Learning, Relearning, and Unlearning. The Development of Counterinsurgency Doctrine in the United States Army and Marine Corps, 1898-1940

Bachelor Thesis, 2008

131 Pages



Introduction: The Special Problems of Counterinsurgency

1. Why Do Military Organizations Develop Doctrine, Anyway?
Types ofDoctrine
Literature Review

2. Remembering, Relearning, and Unlearning
The Army and Counterinsurgency Doctrine, 1898-
Historical Background
Wars in the Philippines
The Army at Home

3. Learning, Relearning, and Formalizing
The Marine Corps and Counterinsurgency Doctrine, 1898-
Historical Background
Wars in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua
Reaching Comprehensive Formal Counterinsurgency Doctrine

4. Putting the Cases Together

Conclusion: Preparing for the Next War(s)?

Works Cited


The Special Problems of Counterinsurgency

“The guerrillafights the war of theflea, and his military enemy suffers the dog's disadvantages: too much to defend; too small, ubiquitous, and agile an enemy to come to grips with.”[1]

Robert Taber, The War of the Flea

When the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz described war as “simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means,”[2] he was writing primarily with reference to conventional warfare between the national armies fighting for the achievement of a specific set of political objectives. However, Clausewitz’s understanding of war is equally applicable to a different kind of warfare: revolutionary warfare, defined by John Shy and Thomas Collier as “the seizure of political power by the use of armed force.”[3] In this type of warfare, the insurgent force attempts to gain political power (usually the power of the state) while the counterinsurgent force—usually the state, although sometimes supported by outside actors—attempts to retain its hold on political power. Revolutionary war is at its heart a struggle for the support of the people, an explicitly political kind of warfare.

The problems of waging a successful counterinsurgency have plagued military experts for centuries.[4] In a counterinsurgency, the strengths of a conventional military power are turned into weaknesses, as applying overwhelming force is generally counterproductive to the goal of winning popular support. For most conventional military forces, fighting a counterinsurgency means changing the organization’s very way of thinking about warfare. Military organizations known for their technological and conventional warfare prowess are forced to adopt new strategies and ideas when faced with the harassing tactics of insurgents who need only strike when it suits them, while the counterinsurgent force must defend everything, everywhere, at all times. Isolating the insurgents from the population becomes the foremost goal of the counterinsurgency,[5] requiring a delicate and shifting balance of offensive, defensive, and political operations often quite separate from the normal scope of military training and preparation. Different geographical areas may require vastly different strategies and tactics for subduing insurgents, complicating the process of identifying, codifying, and disseminating successful ideas, and this extreme localization means that critical strategic responsibilities often fall upon the shoulders of company-level officers. The difficult task of quickly learning and implementing counterinsurgency tactics and strategy has doomed the efforts of counterinsurgency forces on numerous occasions, from Algeria to Afghanistan to Vietnam.[6]

Yet military organizations do not always fail to learn from their counterinsurgency experiences. From 1898 to 1940, both the United States Army and Marine Corps were engaged in a series of counterinsurgencies during which both organizations were able to make substantial changes in their way of waging war in order to defeat insurgent forces. These engagements are also notable for the different ways that the Army and Marine Corps learned from their experiences. Both organizations were able to make fairly rapid transitions in tactics and strategy during the engagements themselves. However, neither organization initially attempted to develop comprehensive formal (written and official) doctrine for counterinsurgency warfare. Over time, this changed, but only for the Marine Corps. While the Army continued to focus largely on its preparations for conventional warfare, the Marine Corps, with the publication of Small Wars Operations in 1935 and a revised version, the Small Wars Manual, in 1940, became the first modern military force to develop a comprehensive formal counterinsurgency doctrine.[7]

This was the puzzle that motivated this thesis: Why did the Army and the Marine Corps have such different attitudes towards developing comprehensive formal counterinsurgency doctrine? Both organizations had the same basic institutional structures with which to develop doctrine, ranging from the very informal (conversations and letters) to the institutionalized (militaryjournals and school systems). Both organizations existed within the same political system and the same national political culture. Both organizations produced comprehensive formal doctrine for conventional warfare. With all of these similarities between the two organizations, what can account for the differences between their learning experiences? More broadly, what factors could explain one organization’s decision to learn from a set of experiences and another organization’s decision to largely ignore a similar set of experiences?

