Salt of the Earth

Abu Muqawama offers some of his thoughts on how Britain could have employed counterinsurgency theory more successfully during the American Revolution. As long as we're talking strictly hypotheticals, I'm not sure this namby-pamby COIN business is the way to go. What if in early 1776 the British had burned Boston to the ground before retreating to Nova Scotia?

Then you're in a position to communicate to the colonists the basic shape of the situation. Britain, obviously, is not in a position to occupy the entire territory of the 13 colonies. By the same token, the colonies are in no position to defeat British naval power. The colonies thus have a choice -- they can submit, withdrawing their delegates from the Continental Congress, at which point all will be forgiven, or else they can continue to resist in which case their cities will be subjected to sporadic invasion and burning-to-the-ground. Communicate to the Indians in-or-near Massachusetts, that the Crown considers that colony to be a lost cause and he's prepared to support with weapons and money any attempt by natives to dispossess the white population there.

UPDATE: Now needless to say, this would have been politically untenable in England. And, of course, as a person of conscience I wouldn't recommend doing it. Even on a strategic level, this kind of policy wouldn't make sense -- Britain's interests are best-served by training to stay on good terms with the colonies, ideally by reaching a compromise that keeps them in the empire, but failing that by letting them go independent and just making sure they don't become a pawn of some rival power. In general, the best policy when faced with a country that doesn't wants your country to just go away is to go away and try to secure your interests from afar.

Photo by Flickr user Cernavodo used under a Creative Commons license