Book review: Warfighting

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Impressions can indeed be misleading. Warfighting is a military manual. An US Marine Corps military manual. Yet it is the best, single-volume introduction to the art and science of warfare this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of reading. And it is available, free of charge on the Internet.
It is written in simple, straight-forward English and grips the reader from start to end. In it one encounters the key thoughts of eminent soldiers and scholars, including Carl von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, BH Liddell Hart, Field Marshal William Slim, SLA Marshall and even General George S Patton Jr – clearly and forcefully articulated. There is no room for misunderstanding and it is clear the authors know their subject.
Marine Corps Doctrine Publication 1 (MCDP 1), Warfighting, to give the 100-page manual its formal name, is that organisation`s “capstone” doctrinal publication. The top block of a pyramid or similar structure is referred to as a capstone, and this implies that Warfighting is the Corps` highest source of doctrine. All its other doctrinal publications flow from this one and, conversely, it summarises all of them. Boring stuff, then, one may assume. The popular image of Marines as “bone-headed” and gung-ho[1] also does not create the anticipation that this will be an exciting read. To restate: appearances can be deceptive.
In his forward, then-Marine Corps Commandant General Charles Krulak wrote that Warfighting “is designed to be read from cover to cover.” This is as easy to do as reading pulp fiction. Tolstoy this is not. “Its four chapters”, Krulak wrote, “have a natural progression. Chapter 1 describes our understanding of the characteristics, problems and demands of war. Chapter 2 derives a theory about war from that understanding. This theory in turn provides the foundation for how we prepare for war and how we wage war, chapters 3 and 4, respectively.”
In the preface retired Commandant, General AM Gray, charged Marines to “read it, study it, take it to heart.” Readers can do much worse than following that advice.
MCDP 1, Warfighting
United States Marine Corps
Department of the Navy
Washington
1997


[1] The word entered the English language through the Marines, but with an incorrect meaning. It originally referred to the military self-criticism sessions held by Mao Tse Tung`s soldiers and not a mindless enthusiasm for war. The original idea has since become entrenched in the US and other sophisticated armed forces as the “after action reviews” required after each training session and operation. (Also see the Oxford English Dictionary)