Monday, January 16, 2012




In my little dissertations, some are irritated by my assertion that I think doing it “by the book” is not always the best course, and that “the book” is not the end-all and be-all. Especially the American Army’s book.

The idea I’m trying to convey is not that the book is worthless, as there is much to be learned from the manuals. I expound upon the blasphemous idea that just because the American military does something one way does not necessarily make it the way. There is much to be learned from someone else’s book, too. One can even learn from opponents who don’t even have a book.

The lesson is, as Clint Eastwood said, to “improvise, adapt and overcome.” Don’t get bogged down in inflexible cookie-cutter solutions which may be totally inapplicable to the situation at hand. Use what works best for you and your group. Change when change is needed, adapt to the enemy’s tactics, avoid conventional one-size-fits-all thinking.

Think outside the box…always…or you’ll never get out of the box; it will eventually become a cage and ever more limiting. Huge, hierarchical, bureaucratic hierarchies, for the most part, can’t escape from the box, don’t adapt, and refuse to learn from the past or the present.

This attitude is best summed up by a quote from an anonymous American brigadier general during the Vietnam War:

I will be damned if I will permit the U.S. Army, its institutions, its doctrine, and its traditions to be destroyed just to win this lousy war.”

Fortunately, many military minds throughout history have had a more flexible mindset and approach. I hope that some of these quotes may provide food for thought and inspire outside-the-box thinking.

“The enemy's power of intelligent observation and thought give rise to what Georgetown University military historian Edward Luttwak calls the ‘paradoxical logic of war.’ No matter how sound the rules and procedures in ‘the book,’ the enemy will very shortly know ‘the book’ better than you do and will turn ‘doing it by the book’ into a death trap."

Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D

“If men make war in slavish obedience to the rules, they will fail.”

General Ulysses S. Grant

“The only way to prevent ossification of the mind is to accept nothing as fixed, to realize that the circumstances of war are ever changing, and that consequently organization, administration, strategy and tactics must change also...Adherence to dogmas has destroyed more armies and lost more battles and lives than any cause in war.”

Major General J.F.C. Fuller

“There is no ‘approved’ solution to any tactical situation.”

“It may be of interest to future generals to realize that one makes plans to fit the circumstances, and does not try to create circumstances to fit plans.”

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn't thinking."

General George S. Patton, Jr.

“Mortal danger is an effective antidote for fixed ideas.”

Field Marshall Erwin Rommel

“Fetishism for battle drills has been largely responsible for sanitizing imagination, creativity and mental mobility in infantry ranks.”

Colonel Arjun Ray

“Modern American war is as easy to script as a ‘B’ movie.”

“If you can't look truth right in the eye and learn from it, then it's going to end up biting you in the ass with a longer casualty list.”

Colonel David Hackworth

"Paper-work will ruin any military force."

Lieutenant-General Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller

“One must change one’s tactics every ten years if one wishes to maintain one’s superiority.”

Marshall Napoleon Bonaparte

“Yet it [the US Army] seemed weighed down by bureaucracy, a stiflingly hierarchical outlook, a pre-disposition to offensive operations, and a sense that duty required all issues to be confronted head-on.”

Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster

“Basic Field Manual knowledge is fine, but it is useless without common sense. Common sense is of greater value than all the words in the book.”

Brigadier General Amor L. Sims, USMC

“So a military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape: the ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

1 comment:

jp said...

General Thomas Gage was a by-the-book sort. Despite some small successes in his career, he was out-matched and out-witted a number of times, e.g. April 19,1775.

I definitely agree that manuals have a lot of information that is worth taking in...funny thing is, most of the time, the enemy can read too.

Patton read Rommel's book, Infanterie greift an (Infantry Attacks). End result, Rommel got his first whoopin.

Good post!