Originally published by the Marine Corps Gazette, March 1995.
Republished with permission of the author.

While it has always been important for Marines to understand the Constitution they have sworn to defend, developments in fourth generation warfare now make it imperative.

Fourth generation war is war between cultures. It defies the old boundaries of nation state. It is war between special interest groups, races, and religions. It is war that seeks to avoid our military power and neutralize it by dividing us from within. We should be careful not to become alarmist. Seeing a cultural enemy behind every bush could quickly replace the anti-Communist syndrome that was often carried to extremes. It could produce an inquisition that would make the McCarthy witchhunts of the 1950s seem like children's hide and seek. At the same time, however, it would be naive to presume there are no enemies out there just because the Communists are gone. A fourth generation enemy seeks to destroy cultures, societies, businesses, nation states, or military organizations most effectively by dividing them internally.

There is much, much more that needs to be said about how to defeat a fourth generation enemy than I am going to write about here. But in a few words I can present the essentials very clearly.

First, we must expect the unexpected in terms of new kinds of enemies and new kinds of forces that assume the function of soldiers and nondescript war makers. We, cannot afford to dismiss any adversary as contemptible, no matter how primitive and unconventional he may app ear. Instead, we must discover his strengths and how to avoid them; his weaknesses, and how to attack them. We must be willing to realize that our real enemy is as likely to appear within our own borders as without. If our laws and self image of our role as military professionals do not allow for this, we need to change them.
Second, we must come to grips with the fact that our traditional form of warfare, i.e., high tech with overwhelming firepower delivered from a distant standoff, no longer solves problems. We must be expert infantrymen. For those who have not yet grasped it, in Vietnam, where our enemy's behavior was moving toward that of the fourth generation soldier, the major flaw in the U.S. military was that it neglected the art of the foot soldier. Events since Vietnam have reinforced this point. Many of us missed this point when we were in Vietnam because we were foot soldiers. We sometimes believed we were the center of attention though our top level seniors considered us a sideshow. But anyone who listened carefully to a single Pentagon briefing would have seen that the Military Assistance Command, our joint Chiefs, the Defense Department, and the President were depending not on the infantry but on bombs, artillery shells, and the high technology of the era this in what was clearly an infantry war. Fourth generation warfare will also be infantry warfare, war up close, in and among the people, and the infantrymen who can fight it cannot come from the low end of the intelligence curve. Ironically, in this age of technology, it is in the direction of the foot soldier that modern war demands we now move.
Third, the Corps must be a bastion of Americans who really do support and defend the Constitution of the United States. To many of our politicians and judges, pressing issues outweigh the parameters the Constitution sets down. The Corps must become a repository of those rare Americans who read the document, know it, and believe in it. This must be so, partly because we swore we would, but mostly because it is the source of the freedom for which we fight.

Politics in a military organization is wrong. But … whether or not we support the Constitution is not a political matter. It has not been since 1789, when it was ratified. All of us swore to support it back when we joined. Were the Constitution to somehow cease to be, we would all be released from our oaths. We would no longer have a military because there would no longer be a mission.

The first army that the United States Congress raised under the Constitution after it took effect in 1789 was unprecedented in regard to its allegiance. It was the first army sworn to serve an idea instead of a man or men. Some previous armies had sworn their allegiance to bodies of men (Continental Congress) or nations of men (some of the late medieval Italian Republics), but the most common practice was to promise fealty to one monarch or leader. When some World War II German officers began to lose confidence in Hitler toward the war's end, they still felt bound to him by their oath and loyally refrained from expressing their true opinions until the moment they learned of the Führer's death. Then they were released from their oaths and became " different men."

We do not have that problem. Sworn to an idea, U.S. Marines have an inherent responsibility. They must understand the idea. It is not a matter of one's politics. It is a matter of one's honor.

As nothing can more quickly undo the fabric of the United States than citizens who are ignorant of its principles, the same ignorance could quickly render the Marine Corps useless as the Nation's defender. This assertion might have been questionable when war was nation state against nation state. But once it becomes fourth generation war, or war against our culture ,i.e., our ideas, it becomes an axiom. Suddenly, understanding the ideas that are being attacked equates to seeing the objective clearly.

Politics can infect the military on Constitutional issues and must be guarded against. Modern vernacular might call it a "fine line" between insistence on advocating the Constitution and insistence on a given political view. But it is not a fine line. It is a clear, wide, and obvious line except to those (many, unfortunately) who have taken the oath in blissful ignorance of what the Constitution says.

One may interpret the Constitution liberally or conservatively, and persons in uniform have every right to choose their political view. The only restriction is on prejudice toward an individual because of his views, especially if he is your subordinate.

Knowing the Constitution as I am suggesting that Marines must does not imply adhering to any particular political view. It does not require a law degree or even a semester course. It simply means reading it with understanding and remembering at least as much about its background as was taught in high school social studies.

Marines may never face a situation where they have to deal with fourth generation war in our own borders. But the prospect cannot be ruled out. It is time to take the lead in understanding what the Constitutional issues are. Americans need to know that Marines understand these issues.

What then is fundamental to our Constitutional concept,
so fundamental that every Marine must understand it?

First, that the laws of the land govern human conduct. We have a new concept grown up since the 1960s called "civil disobedience." It is all right to believe in it, but it is against the law to practice it. Offenders must expect to be prosecuted. It is an issue Marines need to grasp.

