Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 13, No. 11         November 2005

Many Thanks


It appears that the Austrian factory at Steyr rather dislikes the term "Steyr Scout" since it abbreviates to SS, which suggests evil memories of the Third Reich. Therefore the product is being designated at its point of origin as the "Mannlicher Scout," or MS, which is a nomenclature we intend to follow in the future.

The evolution of the sword was due more to chemistry than to configuration. Prior to the Industrial Revolution the design of the sword was left entirely up to the immediate employer and could vary considerably. Thus the Roman short sword or gladius hispaniensis showed up in a number of forms over a long period, any of which could be called "authentic." Since the Roman infantry fought primarily with the "pilum" or pike, this is not a critical consideration. Throughout the ages the pike has been the universal arm of the infantry soldier. It also was the basic instrument used for repelling boarders during The Age of Fighting Sail. When a vessel was in danger of being boarded it deployed boarding nettings, if they were available. Boarders had to scramble over or through these nets to reach the enemy deck, and for this they needed both hands. Sailors traditionally have been unskilled in hand-to-hand combat and they have never been swordsmen in any highly developed sense. Hence the cutlass, which presumably could be carried in the teeth of a boarding sailor, though this certainly seems hard on the denture. A single-shot pistol - flintlock or caplock - was a tremendous help in a boarding operation, but pistols would usually not be issued to sailors, for several reasons. Edward Teach, the notorious pirate known as Black Beard, preferably wore as many as eight pint-sized caplock pistols on a baldric. This sort of thing would only be useful if one had plenty of warning of impending action, but in The Age of Sail this was usually the case. Times have certainly changed, and the role of the pistol in modern combat has changed accordingly. The fact remains that stopping power continues to be the primary desideratum of the handgun. This may be obvious to those who study the matter, but few people do. No pistol is capable of one hundred percent stops, or even seventy percent stops, depending upon placement. It is, of course, necessary that the shooter insure the placement. You have to put your shot in the right place, and then you must deliver the most power the weapon will afford. So we get back to the fact that in our current war, our contact people fall into two categories - those who have a satisfactory big bore pistol and those who wish they had.

It seems that the academic world is increasingly dominated by "those other people." In this case I refer to the custom of replacing BC and AD with BCE and CE. The idea is to get Christianity off center stage. This effort has another aspect, however. When I see a historic paper using BCE in place of BC, I simply reduce the credibility of the author by two or three clicks. It is not so much that religion is not important in this respect, but that scholarship is. I find that reference material using the traditional designators is superior. It is just better scholarship than the more recent examples we get from the major academic institutions. If a historian chooses to redo our traditional terminology, he may quietly step to the rear of the class.

Does anyone know what a spontoon is? This is a "half-pike," a spear no longer than a man, with or without a chopping blade short of the point. It was used for a while as the badge of office of a senior non-commissioned officer and used to point things out, dress the line and, if necessary, counter a mounted musket. It differs essentially from the Swiss pike in that it is short and stout, rather than long and thin. The Swiss pike was the arm of the mobile hedgehog of the Renaissance.

English is a marvelously explicit language, and the US Constitution is marvelously explicit. "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It says nothing about a "separation of church and state." It asserts that the Congress shall not establish religion, and stops there. Yet there are those who insist upon some sort of barrier which just does not exist. For Congress to establish the Baptist Church, for example, would be unconstitutional. To display the Decalogue, or a star and crescent, or a crucifix, would not be. This does not need interpretation. Read the Constitution! It is marvelously clear.

It is widely asserted that we have the best army in the world - the best ever seen - and we hope that is true. However, it may be short on physical strength. When I was in high school, the infantry ROTC battalion was issued the 1903 Springfield rifle, which weighed about 9┬Żlbs. With that rifle it was customary to step off from the position of order arms to right shoulder arms on a smart count of three. We did not fire the `03 but we handled it freely and adroitly. It was not excessively heavy, yet today the Pentagon seems concerned about the weight of our standard smallarm, as well as its recoil. For a long time now I have taught rifle marksmanship at Gunsite without any recoil problems for men, women or children. For children I suggest about age 14 and up, depending upon individual configuration. It seems to be felt, however, that the proposed new 6.8 cartridge is superior because it does not kick as much as the 308. The recoil of the 308 in a 7 or 8lb rifle is negligible, assuming a reasonably healthy adolescent body. Wells of Prescott has long taught that recoil effect is about 85 percent mental. It can be measured, of course, but it is simply not much of a blow to a reasonably athletic body. This leads us to the speculation that perhaps today's young people are to a considerable extent not "reasonably athletic." Is this a function of screened entertainment? Touch football, rather than television, was the prime after-school entertainment in those days prior to World War II. At that time the military considered 55lbs to be a reasonable load to pack at good speed for short distances. Perhaps they do not play much touch football today at the Pentagon.

