The French marched off to war in 1914 in glorious lines of infantry in baby blue coats and bright red trousers to be mowed down by the finest technology the Industrial Revolution had to offer. For us now it is easy to see how insane this was and how flawed the understanding of both the commoners and even the experts was in terms of how combat and war actually worked at the time. This naive view of modern tactics certainly applies to street conflicts we are seeing in France as part of the Yellow Vest protests. The so-called non-lethal (and less-lethal) arms of the French authorities gives them a tactical advantage far beyond that of any assault rifle.
Thanks to the media we have become accustomed to video of protestors getting sprayed by water or having their ranks dispersed thanks to tear gas, leaving everyone wet or coughing respectively but otherwise unharmed. However this humane picture does not meet up with the realities of this civilian vs. cop style warfare.
If we are to take the Yellow Vest protestors at their word then at least 22 of them have lost an eye (from “less-lethal” Flash-ball guns) and 5 have had their hands blown off with 154 being “seriously injured”. Obviously the protestors will want to maximize their statistics but there are plenty of videos from the various actions/demonstrations showing horrible injuries which are too numerous to all be fakes. So the numbers may be off but the overall general tendencies of these injuries do occur from the French authorities in the Human Rights defending EU is a proven fact. The simple reality is that despite a nice marketing phrase non-lethal weapons cripple and on occasion kill.
In order to understand the tactical advantage that non-lethal weapons offer the government (not the individual police but the state itself) we need to put aside our emotional response to seeing French people having their limbs blown off. We have to not jump into ranting about the flagrant hypocrisy of the EU when it comes to human rights and rationally break down how the conflicts between Yellow and Blue vests could look if the arms situation were different.
Scenario A: What if the Yellow Vests were armed?
If the organizers of the Yellow Vests (all movements are organized by someone regardless of what the media tells you) were able to arm their masses with rifles this would indeed lead to horrific short-term violence that would leave a permanent stain on French history. Often hundreds or thousands of protestors are met by dozens of police and handfuls of soldiers, if the protestors were on par with their adversaries in terms of guns, then their numerical advantage would shatter the police’s will to fight.
No policemen are going to fight to the last man against a force 20 times their number, which they may partially agree with dying for nothing, nor will they open fire with tanks in the centers of their own cities. Human psychology would allow them to kill foreigners in some distant country in this manner but not at home.
In this instance of near certain death from pure numbers the police would either “stay home” or possibly switch sides overtly or covertly.
Obviously a full civil war could start from this situation, but in a street warfare sense, escalating from protest to actual hot war is technically a winning scenario as it advances them closer to attaining/changing power.
Scenario B: What if the police fought like an army?
One key component of many Color Revolutions is getting the “bad leader” to be blamed for some sort of direct use of lethal bloody media-friendly massacre. If the French police actually used assault rifles against the protestors this would demonize them to the point of justifying a Revolution. This would not just cause a civil conflict but be a national call to arms to join it, which would be a bad move on the state’s part.
Furthermore, only sociopaths can fire rifles into unarmed crowds (who are not posing a direct threat) of people who speak their own language (i.e. their own “kind”). If the French police just decided to give the order to shoot them all, then in this instance many of the French police would find rifle and bayonet worthless as they would have no desire to shoot.
The result would be a handful of deaths from each protest but the utter collapse of legitimacy of the state and possible “retreats” of police forces unwilling to fire on “their own”.
Source: Strategic Culture Foundation