Fourth-generation warfare is growing in America.
By William S. Lind
The September 2020 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette announced a series of articles titled The Maneuverist Papers and offers the first, “Marine Corps Maneuver Warfare: The Historical Context,” by “Marinus”, whose initials I suspect are J.S. The history it discusses and its analysis of the maneuver warfare movement’s “success” is generally accurate and thoughtful. I put “success” in quotes because, while maneuver warfare was adopted as official Marine Corps doctrine, the Corps left its personnel system, education, and training largely unchanged, which means it can talk about maneuver warfare but not do it. The Italian Army did the same thing in the late 1930s; hopefully, the Marine Corps’ results will be happier.
Marinus’s article concludes by asking,
Will there need to emerge another Gray, Boyd, Wyly, or Lind? Should or how should maneuver warfare adapt to recent and emerging changes in warfare? Or, more fundamentally, has warfare changed sufficiently that the Marine Corps should reconsider its basic doctrine? Most Marines would instinctively and emphatically say, “No!”–but does that mean the question should not be asked?
I appreciate his acknowledgement–I did after all start the debate over maneuver warfare with a piece I wrote in 1976- and I would also note that with the exception of John Boyd, the rest of us (including Jeff Grelson, whom the article forgot) are still alive, functioning, and probably have one last campaign in us.
But war is evolving in such a way that the situation is wholly different. In the 1970s through the early 1990s, the Marine Corps could choose whether to stick with Second Generation (firepower/attrition) warfare or shift to the Third Generation (maneuver warfare). Fourth Generation war offers no such choice, because it moves in next door.