Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 12, No. 2          February 2004

The Chill Factor

Our cold weather is right on time this year, and we enjoy it appropriately. A change of seasons is always welcome, and people who live in the tropics - or subtropics - miss out on a very good thing. Naturally winter can go too far, and does so in many places - hence Arizona's snowbirds. Since we cannot do very much about the weather, however, we are fortunate that we can enjoy what is provided.

We do not see much noteworthy innovation in personal arms at this time, but the military is experimenting with a middle-powered cartridge to replace that of the mouse gun. A caliber of 6.8mm is under discussion, though why that may be preferable to the old reliable 7 is not clear. We have unlimited reference material available on the 7mm bore size, and going to 6.8 would seem an unnecessary complication. In my youth I was told that a 7mm bullet could not properly dispose of enough mass to contain the various sorts of special core requirements such as armor-piercing, tracer and incendiary components. A short-case 7mm - say 7x40 - might be a good point of departure, but that may be too simple an idea for the computer age. As I understand it, the Garand rifle was originally designed for the 7x57 cartridge, but changed over to the 30 caliber cartridge, resulting in the 30 M2, which delivered the ballistics of what became the 308. Anyway here we are again, but we surely spent a long time messing about with that dismal 223 round.

It is clear at the moment from this political hoopla that we who believe in the Bill of Rights are in for another full-house battle in the forthcoming presidential election. It is sad to see how we who treasure liberty must struggle to preserve our domestic position while fighting off the international left with our other hand. Certainly it is a fight worth fighting, and may God defend the right!

The Chinese communists seem determined to join the human race. They are doing disquietingly well at it in various fields of endeavor, from the production of replica smallarms to space probing. Shooting Master Marc Heim passed through China on his way back to Europe and tells us of a bullet train now operating as airport shuttle at Peking. This device is pretty unbelievable, operating at speeds above those normally encountered at Indianapolis. This device goes so fast that it is either accelerating or decelerating in the accomplishment of its transit. How passengers contrive to keep their teeth in place is uncertain.

And the Chinese are scheduled to hold a Formula 1 race this summer. Motor racing hardly seems fitting behavior for a Marxist, but Marxism seems to have become almost thoroughly abandoned, except in United States academia.

As we honor the forthcoming birthday of the father of our country we may well do to ponder upon his magisterial dictum: "Government, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." One of my degrees is in "political science," the other is in history. Certainly they bear this out.

Injury reports which drift back from Mesopotamia, serve to corroborate most of our well established combat theories. Much of the action in Iraq takes place at spitting distance in the dark, and there the purpose of the heavy-duty combat pistol, properly understood, is reestablished day by day - or more properly night by night.

The enemy's weapon of choice is the rocket propelled grenade (RPG). When I was doing spook work in Southeast Asia during the Korean War I was able to acquire a pretty good supply of 2.36 inch bazookas, which were being replaced worldwide by the 3½ inch version of the same weapon. I put these pieces to work as what might be called "squad-level artillery" and they worked pretty well. As time went on I acquired a supply of 3.5s, which worked better. I put in for a general-purpose warhead for the 3.5 without success, since the bazooka was conceived as an anti-tank weapon and we had no enemy tanks to contend with. The RPG and the bazooka are not the same, of course, but one may be considered to be a logical development of the other. Now our enemies in the Holy War seem to have an unlimited supply of these low-brow weapons, which they put to marginal use in the hands of troops who have no skills in weaponcraft. The RPG is essentially a weapon for nogoodnicks, but that is the kind of war we seem to be fighting. A war against the irregular is particularly unpleasant, as the French found out in the Peninsular Wars. The enemy is almost impossible to identify, and iron handed reprisal only renders the foreign-speaking occupier more obnoxious.

The politics of the Holy War must be left to the politicians, but the techniques thereof are matters for the professional soldier. It is a bad scene, but we did not start it. They showed their hand at 9-11 and they can hardly complain about the whirlwind they stand to reap.

Do any of you marksmen think it possible for a man to place 20 shots in a 20-inch circle in 20 seconds at a 1,000 yards? I posed this question to the range masters down at Camp Pendleton many years ago and was told that such a thing was not possible. During much of my life a four-minute mile was deemed to be impossible, to say nothing of motoring around on the surface of the moon. Obviously this rifle challenge is very, very hard. I have tried it twice myself and conclude that while the task is not impossible, it is nearly so. Therefore, I am undertaking the proposal of a perpetual prize in the form of a grand gold cup or bowl to be awarded to anyone who can bring off this stunt - properly supervised, of course. Administration of the effort will be complicated, but that we can handle. I hope to avoid commercialization, but where there is a will there is a way - and money in sufficient quantities can provide the will.

