Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 11, No. 5          15 April 2003

April Showers

Well, we won Round Two, except for a few pockets of resistance in Paris, Manhattan and San Francisco. Now we may accept the enemy's center of command to shift from Baghdad to Damascus, with financial and logistic assistance coming as before from Riyadh. Our primary difficulty continues to be affixing a target. We can no more make war on "terrorism" than we can on jealousy or narrow mindedness, since terrorism is an attitude, rather than a political force. The devout Moslem continues to regard us as infidels worthy of perdition, and this is irrespective of his nationality. It is said that only some Moslems feel that way, but we do not see any public apologies on any part of Islam for atrocities committed in its name. The Two Towers were shot up mainly by Saudis, but the occasion was celebrated by Iraqis. So the Wahabis are still with us, and one wonders where they will open Round Three of the Jihad.

Whatever action those people choose to take, we can take enormous satisfaction from the outstanding performance of our military establishment. The news media made every effort to denigrate our conduct in the field, even to inventing failures which never took place. When some journalists reported that our eastern arm on our approach to Baghdad was running short of supplies, one battalion commander suggested that the only thing he was running short of was opposition. Now there is a statement in the Chesty Puller tradition!

Sometime ago, when it became advisable for us to make war upon the person of an enemy chief-of-state, we attacked the job with one man. Fred Wise, commanding in Haiti, sent in Sergeant Herman Hanneken, USMC, who handled the task neatly with his 1911 pistol. It was neither as pretty nor as expensive as that B1 bomber, but it got the job done - in the hands of the right man.

"In the long run, the greatest weapon of mass destruction is stupidity."

Thomas Sowell

And now Smith & Wesson is offering us its own spruced-up version of the great 45. (Would it be discourteous to refer to this piece as the "Smith & Wesson Colt"?) You may remember the delightful line in the movie Dr. No, "That's a Smith & Wesson, you've had your six" - no longer appropriate.

We discover that sea patrols seeking to inhibit speed boat druggists have found a superior instrument in the 50 caliber BMG rifle, used from a helicopter. This does the job of inducing surrender more neatly and with less fuss than the machinegun. It annoys the gadgeteer to be asked, "What is it for?" Here is a use for the 50 BMG rifle that we had not anticipated.

Somewhat to my amazement, three students showed up in the recent rifle class expecting to use rifles which they had never seen before, but which they had ordered sent to the school, unexamined and unfired. We can hardly expect an accomplished rifleman to show up for training at the school. After all, he came to learn how to use his instruments. Nevertheless, I would have thought that anyone would take some pains to familiarize himself with his equipment before arriving to use it.

Considering the whole subject of trophy hunting, let me advance the Shinano as the world's greatest trophy. In the 1930s, when Japan was setting forth to become Queen of the Seas, the three mightiest warships of all time were designed and laid into production. Originally they were three great battleships, bigger, stronger, faster and more powerful than anything seen before. They were named the Yamato, Musashi and Shinano, and they were intended to be able to overcome any sort of naval task force under consideration by anyone. But times changed and the air war loomed. It became evident that the Queen of the Seas would no longer be a battleship, but rather an aircraft carrier. So they went ahead with the Yamato and Musashi, which, when complete, were pecked to death by American naval aircraft, rather as a cow may be devoured by piranhas. But they changed the Shinano into a carrier and got it ready to take to the sea carrying 150 aircraft. It had been commenced in Tokyo Bay, but it was decided to move it out of those dangerous waters around the southern end of the Japanese Islands into the more secure reaches of the Yellow Sea. But we knew about this and we assigned to a US submarine the mighty vessel as a target, "Archer Fish," and the Archer Fish scored. Apparently the watertight integrity of the Shinano was not completely satisfactory in its unfinished condition, and Archer Fish socked it solidly with sufficient torpedo power to sink the monster.

And Archer Fish, having completed this spectacular achievement, made it safely home, having bagged the greatest trophy of all time.

This tale is one of many related in "Submarine!" by Commander Edward L. Beach, USN.

As with Mark Twain, reports of my death have been slightly exaggerated. Possibly a certain amount of wishful thinking has taken over the rumor mill known as the Internet. This instrument of non-attributable opinion has made it increasingly hard to find anything out. Attempts by our naval attache in Moscow to run down the details of the Kursk explosion were totally befogged by the profusion of Internet gossip surrounding the disaster. I suppose Al Gore is duly proud of his invention.