Here, it will be argued that the Marine Corps was able to develop comprehensive formal doctrine for counterinsurgency because the organization came to identify counterinsurgency both as part of its organizational mission and as an expected type of future warfare. This allowed a core group of officers, especially concerned with counterinsurgency issues, to formalize the lessons they had learned from their counterinsurgency experiences. On the other hand, the Army, focused on its development as a peer competitor to European military powers, regarded its counterinsurgency experiences as distractions from its modernizing efforts and thus never formally addressed the lessons it had learned.

In order to develop this argument, this thesis will unfold as follows:

Chapter One will discuss the definition of important terms, what other authors have said about why organizations would develop new doctrine, the hypotheses that this thesis will test, and the methodology that will be used to test these hypotheses.

Chapter Two will discuss the development of the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine from 1898 to 1940, examining the reasons for the Army’s failure to institutionalize the lessons it had learned from its counterinsurgency experiences with comprehensive formal doctrine.

Chapter Three will discuss the development of the Marine Corps’ counterinsurgency doctrine, examining what factors allowed the Marine Corps to institutionalize the lessons it learned with comprehensive formal doctrine.

Chapter Four will examine how the two cases fit the hypotheses that were suggested in Chapter One, and will offer an explanation for why the current hypotheses for military doctrinal development do not seem to fully explain the two cases that are presented here.

The Conclusion will offer some thoughts about the possible implications of this research upon the question ofhow military organizations think about retaining lessons that they have learned (especially counterinsurgency lessons learned).


Why Do Military Organizations Develop Doctrine, Anyway?

“Ifthe individual members of the organizations were of the same mind, if every organization worked according to a standardpattern, the problem would be solved. Is this notprecisely what a coherent, well-understood, and accepted doctrine would tend to achieve? More than anything else, a doctrine appears to be the practical answer to theproblem of how to channel efforts in a single direction”[8]

Colonel David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice

Types of Doctrine

Before addressing how the Army and Marine Corps developed counterinsurgency doctrine from 1898 to 1940, it is necessary to define precisely what doctrine is and how the term will be used here. Military doctrine has been defined by the Department of Defense as the “fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. ft is authoritative but requiresjudgment in application.”[9] Doctrine can be a somewhat nebulous term since what is called “doctrine” can range from strict instructions to general strategic guidelines.[10] However, within the American military experience, doctrine can be best understood as a set of general guidelines on how to act in a given set of circumstances, with the understanding that the individual will have discretion in applying these guidelines. These guidelines can be written or unwritten, but are generally understood across the organization.

Doctrine itself arises from a process of learning, relearning, and unlearning: developing and implementing new approaches and rejecting those approaches which no longer serve a useful purpose. In order to show how this process unfolded during the development of counterinsurgency doctrine in the Army and Marine Corps from 1898 to 1940, doctrine will be broken down by the form of the doctrine (formal or informal) and the purpose of the doctrine (comprehensive or limited), which will create four categories: limited informal, limited formal, comprehensive informal, and comprehensive formal. The next sections will discuss how these categories will be defined and how they will help to illuminate the cases of counterinsurgency doctrine discussed here.

I. Formal and Informal Doctrine

First, a distinction will be made between two forms of doctrine: formal and informal.11 Formal doctrine is the official, written instructions of the organization and the officially proscribed lessons transmitted through the organization’s schools. Informal doctrine, on the other hand, can be found in items such as letters, professionaljournal articles, reading lists, and student papers produced by members of the organization, although informal doctrine may also consist of unwritten understandings. While informal doctrine is not the official policy of the[11] organization, it reflects the general understandings of the members of the organization about the proper way to respond to various situations. Informal doctrine thus gives the organization’s members a set of guidelines that can help govern their actions, especially in the absence of formal doctrine.

Distinguishing between formal and informal doctrine is especially useful when studying counterinsurgency doctrine because historically such doctrine has been developed through informal means. To rely only on the changes in formal doctrine would be to miss the important developments in doctrine that go on informally within the organization. However, formal doctrine represents a more organized and cohesive approach to a specific set of circumstances, indicating a higher level of organizational agreement on proper procedures. Additionally, the development of formal doctrine imposes costs upon the organization—in time and attention spent upon its development—so it is unlikely to be developed unless there is some organizational interest in doing so. Whether the organization has formal or informal doctrine allows for a measurement of the organization’s level of interest inpreparingfor aparticular kind of warfare and its level of consensus about lessons learned.