I am frequently confronted with requests on information about the preparation of a pseudo-scout rifle, based on the notion that such a piece may be put together for less money than a Steyr Scout. The notion is mistaken. By the time you have assembled something resembling a scout from miscellaneous available parts, you will have spent more money than you would on a retail SS, and the result, while possibly very good, will not include all the necessary component features of the finished Scout rifle. I hope it is clear that cost ought not to be a primary consideration in the choice of a personal rifle, which is too important an instrument on which to economize. Certainly we all have to consider price, but I think we should stint on clothing, vacation time, replacement cars, and steak dinners before we do so on that rifle. You only need the one, and you are best advised to get it right the first time, even if you have to wait and get by for the time being on what you currently have in the rack.

Our recent presentation to a Boy Scout court of honor has reverberated to a greater extent than I would have anticipated. Various people, from various parts of the country, have asked me to provide them with a transcript of what I said. I could not do that because I had no such transcript, but the subject matter appears to have been surprising. The Boy Scouts are a nifty organization and deserve to be encouraged in every way, but they have certainly departed in concept from what they were set out to be. Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder, was a brilliant outdoorsman, a distinguished cavalry officer, and reportedly the finest pig sticker in India. To kill a sprinting wild boar with one lance thrust from the back of a galloping horse is a notable achievement. For quite a while Sir Robert had the high score of consecutive one-thrust kills throughout the Empire. But above all this man was a warrior, whose business it was to face the foe with both valor and good cheer. He was the definitive scout, and those young men of today who aspire to that title should realize that they are fighters first and social workers afterward. At the moment heroism is unfashionable, except perhaps in the notion of hero-as-victim. The press calls people heros because they got hurt, rather than because they accomplished anything. Hurting is no sort of achievement. You suffer primarily because you were at the wrong place at the wrong time. People often get hurt in the course of combat service, but it is certainly not the object of the exercise, so the scout achieves heroic status by means of what he has done, not because of how hard he was hit upon. The primary American scout was Major Frederick Russell Burnham, DSO, Chief of Scouts under Lord Roberts. Any young man who aspires to the title of Scout should first read Burnham's "Scouting on Two Continents" in order to discover what the job entails.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) continues to make itself ridiculous in public. Recently one Lucius Traveler, who claims to speak for the organization, was totally upset at a recent ceremony honoring the birthday of the Marine Corps in which all hands were portrayed at prayer. "These are federal employees on federal property and on federal time. For them to pray is clearly an establishment of religion and we must nip this in the bud immediately."

That's what he said, hard as it may be to believe. A Marine may technically be a "federal employee," but you may have to explain that to him with care. To claim that group worship by a military organization is "establishment of religion" displays a degree of semantic confusion which is quite beyond me, and to call for us to "nip this in the bud" suggests that the practice is somehow innovative, which point would be hard to explain to George Washington.

But the ACLU stumbles on. One can hope that it will never be taken seriously.

After careful thought, the Countess has decided that the pursuit of excellence is elitist. The post-moderns hold that elitism is a mortal sin. Such folk must lead complicated lives. The fact is that some people are better than other people, on any point worth discussing, from shining shoes to making money. Equality is not only impossible, but also undesirable. We may suppose that it exists among jellyfish, but I am not even sure of that.

It is gratifying to note the extent to which our instructional program here at Gunsite has benefitted the law enforcement people. One graduate recently reported back to the effect that three "suspects" are now alive, rather than dead on the scene, because of the confidences he acquired here at school. This is a rather unusual study, in which it was not the police officer whose life was saved, but that of the presumed criminal. Whether this is good or not is hard to say, but it is certainly interesting.

"If I were king" I would give serious thought to the institution of exemplary punishment. This goblin who murdered the little girl in Florida should be disposed of publically in some horrifying manner. This would not bring back the child, but it just might give pause to certain kinds of social degenerates.

As for capital punishment, it has not been announced what we have done or will do to that Arab soldier who joined the American Army and then took it upon himself to murder his comrades in arms. Is it possible for a devout Moslem to take oath to serve in a non-Moslem army? As I understand it, his first duty must be to Allah, as revealed in some version of the Koran, but not to the United States.

I am pleased with the way "The Art of the Rifle" has turned out. I repeat that it may not be the best work of its kind, but rather the only work of its kind. It is now required reading for special weapons teams in various public agencies.

It is generally accepted that to do anything well one must enjoy doing it. This is true in almost every endeavor, including fighting. We hear far too much whining about the hardships of military service, which are certainly hard enough, but not about the exhilaration involved in fighting itself. War is hell, as the man said, and the sufferings involved - exhaustion, exposure, pain, and so forth - are hard to bear, but when contact is made there is a normal, universal surge of joy involved in the actual fight. I do not speak only from my own experience here, which is that of one man, but rather from the study of a great many men of various services and nationalities, and I am quite sure of my ground. In the piston-and-propellor days the air war was deadly - but glorious. I have spoken intimately with at least a dozen fighter pilots, each of whom related that pressing his trigger and watching his tracers was a total joy.

