An effective American weapon of war, and how it was discarded by egalitarianism and bureaucracy

(Note: some commenters disagree with Richard W.’s thesis as to the reason the U.S. Army replaced the M-14 with the M-16.)

Richard W. writes:

Kristor’s essay “The Genesis of Gnosticism” was full of fascinating insights, but contained one horrible statement I cannot let pass. In describing the arms of the downtrodden he included the phrase: “his pathetic Garand.”

The Garand is anything but pathetic! While the blue aliens in Avatar were clearly under armed with their small bows, the Garand rifle, the standard infantry weapon of the U.S. Army in WWII, was by far the best rifle of any fielded by any nation in that conflict.

Unlike the rifles of the Germans, Italians, Spanish, English and Japanese, the Garand is a semi-automatic. The others are all bolt actions. This meant the American GI could fire off six shots as fast as he could pull the trigger, while his adversaries had to manipulate a bolt between shots. Quite an advantage in war!

The Garand is chambered in the very powerful .30-06 caliber. This caliber is still used by hunters in North America and is considered excellent on game as large as elk and black bear. It can shoot through many common obstacles like car bodies, wooden doors, fences and windows.

The Garand is also accurate, durable, and reliable in even difficult field conditions of extreme heat, cold, wet and sand.

The Garand was modified slightly to accept a box magazine at the start of the Korean War, which increased it’s loaded capacity to 20 rounds from six (but also made it slightly heavier and less handy). Still it’s virtues remained and it was admired by those who carried it in that conflict.

When the U.S. became engaged in Vietnam our Special Forces troops found that the Garand and M-14 were too large, heavy and powerful for the small Vietnamese troops we were training to defend their country. Shooting a Garand is something an average American of European origin would have no trouble with. Many Americans, then and now, start out shooting .22s as children and by the time they are full grown have no problem handling a full power 9 lb. rifle. But it was too much noise, kick and weight for the slightly built Vietnamese with no experience with guns prior to their induction into the South Vietnamese army. A smaller gun was requested.

The sad saga of the replacement of the Garand/M-14 and the adoption of the M-16 is well known to military small arms historians.

There were many teething problems with the new futuristic looking M-16. The cartridge selected (to reduce recoil for the Vietnamese troops) was only .22 caliber and often failed to penetrate, incapacitate or kill those shot with it. The rifle itself was prone to jamming, difficult to service and sensitive about lubrication. None the less the Army brass wanted one gun for the smaller, untrained South Vietnamese troops and our American soldiers fighting beside them. The M-16, despite the problems, was adopted and the M-14 retired in 1965.

It was in many ways the perfect symbol of what was the first, of many, “multi-cultural solutions” that were complete failures. It was not an academic failure. It has cost thousands of lives over the years, as the crappy gun failed to do its simple job and the men behind it died.

There is a direct line from the decision by Army brass to field a less powerful, far less reliable, untested plastic rifle (the M-16) to cater to less skilled Third World allies in 1965 to the inability of the Army to prevent the infiltration by hostile Islamic terrorists into the officer corps 40 years later. Another decision by the brass that was optimized for Third World sensibilities and cost American lives.

As always, it appears no price is ever paid by those making these decisions, nor are they ever reversed. Despite grudging admission that they were mistakes, which eventually becomes impossible to suppress.

And, despite the protestation of generations of American GI’s saddled with the inferior M-16 the Army response has been to upgrade, tinker and try to fix the gun. Rather than to admit that the entire architecture and idea was a failure and return to something based on or more like the Garand.

Thus a large percentage of America’s real soldiers, not the affirmative action officer corps or the boats full of pregnant female sailors, but the ones who volunteer and train to go find and kill enemies with guns and bombs still choose to arm themselves with the archaic (but certainly not “pathetic”) Garand family M-14s. It is frequently seen in Iraq and Afghanistan in the hands of Rangers, Special Forces, Marines and other units.

