Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 11, No. 2          3 February 2003


We returned from the winter meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association morally and emotionally reenforced. Liberty-loving Americans just squeaked by in the last election, and our victory was attributed by our adversaries to the activities of the NRA. The United States of America now constitutes the only free nation on earth, and it does so because of the US Constitution, and that is because of the Bill of Rights to that Constitution, which has meaning because of the Second Amendment thereto. Thus the National Rifle Association, of which you are a member, is the worldwide bastion of human liberty. Think that over and congratulate yourself!

The Brits have succeeded in disarming themselves, resulting in the predictable explosion of street crime. In Britain today, a citizen who fights back to protect himself from assault by a goblin is in serious trouble, but the goblin is not. It is hard to believe, but the socialist solution to this situation is to increase the severity of the penalties for self-defense. It is proposed that what used to get you five years in the slammer should now get you ten. So much for the "land of hope and glory, mother of the free."

We are now off to the SHOT Show, at which we may discover new items suitable for the personal delectation of a free people. I am hard pressed to predict anything new along this line, since we all have our guns already and they do just fine. However I hope to be surprised.

I wonder if anyone can remember that an essential feature of fairgrounds and amusement parks in pre-war America was a shooting gallery. That was a place where young men could show off to their dates by popping metal reactive targets, stationary and in motion, with a 22 rifle, and thereby to win toy animals. I would not be surprised to learn that there are people today who simply cannot believe that such a thing ever existed, but we were better people then, in various ways. Much has happened to us since then.

Inspired as we were by the ceremonies connected with the passing of Joe Foss, our mighty American hero, we had occasion to browse once again over his autobiography. In classic fashion, his adolescent rite of passage was the acquisition of his own personal 22, and to be able to pack it afield unsupervised. He did not pass the test. One of those ceramic power-line insulators proved too much of a temptation, and he splattered it. As a penalty, he was grounded for one year. That brand new 22, after cleaning and greasing, was to sit in Daddy's closet for 365 days. The concept of personal responsibility was driven permanently home. Can you remember how long a year was when you were fourteen? This punishment was vastly more severe than any sort of flogging, and its element in character formation cannot be overemphasized. Every aspect of this tale illustrates the essence of the American rural tradition. Joe Foss made the point with forceful clarity in his own words.

Several people have written to me, in my capacity as a director of the National Rifle Association, to complain about the fact that the Board of Directors did not vote to name the new headquarters building in Virginia after Harlon Carter. This was misconstrued by some as disrespect for the great man, but it was nowise the case. As it happens, the Board of Directors is not empowered by its Articles of Incorporation to take this action, which must be done by a vote of the membership at large. This point should have been clarified in the minutes, but those who complain should take the trouble to inform themselves on matters about which they complain.

Plans are afoot for the founding of a museum and library to include the collections of Jeff Cooper and John Gannaway - plus others. An operation of this sort calls for a foundation and a curator, as well as an appropriate architectural structure. If you have any ideas, send them in.

We note that some East Coast English professor is promoting the notion that all hunting of any kind should be forbidden, not because it endangers wildlife, but because it is immoral. Naturally we do not agree with his position on morality - he is entitled to his opinion on that - but we feel our morality is not his business, as long as the practice to which he objects does not injure him. (This matter is well covered in "The Federalist Papers," as well as in de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America." But this again is a professor of English, rather than of History or Philosophy. From a different viewpoint, I might point out that I hold the practice of sodomy to be ridiculous, repulsive and blasphemous, but I do not feel that I have any right to rule against it.)

The whole problem of public morality in a free society is a deep one, not to be bandied about by political lightweights.

Basic rules of gunhandling should be standardized as common knowledge throughout the world by now, but there are good many people who feel the need to complicate them or modify them in some way. This subject may be cleaned up if we can get the NRA "front office" to act upon it. Inertia interferes, however. We are working on it.

The exploits of Seaman Thomas, in his downed helicopter in Vietnam, have given rise to a mountain of irresponsible tale telling. We have promised to go into this. As of now, we have wound up with only a mass of rumor. We would like to put ultimate faith in this man's Navy Cross citation, but that citation was written by a man who did not give the matter sufficient thought. Be that as it may, we congratulate Seaman Thomas for doing the right thing with his 1911 at the right time.

If you approve of the way President Bush is handling his daunting tasks, write and tell him so. He sees the press, just as you do, and it must be depressing for him to be told only of the enemy viewpoint. If you support him, tell him so. Every little bit helps.

