Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Man vs. Mosquito: The Ultimate Insurgent

The past week I celebrated the Jewish holiday Sukkot. During this holiday, observant Jews “dwell” in their sukkah – a temporary structure. This “dwelling,” depending on climate and inclination can vary from formally living in it to merely taking some meals in the sukkah. Personally I like to spend as much time in it as possible. One side effect is that our back door is open a lot and mosquitos get in our house. My wife does not like mosquitos (but they love her), so I sat up one night and tried to hunt down the ones that got into our house. Not easy. Fast and hard to spot, my most effective anti-mosquito tactic was to sit very still and let them get a taste of my arm. A draining, tedious strategy, and in the process I got bored and had a few beers which only reduced my effectiveness. If I had had to deal with more than a handful I would have had to turn to chemical warfare.

The experience brought to mind the classic line from Robert Taber’s 1965 classic on counter-insurgency, The War of the Flea: Guerilla Warfare in Theory and Practice
Analogically, the guerilla fights the war of the flea, and his military enemy suffers the dog’s disadvantages: too much to defend;too small, ubiquitous, and agile an enemy to come to grips with. If the war continues long enough - this is the theory – the dog succumbs to exhaustion and anemia without ever having found anything on which to close its jaws or rake with its claws.
It was a humbling experience. I guess the one difference is that insurgents can be deterred and co-opted. Mosquitos are remorseless blood-sucking machines.

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