Family member Joe Sledge informs us that he has now been reduced to buying beef, but we hope he did well during deer season.

A drawback of the big 50 may be its vulnerability to side-loading when delivered from a moving aircraft. Its recoil action must act upon a very heavy ammunition belt, and this suggests that you should use it from straight and level if possible. Of course you should always shoot from straight and level if possible.

The Glock pistol seems to be doing what is necessary. It is not a weapon for the master, but it seems to work well and, of course, reliability is a major consideration with a defensive weapon. So we see more Glocks all the time in school and in competition. The marvelous 1911 and its clones continue to be the first choice of the expert, but only a few pistoleros have the intention or the ability to become truly expert. The word we get back from Mesopotamia continues to emphasize that big calibers are nice to have. The 223 will put a man down reliably if you hit him well centered several times. The 308 will do that once, but the object of veneration is the 50 BMG - yet another wondrous contribution of World War II. The 50 was a little late for World War I, but it got in just at the tail end and it has been doing a marvelous job ever since, both in the anti-personnel and anti-vehicular mode. I never had the pleasure of using the 50 in combat, but I did practice with it, to my intense satisfaction. The virtue of the big 50 is not so much range - although it does hit well and to as far away as you can see a viable target - but it does hit with a solid, comforting smash, something like Thor's hammer. And in the air, on the ground, and at sea it apparently is going to be with us for a good long time.

You may remember a notation in a previous Commentary to the effect that when a young man was called upon to list the four seasons he named Trout Season, Duck Season, Deer Season, and Christmas. Christmas, as the name implies, is a Christian celebration. The men who gave us this country were Christians, and they did not celebrate a "winter break." The fact that the traditional date for Christmas happens to coincide with Winter Solstice is a coincidence. But this is a Christian country. People of other faiths may be welcome, but they did not give us our traditional holiday, and it is mildly annoying to hear people suggesting that they did.

Colleague Barrett Tillman has just released his new book "Clash of the Carriers," in which he tells the tale of the colossal battle in which the Western Pacific was set up for the invasion of Japan. As is usual with Barrett's work, detail and enlightenment are masterfully blended. It was my luck to catch that battle, though not intimately. The command decision to turn on the lights is one of the official burdens of command for which admirals are prepared, and I well remember my astonishment when it was broadcast. You wear stars on your shirt in anticipation of this sort of thing, and history is made.

The following quotation from Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 is appropriate at this time:
"In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American ... There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile ... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language ... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."

via Leon Flancher

This problem of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is unlikely to go away. It grows out there in the San Francisco Bay region and it gets worse with each passing case. This egregious court's rulings seem to get overturned on appeal as often as the issue arises, but it is unpleasant to have to count on that.

"For forms of rule let fools contest; whichever best administered is best." This suggests that good government is a function of good people, no matter what form it takes, which is a very sound rule. But getting good people is the problem, since good people do not as a rule seek employment in government. We may thank God very sincerely for George Washington and a couple of others. The problem remains with us. People like George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt seem to turn up mainly by accident.

Correspondents have suggested to us that we should discuss the matter of our raven totem yet again. We have gone into this in the Gargantuan Gossips, but those were done quite a while ago. The Raven (Corvus corax) has had a long social relationship with mankind. He is found worldwide. Entering into mythology and legend, he tends to be pretty bright for a bird, and he plays his cards well. In Europe he is featured in Norse legends and in North America he shows up continuously in American Indian legendry.

Here at Gunsite we adopted the raven following the ancestral accounts of the Countess, whose background takes us back to the Norse raiders of Pictslea. The holding was acquired around 1040 from Edward the Confessor. It would seem that the emblem of the raven lent itself to Viking activities since it was conspicuously black, appropriate for improvised artwork. The original Norse raiders at first operated out of one vessel, but when their activities increased in size they learned to put together task groups of several ships. In the misty waters of the North Sea, and elsewhere, it was necessary to maintain contact when the sun rose in the morning. The sail was the most conspicuous feature of the raiding ship, and it was convenient to mark the sail conspicuously so that the group could get together. Black paint is convenient to improvise from charcoal and fish oil, and the raven makes into a conspicuous locating emblem. Ragnar Lodbrok appears to have been the first task force commander, and a raven on his sail was a handy device. The raven was indicated because the two mythological ravens, Hugen and Munin, were the intelligence gatherers for Odin - they brought him the word before he became deified. Thus when the sun rose you looked about for a ship with a black raven on the sail, which would mark the task force commander.

