilla movement led by Ramon Raudales, a veteran of Sandino’s army. The next year the National Guard disposed of a much larger band of guerillas, many of whom had been armed and trained in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Rumors of guerilla activity in the mountains of Nicaragua persist to this day, despite the denials of the National Guard, which is undoubtedly the most efficient military organization in Central America.
What the recent guerilla movements in Nicaragua have lacked is a charismatic leader of the Sandino type – a “respected leader fighting for the salvation of his people,” as “Che” Guevera put it, around whom a guerilla conspiracy should center. (2). In the popular reaction to a future coup in Nicaragua, such a leader might arise – as Sandino emerged in the reaction to the Chamorro coup of 1925, and as Fidel Castro arose in the reaction to the Batista coup of 1952.
Retaliating for a 1966 offer by President Schick of military training bases in Nicaragua to anti-Castro Cubans, Fidel Castro’s government has openly proclaimed its support for armed revolution in the land of Sandino. Cuban support for a neo-Sandanista movement in Nicaragua could also be considered the repayment of a debt; in the matter of guerilla organization and tactics, Fidel Castro owes much to Sandino, although the Cuban revolutionary was not at first attracted by Sandino’s style of fighting. Castro was associated with Sandanistas as early as 1947 on Cayo Confites, the Cuban-owned island on which Latin American revolutionaries of various nationalities formed and expeditionary force to invade Trujillo’s Dominican Republic. (The expeditionary force, including the Nicaraguan “Sandino Brigade,” was dispersed by Cuban government forces after Washington brought pressure on the liberal regime in Havana.) On July 26, 1953, when Castro attacked Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba, he demonstrated that he had profited little from his association with Sandanistas. This assault on a well-fortified enemy was a greater fiasco than Sandino’s attack on Ocotal; Castro’s entire force was killed or captured. It was three years later, when he came under the influence of Alberto Bayo and Ernesto “Che” Guevarra in Mexico that Castro came fully to appreciate the Sandanista concept of guerilla warfare.
Spanish Colonel Alberto Bayo, originally an air force officer, directed guerilla operations for the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. After the Franco victory he emigrated to Cuba and later settled in Mexico. In Bayo the thorough professional soldier merged with the revolutionary dreamer. His goal was to liberate his homeland from fascism, and, to prepare himself for this undertaking, he carefully studied post-World War II military developments, especially those in China. He further sharpened his talents by dabbling in Caribbean revolutions.
Colonel Bayo became a military advisor to some of the various armed groups of liberal and radical revolutionaries collectively known as the “Caribbean Legion.” The Legion, which took vague shape after World War II, was dedicated to the overthrow of Latin American dictators, but it was in fact more a state of mind than a formal organization. Legionnaires took part in the ill-fated Cayo Confites expeditionary force, and they fought in the successful revolution of 1948 in Costa Rica. At various times they enjoyed the support of democratic governments in Venezuela, Cuba, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. The Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua was one of those prime targets of the Legion, some of whose members had served with Sandino. It was a group of Nicaraguan Legionnaires that promoted Bayo to the rank of “general” in 1948. Like all good teachers, Bayo learned something from his students. He came to believe that Sandino’s style of warfare was ideal for Caribbean revolutionaries facing vastly superior government forces. “Always remember Sandino,” (3) he wrote in a handbook for the Caribbean Legion first published in the 1940’s. He gave the same advice to Fidel Castro when he came to him for training in 1956.
Among the men he trained in Mexico for Castro’s invasion of Cuba, Bayo considered Ernesto “Che” Guevara his star pupil. It had taken Guevara three years to travel from his native Argentina to Mexico, where he had his fateful rendezvous with Bayo and Castro in 1956. Guevara took the revolutionary trail after graduating from medical school in Buenos Aires; his odyssey began as a flight to avoid being drafted into the Argentine Army medical corps. From Argentina the impoverished young physician drifted northward, taking odd jobs along the way. He tarried awhile in revolutionary Bolivia, then pushed on to San Jose, Costa Rica, arriving in the fall of 1953. San Jose at that time was a favorite meeting place for Caribbean Legionnaires, who enjoyed the patronage of Costa Rican President Jose Figueres.
Among the Legionnaires in San Jose when Guevara arrived were some aging Sandanista veterans who still dreamed of overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship of neighboring Nicaragua. Most of the important Sandanista officers who had survived the massacres of 1934 were dead or definitely retired by 1953. Juan Gregorio Colindres had been mysteriously murdered in Nicaragua the year before, and Pedron had been treacherously assassinated by National Guardsmen in 1937. But some minor Sandanista officers, including Ramon Raudales, continued to plot against Somoza from exile in Costa Rica. After a brief association with these rather disorganized and demoralizing émigrés, Guevara was not impressed by their chances of overthrowing the Nicaraguan dictator. But he was impressed by their stories of Sandino. From them Guevera discerned the reasons for Sandino’s success in resisting the Marines: the inspirational quality of his leadership and his guerilla tactics.