II. Comprehensive and Limited Doctrine

Second, a distinction will be made between two purposes of doctrine: comprehensive and limited. Comprehensive doctrine is intended to guide the full extent of an organization’s actions during a certain set of circumstances, and can be used in any place at any time (for example, for all counterinsurgencies). It is intended to be generalizable. In contrast, limited doctrine is developed for use only during a specific time and/or in a specific place. Its scope could theoretically be as wide as comprehensive doctrine, but the intent of the doctrine would not be the same, for there would be no expectation that the doctrine could be applied in any other case. For instance, limited counterinsurgency doctrine in the Philippines was developed for the sake of the counterinsurgency in the Philippines, and was not intended for use in any other situation.

The difference between comprehensive and limited doctrine is one of the organization’s understanding of the specificity of a set of circumstances. Limited doctrine is developed in order to deal with immediate problems, but without any expectation that these problems will present themselves again (in these cases, in another war). These circumstances are seen as unique occurrences. In contrast, comprehensive doctrine reflects an understanding that it is likely that the organization will be presented with a similar set of problems in the future. The limited/comprehensive distinction allows for a measurement of the organization’s perceptions offuture warfare.

III. Overlapping Formal/Informal and Comprehensive/Limited Doctrine

The formal/informal and comprehensive/limited distinctions overlap each other and combine to create four different kinds of doctrine: limited informal, limited formal, comprehensive informal, and comprehensive formal. On the informal level, the addition of a distinction between comprehensive and limited doctrine means that it is possible to distinguish between doctrine that came about as a result of adaptations on the ground that were not meant to be replicated elsewhere {limited informal) versus suggested guidelines that were meant for all counterinsurgencies {comprehensive informal). For formal doctrine, it becomes possible to distinguish between official written material intended only for one counterinsurgency {limitedformal) versus official written material meant for use across counterinsurgencies {comprehensive formal). These distinctions will allow for a more precise study of the development of counterinsurgency doctrine than has been undertaken before.

The following table summarizes the different types of doctrine that will be used in this thesis in order to track how the Army and Marine Corps absorbed the lessons they learned from their counterinsurgency experiences into their organizational doctrines.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Other Definitions

The terms “small wars” and “counterinsurgency” will both be used throughout this thesis, and should be defined in order to prevent confusion.

“Small wars” is a literal translation of the Spanish word “guerrilla,” and it was the term most often used by members of the military to describe counterinsurgency warfare experiences during the 1898-1940 period.[12] However, the term “small wars” has a broader meaning than counterinsurgency, and could encompass types of warfare or near-warfare (such as gunboat diplomacy) that are not technically counterinsurgencies. The best definition of small wars comes from the Marine Corps’ Small Wars Manual, which defined small wars as “a vague name ... [for] operations undertaken under executive authority, wherein military force is combined with diplomatic pressure in the internal or external affairs of another state...”[13] Here, because the focus is only on military engagements that have been defined as counterinsurgencies, the term counterinsurgency will be used except when the term “small wars” is necessary for historical accuracy or when the entire scope of “small wars” is meant to be expressed.

Literature Review

There is a voluminous body of literature attempting to explain under what conditions bureaucracies will change. Even within the subset of military organizations, theories abound about what conditions stimulate military doctrinal development. To fully address the differences between various theories about bureaucratic change could take several books. Still, in order to put these arguments in perspective, three strains ofliterature relevant to the questions addressed in this paper will be discussed here: first, relevant theories of bureaucratic change; second, theories of military doctrinal development; and third, counterinsurgency-specific theories of doctrinal development.

I. General Theories of Bureaucratic Change

While there are many theories ofbureaucratic change, the following theories have had the most influence on the development of the argument presented here. Also, the mechanisms for bureaucratic change discussed below tend to have parallels in theories of military doctrinal development, making them especially relevant to the questions considered in this paper.

A. Weber/Contingency

Max Weber was the first scholar ofbureaucracies, and beginning with his work, there has been an understanding that change is not the natural state for a bureaucracy. As Weber explained, bureaucracies are powerful precisely because they are stable and operate under set rules.[14] Weber even expected that military organizations would need to be especially bureaucratic in order to maintain their status.[15] While the difficulty of changing a bureaucratic organization is clearly set forth in Weber’s work, empirical evidence shows that some organizations do change. Why bureaucracies change and how they are able to change, considering the power ofbureaucratic inertia, are questions that other authors have tried to answer.

