Something kind of surprising happened in Peru last week. An army patrol was ambushed by Shining Path guerrillas in the Ayacucho Valley, a patch of nearly-vertical jungle on the East side of the Andes. The ambush wasn't much in classic military terms, seven soldiers killed and another 10 wounded out of a 30-man patrol. It was over in a few minutes. The troops didn't see anybody, and probably didn't hit a single guerrilla. Not the kind of battle war buffs like to reenact. But it could be the start of something big.
I'm not sure if anybody still remembers the Shining Path these days. They were always a weird bunch of people, even by guerrilla warfare standards, but they were big back in the late 80s-early 90s. For a while they were on the attack all over Peru.
Then in 1992 the Government finally grabbed their leader. He turned out to be an ex-professor named Abimael Guzman. Shining Path without Guzman was like the Doors without Jim Morrison, totally worthless. Guzman ranted and raved for a few weeks, then surprise-surprise, he saw the light and decided to work with the government for a peaceful solution. I wonder how many of his fingernails they had to pull out before he changed his mind.
Peruvian PsyOps officers figured that Guzman was so important to Shining Path that they hired fashion designers, I'm not kidding here, to make clothes that'd make him look totally stupid when they put his trial on TV. These designers noticed Guzman had got fat -- all those years of hiding out, no exercise. So they put him in big wide horizontal stripes. I've seen the video of him on trial. He looks like a big fat Latino bumblebee. And that did the trick. Nobody would follow him once they saw him in those horizontal stripes. I'm telling you, life's not easy for a fat man.
For ten years Shining Path was quiet. You may remember in '96 some guerrillas raided the Japanese Ambassador's house in Lima and took hostages. Well, that wasn't Shining Path. It was this other revolutionary group, Tupac Amaru. No, not the dead rapper. Tupac Amaru was an Inca king who fought the Spanish. The rapper was named after the Inca, not the other way around -- got it, all you ignorant lowriders out there?
By all accounts, the Tupac Amaru rebels are the nice, easygoing type of guerrillas. It sure seems that way by what happened at the Jap's house. After a couple of months some specially trained "Peruvian Special Forces" smashed their way in, killed all the Tupac guerrillas and set everybody free.
It wouldn't have turned out so nice if Shining Path was holding the hostages. They were always the not-nice type of guerrilla. More of the kill-everybody-and-their-dog type. In fact Shining Path used dogs to announce their debut. When Guzman decided the time was right to start military operations, he told his cadre to hang dead dogs from all the lampposts in every city in Peru. It was some kind of secret sign that he got out of Chairman Mao, something about "running dogs of Imperialism." It made quite an impression, but it seems like a pretty crummy thing to do to the dogs. The way I see it, people have it coming, but dogs deserve a break. Poor bastards.
Guzman started way back, back in the sixties. He was one of those hippie professors who was poisoning kids' heads with Mao and Marx, but one thing you have to give him: he read his Little Red Book a lot more carefully than all the other campus Maoist types. He got Mao's biggest message, which is patience. Take your time. Be nice to the peasants. Win 'em over. Live in their stinking huts, eat their rotten food, show respect, etc.
People don't realize how long it takes to organize a guerrilla war. I get letters saying, "Just stick to the military stuff!" Well, that may work with conventional war, but most of the wars going now are as irregular as a bear that raided an Ex-lax warehouse. And you can't stick to the military side in irregular warfare. It hardly even matters. Mao lost a lot of battles to Chiang, to the Japs. He lost a lot of territory, too. But he had a little poem that explained his philosophy: