Rhizome Army of Appalachia

Initial text from original proposal, "The Appalachian Confederation."


I do not believe that civilization will ever mount a full offensive against tribes as such. Certainly, governments have no problem destroying small enclaves of people living in some novel way when some excuse presents itself--as one might argue was the case with Waco, Ruby Ridge, and similar incidents. However, I believe that this is because governments are indisposed against individuals living in a non-conventional manner, not because of any active attempt to hunt them down. I look to the blossoming number of eco-villages across the country as evidence of this. Moreover, as civilization collapses, governments will no doubt have much more pressing matters to attend to than a bunch of hippies living in yurts.


Moreover, I do not foresee a "post-apocalyptic" war between tribes and civilization's survivors. Those survivors, like the survivors of Chaco Canyon, will learn to live in sustainable ways, or die trying. In the interrim, I do not believe they will "come after" foragers, for the same reasons that the Greenland Vikings that Jared Diamond discusses in Collapse did not "go after" the Inuit. We will be relying on resources they fail to see as food. So, I do not see much threat of military conflict in the primitivist approach to the current crisis.


However, others are not so sure. Steve Thomas believes that we may face stiff competition. Jeff Vail believes that the conflict between hierarchy and rhizome will define the twenty-first century, just as the conflict between democracy, communism and fascism defined the twentieth. For those nervous about the the threat of military action, a tribal league like the Appalachian Confederation is an excellent response.


With his military background, it is understandable that Jeff Vail would spend so much time focusing on the military abilities of rhizome. In his latest entry on the topic, "Defending Pala: Rhizome as a Mode of Military Operations," Vail highlighted the advantages and requirements of the rhizome military. Vail claims that such a military would be incredibly effective at defensive operations, but would be incapable of launching offenses or initiating hostilities. Vail writes:


Furthermore, rhizome war may represent an end to war. The history of warfare is a history of hierarchy. Rhizome polities, as they have existed in a lesser approximation of fully rhizome form, have never been able to repel the advance of hierarchy. As a result, warfare has been an activity entered into exclusively by hierarchy, against either rhizome or against another hierarchy. It has been a constant evolutionary struggle, with alternating innovations in tactics or politics, offense or defense leading to a perpetual war among human polities instigated by the innovator. Rhizome cannot “make war” in the classical sense, because it has no capacity for offensive warfare—the kind of military operations that I will outline here are structurally limited to defensive and reactionary operations (even if they may use offensive tactics to defensive ends). This is because rhizome is structurally incapable of exerting control beyond itself—the pattern of rhizome can spread, but it is fundamentally incapable of controlling another entity. For this reason, rhizome has no motivation to instigate war—it can only respond to aggression by hierarchy. Therefore, if one accepts that it is possible to develop the theory of rhizome military operations to the extent that it cannot be defeated by hierarchy, then rhizome war equals an end to war, as hierarchy will not instigate a war that it does not think it can win.


Vail defines four defining principles of the rhizomatic army:



Would such a military stand a chance against today's modern, industrialized war machine? It is no longer a matter of speculation; Jeff Vail and more recently John Robb see al Qa'ida as already implementing several of these principles. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Saddam ordered many of his forces to use guerrilla warfare, shedding the uniforms and tactics of the conventional, hierarchical military that the U.S. so handily dismantled, to become the insurgency that has bogged the greatest military in history into a "quagmire" for the past two years, with no end in sight.


It was similar tactics that allowed rag-tag colonists in the New World to shake off British colonialism and establish the United States in the first place. I showed Giuli The Patriot--Mel Gibson's Hollywood treatment of a fictional amalgam of several southern American Revolutionary figures--as a lesson in tribal warfare. I am reminded again of another topic I have spent many words on, digitally; namely, post-Roman Britain and the question of the "historical King Arthur." The Anglo-Saxons used guerrilla tactics, and easily overwhelmed the Romanized lands along the southeastern coast. However, as the invaders went higher into the lands of Cornwall, Wales and the lowlands of Scotland, they found groups of Celts that had not been so Romanized, and answered guerrilla warfare in kind. If there was a historical Arthur, it was a guerrilla war leader who managed to defeat the Anglo-Saxon invaders.


In short, the rhizome military Vail formulates is not only capable of defeating hierarchical aggression--it's the only historically reliable model that has, time and again.