Notwithstanding, Marines also need to know that our Constitution is not about power. It is about checks on power and protection from power's abuses. Why? Because we are an independent people who fundamentally resent being told what to do. The Constitution exists to protect the American people. So does the Marine Corps. Marines should understand, therefore, that the quickest way to undermine our Constitution is to abuse power. If government authority oversteps its bounds, Americans lose respect for that authority, as they rightly should. This is interestingly antithetical to the maxim of tyrants, who believe too much freedom leads to chaos. In the case of America, it is restriction on freedom that leads to chaos.

In a fourth generation situation Marines would need to know that people have a right to assemble and assert themselves against abuses of power. Denying that right to Americans makes them demand it more strongly. Strong resistance by civilians raises the issue of gun control. Gun control is a very touchy subject today. But, since arms are crucial to Marines' profession, we cannot evade the issue. It is a constitutional issue that is likely, someday, to involve us.

Understanding the issue is fundamental to Marines' understanding the Constitution. We live in a country where the people enjoy a unique right to bear arms. Marines should know there is a reason for that. Of course there is the history of Indian wars followed by the threat of armed redcoats. Those threats have disappeared. However, the fourth generation threat includes armed criminals in numbers Americans have not had to reckon with before. Marines, like all Americans, are free to favor some kind of gun control or eschew it altogether up until laws are passed. What is crucially important, however, is that they understand there are serious constitutional ramifications. Taking the right away from Americans, or enforcing such a restriction, could quickly make us the enemy of constitutional freedom. It is this sort of understanding that separates citizens from "all the rest."

Marines also need to know that ours is not a pure democracy, that it is democracy by due process, governed not directly by the people in some sort of mob rule but on the contrary by elected representatives. Pure democracy has never been part of the American system. It is not constitutional. Knowing the difference requires the exercise of judgment.

Judgment has always been a requirement of free people. This should come easily to Marines because judgment was part and parcel of the concept of third generation war that we named maneuver warfare, a concept in which Marines led the way. Exercise of judgment in reading the Constitution enables one to see beyond the many self serving or interest group serving misinterpretations of the Constitution's guarantees.

For instance, there is no such thing as a favored group under the Constitution. That is, there is only one kind of American: citizens. There is no uniqueness, privilege, or right that goes along with being an Irish American, Hispanic American, Afro American, "Native" American, Female American, Poor American, Homosexual American, Pedophiliac American, or anything else. One may talk about such groupments all one likes because we are guaranteed freedom of speech. There is no such thing as political correctness for Americans under the Constitution. Political correctness is a foreign concept in the sense that it is foreign to our guarantee of equality and free speech. As to the legality of rights for specific ethnic groups, be they minorities, majorities, or pluralities, there is no legality. Under the Constitution, they do not exist. Any federal Judge who thinks they do should have his judgment questioned. We must obey court orders, but we have a right to question them.

It takes no great intellect to read the first amendment and understand that prayer and practice of religion are legal. It takes only the most modest application of judgment to realize that practice of religion that violates other laws, laws against murder, for instance, cannot be tolerated. Nor can practice of religion violate laws against lesser offenses, such as absence from appointed place of duty or disturbing the peace. If we are no longer to exercise judgment and if everything must be spelled out whether it makes sense or not, then we will no longer be free. A brief study of the founding fathers reveals that they presumed this when they wrote the Constitution.

In short, it is important that Marines know what their country is about. It is not possible to be a useful citizen under our concept of government and not have studied the founding fathers much less to be a useful Marine, i.e., a protector of the Republic. Our founding fathers believed that citizen soldiers were the only kind of soldiers who could be trusted with the defense of freedom. The opposite they viewed as mercenaries and threats to the freedom we had won.

These are not all the fundamental issues. But they are representative of our governmental precepts that will apply most crucially to Marines in defining their role in today's society.

If this country is at risk of being undermined by fourth generation enemies, it is because we have too long allowed people to be citizens without requiring them to learn the precepts of our government. If Americans understood the fundamentals presented here about our constitutional concept we would be a stronger country. Certainly we would be more resilient in the face of fourth generation war. If you accept this thesis, it will follow that if Marines understood these fundamentals we would be a stronger, more dependable Corps.

A glance at the present day trials and tribulations of President Yeltsin of Russia gives insight into why the United States stands to be the most enduring of the nation states. Yeltsin gives an order to halt the bombing in Chechnya, and his soldiers have difficulty deciding whether or not to obey. There is a question: Whom or what do they serve? President Yeltsin's most senior officers began their careers as protectors of Communism. Their confusion is understandable.

We know where our allegiance lies. It matters not who the President is. We swore our allegiance to the same Constitution that George Washington did. The reality of fourth generation conflict means it is no longer enough for Marines to "reflect" the society they defend. They must lead it, not politically but culturally. For it is the culture we are defending. In 1989 when I was working on Gen A. M. Gray's professional reading program, I wrote a speech I delivered on several bases that seemed to make the point. I said we were educating ourselves for war. In so doing, we were leading the way to a stronger America. My logic was that in educating ourselves professionally, we were also educating ourselves generally. And educating themselves was what Americans overall needed to be doing. We were leading. Setting the example.

The American concept of government, after all, does not work for everyone. It was designed for a special society, a society that cares a great deal about its future. Surely Marines fit that definition as much or more than anyone.

Col Wyly is a frequent contributor to the Gazette. He served two combat tours in the infantry in Vietnam. He is currently (April 2002) the Executive Director of the Bossov Ballet Theater in Pittsfield, Maine.

Marine Corps Gazette * March 1995

The Constitution of the United States


Fourth Generation Warfare:
What Does It Mean to Every Marine?

by Col Michael D. Wyly, USMC (Ret)