Thoughts on FMFM 1-A
by Fabius Maximus
6 July 2005

FMFM 1-A – an important tool for survival in the 21st century

Lind and his co-authors are doing one of the most important things for America’s survival: creating ways for the US to fight fourth-generation wars with a hope of victory.

This paper is the first of no doubt many evaluations of FMFM 1-A prepared for Lind’s reporting senior, Kaiser Wilhelm II. These are only first thoughts, touching on some of FMFM 1-A’s more provocative insights. In the interest of brevity, it passes over many of the manual’s sound recommendations, and gives pointers to some relevant larger issues.

FMFM 1-A builds upon Lind’s insightful “On War” series of articles, moving from a description of our situation to prescriptions of how we must change our methods.

The magnitude of our challenge appears clear when we see how far FMFM 1-A is from providing solutions usable by US forces fighting fourth generation wars (4GWs). It is an excellent first draft; a strong starting point in what might be a long development process.

FMFM 1-A considers three aspects to the changing nature of war:

  1. How war is fought

  2. Who fights it?

  3. Why they fight (what they fight for)

How War is Fought

In Technology and War Martin van Creveld concludes a discussion of naval armament with the comment that “In the long run numbers combined with low prices overcame technological excellence as such. There may be a moral here.”

Today we see this on a large scale, with the near-dominance in 4GW of light, inexpensive weapons – such as mines, RPGs, and Stinger-type antiaircraft weapons – over an almost unbelievably expensively array of weapons, equipment, vehicles, and aircraft. For example, Stratfor reports that we lose 1 or 2 helicopters a month in Iraq, mostly to RPGs. It is a safe guess that any one of these costs many times more than all the RPGs and IEDs we have encountered in Iraq so far.

If not weapons, what kind of superiority might we have? Here FMFM 1-A perhaps succeeds best, providing recommendation likely both actionable and effective.

FMFM 1-A proposes with almost irrefutably logic light infantry as the superior infantry configuration in 4GW. The depth of the reasoning here should not surprise given the range of both experience and theoretical understanding of its authors in this area.

Another recommendation – the use of cash as (in my words) the nuclear bomb of 4GW, offers even more scope for the imagination.

Imagine the course of the Iraq war if we had assigned a Coalition Colonel to each local town, with each Colonel given ten million dollars and a simple goal: in six months that money must be spent and that town looking busy and happy. I suspect that no matter how corruptly and inefficiently the money was spent, most Iraq towns would be peaceful. Everybody loves a mad but generous Uncle.

The cost would have been a fraction of the actual dollars we’ve spent. The cost in Coalition and Iraq lives immeasurably less. Not a long-term solution, nor the basis for the US permanent bases in Iraq from which to project force as planned by the neo-con dreamers in the Bush Administration.

Could we have won in Iraq with the intelligent deployment of cash, light infantry-based forces, and application of FMFM 1-A’s other recommendations?

Here we must diverge from the happy vision painted by FMFM 1-A to sadder realities. We must consider the possibility that the US Military acted as it did because of deep structural factors, not contingent factors such as personalities or time constraints.

Consider the use of cash described above. The Defense Department could no more have allowed such discretionary and paperwork-free spending than NASA design a commercially viable space program … or pigs fly.

In fact the US has spent in Iraq (excluding funds to US companies) only a sliver of the allocated reconstruction funds, and this inertia had taken hold even before the insurgency gained strength. And there are already investigations and complaints about lax process by which we spent so little and accomplished less.

Even if FMFM 1-A’s recommendations are effective, can our leadership at the Versailles-on-the-Potomac implement them?

Who fights 4GW?

Similar grim realities confront us with the discussion of “who fights” in FMFM 1-A. The “strategic corporal” seems to me an especially unlikely concept.

“Fourth Generation war demands not only the strategic corporal, but the moral corporal as well, enlisted Marines who think about every action they take in terms of its moral effects.” (FMFM 1-A page 8)

This seems implausible given the age, experience, and training of the average US Marine corporal, now or in any likely future. The courts martial of NCOs for mistreatment of Iraq prisoners suggest that we need more hands-on lieutenants and less freedom of action for corporals.

We’ll be lucky to get an adequate number of First Lieutenants with such cross-cultural knowledge, capable of acting with such sophisticated strategic and moral reasoning.

