Maneuver Warfare

by Capt Timothy D. Sullivan, USMCR

It is always a pleasure to read Capt John F. Schmitt’s articles in the Gazette. His latest contribution, “Understanding Maneuver as the Basis for a Doctrine” (MCC, Aug90), is another fine attempt at clarifying how we are going to fight wars in the future. I think he has accomplished his objective, but at the expense of confusing some important terms.

By using the term “maneuver” interchangeably with the term “strategy,” he tries to make maneuver, a style of warfare, fit all combat situations. When he describes maneuver as consisting of two parts, creating advantage and exploiting it, he quotes what B. H. Liddell Hart wrote about strategy. All the attributes that Capt Schmitt gives to maneuver as a “mental approach to conflict,” such as exploiting vulnerability, identifying critical factors, focus, etc. are rightly the attributes of strategy. Maneuver as a style of warfare deals more with the tactics we use to execute the plan. Capt Schmitt is addressing the problem of how to characterize our approach to conflict, our strategy, with a single adjective or term. Why not say simply that we adopt a “multidimensional strategy,” a flexible approach to conflict?

Any style of warfare and associated tactics that we employ to prosecute specific combat actions should reflect the fullness of our strategy. We may use maneuver tactics in one situation and low-intensity conflict (LIC) tactics in another. It is difficult and confusing to associate an ambush tactic employed in a guerrilla or terrorist environment with maneuver. Similarly, the Combined Action Program in Vietnam was an example of good strategy, not of maneuver. Capt Schmitt may be going overboard in seeking problems to apply the maneuver solution to.

We should not change the joint definition of maneuver. As it stands, it fits neatly into the intellectual framework that Capt Schmitt has crafted for us. To overinflate the meaning of maneuver creates needless confusion within the military community. Moreover, that confusion obscures the much more important points of warfighting, which Capt Schmitt has articulated so well.

by Col R. K. Morgan, USMC(Ret)

The attempt to elevate the term “maneuver” into an all-encompassing concept (see Capt Schmilt’s August article) is doomed to failure. Redefining common, everyday words; applying basic terms such as “front,” “flank,” “rear,” and “attack” to other features or activities; and suggesting that maneuver means firepower are just a few examples of the maneuverist effort to stand language on its head. It is a poor way to communicate.

Make no mistake, this is not a complaint about the body of military theory expressed in FMFM 1 and FMFM1-1; what it is about, is the way those fundamental concepts are labeled and discussed-and about the effort to extend them beyond the range of their obvious usefulness.

If the trend to make maneuver into a universal principle continues, it won’t be long before somebody redefines a few more words and proposes it as the means for overcoming the deficit, the cure for AIDS, and answers to all spiritual needs. Newspeak will truly be with us.

When terminology becomes a barrier to comprehension, it’s time to change. Maj R. Scott Moore had it exactly right in the April 1989 Gazette when he spoke of MAGTF Warfare and allowed words to mean what they always meant.