From San Jose Geuvara traveled overland to Guatemala. Along the way he got a look at the jungle-clad Segovia mountains of northern Nicaragua, where Sandino got his start – terrain very similar to the Cuban Sierras. Arriving in Guatemala in December 1953, Guevara soon landed a job with that country’s communist-infiltrated Agrarian Reform Institute. When an anti-communist revolution broke out in July 1954 Guevara was organizing peasant militia outfits to defend the government. President Jacob Arbenz, however, gave up almost without a fight, and Guevara went into hiding. Eventually he crossed the border into Mexico where he met Fidel Castro.
In Castro Guevara found a revolutionary who seemed to have all the qualities that were lacking in Arbenz and the Sandinistas of San Jose. Guevara recognized Castro as a leader of vast imagination and determination, limitless self-confidence, and great personal magnetism – qualities he shared with Sandino. Like Sandino, Castro gave the impression of sincere patriotism and absolute integrity. Here was the “respected leader” around whom to center a guerilla conspiracy. After completing General Bayo’s guerilla course, Castro, Guevarra, and eighty others sailed from Mexico for Cuba in November 1956. Only twelve of the eighty-two, including Castro and Guevara, eluded the Cuban government forces that were waiting for them when they landed on the coast of Oriente province. These twelve brought Sandino-style warfare to Cuba. Within a year the band of twelve had grown to a force of several hundred.
Castro’s rebel army, like Sandino’s, was organized into self-supporting columns. As in Nicaragua, each rebel column in Cuba was assigned an area of operations and normally operated independently of the other columns – although joint operations were sometimes undertaken, especially in the late stages of the rebellion. Column commanders – majors rather than generals in Castro’s army – were responsible directly to Maximum Leader Castro, who, like Sandino, acquired symbolic value early in the campaign and thereafter remained remote from combat.
Like Sandino’s larger units, Castro’s columns were broken down into units of fifteen to fifty men, called “patrols” in Cuba. These patrols were sometimes further broken down into squads. Flexibility in organization was valued equally by Sandino and Castro. The existence of subunits depended upon the tactical situation or upon the weapons or leaders available.
Communication in both guerilla armies were maintained almost exclusively by runners. Radio was not understood by Castro or Guevara and was not available to Sandino. Nevertheless, Castro, like Sandino, had a most effective intelligence and security system. Fidelista sympathizers in the towns, villages, and throughout the countryside lost no time in reporting government troop movements to the guerillas.
Castro’s supply service functioned like Sandino’s. Food, clothing, and work animals were requisitioned from the local peasantry and, where possible, were paid for with money collected from the rich in “taxes” or voluntary gifts. When Castro’s troops took property without payments, they usually followed Sandino’s practice of leaving I.O.U.’s. These pieces of paper, as Guevara was later to write, “bind old and new owner to a common hope for success of the cause.” (4) Castro, like Sandino, proscribed indiscriminate pillaging as harmful to the revolutionary cause, but the Cuban leader was much more successful in enforcing the prohibition.
The Cuban rebels, like their Nicaraguan counterparts, depended partly on the enemy for arms, ammunition, medicine, and combat equipment. But in both cases more of these items were bought from foreign suppliers than were captured or stolen from the enemy. As Sandino’s supply lines crossed the Honduran border, Castro’s supply lines spanned the Florida Straits. In both cases the ultimate source of supply was the United States.
Sandino’s “hit-and-run” tactics were successfully employed by the Cuban rebels. Like the Sandanistas, the Fidelistas sometimes concentrated as many as two hundred guerillas against ten- to forty-man garrisons and patrols. Seiges of Cuban Army outposts often lasted hours or even days, until the garrison surrendered or the approach of a relief column forces the guerillas to withdraw. Guerilla ambushes, on the other hands, seldom lasted more than a few minutes; if the ambushed enemy survived the initial shock of the attack and managed to launch a counter-attack, the Fidelistas, like the Sandanistas, would withdraw. As in Nicaragua, guerilla ambushes in Cuba usually were not set up with the idea of destroying the enemy; they were conceived as a means of inflicting upon him as much damage as possible with minimal risk to the guerillas. The line of withdrawal was always an important feature of any position occupied by Fidel Castro’s guerillas. Like the Sandanistas, the Fidelistas could foil pursuers by scattering after an action and reassembling later at a pre-arranged rendezvous.
