Did Leia Understand How To Win The (Star) War?

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What can Star Wars teach us about war? Political bloggers can't help but look at the original trilogy through the lens of real-world counter insurgency tactics, leading them to wonder if the Rebel Alliance was fighting the wrong battles.

The conversation started with an email from the Center for a New American Security's Abu Muqawama's brother:

Why didn't the Rebel Alliance pursue a strategy of insurgency in their rebellion against the Galactic Empire? I would argue that they pursued a strategy of conventional war against the Empire and forwent every aspect of insurgent strategy and tactics. They finally came around a bit in the end by co-opting the Ewoks onto their side. Why hadn't they pursued that strategy on a larger scale? Instead, they simply staged two conventional assualts on the Empire's center of gravity: the Death Star. Although both attempts were successful, I think they got lucky.


Democracy Arsenal's Patrick Barry isn't convinced:

[G]iven the intergalactic nature of the war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, [is] a classic insurgency is even possible? If one of the insurgent's biggest advantages is his knowledge of the local environment, and the tacit support of the inhabitants of that environment, then isn't that advantage pretty much negated in the vacuum of space? I imagine that the space-based nature of war in the Star Wars universe constrained the Alliance's strategic options, perhaps significantly. I suspect that the rebels were pursuing the best set of tactics available to them - waging asymmetric war against the Empire's vulnerable conventional military assets.


Think Progress' Matthew Yglesias, meanwhile, takes the argument one step further:

To say that the Rebel Alliance " simply staged two conventional assaults on the Empire's center of gravity: the Death Star" is, I think, to misconstrue the situation. What's going on is that nobody on either side of the war seriously disputes the notion that "fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battlestation."...Once it's clear that the Empire can destroy planets wholesale, the rebels are in agreement with Tarkin and the Emperor that sufficient firepower, deployed without conscience, can, in fact, win the war. Thus, the rebels only hope for staving off defeat is a bold attack on the Death Star itself. As Exum's correspondent notes, "they got lucky" in terms of destroying the Death Star so it made perfect sense for the Emperor to simply respond by trying to build a new one. Here, again, both sides agree that a fully operational Death Star can end the war, so again the rebels need to mount a somewhat desperate attack. And they win!

But the lesson here isn't that the rebels are being irrationally conventional; the lesson is that there are limits to the logic of counterinsurgency doctrine. Overwhelming force and brutality really can be applied to good effect if you're really willing to unleash it in an evil way.


Somewhere, George Lucas is shaking his head and thinking to himself that just meant to make a good movie...