This illustrates a difficulty of recommendations given in FMFM 1-A. All wargame scenarios have easy solutions if one can conjure up sufficient resources. FMFM 1-A aspires to a US Marine Corps with the training and attributes of our elite Special Ops units.

With an army of such men we could pacify Iraq. Equally so, with the Battlestar Galactica or Starship Enterprise the Germans could have won WWII.

It’s not enough to dream of ways we can win. How can we evolve our current military apparatus to get there from here?

In the “Operation David” section of FMFM 1-A the authors appear to have channeled John Paul Vann dreaming of how to win in Vietnam.

Both in Vietnam and Iraq the US military was not and is not configured to successfully wage 4GW. There were and are deep structural reasons why our military works as it does, so resistant to change.

Consider a problem from the past, with which we have less emotional involvement.

Could we devise a plan by which the British could have won the Hundred Years War? Perhaps, but probably not with the “mental” equipment the British had at that time.

This takes us a step beyond the scope of FMFM 1-A. Why does the military act as it does? What are the structural forces that have built and maintain this Versailles-on-the-Potomac? How can they be changed?

The theoretical insights of the FMFM 1-A authors must be integrated with the operational recommendations of others, such as recommendations of US Army Major Don Vandergriff (see Raising the Bar, )

Why do they fight?

We’re fortunate the authors of FMFM 1-A have started work on finding a path to the future. Time is running out for us due to the last of the three factors discussed in FMFM 1-A. They discuss “what do they fight” 4GWs, but look only at our enemies.

The failure to consider how one builds a force willing to fight mars many otherwise fine works published recently, for example in the otherwise excellent reports of Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS, He describes in great detail how we’ve worked for 2 years to build Iraqi army and police. We’ve recruited, trained, equipped, paid, advised, and led – with success remaining months or years away.

The reason is that we’re fighting, to paraphrase Secretary Rumsfeld, with the allies we have, not the allies we might need to win. Our local allies remain those we started with, Kurdish and Shiite militia willing to fight their enemies with our support – with negligible commitment to our project of building a secular, US-friendly Iraq State.

The UK learned how to build armies to defend their colonial or puppet Governments. Perhaps we do not have the necessary skill; perhaps the day for such things has passed.

A brief thought experiment illustrates our problem with allies.

Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal commanded the 19th Turkish Division at Gallipoli. At the Battle of the Landing he successfully exhorted his troops with the command ‘I don’t order you to attack, I order you to die.”

If you read of such a thing occurring today, on what side would you imagine this army was fighting? On our side? Or against us?

Worse, getting allies is among the least of our problems.

The primary issue not considered in FMFM 1-A, perhaps beyond the scope of a doctrinal manual, is getting US citizens to fight for America.

Who fights for America might soon become a critical issue. How many field grade officers and experienced NCOs will re-enlist – especially among the Reserves? How far will the US Army need to lower entrance standards to maintain its current force structure?

After Vietnam many experts discussed the need for Legions, professional warriors willing to fight anywhere as needed. The volunteer military only pretended to create such a force. Now the Iraq War rips that facade away. Few people fight, risking death, for a college education. Many or most accept that offer only if they think the gamble will pay off with no combat. We are now offering up to $90,000 for people to enlist in in the combat arms (

The Iraq War also tests a radical post-Vietnam experiment, the family-friendly (especially single parent friendly) use of women in combat operations. As spun by Army PR staff, the “Lionesses.”

Our current force structure depends on the success of these innovations. I make no predictions, but suggest closely reading Martin van Creveld’s book Men, Women, & War.

How I learned to stop worrying and love Fourth Generation War

In both his On War articles, FMFM 1-A, and particularly in his article “Strategic Defense Initiative” ( ),  Lind points to a possible solution to attracting and retaining warriors. Perhaps the structural constraints are too great and the challenges of 4GW too large for the US to successfully wage aggressive 4GW.

But there is an alternative.

Is the home court advantage decisive in 4GW? Can we can win with a defensive-only posture – second strikes only, but without restraint?

Game theory suggests that “tit for tat” is one of the most effective tactics.

History shows us times when a defensive posture was stronger than offense. Since Westphalia in 1648 few invaders have achieved profitable victories; all of the most prominent aggressors have lost.

To quote Lind quoting Carl von Clausewitz in On War :

“defense is simply the stronger form of war, the one that makes the enemy’s defeat more certain. We maintain unequivocally that the form of warfare that we call defense not only offers greater probability of victory than attack, but that its victories can attain the same proportions and results.”