People who write about the "comeback of the 1911" do not seem to be aware that it has never been away. The unsatisfactory nature of the M92 pistol and its ammunition have now become so evident that even the Pentagon has been forced to take note. New requirements are being set forth, and new criteria are being established for a pistol which will be essentially a slightly modified version of the 1911. This development has been due in some measure to Gunsite influence on Marine Corps training programs via Col. Bob Young. Every little bit helps

Barry Miller, our man in Africa, tells us of a recent episode down in the Cape Region in which a girl jogger ran into problems with an ostrich. This bird, as you probably know, is distinctly territorial and can become very touchy if he feels he is being encroached upon. He cannot peck, because his beak is made of leather rather than horn, but he butts with his breast bone and follows up with his well-equipped feet. In this case, the object of his resentment "refused to be a victim" and counterattacked, strangling the bird with her bare hands. As is made clear from her name (Bezuidenhout, of Boer distinction), the young lady was of the old time Afrikaaner persuasion. Those Dutch girls may not have free access to firearms, but perhaps they do not need them.

May we venture to say that it is the man, rather than his nail clippers, that highjacks the airplane. As we have sometimes mentioned, it is the criminal, not his gadgetry, which commits the crime. It may be, of course, that this idea is too complicated for a bureaucrat.

We are given to understand that family member John Milius is thinking of going to work on a hagiography of the late, great Joe Foss. We hope that this is true, since we have been privileged to discuss air combat tactics with Joe Foss at some length and I may be able to expound upon the subject in proper fashion. Everybody knows that Joe Foss destroyed 26 enemy aircraft in the skies over Guadalcanal, but fewer realize that Joe's score tallied a third of the entire kill record of his squadron. Numerical scores are interesting, but they do not tell the whole story. Joe Foss' individual combat skill was remarkable. With luck we may be able to get part of that story on film for all to see.

It seems that the Russians are pigging out the Jihadis in Chechnya. That is to say they are polluting the bodies of dead Moslems with swine blood, denying the deceaseds' place in paradise. Theoretically this may work. Time will tell.

The nature of combat changes with technology. Today's infantry actions are mainly conducted at night, and this serves to emphasize the utility of the handgun. Thus we need a good handgun and men who can use it well, and the Marine Corps seems to be picking up on that. Slightly tidied-up 1911s are being issued to people who are designated for direct action, and these people are being exposed to fairly advanced training. Well, we have developed the answer, and we know how to impart it. All of us who have participated in the practical pistol revolution may take satisfaction in that.

The NRA winter meeting was held at Corpus Christi, Texas, which is an interesting place - pretty far off to one side. Local historians tell us that this was one of the stop-offs of Cabeza de Vaca, who was put off from the Narvaez expedition in Florida and hiked all the way to Mexico City. This is a long hike, and in the early 16th century it was definitely fraught. It is one of the great adventure stories of all time, and should be more widely retold than it is.

We learned at Corpus that while male hunting in the US is somewhat declining, female hunting is on a definite upswing. I guess the decline is simply due to the steady urbanization of our society. The countryside is an unfamiliar venue for most of our young men; but as to the girls, I see this as a manifestation of inverted machismo. ("Anything you can do I can do better.") Which is sort of silly, but nonetheless pervasive.

The best Christmas exhortation we heard about was delivered by a task force commander on ready status in the Near East, as follows: "Peace on earth, to men of good will. All others stand by!"

All this wringing of hands about the prospect of war in Mesopotamia occupies too much of the attention of the media. War is a bad thing, but when it is thrust upon us, our proper course is to pursue it as best we may. On the tube we see pictures of young men shipping out, while their dependents sob rather than cheer. This is poor propaganda. You may get killed in a war, but you may also get killed on the highway, at a convenience store, or by falling into the Grand Canyon. The battle gives a man his only real chance to prove himself to himself. Without the battle experience, he may never discover whether he measures up to the standards of his forefathers.

I know something about this personally, having fought through two major wars from before the beginning until after the end. Never during those experiences was I aware of any feeling of sacrifice. On one occasion my detachment was assigned to a mission which, according to our skipper, was almost certain to get us all killed. I remember that I was dismayed, but not disheartened. As I recall, we felt neither fear nor idealistic patriotism. Nobody talked about either safety or democracy. We felt only a spirited determination to handle a job in such a way as to wreak maximum destruction upon the enemy as long as we could. I have only my own experience to go on, but I do not think that men fight for ideals. They fight in order to crystallize their self-respect by doing a lethal job more expertly than anyone else.

