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Mao, On Protracted War

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Context: On Protracted Waris a work comprising a series of speeches by Mao Zedong given from May 26 to June 3, 1938, at the Yenan Association for the Study of the War of Resistance Against Japan. In it, he calls for a protracted people's war as a means for small revolutionary groups to fight the power of the state.

Thesis: Mao outlined a theory with three discrete stages for revolutionary success: the strategic defensive, the stalemate, and the strategic offensive.

Argument:

- Mao’s political purpose was freedom from China from two different threats.

- The first was the internal reactionary forces and counter-revolutionary influences that battled with the Communist forces for control of China.

- These reactionary forces include the Nationalist Chinese and the remaining regional warlords.

- The second threat was from the 1973 invasion by “imperialist” forces from Japan (proved to be a greater than other Chinese).

- Mao initially advocates victory in absolute terms: the total annihilation of reactionary and imperialist forces and influences wherever they exist.

- Mao outlined a theory with three discrete stages for revolutionary success: the strategic defensive, the stalemate, and the strategic offensive.

- During the first stage, numerous guerrilla offensive actions at the tactical level seek to wear down, by ambush or battle, the forces of the enemy. Tactical annihilation is preferable to attrition, but the net effect strategically is the reduction or removal of enemy forces from the countryside.

- The second stage, stalemate, is characterized by attrition forces on the adversary’s moral and material strength.

- Not only are his forces being defeated tactically, but the guerrillas’ opponent is progressively forced on the defensive due to a hostile population that supports the guerrillas.

- Increasingly under siege even in formerly secure areas, the adversary’s moral and material strength is whittled away in this prolonged stage of the conflict by guerrilla offensives that grow in size, sophistication, and intensity.

- Time, secure areas, additional recruits, and the acquisition of increasingly advanced equipment allow the guerrillas to build up a conventional army.

- Once this army is ready for action, and when the conditions are suitable, the guerrilla commander launches the third and final stage.

- The third and final stage of the campaign is a coordinated strategic offensive designed to annihilate his adversary in a series of decisive battles.

- Mao believed that the further novelty of his theory lay in articulating a new form of war. A mobile war was a war of the offensive; positional war was strictly defensive.

- War of annihilation is different from war of attrition. Campaigns of attrition are supplementary but necessary in protracted war.

- Mao understood the necessity of attrition as the guiding concept of his strategy. The progressive whittling down of an adversary’s moral resolve and material assets, while the guerrillas build their strength, is crucial in order to shift phases to the strategic offensive.

- Mao opines that attrition and annihilation are opposing, but complementary, strategic approaches to victory.

- Mao’s ideological preference is to push attrition at the strategic level to its logical theoretical conclusion and annihilate his adversary.

- The reality confronting Mao was that political considerations constrain war from reaching this point.

-Influenced by Clausewitz; War as continuation of politics….

-Influenced by Jomini; interior and exteriors lines.



Implications for Strategy:

- Mao’s theory resulted from serious reflection after initial failures. He realized that future success is predicted upon building the strength of their own forces, while simultaneously weakening those of the adversary.

- Strategy had to be tailored to suit a range of local political, military, economic, social, cultural, and environmental conditions.

- Mao discovered early in his revolutionary career, merely following other approaches dogmatically without accounting for local conditions was a recipe for failure.


  • The strategic role of guerrilla warfare is two-fold: to support regular warfare and to transform itself into regular warfare
  • The goals of this type of war are to preserve yourself (this is first) and then destroy the enemy
  • Gain support of the people though education, training, and propaganda
    • Mass support can keep the enemy constantly under pressure and surrounded
  • Mixed Eastern and Western military thought
  • Warns against mechanistic and idealistic thinking during war.
  • Politics is war without weapons (Mao’s view on politics)
  • His Grand Strategy; a free Communist Ch founded the bases for all he did. A long term goal. He infused politic into every soldier, created a common understanding and purpose, easier to work after the leaders intent with this basis.

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