And all this led us to pick up a raven for the Gunsite totem, and black raven emblems have been with us ever since. It seemed a good idea at the time, and it appears that people like it. Besides, we have ravens all around. Hence the Gunsite raven.

We note that a good many people who presume to teach modern smallarms technique are clumsy about their terminology. I make no claim to hold copyrights on these things, but since the doctrine is already established, using established nomenclature, it would be nice if people paid attention to these things more carefully. For instance, a "double tap" is not a "hammer," nor vice versa. There are other examples.

Note that there is no real need for a telescope sight on a rifle for dangerous game (unless your eyes have begun to fail). Anything that is big enough to maul you is easy to see, and he cannot hurt you unless he can touch you. If he can touch you, you do not need a glass sight.

We are given to understand that the Chicoms have cleaned up a long stretch of the Great Wall to fit it for a hot lap in a fast car, assuming that the aspirant is properly qualified. Our grandson Tyler Heath is a graduate of the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, and he is going before long to some graduate business study in China. Now there is something to look forward to!

We now hear great good news that our elegant heavy rifle is at last on its way back from Africa. It got hung up in paperwork following the revolution, and for a while I thought that I would never see it again. Now, however, rifle master John Gannaway informs us that it seems it have broken through. We called this one "Baby," somewhat erroneously, since it confuses that term of the giant heavy rifle of Sir Samuel Baker. Our Baby, of which there are now six examples, is the original of a series destined for our prospective museum. This one is indeed an exemplary piece, throwing a 460-caliber 500-grain bullet at about 2400f/s from its 20-inch barrel. It is featured in some very fine memories, once having decked a wounded buffalo, running, at 125 steps. (It is not good form to engage a buffalo at that distance, but this one had been attempted previously with a 375 Holland in the hands of our late good friend Albert Paukner, and I felt that we had to put him down to avoid his achieving bush cover. This was an episode in which a heavy rifle was definitely called for.)

Note: The Kurds appear to be solidly pro-American and fearless fighters. Salah-ad-din (Saladin) was a Kurd.

The Socom 16 seems to be a Very Good Thing (VGT), though I have not yet had a chance to wring it out. If you need a general-purpose rifle, your first choice is the Steyr Scout, but if you are equipping your private army, the semi-automatic feature of the Socom is handy. One of the many desirable features of the Scout is light weight (7lbs or less), but this is important only if you are seeing most of your action afoot. If you travel all the time in vehicles, light weight becomes a minor consideration. Here at the Sconce we are fortunate in having access to a good supply of action studies from the sand box. Contrary to what we hear in the press, morale at the front is gratifyingly high.

I believe it is noteworthy that high school boys were considered strong enough to handle an `03 rifle easily in a prescribed manual of arms at that time. Is it that kids were a lot stronger in those days? I must look into that.

We called the "Barnes X" bullet a bronze in the last issue. Well it is bronze but that is not its trade name. Sorry about that.

The following quote is from the father of a Marine recently returned from Iraq:
"According to Jordan, morale among our guys is very high. They not only believe they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted. We are inflicting casualties at a rate of 20-1 and then see s - - - like `Are we losing in Iraq' on TV and the print media. For the most part, they are satisfied with their equipment, food and leadership. Bottom line though, and they all say this, there are not enough guys there to drive the final stake through the heart of the insurgency, primarily because there aren't enough troops in-theater to shut down the borders with Iran and Syria. The Iranians and the Syrians just can't stand the thought of Iraq being an American ally (with, of course, permanent US bases there)."
Jordan reports on weapons in use in the sand box. This is his evaluation of the 45.
"The .45 pistol: Thumbs up. Still the best pistol round out there. Everybody authorized to carry a sidearm is trying to get their hands on one. With few exceptions, can reliably be expected to put `em down with a torso hit. The special ops guys (who are doing most of the pistol work) use the HK military model and supposedly love it. The old government model .45s are being reissued en masse."

We are now given to understand that the Japanese high command gave forth the order when things finally began to look bad in World War II that all allied prisoners (which included about 144,000 Americans) were to be put to death immediately when our invasion forces set foot on the home islands. These lives were therefore saved by the bomb. The bomb was a dreadful thing, but that whole war was pretty dreadful. I, for one, felt no remorse, but then I was pretty closely involved in it. I still feel no remorse. Sorry about that.

It is an axiom that people get the government they deserve. This certainly seems true of San Francisco.

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