Book Review: Mars Learning: The Marine Corps’ Development of Small Wars Doctrine, 1915-1940


by Keith B. Bickel

Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 2001. Pp. xiv, 274. Maps, tables, diagr., notes, biblio., index. $29.00 paper. ISBN:0-8133-9775-8

Drawing upon extensive research, the author examines in considerable detail the evolution of Marine Corps “small wars” doctrine gained during the “Banana Republics” in the Caribbean which led to the publication of the famous Small Wars Manual, in 1940, not to mention providing a lot of Marines who would later fight in the Pacific, such as Alexander Vandegrift and Chesty Puller, with some invaluable command experience.

Bickel begins with a discussion of his methodology, then goes on to explore the experience of the Philippine Insurrection and Moro Wars (1899-1915) and the Cuban Pacification Campaign (1906-1909), largely Army operations before going on to examine the institutional structures of the Marine Corps in the period, including educational establishment. Only then does he begin to examine in great detail the experience of the several Marine interventions in the Caribbean – Santo Domingo, Nicaragua, Haiti – from 1915 through 1934, often comparing and contrasting tactics and policies used in the different situations. This approach provides a good foundation for some interesting conclusions as to how the lessons of the small wars were incorporated in the final 1940 manual.

Unfortunately, the experience contained in Small Wars Manual, were totally ignored in Vietnam, a largely Army show, despite the fact that many Marines attempted to bring it to the attention of MAC-V. The author concludes with a look at “Implications for Today.”

A worthwhile book for anyone interested in the history of the Marine Corps, and perhaps those still pondering the Vietnam disasterrc=http://www.banner82.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, CNA   

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