November 1, 1969
U.S. Naval Institute
West’s novel, The Pepperdogs, is based on the tactics explained in this article.
In ancient battles the principle of mass led to organizational cohesion and tactical strength. The Roman soldier marching in the phalanx knew that his flanks and rear were protected by the shoulder-to-shoulder formation. As long as a unit remained tightly knit, it was least vulnerable and its chances of victory over less tactically cohesive enemies were highest. Modern weapons have upset this balance. The principle of mass now leads to organizational confusion and tactical vulnerability. Each man in a fire fight is safest when lie seeks individual cover and concealment. Men on the march are vulnerable precisely because they feel secure. In the scattering effect of the initial battle, control over units decreases in proportion to the size and intensity of the engagement.
The honored battle principle of mass should not be applicable axiomatically to Vietnam, or to any future conflict involving American forces. In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, masses of men were needed to supply with their rifles the volume of firepower necessary to establish fire superiority inflict substantial enemy casualties, and ensure victory of the battlefield. The place of manpower in the causality of these events is now severely questionable,