Way of War Review of a Review

by Col T.C. Greenwood, USMC(Ret)

I am pleased that Col Mike Wyly- one of maneuver warfare‘s founding fathers and a prominent leader of the renaissance that produced our current warfighting doctrine-has commented on my review of The Marine Corps Way of War by Dr. Anthony Piscitelli (March 2018).

Under Gen Alfred M. Gray’s deft leadership, the Marine Corps was able to move past the post-Vietnam malaise and disillusionment and think about warfare anew. Along the way, Col Wyly helped to educate and inspire the next generation of leaders-a few whom I mentioned by name in my review. Most of them were too young to serve in South Asia or were not in uniform during Vietnam. However, over time, many of these individuals, along with their peers, recognized the need for Marines to fight smarter. So they participated in the Corps-wide debate, helped refine the concept, and tried to put maneuver warfare into practice with their subordinates. Those subordinates now command regiments, aviation groups, and logistics groups. So, I am surprised that in his “review of my review,” Col Wyly did not deservedly take more credit for spawning this larger group effort which gave maneuver warfare doctrine the necessary traction that helped it stick.

But my fundamental criticism of the book (aside from the shortcomings my review addresses) is that Dr. Piscitelli repeatedly mentions certain attributes and characteristics as being “baked into the Corps DNA,” which by book’s end has morphed into a kind of divine narrative and hagiography with a shallow analysis of the competing ideas and arguments that made the transition to maneuver warfare so institutionally difficult at that time. That such a serious restructuring of the Marine Corps approach to modern warfare is essentially reduced to an oversimplified story about the “enlightened versus the uninformed” does a disservice on two accounts.

First, if the renaissance that Col Wyly helped to create is to endure for another 100 years, as he hopes-and we agree on this point,-then it is necessary for Marines to subject its warfighting philosophy and doctrine to rigorous and recurring scrutiny to ensure it remains relevant to the changing character of warfare.

Second, we must provide tomorrow’s joint force commander with trained and ready Marine combined arms formations that can effectively deter and fight peer adversaries in the domains of air, land, sea, space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum. This multi-domain battle will inevitably require doctrinal adaptation by all the Services as we move from de-confliction and integration toward a fully interdependent joint force that can rapidly conduct cross-domain maneuver.

I agree with Col Wyly that Marines of all ranks should exude a sense of ownership over their profession, to include contributing to concept development and the articulation of new doctrinal ideas. But ownership must not come at the expense of the Marine Corps finding new and imaginative ways to advance the operational goals of the joint force and strategic objectives of the combatant commanders. Concepts and doctrine are never ends in themselves but tools to attain better operational performance and win. Regrettably, this is not the message that Marines will receive from reading the book nor the “review of my review.”