Friday, October 26, 2007

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

(Click here for Part I)

Even a well-planned operation can backfire; the leaders of the Boston Tea Party were careful to avoid these. If someone within the political warfare campaign is diluting or contradicting the desired message, that person needs to be brought into line or otherwise neutralized before they do serious harm. In the case of the Tea Party, those who tried to save some of the tea for themselves were stripped naked, coated in mud and given a severe bruising.

Likewise, any political warfare should be carefully calibrated to send the desired message while avoiding collateral damage, be it metaphorical or – in the case of the Boston Tea Party – literal. Such unintended consequences can provide the opposition with ammunition. By making sure that nothing aside from the tea and tea chests were damaged, the Bostonians limited the possible negative side effects of their actions.

Poor operational security can also plague an otherwise well-planned campaign. Secrets – be they the identities of certain people, future plans or other matters – must be carefully maintained; leaks can make for terribly unpleasant surprises. One of the participants in the Boston Tea Party explained that afterwards they “quietly retired to our several places of residence, without having any conversation with each other, or taking any measures to discover who were our associates.”

Any time an action is nominally undertaken by a third party, the political warrior must be careful to make the denial of his involvement sufficiently plausible. While covering up proof of that involvement – the negative approach – is helpful, actively creating alibis – the positive approach – is likely to be even more successful. Samuel Adams and those involved in addressing the pre-Tea Party meeting made a point of remaining conspicuously behind in the Old South Meeting House. It was not a perfect alibi, but in the case of legal or other such action against them, it could have formed the first line of defense. Which may explain part of the reason that the governor never bothered to bring such charges.

Samuel Adams prepared an account of events the day after the Tea Party and Paul Revere (pictured above) immediately rode south with the news. A great speech or daring maneuver that gets no press coverage is of very limited value to the political warrior. Rather than simply hoping the media will pick up a story, or even encouraging it to do so, the story should be actively cultivated and disseminated. Controlling the message in this way ensures that the proper conclusions will be drawn.

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