18 April 2014

Warfighting: Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1 (Summary and Quotes)



My brother is a US Marine.

He told me about the book that establishes the Marine philosophy. It’s called Warfighting (subtitle: Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1), and I just finished it. It was an excellent read.

I’m not the sort of guy who puts himself in combat. But this topic of war made me think of three struggles in my own life where the principles apply: In teaching (i.e., freshman English), in creating an author career, and in being confident in public.

Many of the virtues in Warfighting have a wide applicability (even for StarCraft nerds). And I love how clear-cut the directives are: They’re manly and tough and leave no room for excuses, an admirable hardness in an ever slacking world.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • The will is rooted in character, and for the man of action character is of more critical importance than intellect… They must be individuals both of action and of intellect, skilled at “getting things done”... The military profession is a thinking profession.
  • Boldness is an essential moral trait in a leader for it generates combat power beyond the physical means at hand. Initiative, the willingness to act on one’s own judgment, is a prerequisite for boldness. These traits carried to excess can lead to rashness, but we must realize that errors by junior leaders stemming from overboldness are a necessary part of learning.
  • Until a commander has reached and stated a decision, subordinates should consider it their duty to provide honest, professional opinions even though these may be in disagreement with the senior’s opinions. However, once the decision has been reached, juniors then must support it as if it were their own.
  • In order to develop initiative among junior leaders, the conduct of training—like combat—should be decentralized. Senior commanders influence training by establishing goals and standards, communicating the intent of training, and establishing a main effort for training. As a rule, they should refrain from dictating how the training will be accomplished. Training programs should reflect practical, challenging, and progressive goals. 
  • Critical self-analysis, even after success, is essential to improvement.
  • A subordinate’s willingness to admit mistakes depends on the commander’s willingness to tolerate them. 
  • All professional schools, particularly officer schools, should focus on developing a talent for military judgment, not on imparting knowledge through rote learning.
  • Commanders should foster a personal teacher-student relationship with their subordinates.
  • Commanders should see the development of their subordinates as a direct reflection on themselves.
  • The mind is an officer’s principal weapon. 
  • Commanders should command from where they can best influence the action, normally well forward. This allows them to see and sense firsthand the ebb and flow of combat, to gain an intuitive appreciation for the situation that they cannot obtain from reports.
  • Only by their physical presence—by demonstrating the willingness to share danger and privation—can commanders fully gain the trust and confidence of subordinates. We must remember that command from the front should not equate to oversupervision of subordinates. [This is about being willing to do the grunt labor while making sure not to micromanage.]
  • We cannot rightly expect our subordinates to exercise boldness and initiative in the field when they are accustomed to being oversupervised in garrison.
  • Before anything else, we must conceive how we intend to win.
  • All actions are the result of [either] decisions or of nondecisions. If we fail to make a decision out of lack of will, we have willingly surrendered the initiative to our foe. If we consciously postpone taking action for some reason, that is a decision.
  • We must not squander opportunities while trying to gain more information.

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