This exhilaration decreases as rank grows. Beyond battalion command the sense of contact attenuates, and while a general may take satisfaction from control of a large scale operation, he is no longer able to experience the visceral joy of the company or platoon commander.

Riding around at night in a thin-skinned vehicle while characters plink at you with RPGs is not combat in the sense mentioned here, but shooting back and hitting when the enemy has commenced shooting at you is not a feeling you can duplicate on the playing field or in the stock market. These are unfashionable views, but that does not make them invalid. Too many people are inclined to say only what they think they should say, rather than the truth. It is unfashionable to say that you enjoy fighting, even if you do, but the facts are there for those who will study them carefully.

We recently read an account of a trip across rural America by a British newsman. It is always interesting to see ourselves as others see us, and this fellow certainly treated us to a Brit's eye view. He was horrified, of course, at the idea that most American households include at least one personal firearm. (He couldn't discern the difference between a rifle and a shotgun.) There were many other things of interest, including his dismay at the brutality of American football, but one particular point stands out. He went all the way up to Ruby Ridge in order to study that disaster. Would you believe it possible to report upon the atrocity at Ruby Ridge without once mentioning the name of Lon Horiuchi? This is rather like writing up the Battle of the OK Corral without mentioning Wyatt Earp. Hard to believe!

The number of tourists who opt to go hunting in Africa without any preparation at all continues to amaze. From one prominent PH we now learn of a client who explained on his first contact that he did not know how to shoot without a rest. Where do such people come from! Clearly this fellow had never read anything about the African experience. Perhaps reading has become so unfamiliar that it does not occur to a good many people to read into an activity before undertaking it. I remember distinctly that my father made it clear to me that one cannot appreciate an experience without understanding it beforehand. I always thought this was totally obvious, but times do change. Still it is sad to see people who are fortunate enough to undertake the great hunt, but totally unqualified to do so. The African hunt should be reserved for those who are capable of appreciating it, but that is pretty hard to arrange.

It appears that life insurance is an unpromising enterprise in Bantu Africa. When a friend of ours suggested to his employee that he might take out a policy to provide for his dependents upon his demise, the man pointed out that as soon as such an act had become known he would be poisoned at his next meal. This is called cultural diversification.

Generally speaking, white critics of the African scene have usually opined that the greatest evil imported into aboriginal Africa was the missionary, who taught the people that they should be discontented with what had always sufficed before. Recently a Swazi of consequence declared that the great evil the white man brought to Africa was money. He said that assets must be tangible. Unless you can see it or measure it or eat it, it does not really count, and pretending that it does brings nothing but disaster. I had never thought of that before, but this man understands the problem better than I do, and I must respect his opinion.

The situation continues to deteriorate in Mugabestan, to nobody's surprise. Something up there has got to give, and the sooner the better. Mugabe is considerably more obnoxious than Saddam Hussain, but with the support of both Mbeki and Kofi Anan it may be that only death will dislodge him.

We expect to explore a considerable list of innovative products at the forthcoming SHOT Show. Whether we need such things remains to be seen. Sometimes what is new is better, and sometimes it isn't. I have been using personal firearms with great satisfaction for a very long time, and I must say that I have always felt very well equipped, even as a boy. It is not difficult to advise a newcomer about what sort of personal gun he should buy, but real improvements in smallarms are not strikingly apparent. Note how the press is so fond of speaking of a "9 mm semi-automatic pistol," as if it were something new, sinister and remarkable. The Luger, which fills exactly that description, was made government standard in the year 1908. You do not see many of them around today, but if you happen upon one, do not pass it up. It is not the best service pistol available, but it is certainly a good one. In rifles we now have available the Blaser 93, the "Co-pilot" and the Steyr Scout - three very superior artifacts. If you do not have one, however, you will probably make out reasonably well with Uncle Henry's Old Faithful - as long as you do do your part.

We hear (via Mike Ritter newspapers) that the US military is running out of smallarms ammunition. We have always insisted that a man cannot have too much ammunition, and now we see that this idea was fully justified. Do not discard your brass, and make every effort to keep ahead of the game.

Lizzie Borden took an ax,
And gave her mother forty wacks.

When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.


Now a problem does arise,
Whom to blame for this demise.

We must not point to Lizzie for,
The cash is what we must explore.

The seller of the ax might do,
But better still the maker, too.

Whatever target we may state,
Attorneys on both sides inflate.

No matter how inane we seem,
Above all else the gold will gleam.

Let judges sift the right from wrong,
Lizzie's ax won't matter long.

The first proof of "C Stories" is now back with the printer and should be set up before the snow melts. Sometimes I thought I would never see the day. It looks good to me, but then I am hardly the one to pass judgment upon it. The task now is to see about its distribution. Readers can hardly be expected to buy a book unless they know that it exists. We must pass the word as best we may.

Please Note. These "Commentaries" are for personal use only. Not for publication.