B. Behavioral-Cognitive Model

In contrast to the Weberian view, behavioral models ofbureaucracy emphasize the importance ofhuman adaptation to the constraints ofbounded rationality and limited attention. Because people and organizations can only concentrate on a few things at any given time, variables such as organizational agenda, information, memory, and perception are crucial in determining whether any decision is made. Initial formulations of the behavioral-cognitive model predicted that bureaucracies would only make incremental changes over time;[16] this idea was discredited because of the numerous instances when bureaucratic restructuring has not been slow or minimal.[17] However, more recent studies have adapted this idea by adding the idea of punctuated equilibrium, predicting periods of status quo followed by extreme changes.[18] These extreme changes would be triggered by the need for institutional attention to a particular problem; in order to address this, the organization would tend to “over-correct.”[19] The behavioral- cognitive model predicts that some sort of external stimulus will be needed to prompt organizational change, an idea that also appears in theories of military doctrinal change presented later.

C. Cultural and Reputational Models

Some of the possible stimuli that could lead to the development of doctrine are also discussed in cultural and reputational models ofbureaucracy. These are founded upon the premise that the maximization of legitimacy is a main bureaucratic goal, although this goal will likely not be explicitly stated. Daniel Carpenter has argued that some bureaucracies are able act in an autonomous fashion because they create leverage through reputational uniqueness and political multiplicity.[20] Although Carpenter focuses on civilian bureaucracies, military organizations also have the ability to act in an autonomous fashion. Military organizations and their members have a great say in deciding which programs to encourage and which to discourage, which officers to promote and which not to promote, which lessons have merit and which do not, which security risks to prepare for and which to ignore. Morton Halperin has similarly argued that organizations will try to protect their organizational “essence,” and through this process have often shaped foreign policy decisions, rather than foreign policy decisions shaping their actions.[21] Cultural and reputational variables are also used in some of the military-specific theories of doctrinal development to be discussed.

D. OtherModels

Many other models ofbureaucratic change have been proposed. One bureaucratic model describes bureaucracies as political coalitions and their actions as the outcomes of internal bargaining.[22] Another has suggested bureaucracies will innovate in order to maximize their budget.[23] Although useful for understanding many situations ofbureaucratic change, these will not be closely examined here, since any relevant variables presented in these models are also used in the theories of military doctrinal development that will form the hypotheses that will be tested in this paper.

II. Theories of Military Doctrinal Development

The question of bureaucratic change has also been addressed in specifically military contexts. Interestingly, although the literature on general bureaucratic change and the literature on military doctrinal change have often evolved somewhat independently, there are similarities between some military- specific theories that have been proposed and more general bureaucratic theories. However, most of the theories of military doctrinal change that have been postulated concern changes during peacetime or during conventional military operations, which might not be as applicable during the special circumstances of counterinsurgency. In this thesis, these theories will be tested for their applicability to the cases of counterinsurgency doctrine discussed here.

A. Externally Motivated Change

1. Domestic Civilian Intervention

One possible explanation for a military organization’s decision to develop doctrine is that it was forced to do so by outside forces, such as domestic civilian intervention. Most closely identified with the work ofBarry Posen, this theory is based upon the assumption that military organizations have a natural tendency towards choosing offensive doctrines and require some outside intervention or extraordinary circumstances to shift them from this tendency.[24] Posen suggests that military doctrine will tend to be naturally “offensive, disintegrated, and stagnant,”[25] although this could be overcome with civilian intervention into military affairs.[26] Still, Posen admits that “there is some evidence that when threats become sufficiently grave, soldiers themselves begin to reconsider organizationally self-serving doctrinal preferences, if those preferences do not adequately respond to the state’s immediate security problem.”[27] This theory has some parallels with the behavioral-cognitive models that predict incremental change except in the worst of circumstances. Posen’s theory leads to the first hypothesis that could explain decisions to develop new doctrine:

Hi: External, Response to Domestic Civilian Intervention: The

organization will adopt new doctrine if prompted to do so by domestic civilian intervention.

2. Changes in Enemy Doctrine

Kimberly Marten Zisk, in her study of Soviet military doctrine, also proposed that outside forces will stimulate doctrinal change. However, she argues that the military organization will decide to change doctrine when prompted by changes in enemy doctrine.[28] This leads to a second hypothesis that will be examined in this paper:

H2: External, Response to Changes in Enemy Doctrine: The

organization will develop new doctrine in response to changes in enemy doctrine.

B. Internally and Externally Motivated Change

1. Internal Decision, Prompted by External Security Environment

In contrast to those who argue that change is only externally motivated, Stephen Rosen has argued that change will occur inside military organizations as they respond to changes in the external security environment. According to Rosen, wartime innovation comes from a redefinition of measures of effectiveness, while peacetime innovation comes from senior officers responding to changes in the security environment by creating new promotion pathways for junior officers practicing the new ways of war.[29] Civilian officials can prove

helpful by providing political support for military officials who propose a new

way of war, but, ultimately, change must come from inside the organization. This leads to the third hypothesis that will be tested here:

H3: Internal and External, Organizational Acceptance and Security Environment: The organization will develop new doctrine based upon the organization’s perceptions of changes in the external security environment, if the new way of warfare is protected and promoted within the organization.