The two books I have on the practical use of military rifles both praise the Garand. Kenneth Royce in his encyclopedic “Boston’s Gun Bible” rates it the best of all rifles available today for military and defense applications. Col. Chuck Taylor rates it as the best handling and among the top choices for an individual small arm. Perhaps the most famous praise given to the Garand was by General George S. Patton who called it “The greatest battle implement ever devised by man.”

As Traditionalists it is important that we recall correctly that many solutions of the past were obviously superior to those offered today.

The Garand rifle, a highly evolved traditional solution to arming the American infantry, still stands head and shoulders above the “better idea” rifle of the 1960s. American soldiers are still less well armed than they might be because of cultural entropy, an unwillingness of elite organizations to admit errors, and the continuing proclivity to optimize solutions for women and minorities rather than the obvious majority. (The obvious majority of those purposefully carrying a rifle into combat—as opposed to training on it for a few weeks before taking up their post behind a desk—are still mostly large statured white and black males.)

The Garand rifle stands today as a wonderful symbol of the armed citizen soldier, of the traditions we wish to restore, and is the furthest thing from a pathetic relic.

- end of initial entry -

Scott H. writes:

I second Richard W.s praise of the M1 Garand (though the rifle has an eight round capacity not six). I own two! They are available from the CMP (Civilian Marksmanship Program). The Garand is a true Battle Rifle, not a carbine like the M16/AR15.

I would recommend the Appleseed Project for training and some Revolutionary period American history:

“The Appleseed Program is designed to take you from being a simple rifle owner to being a true rifleman. All throughout American history, the rifleman has been defined as a marksman capable of hitting a man-sized target from 500 yards away—no ifs, ands or buts about it. This 500-yard range is traditionally known as “the rifleman’s quarter-mile;” a rifleman can hit just about any target he can see. This skill was particularly evident in the birth of our country, and was the difference in winning the Revolutionary War.”

I’ve been to a few now and always learn something and meet great people.

LA to Scott H.

Hit a man at 500 yards! What! That’s almost a third of a mile.

Who the heck can hit a man with a rifle at that distance?

Scott H. replies:

It is “a fur piece,” but it can be done. NRA High Power shooters shoot 600 yards at every competition. My father trained Marines after WWII and into the Korean War, with the Garand, out to 500 yards. He was able to hit a “man sized” target ( approx 20” x 40”) offhand at 500 yards. I’ve hit steel plates the same size from the prone at 600 yds. With training, and the desire to acquire the skill, virtually anyone can become a rifleman. This is done with iron sights, no scope.

LA replies:

I’m not doubting you’re telling me the truth, but I have trouble believing it’s possible. It’s barely possible see a person who is 500 yards away. To hit him with a rifle without a scope, let alone do it offhand, seems impossible.

Clark Coleman writes:

I agree with Richard W.’s defense of the M1 Garand. I am afraid his history of the development of the M16 is speculative and inaccurate. The M16 was designed in the 1950s, prior to our involvement in the Vietnam War. It was designed with American soldiers in mind, not Vietnamese. Army Ordnance bureaucrats then managed to screw up the ammo and the gun before its mass deployment to Vietnam, for reasons having nothing to do with conditions in Vietnam, much less Vietnamese soldiers.

I won’t belabor the point, but there is a lot of this kind of “history talk” in various discussions of politics, social trends, etc. People hypothesize a plausible reason why something might have happened, and conclude that they have uncovered the actual historical motivations. Primary or even reliable secondary historical sources are not cited. This confusion of the plausible with the historically supportable is a bigger issue to think about than the narrow example we are discussing.

James Fallows’ book National Defense devotes a lengthy chapter to the whole history of the M16, based on detailed citations from a lengthy Congressional investigation into its problems in Vietnam. I have seen numerous speculations as to why the M16 was designed the way it was, all mutually contradictory, none of them based on the actual historical sources.

