Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Boston Tea Party: A Model of Political Warfare (Part II)

(Click here for Part I)

A good political warfare campaign is not carried out in isolation, but in the context of a broader effort. An obvious element of such an effort is the utilization of political leverage in the traditional ways: passing resolutions, winning elections, etc. Even if victories in this area are not immediately attainable or are of little obvious effect, used in conjunction with other tools, political leveraging can highlight an issue and put pressure on certain parties. In the case of the Tea Party, the Boston Town Meeting and other political fora were utilized to demand the tea consignees' resignations.

This would be an example of propaganda of the deed. Other forms of propaganda are just as essential: a media blitz before the centerpiece of a campaign can focus attention and positively incline the public to receive the desired message. Sam Adams and his committee of correspondence were masters of cranking out letter, articles and speeches.

Finally, potential problems should be identified and neutralized before a major effort is undertaken. When Governor Hutchison of Massachusetts ordered the colonel of the cadet corps, a certain John Hancock, to prepare for action, Hancock refused. The British still had soldiers at their command, of course, but Hancock's action limited Hutchison's options and reduced the danger to the patriot cause.

Which leads us to one of the great lessons of political warfare: create uncomfortable dilemmas for the enemy. Like a good move in chess, this bit of political warfare leaves the opposition with options all of which play into the political warrior’s hands. The day before the tea was scheduled to be landed in Boston, the Dartmouth’s owner rode through the rain and cold to obtain permission from the governor not to land; Hutchison could either concede or look like a jerk. (In the event, he chose the latter, which did nothing to help his plunging popularity with the people of Boston.) The very Tea Party itself created a similar dilemma: the British could escalate or back down, but either way, they played into the patriots’ hands.

(Click here for Part III)

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