2. Internal Decision, Organizational Culture and Domestic Political Constraints In contrast, Elizabeth Kier proposes a different relationship between organizational culture and the domestic political landscape in shaping the military organization’s development of doctrine. Kier argues that civilian actors constrain the set of options available to military organizations because of their interest in certain domestic political outcomes.[30] The military organization’s culture then determines how the organization responds to these constraints.[31] This argument will form the fourth hypothesis to be tested here:

H4: Internal and External, Culture and Domestic Politics: The organization will develop new doctrine if initial ideas can be filtered through domestic political constraints and its organizational culture.

III. Counterinsurgency-Specific Theories of Doctrinal Change

The literature on counterinsurgency doctrine tends to fall into one of three categories: histories, which explain why a particular military organization was

able or unable to adapt to conditions as a counterinsurgency force;[32] prescriptive studies, which attempt to distill lessons learned and develop rules for successfully fighting counterinsurgencies, and lastly, works that take a political science perspective by attempting to isolate the factors that allow for adaptation to conditions of counterinsurgency. These last two categories are the most useful to the development of theories of military adaptation to counterinsurgency missions. A. Prescriptive Studies

The prescriptive studies, although not directly related to the theories of bureaucratic change discussed above, are useful because they show the potential difficulty of simply applying other models of military innovation to a counterinsurgency situation. Based on these works, it is clear that there is a general consensus that fighting counterinsurgencies is different from fighting conventional wars.[33] Counterinsurgencies rarely require massive innovations in technology,[34] but can require major changes in tactics and measures of effectiveness for military organizations, as winning the hearts and minds of the population becomesjust as important as hunting down and killing insurgents. Because of these difficulties, counterinsurgencies have been called “learning competitions” between insurgents and counterinsurgents.[35] B. Theories of Counterinsurgency Doctrinal Development Works discussing counterinsurgency doctrine emphasize the need for an adaptable military organization in order to cope with a counterinsurgency mission that requires different thinking and actions from its conventional warfare duties. There are two lines of thought on what allows a military organization to be adaptable: the domestic political system or the organization’s structure and history.

1. Domestic Political System

In her book, Political Institutions and Military Change, Deborah Avant examines the differences between the counterinsurgencies fought by the American Army in Vietnam and the British Army in Malaya, arguing that the British parliamentary system was more conducive to effectively fighting war as a counterinsurgency force. According to Avant, this was because the parliamentary system ensured that civilian leaders in Great Britain would have incentives to develop unified policy goals and oversight mechanisms, while this was not the case in the United States.[36] Yet her theory does not seem to explain the issue here. The Army and Marine Corps were working within the same presidential political system at the same time, but the Marine Corps became interested in adapting to the constraints of counterinsurgency warfare by creating comprehensive formal doctrine for counterinsurgency, while the Army did not.

2. Learning Institutions

Richard Downie and John Nagl also use the Vietnam War as a test case, but advance a different idea: military organizations that are “learning institutions” will be better able to adapt to counterinsurgency warfare. As Downie explains: “Doctrinal change occurs when external conditions make doctrinal change necessary and the military institution has reached a level at which it can learn from its experience.”[37] Until the military organization is able to learn, however, lessons will not be absorbed. Expanding upon this, Nagl proposes a set of five measurements to test whether an organization is a learning institution: promotion of suggestions from the field, subordinates encouraged to question superiors and policies, regular questioning ofbasic assumptions, close contact between those on the ground and high-level officers, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that are generated locally and informally.[38] Nagl, like Avant, compares the American Army’s experience in Vietnam to that of the British in Malaya, but looks at the differences in the culture and history of the two organizations. He argues that the culture of the British Army, with its expectations that its formal doctrine would be insufficient and adaptation on the ground would be necessary, was better able to adapt to fighting a counterinsurgency than the American Army, which was more used to depending on official doctrine.[39] This leads to a final hypothesis about the conditions that allow for doctrinal development:

H5: Internal, Structure and History: The organization will develop new doctrine if it is a “learning institution” and has an organizational culture and history that promotes adaptability to counterinsurgency situations.

