MCDP1: Warfighting is only four chapters, and the total length is around 100 pages. The book is affectionately termed a “two crapper”, which means that a person can finish it in two bathroom trips. Warfighting describes a way of thinking about war. It is not a checklist or a technical manual. It gives a mental framework that provides the basis for the Marine Corps conception of war. More importantly it is a launching point for future studies. Warfighting is the gateway for further scholarship. It is simple to read, and also enjoyable. The themes and points of discussion in Warfighting could be discussed for many hours.
Chapter 1: The Nature of War
“War is a violent clash of interests between or among organized groups characterized by the use of military force.”
The text goes on to say that these groups may include “nonstate groups.” Nonstate groups could include terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The nature of war is also an “interactive social process.” It is a conflict between independent human wills. One term that is used is Zweikampf, which is a German word that means “two-struggle.” Carl von Clausewitz used the analogy of two wrestlers locked together, each one pushing and pulling against the other.
In describing the nature of war in MCDP1, Maj Brown claims that Carl von Clausewitz inspired the principles of “friction” and “uncertainty.” Next, Maj Brown traces “fluidity” to Sun Tzu. Another attribute of war is disorder, which Maj Brown believes came from John Boyd. Disorder is an understanding that plans breakdown on the battlefield.
War is a dynamic process. There is an art and science to it. The science refers to understanding the physical components of things like weapons and logistics. The art relies on creativity and intuition. This is why Professional Military Education is important. It seeks to develop a Marine or soldiers understanding of the art and science of war.
“Violence and danger” characterize war too. For more information, Guy Sajer’s book The Forgotten Soldier is a good first hand account of man’s experience in war. “Human factors” is the term that describes the physical and mental anguish of an individual’s experience in war. Sajer’s book is about the sheer brutality of a soldier’s life on the Russian front during World War II.
Chapter 2: The Theory of War
War is an extension of policy. It is part of the political process. When peaceful diplomatic means are not achieved, competing groups may resort to armed conflict. Furthermore, war occurs on a spectrum from low intensity conflicts to full-scale conventional conflicts. Conventional conflicts are what we consider when we think of major powers at war with each other.
Maj Brown describes the levels of war: Strategic, operational, and tactical. The On Tactics interview with B.A. Friedman covered these levels of war. Strategy involves national security decisions. On the other hand, the tactical level of war characterizes the individual and small unit level. In between the strategic and the tactical is the operational. Operational levels reflect a campaign or deployment. When an infantry battalion goes on a six month deployment, this is considered the operational level. It accomplishes a strategic objective, and the units within the battalion engage in tactical actions.
Maj Brown discusses the topic of center of gravity and critical vulnerability. He describes a relationship between these two areas. As Maj Brown explains, maneuver warfare relies on “disrupting the relationships between the critical vulnerability and centers of gravity.” The goal is to isolate the enemies centers of gravity and turn them into critical vulnerabilities.
Boyd and the OODA Loop
Maj Brown describes the enemy as a “system of human wills.” He sees Col Boyd’s influence in the concept of isolating components of the enemies system to include individuals and groups of individuals. Much of Boyd’s thinking resulted in the concept of the OODA Loop.
Observe: Taking external inputs.
Orient: Processing these inputs.
Decide: Coming up with a plan based on the inputs.
Act: Taking action.
This is a feedback loop, and also a tool to out maneuver the enemy. As soon as the loop goes through one cycle, the next cycle begins with inputs from the cycle before it.
Chapter 3: Preparing for War
Maj Brown says that this chapter is about making the “orientation bubble” as big as possible. In the interview, he mentions the process of training and building a strong team. Through repetition in training, a unit gets to the point where it can effectively execute maneuver warfare. Thus, the goal of preparing for war is to get to “harmonized action” that can operate off of commander’s intent.
Additionally, within the Marine Corps, there is a Marine Air Ground Task Force (aka MAGTF). MAGTFs can execute a range of missions . They are comprised of a ground combat element, air combat element, logistics combat element, and a command element, which provides versatility.
But, all components being of the MAGTF must be able to effectively orient on the mission. As a result, a MAGTF will train extensively, develop a common doctrine, and conduct integrated and standardized planning. Essentially, all components of the MAGTF are on the same page. The goal is to reduce silos within the organization and harmonize the effort.
Chapter 4: The Conduct of War
“Preparation for war” establishes a strong foundation for the conduct of war. The conduct of war contains concepts of mission tactics, small unit leadership, commander’s intent, combined arms, and decisionmaking.
Maneuver warfare is a warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope.
This concept is NOT talking about “destroying” the enemy. In fact, it is a mindset that looks at breaking down the enemy’s coherence to get the enemy to give up. When we understand the enemy, we can backwards plan a method to shatter the enemy’s cohesion. Maneuver warfare can achieve this by going after the enemy’s mental and moral strengths. Prisoner counts rather than body counts determine success in warfare. POWs are indicative of the enemy’s having lost the will to fight and resist.
Additional Links and Resources
For copies of Maj Brown’s book, A New Conception of War, send advanced requests to firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out the Quarterly PME from the Marine Corps University Research Library.
Additionally, the Marine Corps University Research Library provides a helpful overview of many of the themes discussed in the interview as well as further reading.