The View from Olympus: The Marine Corps Gazette Gets the Evolution of Maneuver Warfare Right.

The September issue of the Marine Corps Gazette includes an article for which there has been a long-standing need, namely an accurate recounting of the history of maneuver warfare’s evolution into official Marine Corps doctrine.  Written under the pen name Marinus as part of an ongoing series, the Maneuverist Papers, it does what none of the books on the subject have managed, namely provide a non-partisan account that identifies all the streams that fed into the maneuver warfare river.

Of these streams, which the article calls threads, there were five: intense dissatisfaction among Marine Corps officers over our performance in Vietnam and our final loss of that war (something that seems to have vanished with more recent defeats); interest in mechanized operations because that is what a conflict in Europe with the Soviet Union seemed to require; the model offered by the Prussian/German Army, for which I was the main spokesman; renewed interest in classical military literature, especially Clausewitz and Sun Tzu; and the theoretical work of Col. John Boyd, USAF.  My only quibble with the account is its failure to mention that I began the maneuver warfare debate with a critique of forthcoming Army doctrine that I wrote in 1976 and was published in Military Review in 1977.  Like it or not, I was first.

I appreciate the fact that the article gives credit to someone who played a highly important role in the process but is often overlooked, namely Col. John Greenwood USMC, the editor of the Marine Corps Gazette at that time.  Col. Greenwood did not always agree with what the maneuverists were writing, but he published their material anyway, because he understood the function of a professional journal.  The Gazette was the main forum through which I reached Marines; Col. Greenwood later told me that over a twenty-year period, I wrote more articles for the Gazette than any other single author.  Without the Gazette and its editor the maneuver warfare movement in the Corps simply would not have happened.

I highly recommend that all who have not read this latest Maneuverist Paper do so.  But my purpose here is to pick up where it leaves off.  Its last sentence reads, “Three decades after maneuver warfare became doctrine, we believe the Marine Corps is overdue to have a conversation about its views on the nature and conduct of warfare going forward.”  I agree.  In fact, that conversation has been going on for some time, but a lack of interest from senior levels has pushed it into something of a backwater.

The conversation is about Fourth Generation war, war with opponents who are not states.  We just lost such a war, the war in Afghanistan.  We have also given a big boost to Fourth Generation war throughout the Middle East by destroying the states in that region, including Iraq, Syria, and Libya, helpfully clearing the way for Fourth Generation entities to move in.  We have demonstrated no ability to win Fourth Generation wars.

But, as was the case with the maneuver warfare movement, individual Marines, mostly junior officers, have been thinking, studying, and writing in order to fill the vacuum.  For a few years, thanks to an initiative by then-colonel Ron Bailey, I co-led a seminar at Expeditionary Warfare School devoted to Fourth Generation war.  Just as was true in the earlier movement, it was quasi-clandestine (the seminar couldn’t be named for 4GW), the students received no course credit and the fact that I (briefly) had an office at EWS upset the brass.  But that seminar paralleled earlier maneuver warfare seminars by writing draft field manuals on 4GW.  Were General Gray still Marine Corps Commandant, those FMs would have come out as official Marine Corps publications.  Sadly, he was not, though some of us would like to bring him back.  Fortunately, as head of the Central Powers Military Mission to the Marine Corps, I was in a position to approach the relevant authorities in Vienna and Pola, with the result that they were published by the K.u.K. Marinekorps.  They are available in English in the “resources” section of

But unofficial efforts did not stop there.  The Marine officer who co-led the later seminars with me, Lt. Col. Greg Thiele USMC, and I drew on what we learned from those Marine captains to write the Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook.  It is available from Castalia House Press and on Amazon.  It is intended to serve as a starting point for the Corps as it moves to become the nation’s go-to force for 4GW, much as my Maneuver Warfare Handbook, published 1985, helped kickstart the Marine Corps adoption of maneuver warfare.  (With regard to which, I am currently writing a new, improved Maneuver Warfare Handbook, not to replace the current book, but to talk about some things we’ve learned since it was written.)

So let me offer a challenge to the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Gazette: let’s do with Fourth Generation War what the Corps did thirty years ago with maneuver warfares and develop it intellectually, experiment with it in the field, have another giant food-fight over it in the pages of the Gazette and finally make it doctrine for, again, America’s force of choice for this kind of war.

The Corps can move into 4GW while the Army remains stuck in 2GW.  The Marine Corps only survives by having an expertise the country needs that no other service can offer.  4GW is where war is going, whether it justifies F-35s or not.  Those of us who led the maneuver warfare fight – Mike Wyly, G.I. Wilson, Bill Woods, General Gray, John Schmitt, sadly not John Boyd – are still alive and we have one more campaign left in us.  Are HQMC and the Gazette up for it, or will us old guys have to hit this beach alone?

I want to close on a personal note.  “The Evolution of Maneuver Warfare Theory” writes that, in comparison to the Army’s top-down doctrine development process (which has left the Army stuck fast in the Second Generation),

The Marine Corps process more resembled the cafeteria food fight scene in Animal House, with Lind in the Bluto role

Animal House was inspired by one of the fraternities at Dartmouth College when I was a student there (1965-69).  I was known to occasionally have a drink and smoke a pipe at their bar, the picture of which in the film was not inaccurate.  So closes another circle in my life.