C. Literature on the Test Cases

Finally, with regard to the test cases being used here, Andrew Birtle and Keith Bickel have addressed the development of Army and Marine Corps (respectively) counterinsurgency doctrine during the 1898-1940 time period. Bickel’s book concludes that the organizational structure of the Marine Corps allowed for the development of an adaptable organization, while a core group of small wars-focused officers were able to promote their organizational vision through formal doctrine.[40] Certainly, these factors were extremely important in allowing the Marine Corps to develop small wars doctrine. However, Bickel discounts the importance of organizational culture; this paper will argue that organizational culture and the organization’s perceptions of its role in the future were more important in the development of counterinsurgency doctrine than Bickel believes.

In comparison, Birtle’s book on Army counterinsurgency doctrine is historical and describes how the Army informally addressed the lessons of counterinsurgency it learned during the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Indian Wars and how it applied those lessons to its operations in the Philippines.[41] However, Birtle does not really study the question of what conditions prevented the Army from developing a comprehensive formal counterinsurgency doctrine. Both Bickel and Birtle’s works have been influential upon the arguments put forth in this paper, but they are limited through their study of one organization. By comparing two organizations, it becomes possible to examine how the two organizations responded to each other and developed unique responses to the challenges of adapting to a counterinsurgency mission.

Summary ofHypotheses Being Tested

The possible hypotheses that will be considered in thesis are listed below, with the name of the author or authors most closely associated with the idea and the independent variables proposed by each author in order to explain the development of new doctrine:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


In order to examine the development of counterinsurgency doctrine in the Army and Marine Corps from 1898 to 1940, the primary method of analysis will be narrative panel analysis of comparative history, examining the development of both organizations over time. Narrative panel analysis was chosen because it was critical to understand how the two organizations varied over time and why some opportunities to learn were seized and others were not. Qualitative analysis will be used in order to explain how the course of events shaped the different outcomes that the two organizations experienced. Tracking changes in doctrine will be done through an examination of changes within the doctrine itself and changes in the doctrine type over time, changes which are most easily understood in their historical context.

Case Selection

The period from 1898 to 1940 and these two organizations were chosen because this was a time frame when both organizations were in the process of transition and both organizations were involved in counterinsurgency warfare. Because both organizations were American, the variables of national culture and political system could be controlled for. Also, during these years, both organizations fought a series of counterinsurgencies, and both organizations had similar opportunities to learn from their experiences and to develop comprehensive formal doctrine for counterinsurgency contingencies. Since only one of these organizations did so, it becomes possible to examine independent variables, such as organizational perceptions and goals, that differed between the two organizations in order to determine why the two organizations had a different outcome in type of doctrine developed (the dependent variable).

Using a “most-similar” case selection method has some methodological weaknesses. Obviously, the situations of the Army and Marine Corps during the 1898-1940 period were not exactly the same. The Army was larger and was its own service, unlike the Marine Corps, which was (and is) administered as part of the Navy. The two organizations did fight their counterinsurgencies at slightly different times, with the bulk of the Army’s experiences coming before World War I and the Marine Corps’ experiences after World War I. However, considering the constraints ofhistorical case studies, which can only use events that have occurred and must try to control for the particular historical circumstances and contingencies of each case, comparing these two organizations at this point in time seemed to be a strong study design.

Focused Comparison of Two Aspects of Counterinsurgency Strategy

In order to allow for a closer examination for how lessons learned can become doctrine, the development of two particular aspects of counterinsurgency doctrine will be examined in greater detail, allowing a closer examination of the motivations behind decisions to learn or not learn from a set of experiences. These

two aspects are: (1) dispersed small-unit patrolling and garrisoning[42] and (2) the raising and training of native constabularies.

These two aspects were chosen because they were present in the experiences ofboth organizations, and became critical parts of each organization’s counterinsurgency strategy. Neither of these elements of counterinsurgency doctrine are usually part of conventional warfare doctrine, which makes it possible to show that the Army and the Marine Corps were not simply adapting their conventional warfare doctrine for counterinsurgency situations.

For instance, the decision to adopt dispersed small-unit patrolling and garrisoning indicates a change in the organization’s way of thinking about warfare, and should be considered an important counterinsurgency doctrinal development. It indicates that the military force has recognized the importance of (1) protecting the native population and separating the population from the insurgents, (2) remaining in close contact with the native population for the sake of gathering intelligence, (3) keeping the insurgents on the run so as to prevent them from gaining strength, and (4) using smaller units to draw the insurgents into battle. This is not the kind of force structure one would expect to see in conventional warfare, where it is important to have as many troops together, in the right place, as possible.

