This book review originally appeared on The Strategy Bridge.
On the otherwise quiet Monday morning of March 6, 1989, a revolution occurred in the private office at the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ home when General Al Gray affixed his signature to a document. Until that moment, the Marine Corps thought about warfare in terms of the firepower and attrition doctrine that had characterized its operations in World War II, Korea, and the worst parts of Vietnam. With the stroke of a pen, General Gray made maneuver warfare the official doctrine of the Marine Corps. The document in question was no mere memo or Marine Corps Order, but the draft of Fleet Marine Force Manual-1 Warfighting, the Marine Corps’ capstone doctrinal publication. This momentous event took place without ceremony and was witnessed only by Captain John Schmitt, the document’s principal author, and the Commandant’s numerous Labrador Retrievers.
“As is always the case with revolutionary documents, the story neither began nor ended with a signature.”
As is always the case with revolutionary documents, the story neither began nor ended with the signature. This one was based on the idea that victory is achieved not through merely physically destroying the enemy in a tit-for-tat exchange, but by defeating him first in the mental and moral dimensions of war.
The person who largely sparked this doctrinal shift wasn’t even a Marine, but a retired Air Force fighter pilot named John Boyd. In the years following the frustration of Vietnam, he and several like-minded and energetic Marines and civilians worked to change the way the Marine Corps thought about and fought wars.