Defending Pala: Rhizome as a Mode of Military Operations
How would the military of a rhizome polity look and function? What would be the tactical and strategic issues at the core of a military confrontation between hierarchy and rhizome? How does looking at rhizome through the lens of military organization help better illuminate the concept, and specifically help to explain the nature of the conflicts presently facing the U.S. If nothing else, it’s an interesting thought experiment… military?
Rhizome, a non-hierarchal, non-centralized mode of organization, is a very square peg that we are trying to fit into the traditionally very round hole of military analysis. But suspend, for a moment, such traditional notions of hierarchal and authoritarian militaries, and instead think of “military” as the mode of violent expression of an organizational pattern, be it hierarchy, rhizome, etc.
All human organization demands some mode of violent expression, even if that mode consists of pacifism and capitulation in the face of another’s violence. War is generally a wasteful and nonproductive economic activity, even though it may certainly enrich some of the participants. In the case of hierarchy vs. rhizome, however, the economically inefficient activity of equipping rhizome to repel hierarchy is less inefficient than permitting their annexation and conversion to hierarchal means of economic activity. Likewise, while violence in se is a greater moral wrong than pacifism in se, it is cumulatively worse to permit the trespasses of hierarchy when they can otherwise be avoided.
Furthermore, rhizome war may represent an end to war. The history of warfare is a history of hierarchy. Rhizome polities, as they have existed in a lesser approximation of fully rhizome form, have never been able to repel the advance of hierarchy. As a result, warfare has been an activity entered into exclusively by hierarchy, against either rhizome or against another hierarchy. It has been a constant evolutionary struggle, with alternating innovations in tactics or politics, offense or defense leading to a perpetual war among human polities instigated by the innovator. Rhizome cannot “make war” in the classical sense, because it has no capacity for offensive warfare—the kind of military operations that I will outline here are structurally limited to defensive and reactionary operations (even if they may use offensive tactics to defensive ends). This is because rhizome is structurally incapable of exerting control beyond itself—the pattern of rhizome can spread, but it is fundamentally incapable of controlling another entity. For this reason, rhizome has no motivation to instigate war—it can only respond to aggression by hierarchy. Therefore, if one accepts that it is possible to develop the theory of rhizome military operations to the extent that it cannot be defeated by hierarchy, then rhizome war equals an end to war, as hierarchy will not instigate a war that it does not think it can win.
Let me then get right to the point: how a rhizome military could be organized. I’ll start by laying out a proposed set of principles for rhizome war: Independence, Interaction, Open Source, Time & Place. Contrast these to the classic principles of hierarchal war (as taught by US military academies) and notice how they define hierarchy in general: Objective, Offensive, Mass, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Security, Surprise, and Simplicity.
The four principles of rhizome warfare:
Independence: the downtrodden and oppressed of history have tended to fight hierarchy by organizing themselves into a semi-hierarchal structure, often abandoning their semi-rhizome roots in the process. The problem with this process is that IF they defeat their hierarchal opponent, the victorious downtrodden masses suddenly find that the traction of the hierarchal institutions introduced along the way to victory have too much inertia, and the new society eventually becomes just another oppressive hierarchy. For this reason, the first principle of rhizome warfare is independence. An extant rhizome structure must not abandon its rhizome nature. Rather, it must embrace rhizome. If rhizome forms a platoon, battalion or division in its own defense, it has already lost. A rhizome military functions just like a rhizome economy—as the emergent action of independent nodes, independent warriors. Napoleon’s use of the independent military corps revolutionized European warfare. Rhizome warfare extends this principle further, atomizing Napoleon’s corps to create self-sustaining, self-directing, combined arms “corps” of single individuals, or of small, voluntary groupings derived from rhizome nodes.
Interaction: like classical rhizome, the emergent action of a rhizome military is a function of the strength of the interactions between component nodes. The primary preoccupation of the hierarchal military is not actually violence, but rather information processing—intelligence, strategizing, communicating orders, etc. It is here that the rhizome military holds its greatest advantage, as rhizome can process information more efficiently than hierarchy. This does not need to be directed as with hierarchy—the rhizome military functions by emergent action. Just as the seemingly random and disorganized interactions between billions of neurons in our brains process information to a greater impact than the fastest hierarchal supercomputer, the strength of action of a rhizome military is dependent on the seemingly random and disorganized interaction of its component nodes. These interactions must follow the classical rhizome pattern: both strong and weak, near and far, brief and in-depth.