Similarly, the training of native constabulary forces is not a task normally undertaken during a conventional war. Rather, the adoption of a native constabulary strategy shows an understanding of the importance of winning over the population and separating the population from the insurgents. It also shows Opportunities, in an e-mail to the author, May 18, 2007.

recognition of the need to create a native force that will take over the military organization’s obligation to protect the population, hopefully stabilizing the transition between a military and civilian government.

The United States Army and Marine Corps were both successful in developing both of these aspects of counterinsurgency doctrine through learning and adapting during the counterinsurgencies they fought from 1898to 1940. However, only the Marine Corps decided to develop a comprehensive formal doctrine in order to retain these lessons learned. This thesis will attempt to answer why only the Marine Corps made this decision.


[1] Robert Taber, The War of the Flea (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 2002), 20.

[2] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 605.

[3] John Shy and Thomas Collier, “Revolutionary Warfare,” in Makers of Modern Strategyfrom Machiavelli to the Modern Age, ed. Peter Paret, Gordon Craig, and Felix Gilbert (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UniversityPress, 1986), 817.

[4] While the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu has often been credited with developing aspects of revolutionary warfare (which could also be called insurgency or guerrilla war) in The Art of War, written over two thousand years ago, the modern Western experience with such warfare should probably be dated from the Napoleonic Wars, or perhaps, the American Revolution. For a fullerhistory ofthe concept ofrevolutionary warfare, see Shy and Collier, 815-862, and for Sun Tzu’s views on military strategy, see Sun Tzu, The Art ofWar, trans. Ralph Sawyer (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994).

[5] Isolating the insurgent enemy from the population is a characteristic of“soft” counterinsurgency; “hard” counterinsurgency, as has sometimes been practiced by some nations (such as Russia in Chechnya), would allow for simply targeting the entire population with the assumption that insurgents and the insurgency would be harmed as a result. See Sarah Sewall, “Introduction,” in The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual: U.S. ArmyFieldManualNo. 3-24/Marine Corps Warfighting PublicationNo. 3-33.5, by the United States Army and Marine Corps (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007), xxiv- xxliii.

[6] Fora discussion of the inability of military organizations to adapt to the problems of counterinsurgency, see Alastair Horne, A Savage War ofPeace: Algeria, 1954-1962 (New York, NY; New York Review ofBooks, 2006), on the failures ofthe French Army in Algeria, Andrew Krepinevich, The Army in Vietnam (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), on the United States Army in Vietnam, and Russian General Staff, The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost, ed. and trans. Michael Gress and Lester Grau (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2002), on Soviet Army in Afghanistan.

[7] The British Army should probably be considered the first organization to see modern counterinsurgency as a critical part of its organizational mission. For insight into British Army counterinsurgency doctrine contemporary to the developments discussed here, see Captain (later Major General) Ernest Swinton, The Defence ofDuffer’s Drift (London, UK: W. Clowes & Sons, 1911), Colonel Charles Callwell, Small Wars: A Tactical Textbook for Imperial Soldiers (London: Greenhill Books, 1990) (originally published in 1906), and, later, Major General Sir Charles Gwynn, Imperial Policing (London, UK: Macmillan, 1934). However, the British Army has historically looked down upon formal doctrine, emphasizing on-the-ground adaptation, so their doctrine remained almost entirely informal (sometimes taught in schools, but not produced by the British Army as an organization). See John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessonsfrom Malaysia and Vietnam (Chicago, IL: University ofChicago Press, 2005), 35-39.

[8] David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (Westport, CT: Praeger Security fnternational, 2006), 65.

[9] United States Department of Defense, Joint Publication 1-02: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (12 April 2001, as amended through 17 October 2007) , http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/iel/new_pubs/ip1_02.pdf. 169 (accessed February 20, 2008) .

[10] Fora discussion of the history of the term “doctrine” in the United States military history, see Keith Bickel, Mars Learning: The Marine Corps'Development of Small Wars Doctrine, 1915­1940 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001), 1-4.

[11] Probably the best theoretical depiction of the interactions between the formal and informal institution can be found in John Meyer and Brian Rowan, “Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony,” American Journal of Sociology 83 (1977): 340­363. Andrew Birtle discusses the idea of“informal” doctrine in U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Doctrine, 1860-1941 (Washington, DC: Center ofMilitary History, Government Printing Office, 1998), 5-6 and Keith Bickel develops this idea more fully (see Bickel, 4-7). Generally, the definitions for formal and informal doctrine used here conform to Bickel’s use, although the addition of another set of categorizations means that some aspects of doctrine that Bickel would characterize as “informal,” such as field orders, will be characterized as “limited formal.”