Not only did the Fidelistas make meticulous preparations for their own withdrawal, but in most instances they followed the Sandanista practice of purposely leaving open a line of retreat for the enemy. They would position an ambush party in a “V” or horseshoe formation, with the open end serving as an escape hatch for the victims. Without this exit the ambushed patrol would have no choice but to try to smash through the guerilla lines. From the guerilla’s standpoint this would be undesirable, for they usually could inflict more casualties on the enemy at less cost to themselves by inducing the ambush victims to run a gauntlet through the open end of the horseshoe or “V.” This concept of leaving an exit for the enemy, however, was of neither Nicaraguan or Cuban origin. It had been advocated more than two thousand years ago in Cuban by one of Mao Tse-tung’s favorite authors, Sun Tzu. (5).
In its later phases the Castro rebellion was more like that of the Chinese communists than the Sandino insurrection, which never reached the final, victorious stage. And Sandino never had to contend with the massive government penetrations, or “sweeps,” of his territory that confronted the Fidelistas and the Chinese communists. Castro’s repelling of Batista’s 1958 summer offensive in the Sierra Maestra was more like the Chinese communist resistance to Chiang Kai-shek’s “annihilation campaigns” of 1930-1932 than anything Sandino accomplished. And Sandino never attempted to strangle his country’s cities with the countryside, as Castro did in 1958 in Oriente and Las Villas provinces, and as the Chinese communists did in Manchuria in 1948. Sandino kept his promise to lay down his arms when the Marines left Nicaragua in 1933 and did not attempt to carry his insurrection to this advanced stage. Sandino lacked insight as a social revolutionary rather than resources for bringing the guerilla struggle to a victorious conclusion. Before Sandino’s death in 1934 guerilla warfare had become the instrument of social revolutionaries more astute than the Nicaraguan rebel.
In 1895, the year Sandino was born, Friederich Engels discussed the futility of revolutionary warfare in his introduction to that year’s edition of Karl Marx’s The Class Struggle in France. The old-style urban uprising, “the street fight behind the barricades,” Engels declared, “has become antiquated.” (6) Modern weapons and communications had made the old means of revolution obsolete. A “people’s” victory over regular military forces in a street battle had become all but impossible. Railroads and telegraphs facilitated the rapid concentration of government forces against any insurrectionary center. Modern artillery could systematically reduce working-class suburbs to rubble. There could be no revolution against the army; the soldiers would have to be converted to the revolutionary cause before victory would be possible. Engels urged the workingmen of Europe not to attempt armed rebellions but instead to organize, propagandize, and participate in non-violent political activity. Then, when the capitalist system would inevitably begin to crumble because of its “inner contradictions,” the proletariat would be ready to seize power.
But Marx and Engels overlooked the revolutionary possibilities of underdeveloped countries – where the lack of an industrial society, they believed, precluded a true proletarian revolution – and of the peasant classes, whom they considered “unreliable.” Lenin and Stalin, who contradicted the prophets of communism by establishing socialism in a semi-developed country, were more concerned with the underdeveloped world and recognized some revolutionary potential in the peasant class. But even the Soviet leaders believed that the revolution in the underdeveloped countries would have to center in the cities – that the rural masses would play only a secondary role, with urban workers assuming the leadership and bearing the brunt of the struggle. It was Mao Tse-tung and his followers – “margarine communists” in Stalin’s phrase (7) – who first brought communism to power in an underdeveloped country. They achieved this by practically ignoring China’s urban workers (who remained loyal to Chiang until the very last days of his regime), by relying on the peasantry for mass support, and by resorting to revolutionary warfare – which Engels had declared obsolete in 1895.
While Chinese communist guerillas were winning their first victories over the troops of Chiang Kai-shek, Sandino was demonstrating that a “people’s army” could successfully resist the military forces of a modern industrial power. Instead of massing his forces behind city barricades, Sandino dispersed them in highly mobile bands throughout the countryside, where slow-moving concentrations of enemy troops – with their artillery, airpower, and the other appurtenances of modern warfare – were of little use. Most important, Sandino’s guerillas enjoyed the support of the rural population. The Sandanistas were, borrowing a metaophor from Mao Tse-tung, fish moving through friendly waters; as long as the waters – i.e. the peasants – were friendly, the fish would survive.
