Battle Study Teaches Conflict Resolution

Author: Roxanne Baker
September 25, 2013

A conflict more than 150 years ago can still teach valuable lessons for boots on the ground today.

Maj Michael Holcomb and more than a dozen Marines toured the remote sites of the 1859 Pig War to learn how to swiftly solve cultural problems through conflict resolution.

“It relates a lot to what we’re doing these days,” Holcomb said. “Resolving things before they become serious issues. It’s about not blowing things out of proportion and not letting small events trigger a big event.”

The Marine Corps Association & Foundation funded the August 2013 professional military education trip for the Marines stationed at Marine Corps Security Force Battalion in Banger, Washington. The Pig War centered around a boundary dispute between the United States and Britain over the San Juan Islands. The conflict was triggered by the shooting of a pig between neighbors. The conflict was resolved with no shots exchanged and no human casualties.

“Our mission [right now] is deterrence and we’re working in a rather complex environment with different agencies that do not fall under typical military command and control,” Holcomb said. “They were working with settlers on the island to resolve conflicts. [The lesson is] resolving things before they become serious issues. One of the British commanders even said they would not go to war over the killing of a pig."

Holcomb said another lesson the incident reveals is how to operate a military unit in an extreme environment like the wet and cold temperatures on San Juan Island or in the deserts and dry climate of Afghanistan. Marines must not only adapt but also be exceptionally ready for anything.

Marines are living in austere environments all over the place in fighting battles or just living and working, he said.

Holcomb is a self-described military history fan and said seeing the American structures from the Pig War still standing on San Juan National Park was monumental in understanding the conflict.

“Reading a map is one thing,” he said. “It’s definitely different seeing the ground and understanding the condition.”

He said one of the highlights of the trip was being able to raise the American flag in the morning at the old base camp on the island.

Holcomb is a member of the Marine Corps Association & Foundation and said he enjoys reading the Marine Corps Gazette and keeping up with what’s going on for the rest of the Marine Corps.

The Pig War battle study was funded through the Marine Corps Association Foundation's Commanders’ Forum Program, which is specifically tailored to enhance knowledge of operational matters from a historical, cultural or operational perspective. Participants in the battle studies walk the ground with experts in order to better understand the history and lessons learned from these battles and campaigns.

To apply for a battle study or donate to the cause, visit or call Col John Keenan, USMC(Ret), at 800-336-0291, extension 163.