Open Source: The single factor that compounds the information processing problems more than any other is secrecy. Hierarchal, offensive operation depends on exclusive knowledge or innovative tactics and methods. Imagine if Eisenhower had told Hitler, “in three months from today, I will land my forces in Normandy, NOT Pas de Calais.” That wouldn’t have worked too well. The need to safeguard these secrets created an enormous burden on the Allied forces. Rhizome does not face such a burden. All communications, capabilities, intentions and activities within a rhizome military must be entirely in open; open source, freely available and unauthenticated. The fact that a hierarchal opponent will be able to freely access this information is irrelevant, for the sheer magnitude of information emanating independently, differently and continuously from every rhizome node will completely overwhelm the ability of rhizome to process this information. Unlike hierarchal communications, there will be no one piece that is more important than another, and the total lack of graduated security of communications will provide no indication as to any relative importance of information. This will negate then entire intelligence capability of hierarchy, while at the same time ensuring the smooth operation of rhizome’s information processing engine.
Time & Space: Because of the constitutional nature of hierarchy, time and space work in favor of rhizome, and must be exploited as a tool of rhizome warfare. Due to the constitutional nature of hierarchal opponents, they are severely restrained by the need to meet certain criteria in time and place. Traditional warfare is defined by the application of decisive force at the right time and place—the key there being the need for decisive action that meets a demanding set of criteria. Hierarchy has a structural need to continuously grow in order to survive, and therefore must seek out and win decisive battles in order to prevail in warfare. These decisive battles must be both near enough in time to meet their constitutional need for continuous expansion and intensification, and must happen at concentrated points in space to facilitate the application of hierarchy’s strength of centralization. The very nature of rhizome is effective in defeating hierarchy; it is not concentrated in the near term, or in centralized to specific points in space. Rather, rhizome is a non-historical process, one that does not require the arrow of time that hierarchy depends on in the form of centralization and intensification. Rhizome’s natural state is that of stasis. Similarly, rhizome exists in a distributed, non-centralized structure, and therefore is naturally prevented from succumbing to the hierarchal military’s need for a pitched and decisive battle. Rhizome can defeat hierarchy simply by maintaining its stasis and avoiding pitched battles. It must embrace the classical rhizome approach to time and space.
By Way of Illustration:
In Aldous Huxley’s ultimate novel, Island, the ideal society of Pala is destroyed by the war-like, hierarchal neighboring state of Rendang, with the aid and encouragement of a British oil company. The Raja of Pala decided to simply acquiesce to Rendang’s aggression rather than try to take up arms to fight off the invasion, presumably because he did not want to force his rhizome society into a hierarchal fighting machine. Could Pala have retained its rhizome structure and defeated Rendang at the same time? Perhaps an analysis of rhizome elements of today’s conflicts can provide an answer.
Rhizome military principles are at work around the world today to a greater or lesser degree: the F.A.R.C. in Colombia, the Sunni Insurgency in Iraq, the White Supremacist “leaderless resistance” movement in the United States, and the Earth Liberation Front, just to name a few. But purely as a thought experiment, would it be possible for a relatively backwards and unsophisticated hierarchal military to reshape itself into a rhizome military, and in the process defeat the world’s most capable hierarchal military? Specifically, could Iran reshape itself into a rhizome military to defeat a US invasion? And, perhaps more interestingly, would such a policy either force or catalyze the transition of Iranian society as a whole from hierarchy to rhizome?
Iran could abandon its current hierarchal military and devolve into a rhizome of a hundred thousand independent individual “corps” units. These would be complimentary in equipment and specialty, capable of temporarily operating jointly or individually. Each rhizome corps would be minimally self-sufficient in food, transportation, weaponry and communications, and each would have some degree of unique or specialized function in addition to these minimums of independence. A quick list of the various permutations of the rhizome corps: sniper “node”, MANPADS “node”, medical “node”, motorbike messenger/scout “node”, communications “node”, etc. They would operate in a manner that is perhaps best described as “reverse swarming”…rather than coalescing just in time to present a critical mass to confront the enemy, they would leverage their advantage at ranged fire while always fading away into the fabric of the local populace or wilderness just before the enemy can concentrate sufficient mass to force an encounter that favors hierarchy. They would freely communicate and share information about their operations with anyone and everyone, overwhelming the information processing capabilities of hierarchy, while leveraging their own emergent information processing advantage. Many of these techniques are already at work in the worlds many insurgencies, with perhaps the notable exception of the intentional use of “open source” command and control.
While this theory of rhizome warfare is undeveloped and largely untested as a complete package, its effectiveness can be observed by analogy all around us, from the impact of blogs to the inability of the US military to force Islamic insurgents into a pitched battle (despite their overt attempt in Fallujah). Perhaps most importantly, as a full package, the methods of rhizome warfare may actually strengthen the societal and economic patterns of a rhizome society.