Saturday, January 14, 2012
500 Words or Less
Our doctrine is a collection of a relatively small set of universal truths about war. Our doctrine is not a list of useful solutions to particular problems. However, we as Marines often use the term “doctrine” to refer to more than these universal truths, these timeless principles we enshrine in our Marine Corps Doctrine publications. When a Marine uses the term ‘doctrine’ he often does so in reference to techniques and procedures, things that are not ‘doctrine.’ In the case of discussing techniques and procedures a Marine would be better served in using the term ‘convention.’
Instead of referring to our fire support control measures as matters of doctrine, we should identify them as conventions. The same goes for support relationships, specific tactical terms, reporting procedures, etc. All of these are relatively arbitrary and matters of convention, they describe our particular answers to specific problems we’ve encountered in war. They are conventions we use, and should be referred to as such since there is little timeless about them.
So what’s the big deal? The word “doctrine” carries psychological force that Marines use to gain the silence of any subordinate or peer who tries to think or act unconventionally. This will result in killing fruitful developments. After all, how can you argue with, “I understand, but doctrine is doctrine, and we must adhere to doctrine. You want it changed? Contact MCCDC”?
On the other hand the term “convention” bears much less pressure on the psyche. It is also a more accurate description of the tactics, techniques and procedures found in our Marine Corps Warfighting Publications. Calling a practice of ours “convention,” makes it easier to avoid hang-ups about violating it, or modifying it when the situation demands such circumvention. While doctrine carries the force of a centralized approving authority, convention gives you a sense that it’s a mere practice developed from past experience, one that might need changing as technology develops and we face new threats.
If what I have said here is off-base or misguided, I point you to MCDP-1 which states clearly that doctrine “does not consist of procedures to be applied in specific situations so much as it sets forth general guidance that requires judgment in application. Therefore, while authoritative, doctrine is not prescriptive.” It is descriptive, and doctrine is doctrine.