Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 12, No. 9          July 2004

High Summer

The rains were a bit late this year, so they did not dampen our parade, but they have greened up the countryside very nicely. People who live in wet climates can never appreciate how delightful a rainy day can be. The weatherman from Phoenix - where summer noons run about 110 - stays indoors all the time and brags about nice sunny days. These days, of course, help with the tomatoes and the corn, for which we are duly grateful, but in the great Western desert it sometimes seems that a "nice sunny day" is too much of a good thing. But not to complain. Compared to the perils of living on a coast exposed to hurricanes, our weather extremes are thankfully benign, and we are happy about that.

We get a pretty good running comment here at Gunsite concerning the shooting in the sandbox, though the men on the spot sometimes contradict one another. Our sources are mainly Marine Corps, and thus may be not representative of the entire effort, but I think it is safe to say that the shooting in this current phase of operations is primarily short-range and in dim light. The boys seem to enjoy the scenario, to the extent that one can do so in that climate. I once did a stint in the Persian Gulf in the month of August, and my journal indicates that there are more pleasant places to spend one's time. One gratifying element about fighting in Mesopotamia is that messing up that landscape is no esthetic or cultural disaster.

Various family members and Gunsite graduates are afoot in Africa at this time. The political scene degenerates as expected, but life in the bush is apparently as delightful as ever. Some rather unusual actions are anticipated, though we will reserve reporting about them until our full accounts are in. We anticipate narrative involving buffalo, lion, and elephant, in addition to the splendid antelopes.

At the Sconce we see a weekly periodical which keeps us abreast of developments in Britain. In it we discover many interesting things. For example, it turns out that young Britons are much put out by being yelled at during their training exercises. So they quit. Can you imagine how unpleasant it must be for these street bums to be yelled at? We listen only briefly to what currently passes for pop music, but when we do we conclude that the roars of an enraged drill sergeant sound better to the ear. If these limp-wristed grass eaters object to the rigors of the military regimen, it is good to know that they will not be required to face up to the realities of life in any military campaign.

We have yet another case involving boondocking unarmed in the wrong place - not from a Gunsite graduate I am happy to say. There is so much wonderful storytelling available about the African hunt that one cannot expect to read all of it, but I wish anyone contemplating the African hunt would read at least one good account of the scene before he attempts it for himself. I can recommend at least 20 excellent selections to be read before hoisting the flag. If the prospective adventurer reads just one of Peter Capstick's efforts, he may come to understand that the African bush is a lively place and not to be entered by the unenlightened.

People continue to ask us about which one of the various major-caliber handguns is the best. And we keep responding that we cannot say for sure. Quality control varies from season to season and from design to design, and one must be careful about jumping to conclusions. A correspondent just this week wrote in to complain about the whole breed of 1911 clones. It seems that he has had some bad luck and feels that I should warn the public about the flagrant defects of the "US pistol, caliber 45, model of 1911." I am sorry about this man's distress, but I decline to abandon ship because his vessel ran aground. I thought that this discussion had gone dry many years ago, but there are plenty of people who have come into the act rather late. My own experience with the "Yankee Fist" is extensive, and I do not wish to launch into further debate. No device nor instrument is perfect, but our 1911 comes close. I enjoy indulging in this discussion case by case, but there is neither room nor time to cover the whole subject in one session. Let us say that the 1911 service pistol suffices for its task about 96 percent of the time. That is more than I can say about a machete.

As we approach election time it is difficult to maintain our composure. We do not present this paper for a political audience, but as it happens we cannot avoid it. We do not wish to preach to the choir at this point, but we submit the following:
"Voting is a civic sacrament which should not be exercised carelessly."

Bill Buckley
That is putting it as softly as possible, but that does not blunt the point.

What did we do with that Arab who signed up for the US military and then proceeded to murder his comrades-in-arms in Iraq? There seems to be no question about whether he did it or not, but I have yet to learn what we did with him. Volunteering to fight for the cause of your choice, and then murdering the comrade who fights alongside you, is a sickening act of depravity. Perhaps this case may not be discussed publicly, but if it is true that this man pitched a hand grenade into his tent and killed at least one of his sleeping comrades, there seems to be nothing to discuss. There are various ways of disposing of a sociopath, but in this case whatever action is taken should be both quick and exemplary. In situations like this it might be nice to have a king in charge.

Photo coverage from the sand box shows that the Marine Corps has adopted Rule 3 - at least whenever a camera is pointed.

