On this 241st birthday of the United States of America, we remember the toil and blood it took for this nation’s first citizens to guard its independence. That toil and blood required use of the most modern weaponry of the late 18th century from pistols and grenades to bayonets and long rifles. A common argument among those who believe that we need more gun control today is that our own versions of these weapons are too obsolete to mount a meaningful rebellion.
At first glance it would seem that they are right. Suppose our government did become an oppressive authoritarian regime like the government of King George III, or worse. Then what chance would a rag-tag militia armed only with pistols, assault rifles and maybe rocket launchers stand against the tanks, fighter jets, bomber planes and nuclear bombs that our current government possesses?
However, that visualization greatly misses the point. If George Washington and his newly-formed Continental Army had only guns and bayonets at their disposal, the British would’ve swiftly crushed them. They needed to make use of their several other assets to win the war and our independence. We will explore them here, and we will use the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1988 as a parallel example.
This one’s a given. The area of colonial America massively outsized that of England, and of course the Continentals knew the American landscape best. This not only gave the American forces plenty of escape room and forced the British to stretch their military resources. It also made the British subject to many surprise attacks and maneuvers. The Continental militias would often attack the imperial troops and then retreat into the forests nearby. General Nathanael Greene used America’s geographical expanse to pick off and exhaust the pursuing British led by Lord Cornwallis before drawing him to defeat in Yorktown.
This is similar to the situation of the Soviets’ war in Afghanistan, except of course that it involved a much smaller country and far more advanced weaponry. The USSR, despite being stocked with planes, helicopters, tanks and bombs, couldn’t compete with the mujahedeens’ knowledge of the mountainous terrain. No matter how much the Soviets pounded their mountain hideouts with artillery and aerial fire, they never were able to root out the rebels fighting against their communist allies in Kabul.
We all know that the French helped us end the Revolutionary War by blocking Lord Cornwallis’ escape to sea from Yorktown with their fleet. But they did very much more than that. They provided much-needed weapons, training and soldiers as well. That’s not to mention the contribution of Major General Marquis de Lafayette in leading the Continental army under Washington and lobbying his home country to give their assistance. The rebels also had help from Spain and the Netherlands later in the war.
Despite not having any help in the battlefield against the Soviets, the mujahedeen had many friends on the outside. Among them were the US, the UK, China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Because Afghanistan was a front in the Cold War, we naturally provided a great deal covert aid to the mujahedeen through the CIA. This aid was given as about 65,000 tons of arms – and 700 million dollars – per year by 1987.
3. Popular support
Any rebellion needs a good base of support among the people to be successful. Historian Robert M. Calhoon estimates that between 15 to 20 percent of white male colonists were Loyalists while 40 to 45 percent were Patriots. According to U.S. News and World Report, between 5,000 to 7,000 blacks fought with the Patriots, despite being outnumbered by their counterparts on the British side by at least three thousand. Blacks at the time made up about 20 percent of the population. Taken together, this means that the revolutionary cause enjoyed widespread support across the states. This support allowed the Continental Army and militias to receive food, shelter, supplies and even intelligence from civilians all around the country.
In Afghanistan, the communist government in Kabul being propped up by the Soviets was unpopular. One reason for this was that communist ideology is antithetical to religion. Despite the assurances of the Soviet-backed Marxist President Karmal that he would respect Islam, the deeply Muslim Afghans were not convinced. The various tribes and factions of the country united under the banner of Islam and thus confronted the communists with a force of popularity incapable of being contained.
- Attainment of heavy arms
The Continental military knew that they needed heavy artillery to confront the military might of British. This need was answered in part with the Green Mountain Boys’ capture of Fort Ticonderoga, which was used as a depot of mortars, howitzers and cannons for the British. These were later moved by the Americans to Boston, where Washington put them to use during the siege and eventual capture of the city. They also obtained these weapons from their French allies.
The mujahedeen received such heavy weapons from the US as the FIM-92 Stinger missile, which was fired from the shoulder and hampered the Soviet army’s helicopters in the mountains of Afghanistan.
The militia, despite how effective they were in guerilla warfare, were not known for their discipline or courage in the open battlefield. Congress needed to raise an army of professional soldiers that could meet the seasoned British Redcoats in combat. The Prussian Baron Friedrich von Steuben is well-known for his role as a drillmaster for the Continental army, whipping the gaggle of mostly untrained farmers into a formidable fighting force.
Pakistan’s secret service, the ISI, provided training to the mujahideen in their fight against the USSR. Because they too were against the Soviets’ incursion into the neighboring country, they gave the Afghan militants a safe haven in which they could receive training and then return across the border when ready.
Like the British in the American Revolutionary War, the Soviets in Afghanistan were eventually defeated due to all of these factors helping the rebels. But would any of them have mattered had the American and Afghan rebels not been in possession of any firearms? That’s clearly improbable.
So yes, it’s true that a few average untrained neighborhood guys won’t have much chance at all against a modern advanced military. That’s not a reason, however, to take their guns away. It’s a reason to let them keep their guns so they can be used in complement with the factors described above, should the unlikely but real possibility of the need for a new rebellion ever come.
Therefore, in celebrating our nation’s birthday today, we should also celebrate our right to bear arms as is spelled out in the 2nd Amendment of our cherished Constitution.