Alan Levine writes:

A brief comment on the Garand controversy: The Garand was indeed the best infantry rifle of its day, but most contemporary armies seem to prefer “assault rifles” with considerably less range for the average soldier, as opposed to the specialist sniper, finding that most rifle fire is at targets no more than three hundred yards off and usually much less. Many prefer the AK-47 and its follow-ons or similar weapons to the M-16, which is suggestive.

Whatever the reason for replacing the M-14 with the M-16, the reason was definitely NOT that the latter was more suitable for our Vietnamese allies. The latter did not start to get M-16s until 1968. Before that, they were fobbed off with World War II and Korea era carbines.

I can’t agree too strongly with Clark Coleman’s point about trying to infer people’s motives. Even when there is documentation that is not contradictory about such matters, figuring out just why people make decisions is probably the trickiest issue historians have to deal with.

Scott H. replies to LA:

Those examples were at known-distance ranges at paper targets, still quite a feat. In the field, the difficulty is acquiring the target and estimating the range, after that, firing the shot is the easier part. Target acquisition and range estimation are a couple of reasons snipers use optics.

January 29

Buck O. writes:

I’m late to this entry, and this is more a personal story—some, for your edification—if you have time.

I arrived at Parris Island for boot camp on December 04, 1968. Six weeks later, on January 17th (my 21st birthday) I was qualifying on the range with my M14 (rifle creed below). It was, that day, one of the coldest days on record. At 5 a.m. we were “snapping in” and waiting for the sun to come up. I had been improving my scores on each of the previous four days of shooting at a rate that, if I continued, would have me firing a perfect score of 250 on this final qualifying day. A line officer that I didn’t know, leaned over my shoulder to tell me that he bet a case of beer on me. I was now nervous, whereas I had not been before. This all meant little to me at the time (my newly realized marksmanship). I had never fired a rifle before this, and I haven’t fired one since. I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t hit the bulls eye with this amazing weapon. As it turns out, I did not do better that day, instead I scored slightly less than the day before. The cold was too much for all of us—all scores were way down. Bare hands in sub-freezing temps made feeling the cold trigger difficult. I still shot highest in the company and earned my first stripe for doing so. A recruit came away with either an “expert,” “sharpshooter,” or “marksman” badge. All Marines are Marine riflemen first, then they will learn other duties.

The firing line was 500 yards from the targets. The “bulls eye” was a black dot on a white silhouette. It was no larger than a man’s head. I hit it most of the time from all five firing positions—all from 500 yards. This was not too remarkable. Many expert marksman hit it most of the time, and some, in competition, hit it every time.

The M14 was a machined masterpiece. The Marines loved it and lamented its demise. They had nothing good to say about the M16, which was, at that time, just replacing the M14 in the Marine Corps. The first M16 was not reliable and everyone knew it. Subsequent versions improved and it was finally accepted and became the standard. I only “fam” fired it. I believe that the M14 remained in use on the qualification range for a few more years, but it was eventually replaced by the M16. The rifle qualifying protocols were also changed—more close-in firing (200 and 300 yards) and some movement, perhaps to more closely simulate combat conditions and to utilize the attributes of new M16. I’m thinking that many snipers still used the M14.

I find it hard to believe, but in boot camp I learned to disassemble and reassemble my M14 in two minutes—blind folded. I’ve been building houses and using tools for 30 years, but never have I been as intimately involved with a machine as I was with my M14. Though, if I saw one today, I’m sure that I couldn’t remember which part to remove first.

Marines memorize and recite this creed.

USMC Rifle Creed

This Is My Rifle”

The Creed of a U.S. Marine

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.

My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I WILL …

My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. WE WILL HIT …

My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will ever guard it against the ravages of weather and damage as I will ever guard my legs, my arms, my eyes and my heart against damage. I will keep my rifle clean and ready. We will become part of each other. WE WILL …

Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. WE ARE THE SAVIORS OF MY LIFE.

So be it, until victory is America’s and there is no enemy, but peace!

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 28, 2010 10:40 AM | Send

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