This paper is intended for Gunsite graduates, all of whom know about the four rules of safe gunhandling. If you do not know what Rule 3 is, ask the man on your right or the man on your left. The matter should be spread around.

We shooters have got to win this fight against the extension of the Clinton gun ban, which is due to "sunset" on September 13th. When Congress goes back into session after Labor Day there will be a frantic effort on the part of the anti-gunners to pass S.2498 and H.R.3831, legislation which would reenact and expand the 1994 so-called "assault weapons" ban. So get after your representative and your senators at once. Log on to NRA-ILA's website for up-to-date information.

Perhaps you caught that online decapitation of an ambusher by a 5-shot burst of 308. It turns out that I was wrong about that. The caliber involved was the 223. It seems to do the job at short range where that sort of action takes place.

Considering the principles of personal defense, we have long since come up with the Color Code. This has met with surprising success in debriefings throughout the world. The Color Code, as we preach it, runs white, yellow, orange, and red, and is a means of setting one's mind into the proper condition when exercising lethal violence, and is not as easy as I had thought at first. There is a problem in that some students insist upon confusing the appropriate color with the amount of danger evident in the situation. As I have long taught, you are not in any color state because of the specific amount of danger you may be in, but rather in a mental state which enables you to take a difficult psychological step.

Now, however, the government has gone into this and is handing out color codes nationwide based upon the apparent nature of a peril. It has always been difficult to teach the Gunsite Color Code, and now it is more so. We cannot say that the government's ideas about colors are wrong, but that they are different from what we have long taught here.

The problem is this: your combat mind-set is not dictated by the amount of danger to which you are exposed at the time. Your combat mind-set is properly dictated by the state of mind you think appropriate to the situation. You may be in deadly danger at all times, regardless of what the Defense Department tells you. The color code which influences you does depend upon the willingness you have to jump a psychological barrier against taking irrevocable action. That decision is less hard to make since the jihadis have already made it.

I am not a collector, but I would like to latch onto a good example of the "Broomhandle" Mauser. If you have one on the shelf in your closet, maybe we can trade.

In noting the difficulty experienced by Joe Foss with his 50-caliber machineguns, we reflect that this is due to the fact that its recoil action has to have sufficient energy to haul that heavy belt up into battery, and this can be affected by side loading when the firing airplane is traveling in manoeuver. Joe told us that he employed a lot of deflection shooting at Guadalcanal, possibly because the tail stinger of the Japanese "Betty" made a dead astern approach dangerous, and Joe's record speaks for itself. He may have done a lot of shooting when his airplane was generating heavy side loads.

The pursuit of excellence has long been our guiding principle, both professionally and personally. Since happiness is the byproduct of accomplishment, the search for excellence in both major and minor things is the key to happiness.

And this presents a social problem. If you do things well in the classroom, on the playing field or on the battlefield, you will be doing things better than some of those around you. This tends to frost the majority. You know this and the majority knows this. This makes you unpopular - "stuck up" is the term we used to use in school. This may or may not make you an "elitist," depending upon whether you flaunt it or attempt to discredit it. Modesty is a pleasant social attribute, but when overdone it can be rather silly. When a soldier is awarded his medal of honor or when a prima donna minimizes her extra bow, it is fatuous for him or her to pretend that what was accomplished was trivial. Excellence is not trivial. Excellence may be "elitist," as the Countess suggests. It may not be achieved by everyone, but it may be striven for by everyone, successfully or otherwise. In teaching so-called "Senior Problems" in high school, I used to present Kipling's great poetic exhortation "If." I remember a student approaching me after class one day complaining that the standards set forth in the verse were just too high for reasonable aspiration. My response was that while in truth the standards set forth might be unachievable, they were not unapproachable. All of us may not meet that standard, but every one of us can try to meet that standard, and ought to do so.

It is amusing to read the distaste with which many of our European correspondents speak of "the Wild West." An interesting study some years ago was conducted concerning the frequency and nature of homicide during the American westward movement. It turns out that if you stayed away from barroom brawls after dark on pay day you were quite a bit safer on the streets of Dodge City or Tombstone than you are today on the streets of London or Moscow. It is Heinlein's dictum that an armed society is a polite society. It also tends to be a safe society.

There has been much talk recently about the military records of candidates for office, as shown by such awards and decorations as have been handed out. This is a more complex subject than most people would believe. In Command and Staff School at Quantico a whole block of instruction was devoted to this as part of the G One (Personnel) curriculum.

