It's Not War, but It Can Be Hellish

By Peter Edidin, The New York Times, 8 May 2005

THE United States Army has increasingly been involved in missions, like peacekeeping, requiring it to police civilian societies. But controlling protesters or quelling a riot in a nation with which America is at peace requires different skills and (usually nonlethal) responses than war fighting.

To teach these skills, the Army recently created a Civil Disturbances Operations manual (, 256 pages long, covering everything from the roots of unrest, to crowd sociology, to the chemicals for dispersing rioters. Excerpts follow.

General Causes for Civil Unrest In these modern times, demonstrations, civil unrest, public disorder and riots happen for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are economic hardships, social injustices, ethnic differences (leading to oppression), objections to world organizations or certain governments, political grievances and terrorist acts.

Crowd Development Crowds are a gathering of a multitude of individuals and small groups that have temporarily assembled in the same place.

Gatherings The assembly process of a gathering refers to the movement of people from different locations to a common location within a given period. Gatherings are often assisted by … yelling catchy slogans and cheers that everyone can easily pick up and join in on.

Impromptu Gatherings Impromptu gatherings usually develop informally and are mostly done by word of mouth. An example of an impromptu gathering would be a gathering at a secured food distribution point after receiving information that a large truck carrying much-needed supplies and food is about to arrive.

Organized Gatherings Recent examples of these well-organized groups are anarchists, antiglobalization groups and anti-free-enterprise groups. Groups representing extreme religious faiths and ethnic organizations have been common, too.

Crowd Building Crowds are not made of isolated individuals but of a minority of individuals and a majority of small groups. …

Groups and individuals in the crowd are not unanimous in their motivation.

Crowd Dispersal The routine dispersal may be specified in advance. It can also be included in the assembly instructions given by the organizers of an event.

An emergency dispersal occurs when people evacuate an area in result of an unexpected crisis, such as a fire, explosion, bomb threat or terrorist act.

Coercion dispersal is caused by the use of force at some level. This is not necessarily the best way to force the dispersal of a crowd.

Crowd Dynamics Crowds provide individuals with a sense of anonymity … giving a sense of invulnerability.

Crowds provide individuals with the idea that their moral responsibilities have shifted from themselves … to the crowd as a whole.

Emotional contagion is the most dramatic psychological factor of crowd dynamics. It provides the crowd with a temporary bond of psychological unity.

Crowd Types Casual crowds are identified as individuals or small groups with nothing in common to bind them together.

Sighting crowds are similar to casual crowds with one additional element—an event. People migrate as a crowd to sporting events, are attracted to fires and accidents and attend music concerts.

Agitated crowds are Individuals with strong emotional feelings within a crowd can quickly spread …, causing changes in the overall demeanor of the crowd.

Riots Riots vary … in both targets and players. A communal riot, for instance, deals with deep-seated ethnic, religious and language differences. Commodity riots involve an attack on property by acts of vandalism, looting and arson. … The Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 reflects a riot that directly targeted police and authority in general. Celebration riots occur across the U.S. as a result of home team victories in sporting events, among other reasons.

What is the overarching identity of the crowd? It may be possible to determine identities and goals from advance assembling instructions, leaflets distributed to bystanders, placards and banners, and chants and songs.

What are their traditional behaviors? What people do during protests is not universal. Social protest organizations and striking unions will carry placards and banners. Other groups will protest in a more quiet way, like the 5,000 women in Sarajevo whose standard Sunday behavior was to sit and block traffic. They were protesting the loss of male relatives in the Bosnian war.

What are the possible targets of violence? Riots, in particular, may focus on target facilities. In the 1992 Los Angeles riots, gun stores were major targets. In Somalia, throngs of people stormed food supply facilities. In Haiti, riots broke out over trash dumps where U.S. forces had discarded the remnants of meals.