A government, therefore, must draw peasant support away from the guerillas before it can dominate a guerilla insurrection. But once the countryside has been lost to a well-organized guerilla movement, it is not easy to regain. Guerilla control cannot be broken by good intentions and good deeds alone; the government must also establish a permanent military presence in the guerilla-infested areas. This is not done by massive “sweeps,” which may temporarily clear the guerillas from a region but allow them to move back in as soon as the troops have returned to their bases. Nor can it be done by dotting the areas with defensive garrisons which the guerillas can isolate and pick off, one by one. And a permanent military presence cannot be established by aerial bombardment, which kills relatively few guerillas, reveals the impotence of the government, and incurs the hatred of the non-combatants inevitably victimized by the bombings.
For a government on the verge of collapse, however, aerial bombardment of guerilla-controlled areas might provide a temporary reprieve – especially if the bombing is accompanied by a massive intervention of friendly foreign troops. Such measures would hardly endear the government to its people, but in this situation it would already be at the nadir of its popularity and have little to lose. Guerillas concentrating for a final offensive could be seriously hampered by the bombing, and the large-scale commitment of fresh troops to the government would certainly force the guerillas to revise their schedule for conquest. The guerilla war of moral attrition would now have to be waged against a new enemy: the intervening foreign power.
Any first- or second-rank power can prevent the guerilla conquest of a smaller country – as long as it is willing to maintain a large military force in the field against the guerillas. The French Army was not driven out of Indochina or Algeria by guerillas; it was withdrawn by a nation that no longer had the will to continue the war effort. The guerillas won these wars in France: year after year the human casualties and the damage to the nation’s economic and political structure mounted until France lost its will to continue the confrontation in the colonies. Patience is the guerilla’s cardinal virtue; he must he willing to wait long years until his war of attrition has its effect upon the morale of the enemy. It took Mao Tse-tung twenty-two years to topple Chiang Kai-shek, Ho Chi Minh nine years to make the French withdraw from Indochina. The guerilla’s will to outlast the enemy should enable him to accept setbacks and revise his schedules when necessary. Under pressure from massive conventional military forces, he must be willing to disband his concentrations and revert to small-unit hit-and-run actions (as did Ho in 1946 and Mao in 1934 and 1947). In the case of foreign intervention, the guerilla must maintain enough pressure on the enemy – inflict upon him enough casualties and material damage – to make the people of the intervening nation question the price they are paying to prevent a guerilla victory in another country.
If the massive commitment of foreign conventional forces can forestall a guerilla takeover, it may not, however, necessarily lead to a government victory. If the guerillas miscalculate and expose too many men in an effort to maintain pressure on the enemy, the conventional forces might conceivably win. But if the guerillas disperse properly and refuse combat when victory is not assured, the war could continue indefinitely. The problem of intervening foreign troops is to destroy the guerillas before the war of attrition can sap morale on the home front.
To anyone who has served with guerillas, the solution should be obvious. General Bayo recognized it when he wrote: “We are in greater danger if our guerilla unit of 15 men is pursued by 25 soldiers than by 5,000.” (8) Nothing upsets a guerilla band more than to be chased by a compact, fast-moving patrol of soldiers who are familiar with the people and terrain of the area of operations, and are willing to stay in the field until decisive contact is made. Wars against guerillas are won by de-escalating them into wars of patrol actions. Instead of deploying a division to “clear” an area of a regiment of guerillas, a regiment of soldiers should be sent in to hunt down and destroy the guerillas. Each component unit of the anti-guerilla regiment, down to the squad level, should be capable of independent patrol action; when the guerilla regiment breaks down into its component units and disperses, the anti-guerilla regiment breaks down into independent patrols, each of which pursues a specific guerilla unit. A patrol stays in the field until it has destroyed its assigned quarry or has been relieved by another patrol which takes up the same pursuit.
This kind of warfare is not popular with conservative American military men, because it denies the classic infantry role of seizing and holding terrain, from which are derived the roles of all the supporting arms and services – artillery, armor, airpower, supply, and so on. Oblivious to the fact that guerillas are seldom willing to defend terrain, Americans are still intent on seizing – or “clearing” – it. This causes the evicted guerillas some inconvenience, but usually not enough for them to attempt a counterattack and give their enemy an opportunity to “hold” the terrain he has “seized.” The guerillas merely wait until the soldiers have completed their exercises and have moved on – then they reinfiltrate the area. The American soldier realizes that his job is to close with and destroy the enemy, but he is made to believe that, even in guerilla war, this is done by moving great masses of men and machines across a stretch of land.