The first point here is to decide just what the purpose of the military medal should be. The purpose of the exercise should be the winning of the war, but not all medals are awarded with this in mind. In a major war everybody is called upon to do his best, but we wear those feathers in our bonnets only around the council fire between actions.

Heroism is totally subjective, and any attempt to graduate it is going to fall short of any sort of careful analysis. But we try to do this, and everyone involved realizes that some decorations rate higher than others. Up until modern times battle decorations were the prerogative of the commander on the spot, and it was not until the middle of the 19th century that such matters were handed to a committee. Military decorations are national in character and their importance varies with the circumstances involved. It is possible to say that a nation's highest award will be the approximate equivalent of that of another nation, but as they go down the scale the system varies, as does national significance. For example, United States decorations lay importance upon the suffering involved by the protagonist, whereas German awards were based more on the amount of damage done to the enemy. Though being wounded in action does not win battles, wreaking havoc upon enemy forces usually does. Thus a nation's highest award is often posthumous, though not necessarily so as is often believed.

Be that as it may, intrinsic valor is only seldom the essence of the award-winning act. Heroism is always admirable, but you cannot accurately analyze it by the type and amount of the "fruit salad" currently worn on military uniforms. Wade McClusky, for example, can be said to have turned the tide in the Pacific by his personal act at the Battle of Midway. He was not awarded the Medal of Honor for that, but rather the Navy Cross. He was not hurt in the action and did not receive the highest award, whereas scores of other men won the Medal of Honor for throwing themselves sacrificially upon a hand grenade.

In the matter of the Purple Heart this decoration should not properly be a medal, but rather a wound stripe. We remember the cartoon of Bill Malden in World War II in which the soldier at the aid station declaims, "Just give me a couple of band aids Doc, I've already got a Purple Heart."

Essentially, awards and decorations exist in order to make people feel good, rather than to graduate their military worth. It is hard to get individuals to give you much of an account of the action for which they were decorated. I have talked this matter over with many heavily decorated personal friends, and they are unanimous on the subject. "I just did what seemed to me a good idea at the time, but for this one over here I really sweated," is the almost universal attitude.

It seems evident that the basis for civil safety is homogeneity. A culture which is socially uniform is pretty well devoid of informal violence. A melting pot may be a pretty rough place at its inception, but as it becomes a puree, things simmer down. A city inhabited by people of the same outlook, background, marriage, or apparent wealth is a safe city. The sooner that melting pot becomes a puree, the sooner it will dispense with civic strife.

It seems to us that far too much attention is paid by the media to getting home. The object of war is not to get home, or we would not have gone to war in the first place. The object of war is victory, and the sooner you win the sooner you get home. In my various wars I certainly treasured the prospect of seeing home again, but I and those with me felt that the way home was made through the enemy's destruction. I was told by my first commanding officer (who was a very great Marine indeed), that the greatest thrill known to man is the sight of the back of a fleeing enemy. To repeat: Getting home is not the object of the exercise. Destroying the enemy is.

Please remember that your declamations at the Reunion need not be Shakespearean in polish. We expect to have sufficient expertise available in Clint Ancker and Amy Heath, among others.

We note how little attention is paid at this time to the shooting sling. I have used it extensively since my youth with complete satisfaction. But I notice that it is not advertised, recommended, nor even mentioned in current reading material. We do see an increasing number of people in Africa and elsewhere falling back on shooting sticks, which are essentially a nuisance and must be carried around by a henchman. The old-fashioned military sling does very well, since it is designed to accommodate people of varying builds and clothing, but essentially it is rather bulky and complex. Both the CW sling and the Ching Sling are an improvement over the military design since they can be adjusted once for a given shooter. And now we hear back from Iraq that the Giles Assault Sling, designed by family member Giles Stock, is improving our combat situation. The loop sling is of no use if there is no support for the left elbow, so it is of no help when shooting from off-hand. It is a rule that you should never shoot from off-hand if a more stable position can be achieved, but that does not cover all cases. In thick brush or close cover you do not need a sling, but if the country opens out it will improve your hitting capacity very noticeably.

Apparently "tactical" and "digital" are the way to the consumer's heart. If you wish to sell your motor oil or breakfast food just called it tactical or digital, and you cannot fail in the marketplace.

The signature of John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence has always been pointed out as a example of exemplary boldness. He insisted that he wanted to make sure that the King would make no mistake about whom to hang first. This picture fits his character, as we learn that when he gave a grand party in Boston for "the important people," he supplied a cask of Madeira outside for "the common folk." Evidently the leaders of the American rebellion were not necessarily proletarian.

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