Thursday, February 19, 2015

Extreme Outcomes (Part Two): The First Revolt Fails

A German revolutionary faces a firing squad after the failed Sparticist Uprising of 1919 (image from
As the world, and more specifically, the West, stumbles forward to a far more violent future, filled with financial upheaval and political turmoil, let's take a brief moment to remember a Golden Rule that all wannabe Revolutionaries forget to their peril - the first revolt fails.

Violent revolutions against the established order, much more often than not, fail after the first revolt. As mood continues to darken, as factions polarize along the political spectrum, and as the breakdown of the existing financial order makes it more difficult for the Powers That Be to spread around the graft, jobs, and loot that keep them on top, the young and the desperate might decide at some point that a violent uprising against the Man is just what is needed. There will be no shortage of radicals (and government-paid agents provocateur) who will be able to convince a critical mass of men and women to arm themselves and overthrow the [insert name of currently-hyped Oppressor class].

Practically without exception, this will prove to be wrong and possibly fatal.

Some examples worth thinking about include:

The Revolutions of 1848
Reminiscent of the "Arab Spring," Europe experienced its own wave of idealistic uprisings against monarchies across Europe, mainly focused in the Central and Eastern part of the continent. While there was no coherent movement governing the uprisings, they were mostly focused on breaking down the last of the feudal structures which had held on, such as serfdom or in some cases absolute monarchy.

After some initial successes, the uprisings were crushed, one by one. Some of the political gains did manage to remain in place, but the "Revolutions of 1848" wound up being more inspirational mythology to later, more successful efforts at reform (most which occurred peacefully).

Philippine-American War
A fantastic example of a revolutionary movement allying itself with a larger power to overthrow the local bad guys, only to wind up under the heel of that larger power is the Philippine-American War. The Philippines in the late 1800's was a last outpost of the crumbling Spanish Empire. A revolution which had kicked off in 1892 had, after several twists and turns, and a bit of American help, landed the Philippine forces in a place where they had taken most of the island nation for their own and surrounded the remaining Spanish forces in Manila. A side agreement resulted in the Spanish surrendering Manila to American forces.

The lure of joining Europe in the race to carve up the world into colonial empires proved too great and the U.S. moved to crush the initial Philippine Republic which had been declared in the wake of the defeat of the Spanish.

Depending on who compiles the numbers, between 200,000 and over 1 million Filipinos died in this war. They had risen up and it looked like they had succeeded, but because of the presence of powerful outside forces, viewed as necessary to finish the job of the Revolution, the revolt wound up failing. The Philippines wouldn't see independence until after World War II and another round of agony during their occupation by the Empire of Japan.

Hama, 1982
Watching the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State and the bloodbath which has ensued, it is wise to remember a failed uprising in Syria from 1982, the infamous Hama Massacre.

In 1982, the Middle East was governed by entrenched secular military-socialist rulers in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. In Syria a variety of tensions led to an uprising organized primarily by the Muslim Brotherhood. In this unsuccessful prelude to what happened thirty years later, the Syrian government forces reacted swiftly and violently. Hama was surrounded and the killing began. It is estimated 20,000 - 40,000 died, with many tens of thousands more driven from the city.

Instead of leading to a larger uprising and civil war, as blossomed in recent years after another series of Islamist uprisings, the Hama Massacre broke the back of the Muslim Brotherhood and provided multiple lessons - some of which have borne fruit in the current war and some of which kept a lid on sectarian violence for three decades.

Things to Consider

You will have your own list of examples and possibly even some exceptions that prove the rule (Mussolini's March on Rome comes to mind).

What you should keep in mind is that in practically all cases, these first revolts were painful learning experiences. In the preceding centuries of positive mood the goals and ideals of the revolutions could be pursued by peaceful means eventually. That said, those that got dead during the first revolts were not around to take advantage of that progress.

In an era of net negative social mood, massive debt overhangs, fragile energy supplies, and a lot of grudges to get worked out on the battlefield, we could see a series of bad things metastasize from the revolts we are sure to see. Bad as in Thirty Years War bad. Bad as in the era of Chinese Warlords in the early 20th Century. Bad as in nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide bad.

For those of you scoring at home here in the U.S., I give you my Top 3 list of places to watch for flashpoints that could easily be swept up into a failed revolt. Or worse, a "success" that ends up with a new boss worse than the old boss.

Hawai'i (read up on the Philippine-American War and when that Chinese or Russian "secret" funding starts flowing, think about the long-term consequences...)

Texas (at a minimum read up on the Nullification Crisis of 1832 and ponder the long-lasting ramifications - not just the crushing defeat of the Confederacy, but the continuing effects of the Nullification Doctrine itself, especially as it has been revived by both groups as diverse as marijuana legalization activists and gun rights activists...)

Aztlan (when the uprisings begin, various City of Los Angeles offices and police stations get trashed, and the Aztlan flag gets raised over the L.A. Memorial Coliseum make sure you've read up on the Revolutions of 1848 or worse, the current conditions in Ukraine...)

Most of us don't want this coming era of violence and upheaval. Revolutions often eat their founders and leave the world worse-off than before. We'll see what awaits us all, but I  might suggest, you sit the revolts out. Be a builder, not a breaker.

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