The recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan forced most modern and technologically advanced armies to revise their strategies by adapting to the new contingencies of asymmetric warfare. The U.S. military occupation of Iraq was an excellent example of how a top-level military force could crumble in the face of an uncontrollable popular uprising. After a triumphant march to Baghdad, the U.S. military’s total lack of a strategic plan quickly embroiled it in a long and stressful confrontation against small groups of insurgents whose actions made Iraq ungovernable.

Yet Pentagon analysts had countless examples of how to avoid such a situation and above all, they knew the importance of correctly handling the population. Contemporary military historiography identified some key events useful for understanding what an insurgency is — also suggesting models on which to work and organize a winning strategy.

A careful analysis emerges as to how the British and the French armies — given their colonial experiences — are the most accustomed to dealing with this type of emergency. In fact, many tend to forget what the European continent was like after the French Revolution when the republican armies wore the liberators’ uniforms. The Revolution of 1789 and its repercussions on the pre-ordered equilibrium by the main monarchies originated many episodes of insurgencies that found their maximum expression in Vendée (1793), Italy (1799), and then in Spain during the Napoleonic wars, from 1808 to 1814.

The Dos de Mayo in Madrid

Most Napoleonic historians recognize in the Spanish campaign the real cause of Napoleon’s defeat. From 1805 to 1808, the French Emperor dethroned the noblest European sovereigns defeating Austria and Russia in Austerlitz (1805), and Prussia in the battle of Jena in 1806. Due to a series of treaties and opportune alliances, the “Little Corsican” tried to bend to his will the English Empire which, thanks to the Royal Navy seapower, had control of the trade routes, but gradually lost landfalls on the Continent.