More clutching at straws…

Peter Dickens recently posted another excellent, detailed, and well-researched article on his blog:

War is Cruelty

In this, almost as a passing comment, Dickens noted that the guerrilla phase of the Boer War lasted about two years – meaning it was far shorter than average for such conflicts in the 20th century. Of course, by daring to point out that the Boer War wasn’t, in fact, the longest, toughest, most hard-fought war ever in history, this incurred the wrath of various Defenders of the Myth, one of whom posted the following badly-written babble:

Clearly unable to understand what Dickens’ article was actually about, Mr Maritz instead instinctively and unthinkingly leapt to the defence of the much-cherished Apartheid-era fables, frantically (and more than a little desperately) claiming that the Philippine–American War lasted as long as the guerrilla phase of the Boer War.

Even if this were true, it is unclear quite what relevance Mr Maritz thinks this has. The simple, somewhat inconvenient, reality is that the average 20th Century guerrilla war lasted 9 years[i], as I have covered before:

“the longest, hardest, guerrilla war ever…”

For all the huffing-and-puffing, and self-congratulatory National Party Propaganda which is still so eagerly gobbled up by the True Believers, the fact is that the guerrilla phase of the Boer War lasted about two years, which puts it very much at the shorter end of the spectrum:

NB. this is by not an exhaustive list – for more details, see the blog article I reference above

Breathing a deep sigh of relief, however, Maritz thinks he has pulled a rabbit out of the hat, and has come up with another guerrilla campaign which he wants to pretend only lasted as long (or, in reality, as short) as that of the Boer War. Of course, even if this were true, it still changes nothing; as much as it pains the True Believers to accept it, the simple reality is that the guerrilla phase of the Boer War lasted less than a quarter of the average for such conflicts in the 20th Century.

While most Defenders of the Myth treat us to the normal hyperbolic rubbish of the Boers being a race of Titans who ‘almost brought down the British Empire’ by fighting the hardest, longest war ever, at least Mr Maritz appears to have set his sights a little lower. He would seem to be making a rather more modest claim, and instead his take on it is essentially: ‘yeah, but the Boers did about as well as the Filipinos – so there! That proves you are bias (sic) – so no more cherrie (sic) picking!’.

So, it would appear that Mr Maritz wants to trumpet the claim that the guerrilla phase of the Boer War wasn’t the shortest such campaign in military history. As far as I am aware, no one has ever stated that it was, and nor is it clear why refuting such a claim would be something to boast about in any case.

For a start, the guerrilla phase of the Philippine–American War actually lasted significantly longer than that of the Boer War – about 40% longer. The war in the Philippines commenced in February 1899 (ie. 6 months before Kruger started the Boer War) and the conventional phase was over in the November of that year – ie. some 7 months before the Boer War descended into guerrilla war.

No one claims the Philippine–American War to have ended before July 1902 (ie. over a month after the Boer War ended). While the erstwhile President of the Philippines had surrendered and the Americans declared the war to be over in 1902, the Filipino Moro people nevertheless continued the guerrilla war against American occupation for far longer, fighting numerous campaigns in the subsequent years. Indeed, the last action – the Battle of Bud Bagsak[ii] – was only fought in June of 1913[iii].

So, however, one wants to dress it up, the fact is that, at the start of the 20th Century, American forces were embroiled in a guerrilla war in the Philippines for almost 14 years – or, to put it another way – about 7 times longer than British Imperial forces were embroiled in a guerrilla war against the Boers. One also has to remember that, due to the geography of the Philippines, the US Navy was able to play a much more active role in the war than could the Royal Navy in South Africa. And – more significantly still – while the Boers were equipped with the latest European weapons, the Filipino guerrillas predominantly used bolo knives, bows and arrows, and spears[iv].

But let’s be charitable to poor Mr Maritz, and agree that the bittereinders managed to maintain their terrorist campaign for almost as long as the (bow and arrow equipped) Filipinos did – so long as you ignore the fact that elements of the latter kept fighting for another 11 years after the Americans declared the war to have been won.

Clinging to this rather unimpressive claim perhaps helps Mr Maritz sleep better at night, but it does nothing whatsoever to refute any of the points Mr Dickens made in his article. And nor does it change the fact that – when all the National Party propaganda is stripped away – the guerrilla phase of the Boer War was one of the shorter such campaigns to be fought in the 20th Century.


[i] Ricks, Fiasco, p.433

[ii] US forces were commanded by General ‘Black Jack’ Pershing. He would go on to command the American Expeditionary Force in the Great War

[iii] Agoncillo, History of the Filipino People, p.247-297

[iv] Deady, Lessons from a Successful Counterinsurgency: The Philippines, 1899–1902, p.55


  • Mike Oettle Posted February 6, 2024 1:24 pm

    Claiming that South Africa” border war was won by the insurgents is a bit rich.
    South Africa recognised that, with Cuban air supremacy and the fall of the Soviet Union THERE WAS LITTLE POINT IN CONTINUING THE WAR THERE.
    The Soviet collapse also made it possible to enter into discussions with the ANC and other “liberation” movements.
    The “liberationists” claimed victory when they won the election in 1994, but they had been roundly defeated in battle.

    • Bulldog Posted February 6, 2024 1:33 pm

      Yes, that one is a little controversial, but is not intended to offend anyone.

      However, the fact is that South West Africa became Namibia in 1990. This was the objective of SWAPO, and what the SA Government had fought to prevent happening.

      There are many other such examples where the insurgents / guerrillas / terrorists were beaten time and time again on the battlefield (Rhodesia, Vietnam and the recent debacle in Afghanistan spring to mind), but still ended up achieving their objectives.

      And, either way, the South African Border War still lasted over 10 times longer than the guerrilla phase of the Boer War, which is the real point of that chart.

    • Peter Dickens Posted February 6, 2024 3:31 pm

      Hi Mike. As an ex-SADF veteran I do understand your view. The big problem with the Border war is the settlement on the back of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The battle itself is controversial as 1st phase, the Lomba the SADF are stunningly successful, but in the second phase they fail to destroy the retreating Cuban and Angolan forces, they are cautious, don’t follow their envelopment and mobility doctrine and don’t deliver the killer blow – choosing re-supply instead and stalling. This allows for a consolidated Cuban and Angolan defence, they dig in and the SADF are unable to breach it. This battlefield stalemate and retraction forces the politicians into negotiation. Pik Botha comes up with the dumbest idea ever, he promised the Cubans that if they leave Angola – they can hold their heads up high and declare victory. The South Africans will then leave Namibia and hold their heads high and declare victory. You can begin to see where the problem starts. The South Africans leave – SWAPO win a resounding political victory. In Angola FAPLA makes short work of South Africa’s ally UNITA as South Africa betrays support of them – so in the end the Angolans win. The International community – the UN, who arbitrate the SADF’s exit see South Africa’s occupation of Namibia as illegal from 1966 onwards and resolution after resolution declare South Africa’s illegality – so they see the SADF withdrawal as a win for the international community. This all is not helped by the absolute and total vilification of the SADF by just about everyone after 1994. In reality trying to state it was a SADF “win” or even a “draw” in 2024 is a lost cause – history is not going to be fair,

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