In Nicaragua the American command did designate one unit as a perpetual anti-guerilla patrol, and it effectively neutralized one of Sandino’s columns. According to a post-intervention Marine staff study, seven more such patrols – one for each of the remaining Sandanista columns – could have dominated the guerilla situation. (9) This model patrol, however, was composed of two extraordinary Marine officers and some thirty Nicaraguans. Company “M”’s success was due as much to the native background of the Nicaraguan enlisted men as to the leadership of Captain Puller and Lieutenant Lee. The participation of native troops is essential to final victory over guerillas.
Ideally, combat operations against guerillas should be carried out exclusively by native troops. Their proper employment in the earlier stages of a guerilla conflict can prevent a situation in which foreign forces must be called in to shore up a crumbling regime. Natives, rather than foreigners, are best able to move swiftly and silently through the countryside, talk with the people and discern their moods, and win their confidence – or at least their respect. Guerilla warfare is a very human business; it must be dealt with on a man-to-man basis. Government troops must be able and willing to compete with the guerillas personally on the village level. The soldier must be able to convince the average citizen that his side offers the best hope for future peace and prosperity. He does this not only by exemplary conduct and good deeds, but by pursuing the guerilla on foot into the jungles, the cane fields, or the rice paddies, and by destroying him where he finds him. He does not win the people’s confidence or their respect by dropping bombs from an airplane, by riding down a road in an armored personnel carrier, or by fluttering above the treetops in a helicopter. The government soldiers must show his mettle by coming out and fighting the guerillas. He must be as tough and as highly motivated as his enemy.
The American tragedy in Vietnam is that successive South Vietnamese governments have too readily accepted American military advice. Instead of insisting that the Vietnamese soldier live with the people and slug it out with the guerilla on the village level, the United States convinced the Saigon authorities that victory could be achieved by modern technology and American-style military organization. The American passion for machines and high-level organization was disastrous. The initiative passed to the Viet Cong who dealt very humanly – if not always humanely – with the aspirations and fears of the Vietnamese peasantry. This initial failure of American advice led to the United States’ fourth major war in less than half a century.
In Latin America the U.S. may well be headed for a similar catastrophe. Guerilla movements are already under way in several Latin American countries, although they have not yet won the popular support necessary for success. If the military of these countries continue to bomb nonexistent concentrations and supply lines, the guerillas may well gain this popular support. Latin American leaders must be made to realize that in the early stages of conflict the normal guerilla practice is dispersal rather than concentration, that guerillas live off the land, and that what supply lines they have are usually so thin and irregular as to be invulnerable from the air. Most important, Latin American leaders must realize that no one wins the respect of his people by dropping bombs on them.
Latin America has always been weak militarily in relation to the United States. And the peoples of Latin America have been weak in relation to their own military – often supported and supplied by the United States government – and they have resented this weakness. They have a natural antipathy for the man in the tank or the warplane, and a natural affection for the man with the rifle and the bandoliers who challenges the man in the machine. Latin Americans prefer the human to the mechanical, the passionate revolutionary to the military martinet. And, like people everywhere, Latin Americans tend to prefer their own kind – no matter how perverse – to the interfering foreigner – no matter how upright or well intentioned. They sided with Pancho Villa over General Pershing, with Sandino against the Marines.
The traditions of Latin America and its social and political conditions are as conducive to large-scale guerilla operations as those of any other region of the world. Hatred of “Yankee Imperialism,” rekindled by the Dominican episode in the mid-1960’s, is stronger in Latin America than anywhere else – excepting, perhaps, China and her satellites. The interventionist policy of the United States government and its open support for repressive regimes have convinces many Latin American that eventually they will have to fight Yankee soldiers if they take the path of social revolution. There are those who are willing to risk such a conflict, and they are capable of sparking a guerilla conflagration that could drain the resources of the United States for years to come. The return of American troops to Latin America in 1965 awakened a hemisphere-wide spirit of popular resistance to “Yankee Imperialism” – the spirit of Sandino. More than the “International Communist Conspiracy,” the ghost of Sandino confronts the United States in Latin America today. Like Banquo’s, it can provoke the beholder to self-destructive reaction.
1. Quoted in Time, LII, 46 (November 15, 1948), 43.
2. Ernesto Guevara, On Guerilla Warfare (New York: Prager, 1962), p. 66.
3. Alberto Bayo, 150 Questions for a Guerilla (Boulder, Colo: Panther Publications, 1962), p. 31.
4. Guevara, op. cit., p. 31.
5. Sun Tzu, The Art of War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 109.
6. Engels, in Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850 (New york: New York Labor News Co, 1928), p. 3-23.
7. Condrad Brandt, Stalin’s Failure in China, 1924-1927 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958), p. 174.
8. Bayo, op. cit., p. 31.
9. Smith, et al., op. cit., p. 38.