Bill Bonner, an American expatriate living in France, observes that after 300+ years of French military adventures -- with their dead scattered over Europe – the French have considered what they gained for this sacrifice, and find it insufficient.

Perhaps the French – and continental Europeans in general – have gained an almost intuitive understanding about the impotence of 2nd and 3rd generation militaries in a 4th generation world.

Perhaps the wheel of history has rolled to a new era in which the US returns to its non-interventionist roots. We can help others with money, peaceful aid, advice, and moral support. We can promise attackers – and those nearby – a quick certain death.

Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), extended over the full range of war, nuclear to conventional, might prove the winning tactic in the 21st century.

A defensive posture might prove superior to an offensive stance in its ability to motivate America’s young people to serve in the military.

The initial response to 9-11 and the Iraq War demonstrate that Americans will volunteer to fight when they believe their nation threatened. Support began to fade once the primary justification for the Iraq War shifted from defense (WMDs, links to 9-11) to other goals (nation-building, liberating other peoples, etc) – goals worth our support, but not necessarily our blood.

Just as with the recommendations in FMFM 1-A, there are serious structural challenges to a shift from “power projection” to defensive tactics. The military-industrial complex would need serious incentives to change its vision. Also our Defense Department would require deep retraining in order to literally correspond to its name.

Beyond FMFM 1-A

Assuming the recommendations in FMFM 1-A prove effective, they raise another issue. Does providing machinery to better fight 4GWs encourage involvement in more of them? Hence the recommendation to play defense becomes an important adjunct to FMFM 1-A.

There are those who wish for success of projects like FMFM 1-A, as they have ambitious plans for the US military.

Our aggressive military posture and foreign policy are rooted in a expansive view of America’s role in the world held by our elites.

Consider the neo-imperialist visions that supported the Iraq war, such as those of Thomas Barnett and Niall Ferguson. No matter how well intentioned, are these plans realistic? (“Visions” not intended to disparage the skill and knowledge of the authors, but rather imply their plans inapplicability to our world.)

Do we have the insight and sensitivity to successfully manipulate foreign peoples? Even our best friends might question this. Worse, just as successfully waging aggressive war might prove difficult during this cycle of history, so might what are in effect colonial or imperialist interventions in other lands. A change in our foreign policies might not come easy. Shifting to a defensive strategy requires abandoning much of what the US has worked long to build.

From a larger perspective one might question our goals. Are freedom and democracy unambiguously good? Perhaps from some viewpoints, such as a Platonic or Christian viewpoint? But not necessarily good in a Darwinian sense. Are social changes “good” if they lead to the extinction of one’s culture? Western civilization today has achieved the goal of ZPG – zero population growth – promoted since the 1970s as necessary to save the world. Most western nations have passed ZPG, evolving to fertility rates which insure cultural extinction in a surprisingly few generations.

Not a strong basis on which to say “follow us” to societies still vibrant enough to reproduce themselves.

This suggests another benefit of a defensive posture: it allows a focus of attention and resources on our own weaknesses. In the era of the Decline of the Nation State some humility and self-reflection might prove a significant advantage.


FMFM 1-A is well timed, and hopefully will initiate debate on our military and foreign policies – which have become intertwined to the point of being indistinguishable.

We face looming defeat in Iraq – for that’s how both enemies and friends will likely see our withdrawal or ejection from Iraq. However painful, this might offer a window in which new ideas can be presented and sold.

FMFM 1-A lays a firm groundwork for the development of a new path for America. Perhaps the most reliable statement of the authors is “We never said this would be easy” (page 8).

Some Additional Thoughts about FMFM 1-A on the Fourth of July

My family has just returned from our town's Fourth of July parade. Despite the fitting occasion and the Army's desperate need for recruits, I saw no participation by our armed forces. No smartly dressed men and women; no impressive columns interspersed with a tank, a Humvee, or even a truck.

The only visible uniforms were several small mobs of Cub, Boy, and Girl Scouts. They milled about without any sign of pride, discipline, or organization.

The absence of a martial presence or tradition in our America is not a problem for Scouts or our community – but a potentially serious problem for Army recruiters in 2006, and perhaps 2016.

A field manual assumes we have soldiers, in quantity, and with the necessary spirit.

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