Fear is undignified. We cannot avoid it, but we certainly can conceal it - and avoid discussing it.

There are those who maintain that the English language is "evolving." Perhaps, but I see it rather as degenerating. Any author who thinks he can improve upon the usage of Theodore Roosevelt or Winston Churchill has much to prove. As I see it, the essence of good English is clarity. This does not depend upon vocabulary, but rather upon perceptivity. The versatility of the English language permits a truly artistic flow of thought. If you use it right, you make your meaning absolutely clear. I somtimes run across a piece of prose that is so well put that I wish that I had said that first. The author gets a gold star.

The only way one can achieve full competence in English is by reading good English, and lots of it. In the age of television this becomes increasingly unlikely.

If one is to hold a war, Mesopotamia is an ideal place to hold it. If you wreck the place very little will be lost. I can say this from personal experience, since I spent most of a summer in and around the Persian Gulf. Not only is it a poor place to live, it is not even a good place to visit, apart from the sport fishing, which is excellent. I recall that it is hot - unpleasantly hot. Having done one staff tour in the summer in the Persian Gulf, and another in the winter in the Aleutians, I can say that whichever choice one makes of these two venues, he will shortly come to prefer the other. Mid-winter is the best time for Iraq, as anyone who has ever been there can tell you.

On the matter of going to war, we recall that at the beginning of World War II a bunch of about twenty Shoshones showed up at a recruiting station in Montana with their 30-30s. They had heard that there was a war on and they wanted to get into it as quickly as possible. That may not be the Spirit of `76, but it is indeed the spirit.

We are informed that the retail markup on firearms is 400 percent. An item which costs one hundred dollars to produce will be listed at four hundred dollars over-the-counter. Of course, markup is the life of trade, but one's annoyance may be eased by the knowledge that a good gun is a lifetime purchase. You only have to buy it once. Thus a cheap gun is nearly always a mistake. Much better to save your money and buy a good one the first time.

Note the following paraphrase from John Ruskin:
"There is hardly a product of our culture that someone cannot make a little worse and sell for a little less. The one who puts price above all other considerations is the natural prey of this man."

We are told, to our considerable amazement, that the Jihadi chief who was assassinated in Yemen from the air was electronically identified by way of a facial portrait. If this is true, it means that the picture of a human being may be fed into a machine which may then direct a missile to his destruction. I get this by way of "authentic rumor." Somehow I hope it is not true.

Having been involved with marksmanship all my life, I am made uneasy by the idea that personal marksmanship may no longer be relevant to modern war. Today the rocket propelled grenade bids to replace the rifle, and with an RPG you do not have to hit an enemy, you just have to plant a bomb in his close vicinity. At present these gadgets are too cumbersome to replace the infantry rifle, but miniaturization may eventually alter that. This is very bad news from several directions, but because of this 21st century Age of the Wimp, it may be indeed the wave of the future.

"The only reason that the Scout rifle is considered rare is because the factory doesn't want to sell it. If they did, they might advertise it in gun magazines. (A stunning concept.) I see ads for their standard rifles all the time, which does not spark any interest on my part, but judging from their efforts they seem to be ashamed that the Scout even exists. This is a most puzzling turn of events, as the SS is the holy grail of rifles."

Family Member Randy Umbs

Our family member and combat counselor Pat Rogers is in a position to keep us informed on the subject of infantry combat, as now in operation. He informs us that people in Marine Corps Special Operations should be issued two pistols, one to train with and the other to take to war. So far this policy has not actually been implemented, but highly recommended.

Pat has been running down the matter of the effectiveness of the 223 cartridge in combat, and has unearthed some fascinating tactical examples. He concludes that the poodle shooter is a pretty good stopper, if used at arm's length and with the proper ammunition. All sorts of ammunition is now available for issue to the troops, and some is much better than others. (I gather that people are paying very little attention to the Hague Convention at this time.) Far too much rumor, or perhaps embellishment, is involved in this sort of study, but fortunately Pat Rogers is a careful scholar.

At this time of general consternation, we recall the statement of our late friend and neighbor Colonel Bud Reynolds, USMC: "Sure it's a lousy war, but it's the only war we've got."

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