The Marine Corps Way of War: The Evolution of the U.S. Marine Corps from Attrition to Maneuver Warfare in the Post-Vietnam Era examines the evolving doctrine, weapons, and capability of the United States Marine Corps during the four decades since our last great conflict in Asia.
As author Anthony Piscitelli demonstrates, the USMC has maintained its position as the nation’s foremost striking force while shifting its thrust from a reliance upon attrition to a return to maneuver warfare. Piscitelli methodically explains the evolution by using traditional and first-person accounts by the prime movers of this paradigm shift. In Indochina, for example, the Marines not only held territory but engaged in now-legendary confrontational battles at Hue and Khe Sanh.
As a percentage of those engaged, the Marines suffered higher casualties than any other branch of the service. In the post-Vietnam assessment, however, the USMC absorbed Sun Tzu’s aspects of Asian warfare and returned to its historical DNA in fighting “small wars” to evolve a superior alternative to the battlefield. The institutionalization of maneuver philosophy began with the Marine Corps’ educational system, analyzing the actual battlespace of warfare—be it humanitarian assistance, regular set-piece battles, or irregular guerrilla war—and the role that the leadership cadre of the Marine Corps played in this evolutionary transition from attrition to maneuver.
This change has sometimes been incorrectly portrayed (including by the Congressional Military Reform Caucus) as a disruptive or forced evolution. Analysis from former commandants of the Marine Corps to junior officers on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere demonstrate otherwise. The ability of the Marines to impact the battlefield—and help achieve our strategic goals—has only increased during the post-Cold War era.
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