When a marksman brings off something special, he must always ask himself how much was skill and how much was luck. In my own case I can think of many examples on both sides, but according to Thell Reed's dictum, if you didn't to everything right you couldn't very well have been lucky. In most examples I have seen over the past decades, there has been a mixture of the two elements, but only the shooter himself knows the balance, and sometimes even he does not. I have known several cases where a shooter brought off something spectacular and left the scene actually believing that he had won by means of his own superlative skill. I have known some others in which the shooter modestly attributed his success entirely to luck, when actually it was his manifest skill which made luck possible. It is an interesting subject, and I have plastered my armory with contributory evidence.

It is interesting to hear various political types seeking means to establish what they call democracy in the Middle East. Frankie Lou, our man in Nebraska, defines democracy as "two wolves and a sheep debating about what to have for dinner." In my personal view, the aim of politics is to establish the optimum balance of liberty and order. Democracy is one means to this end, but Plato suggested that it does not work for groups of more than about four thousand people.

Family member John Schaefer contributes the following dismal tale from darkest Carolina: It turns out that a stray bull got loose and wandered onto a private pasture, causing alarm to the local citizens. The report does not say which sort of bull, but beef bulls are usually more placid and unbelligerent than milk bulls. This bull, however, refused efforts to shoo him home, so the cops decided to shoot him. Whether this was a good idea or not is not reported, but the problem was that the people concerned did not know how to do it, so one of these ineptizoids shot the beast three times with a Glock. Naturally nothing happened, so authorities decided to deploy the enormous power of the 223 cartridge and proceeded to torment the poor beast to death. The owner was much upset and insisted that this animal was particularly gentle and would have wandered home if he had been simply left alone. The annoying thing about this is that nobody around seemed to have any notion of how to dispatch an ox, should the occasion arise. One would think that the county sheriff involved might have turned up with his trusty 30-06, but that is clearly asking too much.

Police weaponry is sometimes very good, but obviously it is not something you can count on. I take the curmudgeonly view that this whole matter would have been handled with much more neatness and dispatch one hundred years ago.

In observing the recent rifle class, I note again that the use of the "Hawkins Fist" is insufficiently emphasized. This is probably because it does not fit itself well to the firing line, but better to a single shooter wandering the woods, or a man firing out of a hole or over a berm. To use the Hawkins Fist you grab the forward loop of the sling tight up against the forend and use the side of your hand as a rest on anything convenient. It is a good system, but I never heard about it until Vietnam. There is always something more to learn.

Some pretty good sea stories are trickling back from the front, though not with any help from the press. Our news people do not seem to want to tell about anything plus, being only interested in people getting hurt. Getting hurt is part of war, of course, but there are also elements of valor, skill, and even humor, that should be told. Perhaps you caught the one incident of the Arab who emerged from a doorway to pick up a rocket propelled grenade, only to be potted by a Marine with an M16 across the street. Thereupon a second Moor popped out to make the same objective, only to be knocked over in his turn. And this happened yet a third time. Clearly the little 223 will do the job under some circumstances.

To quote from a piece in the New York Times, "American forces have also improved their training, tactics and equipment for urban warfare in recent years. For example, carrying tougher body armor, more accurate rifles and better radios." Funny nobody heard about these "more accurate rifles." If US forces are now shooting more accurate rifles, we are even better off in this war than we thought.

"The surest way to make an enemy is to do someone a really big favor."

The Guru

A point that has turned up in recent classes is the importance of maintaining clean lock-work in all three weapons. This is not as much of a problem with pistols as it is with rifles and shotguns. Most students do not see the need to strip and clean the bolt as frequently as they clean the barrel. A good many students do not even know how to dismantle a bolt. This was one of the great advantages of the distinguished 03 Springfield. Its bolt assembly was quickly and easily accessible, and facilitated maintenance even under severe field conditions.

For those of you who may find yourselves involved in competition, avoid the J-ladder unless you know how it operates. This system works properly for 8, 16 or 32 contestants. It your contest is to be taken seriously, as for money or trophies, clean out the list by eliminating those who do not make it into your 8, 16 or 32 qualifiers. If you have fewer than 8 contestants, use a "round robin" in which every contestant meets every other. The formula for this is M=(C×(C-1))÷2. Thus if you have 7 shooters, your bout list will be (7×6)÷2 or 21 bouts. If you have more than 32 entries in your shoot off, the event will take too long for public appreciation, so lean it down by some form of elimination.

