Mao ZeDong and 4GW

A part of a comment from Jay@Soob:

“This was likely compounded by the chronological assignment (that Mao was the first to conceptualize 4GW is an assertion that Ethan Allen might have something to swear and swing fists about)”

The frequent and casual association of Chairman Mao with 4GW is something that has always puzzled me as well ( though, if memory serves, William Lind was always careful to explain that 4GW isn’t simply guerilla warfare). I think it can be attributed to the likelihood that most people who are somewhat familiar with 4GW theory tend to think first of guerillas and Mao is regarded as a great innovator there. However, is there merit in placing Mao in the “4GW pantheon” (if there is such a thing)?

In the ” yes” column I’d offer the following observations:

Mao, whose actual positive leadership contribution to Communist victory in the civil war was primarily political and strategic rather than operational and tactical ( his military command decisions were often the cause of disaster, retreat and defeat for Communist armies) had a perfect genius – I think that word would be an accurate description here – for operating at the mental and moral levels of warfare.  Partly this was skillful playing of a weak hand on Mao’s part; the Communists were not a match on the battlefield for the better Nationalist divisions until the last year or so of the long civil war but Mao regularly outclassed Chiang Kai-shek in propaganda and diplomacy – turning military defeats at Chiang’s hands into moral victories and portraying Communist inaction in the face of Japanese invasion as revolutionary heroism. Yenan might have be a weird, totalitarian, nightmare fiefdom but Mao made certain that foreign journalists, emissaries and intelligence liasons reported fairy tales to the rest of the world.

In the “maybe” column:

Regardless of one’s opinion of Mao ZeDong, China’s civil war, running from the collapse of the Q’ing dynasty in 1911 to the proclamation of the People’s Republic in 1949, is a historical laboratory for 4GW and COIN theory.  The complexity of China in this era was akin to that of Lebanon’s worst years in the 1980’s but it lasted for decades. In a given province of China ( many of which were as large or larger than major European nations) then there might have been operating simultaneously: several warlord armies, Communist guerillas,  Nationalist armies, the Green Gang syndicate, White Russian mercenaries, Mongol Bannermen, rival Kuomintang factions, common bandit groups and military forces of European states, Japan and the United States. Disorder and ever-shifting alliances and fighting was the norm and Mao was the ultimate victor in this era.

In the “no ” column:

Mao ZeDong, whatever his contributions to the art of guerilla warfare, intended, quite firmly, to build a strong state in China, albeit a Communist one in his own image. He was never interested in carving out a sphere of influence or an autonomous zone in China except as a stepping stone to final victory. Moreover, the Red Army’s lack of conventional fighting ability for most of the civil war related to a lack of means, not motive on Mao’s part. When material was available, particularly after 1945, when Stalin turned over equipment from the defeated  Kwangtung army and began supplying a more generous amount of Soviet military aid to the Chinese Communists, Mao tried to shift to conventional warfare. When in power, he sent the PLA’s 5-6 crack divisions into the Korean War to face American troops in 2GW-style attrition warfare, not guerilla infiltrators behind MacArthur’s lines. 

Finally, Mao’s personal political philosophy of governance, taken from Marxism-Leninism and Qin dynasty Legalism, are about as radically hierarchical and alien to 4GW thinking as it is possible to be.

In sum, Mao is and should be regarded as a major figure in the  history of the 20th century and that century’s military history but he isn’t the grandfather of fourth generation warfare.


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