Blog Article

Strife Remembers, Remembers

by Jill. S. Russell


It is that time of year when conspirators and urban mayhem are ritually on the minds of Londoners. One year on from the start of Strife and the first of my Guy Fawkes pieces, it is worth considering how two recent events can fundamentally shift the terms of urban security, either for good or ill.

Turning first to the September attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, there is much to concern the observer. The insurgent as commando is entirely effective against soft population targets, to take and hold micro-territory to short term tactical success. [1] Taking account of what we know about the modern mob in tumult [2] then the coupling of the insurgent and the mob emerges as a viable, if novel, Combined Arms [3] model for 21st century warfare.

Such a scenario brings to mind a rather frightening spectre for future security. Certainly at the point where the police (and perhaps others in support) will have to deal with such a scenario in defence of the city, the people or the government, there is only a dim picture. The choices are either disorder or bloodshed, at least in the short term. Once it breaks out, once the genie is out of the bottle it is hard to exert a force sufficient to stop it that is not also quite severe.

However, this conflict is not fought best at the point where sentiment has gone over to live passion. Rather, the prospects for confronting a Modern Guy Fawkes plus the mob is that it is best kept in check much earlier at the political level.

This leads us to the second event, the rising tide of the progressive voice on the Tory side of the British political spectrum. [4] Historically there is something very satisfying to this development. Almost exactly two centuries previous Robert Peel and colleagues of a similar mindset grappled with political dissatisfaction, largely the product of emergent economic dislocation that was given a threatening cast by the revolutionary tide which had just ripped through Europe. At that moment there was a recognition that the path to societal success had to include some measure of humanity. Or rather, that law and governance must be rational, which leads to the fairness of reasonable.

The mob and the insurgent are both born in the soup of political dissatisfaction. Combining this with their potential in urban terrain is what defines their potential to affect the course of history. It is the case, as well, that their ‘defeat’ must also target that level. Although, in much the same way that a light touch is necessary in tactics (don’t shoot rioters), so too must it be considered that the path to “victory” may also require a dose of humanity.

Finally, a few historical points bear consideration as we view Guy from our historical perch in contemplation of the relevance of humanity and policy to disorder. First, that the terms of his struggle, freedom from religious persecution, is one which right thinking people readily accept today. Second, that the manner of his despatch was brutal and we have forsaken not only that but most forms of capital punishment and brutality. Third, and finally, that the changes in these areas, as with most every progressive development, has been to the betterment and benefit of society. As one reviews such issues as the UK’s dance with a decision as to whether to remain under the EU human rights convention, or examines all of the contours of police powers and stopping policies are considered, the British should remember, remember that tempering influences in history have served not only their society, but the integrity of its character as well.


Jill S. Russel is a regular contributor to Strife, Kings of War and Small Wars. She was interviewed today by China Radio International’s Beijing Hour programme on the contemporary significance of Guy Fawkes to protest. You can listen to the interview here.


[1] Are events like Nairobi just learning episodes? If they seem not to “achieve” much, is the point really to test concepts of operation? Chilling thought there.
[2] London 2011 demonstrates how the mob can wreak havoc across territory and in excess of local authority in the moment and regional/national mobilisation in
the short/medium term.
[3] “Combined arms is the synchronized and simultaneous application of arms to achieve an effect greater than if each arm was used separately or sequentially. Combined arms integrates leadership, information, and each of the war-fighting functions and their supporting systems. Used destructively, combined arms integrates different capabilities so that counteracting one makes the enemy vulnerable to another. Used constructively, combined arms multiplies the effectiveness and efficiency of Army capabilities used in stability or defence support of civil authorities.” ADRP 3-0,
Unified Land Operations, Headquarters, Department of the Army, May 2012, paragraph 1-87.
[4] John Major has recently been out speaking in favour of policy with humanity and progress and its heart, and today the papers include note of Boris Johnson’s support for a £9 living wage.


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