Being of the old school, I detect a certain degree of flab in our public mood at this time. It is unreasonable to expect a man to lay his life on the line kindly. When someone is trying to kill you, it is too much to ask for you to feel all warm and friendly about him. It would seem that too many of our commentators do not know what it is like to be shot at and to see men mangled around them. This is not a pleasant experience, and the only way I know of to meet it is with anger. When you go to war you do so with wrath. Without wrath you will not fight well. Flabby expostulations about what a real sweetheart your enemy is do not produce a mood necessary to kill him. To fight well you have to enjoy doing it. This may offend some people, but I speak from some experience. Rommel once wrote a book called "War Without Hatred" (Krieg ohme Hasse), but I never got hold of a copy and I do not read German easily. I do know that hatred was our driving motive in the Pacific in World War II. I also heard from people in a position to know that this hatred was not sufficiently evident in Vietnam. That may be one of the reasons why we lost. Be that as it may, I find it easy to be cross with those who express their religious beliefs by murdering thousands of people whom they do not know and who never harmed them. A good soldier is fierce, and a man who is not fierce may well find battle to be an intolerable experience.

We did not start this war, they did. I see no need to be tender with them.

In the last rifle class we had a couple of Jim West's "Co-pilots," and they turned out to be most attractive arms. The Co-pilot is excessively specialized, but it is pretty near perfect for its task, which is neat and handy defense against animals which may kill you. It is interesting to see the affection it seems to inspire in men who handle it. Weird as it may sound, these actually seem sort of cuddly - a compact, handy, dependable, friend-in-need. You do not need one and I do not need one, hardly anybody does, but what a cutie it is to have around!

So the three "rifles of the age" right now remain the Steyr Scout, the Blaser and the Co-pilot. None is cheap, but then neither is a Porsche.

I do not expect you to believe it but a gent showed up last month for a rifle class contemplating the use of a pistol. You heard about the man who was so dumb he brought a knife to a gunfight? Well I guess such things can happen.

We rarely see movies, and good movies are not commonly produced these days, but I certainly can recommend "Gods and Generals." This is certainly an irrelevant title, and the miscasting of a short Hollywood type as Robert E. Lee is hard to believe, but the overall effect is just great. For those of us who are Civil War buffs, it is delightful to be able to recite many of the lines before they are spoken. The piece is basically about Stonewall Jackson, and there is a subject worthy of cinema's best effort.

We notice on the catalog that now Gunsite is offering a "precision rifle course." I take it that this is to distinguish it from a "dispersion rifle course." But then again I never did understand marketing.

We are amused to see the prevalence of the "California Twitch" on the range. This manoeuver, executed by the shooter after firing and before making safe, involves pointing to the right and the left of the target while wearing a fearsome scowl. It serves no purpose except to show that the shooter has been to a school which picked up his mannerism in the confusion. Once acquired, the "California Twitch" is almost impossible to eradicate, something like a tattoo.

We sure hope that when our warriors return they will be ready and willing to tell us about all the odd and interesting things that happened to them in the action. They may have to be coaxed, but I hope not. You will remember the case of the English earl who won the Victoria Cross at Dunkirk. Back home at a dinner party he was asked by his hostess to tell the guests about his marvelous experience, but he declined. She suggested sympathetically that the whole experience might have been just too horrible to recount. "Indeed," he said, "you have simply no idea! The noise!, my dear, and the people!"

I think this sudden lurch of Francophobia is sort of silly. Hating people in groups is basically childish, and it is just as silly for us to hate them as it is for them to hate us. This Chirac is a conspicuous jerk, but look what we had for the previous two terms! We don't use French fries, but I do relish Roquefort.

I was recently amused to note in a letter to "Guns & Ammo" that I am to be distinguished as a collector of "funny hats." What is a funny hat? For that matter, what is funny? Looking at the soft head gear displayed by our troops on the tube, I think that maybe this correspondent has me confused with the US military establishment. If so, this is high praise indeed.

Among other silly things, this airport security business stands out. Certainly we should keep suicidal fanatics off our airplanes, but the procedures employed at this time are tiresome and infantile. I take some satisfaction in chalking this inconvenience up to the Prophet whenever I fly.

Please remember that there is no use whatever for a shooting sling in an unsupported position, either off-hand or standing. I see people in the periodicals wrapping their left arm up in leather to no purpose at all. In any form of dexterous operation technique must be understood if it is to be appreciated. There is a reason for a shooting sling, and a very good one, but not unless your left elbow is resting on something solid.

Please remember that the President is bearing a greater burden at this time than any man should be expected to carry. Truly he has the weight the world on his shoulders and his enemies are even noisier than his friends. Generally speaking, his friends are not the sort of people who shout slogans and march in demonstrations. Respectable people do not do that, so President Bush may feel that his position is not supported by the people of this country. We do not expect him to read our letters individually, but he does have a staff to evaluate such things. It is up to patriotic Americans to make sure he gets the message. So write him! If you have written him before, write him again! Every little bit helps.

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