[12] Nagl, 15.

[13] United States Marine Corps, Small Wars Manual (Manhattan, KS: Sunflower University Press, 1972) 1-1. [Numbering follows the section-subsection method ofnumbering within the manual.]

[14] Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays on Sociology (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1958), 196-8.

[15] Weber, 222. Weber's insights about military organizations are especially interesting because as a German, he was surrounded by Prussian military tradition; the Prussian military was perhaps the most influential model for American officers of the 1898-1940 period, at least through American involvement in World War I, so his insights have some special relevance to the cases discussed here.

[16] See, for example, Charles Lindblom, “The Science of Muddling Through,” Public AdministrationReview 19 (1959): 79-88.

[17] Jonathan Bendor, “A Model of Muddling Through,” American Political Science Review 89 (1995): 819-840.

[18] Bryan Jones and Frank Baumgartner, The Politics ofAttention: How Government Prioritizes Problems (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 17-21.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Daniel Carpenter, The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputation, Networks, and Policy Innovation in Executive Agencies, 1862-1928 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 4-5.

[21] Morton Halperin, Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1974), 28, 49-63. Also see James Wilson's discussion of organizational “turf” in James Wilson, Bureaucracies: What GovernmentAgencies Do and Why They Do It (New York, NY: BasicBooks, 1989), 179-195.

[22] For one of the earliest explications of this theory see, for instance, James March, “The Business Firm as a Political Coalition,” Journal ofPolitics 24 (1962): 662-678. This also similar to Graham Allison's Model II (organizational behavior paradigm) developed in Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow, Essence of a Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York, NY: Longman, 1999), 143-196.

[23] See, for example, William Niskanen, “Nonmarket Decision Making: The Peculiar Economics ofBureaucracy,” American Economic Review 58 (May 1968): 293-305.

[24] Barry Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984). Jack Snyder also points to the military as perpetuating the “myth of offensive advantage,” helping to lead to imperial overreach, in The Myths ofEmpire: Domestic Politics andInternationalAmbitions (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).

[25] Posen, 239.

[26] Ibid, 240.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Kimberly Marten Zisk, Engaging the Enemy: Organization Theory and Soviet Military Innovation, 1955-1991 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993).

[29] Stephen Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 251.

[30] Elizabeth Kier, Imagining War: French and British Military Doctrine Between the Wars (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 3-6.

[31] Ibid.

[32] See note 6.

[33] See, for instance, David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare, Robert Taber, The War of the Flea, Robert Thompson, Defeating a Communist Insurgency (New York, NY: Praeger, 1966) (a book that can be applied to counterinsurgencies more broadly), and most recently, United States Army and Marine Corps, United States Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

[34] Counterinsurgency theorists point to the gathering of accurate and timely intelligence, rather than technological or material superiority, as key to fighting a counterinsurgency. Technological innovations have occurred during counterinsurgencies, such as the development of close air support and dive bombing during the Marine Corps' small wars (especially the counterinsurgency in Nicaragua) and the use ofhelicopters by the French in Algeria, or American attempts to develop technology to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, counterinsurgency theorists argue that such developments are more a result of a conventional force trying to use conventional methods to defeat the enemy. Although technological innovations can be helpful, counterinsurgency theorists would argue that they are almost certainly less important than changes that would help in intelligence collection and political support. See books above.

[35] United States Army and Marine Corps, United States Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, lii.

[36] Deborah Avant, Political Institutions and Military Change: Lessonsfrom Peripheral Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), 130-1.

[37] Richard Downie, Learningfrom Conflict: The U.S. Military in Vietnam, El Salvador, and the Drug War (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 246. Williamson Murray and Barry Watts also come to a similar conclusion about the importance of adaptability in the military organization, although they examine conventional warfare cases. See Williamson Murray and Barry Watts, “Military Innovation in Peacetime,” in Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan Millett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 411.

[38] Nagl, 10.

[39] Ibid, 191-207.

[40] Bickel, 235-250.

[41] For full citation, see note 11.

[42] What I call dispersed small-unit patrolling here is now being relearned as “distributive operations” in the United States Marine Corps. See Department of the Navy, Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps, “A Concept for Distributive Operations,” (25 April 2005). Provided by Frank Hoffman, research fellow at the U.S. Marine Corps Center for Emerging Threats and

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Learning, Relearning, and Unlearning. The Development of Counterinsurgency Doctrine in the United States Army and Marine Corps, 1898-1940
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