Murphy's Laws of Combat
or All's Unfair In Warfare
Murphy's First Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.
You are not an invincible superman!
Anything you do on the battlefield can get you killed, including
The only sin in combat is indecision.
Don't be first, don't be last, and don't ever volunteer for
If it's stupid, but works, then it ain't stupid!
Don't look or act conspicuous ... it draws fire. That's why
officers are called "metal magnets"!
Never draw fire, because it really irritates everyone around
If you can see, then you can be seen; and if you can be seen,
then you can be hit; and if you can be hit, then you can be
Try to look unimportant, because the enemy may be low on
Teamwork is essential, because it gives the enemy someone else to
aim at for a change!
Never share your foxhole with anyone braver or dumber than
No man is ever a hero to those who must serve him.
An officer is a gentleman by an Act of Congress, but
charm is not a worthwhile trait in combat.
A good man is hard to find, but easy to lose!
Anytime troops are required to remain still and silent, they will
develop unexpected twitches and uncontrollable itches.
Evading, shirking, malingering, and postponing are developmental
art forms unappreciated by military specialists.
If it hasn't been double-checked, then it was probably never
checked, and was most certainly forgotten altogether.
The first time the leader forgets to remind his troops will also
be the first time the troops forget to do what's expected.
Every stupid order is nonetheless an order; and
every illegal order is nonetheless illegal.
Every stupid regulation that can be checked must be enforced.
Not every stupid rule is pointless.
If the exception proves the rule, then don't get caught breaking
The "rules of engagement" are only man-made, but the laws of
their effect were made by nature.
Nobody ever wants to see the unspectacular parts of war
... dirty and boring, tedious and unproductive ... but war is
mostly just an ugly routine.
War is intentional, but death is random, and results are
Just as there's no typical soldier, there is no
average day in combat.
Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for!
Wanting to slowly introduce an FNG into a controlled combat
situation is like inviting a virgin to bust her cherry at a
If combat actions don't elongate subjectively by several times
normal, then they weren't very significant.
There's absolutely no substitute for a total lack of
If you're short of everything except 'the enemy', then you're
truly in a combat zone!
Never forget that your weapons were made by the contractor with
the lowest bid!
All grenade fuses, which are reliable in training, accelerate in
Malfunctions can never be simulated if genuine repair or
corrective intervention is readily available.
The revised and improved replacement gear or weapons are always
inferior to what they are supposed to replace.
The side with the most durable and effective weapons will
War uses things up and wears them out; so it doesn't matter how
good something is if there isn't enough of it to win.
Weapons don't win (or lose) wars ... people do!
The simpler something is, then the easier it is to use; the
easier to use, the more uses will be found for it.
Things that must be together to work are usually sent
Sets, replacements, spares, and essential parts are never
Extras, spares, and replacements are never needed, until they're
Whatever resupply is available is either incompatible or
Sometimes too much of something is just barely enough.
Ammo and medicine are so important that they're used sparingly.
Food and gear are so useful that they're important. Mail from
home, which is neither useful nor important, has the highest
priority of all.
Regardless of unit size, the existing supply system will not be
able to support its uninterrupted operations.
Quartermasters only stock items that are too large or too
Every potential or alternative solution changes the
As every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so every
side-effect is both an effect and a cause.
There is never enough time to "do it right" ... which is why it
must be done over, and over, and over again.
There's no such thing as a shortcut! ... it's just a
myth to boost morale, like hot chow and cold beer, dry socks and
clean clothes, warm showers and soft beds.
Choices and options require time ... so if there is no time, then
there are no alternatives.
Most of your theoretical alternatives and speculative choices are
not viable options.
If there is only one option, then it is always
the right decision.
Procedural precedence requires that before anything can be done,
something else must be done first!
Accidents cannot be replicated or prevented; and operational
recovery is inversely proportional to the accident's durable
effect and distribution.
Mistakes and failures are most obvious when preliminary
expectations are exaggerated by predictive announcements.
An "expert" is someone who's learned from his mistakes, converted
his defects, and has yet to be devastated by his fallacies and
Indecision is the key to inflexibility and lost options.
If you've prepared several alternative contingencies, the enemy
will compromise or cancel all but one ... and you'll pay a
high-price to discover which one is left.
Nothing lingers in a soldier's mind longer than a bad
idea ... and the worst is that rationalized for not
having come to fruition.
Bad situations don't need any help to get worse.
If your attack is going really well, then it's an ambush!
An attack avoided or an ambush averted is only awaiting a better
opportunity for disaster!
Difficulties occur when they're least expected, so they occur
when everyone is least prepared for them.
The enemy invariably attacks when or where you're not ready for
The enemy invariably attacks in ways that nullify your
The enemy diversion you're ignoring is the main assault.
The major problem with an unknown enemy is identification.
When assaulted from the front by the enemy, assailed from the
rear by supporters, and sniped on the flanks by sympathizers, the
first thing to do is consolidate.
Never underestimate the enemy; so work on being twice as
The most likely place to encounter the enemy is the least likely
place to expect him!
The more comfortable you become with your duties and familiar
with a specific operational area, then the more likely you are to
make stupid mistakes.
The value of the information a "dog-and-pony show" presents is
inversely proportional to the productive effort incurred.
In any complete list, thorough report, or exact analysis, it will
eventually be discovered that the most important item has been
Just as politics exists to teach geography, so combat exists to
The most obvious or direct route between any two points
invariably proves to be the longest or hardest way.
The easy way is always mined and booby-trapped.
Booby-traps and mines are equal opportunity munitions.
Flawless plans for critical assignments will develop unexpected
problems in transition, and become unworkable in execution.
No operations plan ever survives intact after the initial enemy
Hesitation is not a mode or tactic ... it's a death sentence.
The mission was not properly planned if it develops into a
A plan is just a bunch of ideas that have been arranged,
one after another, so that they follow in a sequence.
Being smart enough to think of a plan, stupid enough to try it,
and lucky enough to survive isn't a warrant, testament, or
recommendation of achievement.
Every day that a soldier survives in combat is another chance for
him to learn how to survive another day in combat.
Happiness is a contrapositive of
responsibility, and is inversely proportional to one's
position in the chain-of-command.
Lead by example ... don't talk about it, just do it!
Only good reports need confirmation.
It takes longer to encode, decrypt, interpret, and analyze the
message than it takes the enemy to relocate.
Whenever headquarters sends an encoded message to the field, the
secret signals book cannot be found; and whenever the message is
sent in clear text, the enemy just happens to have a linguist
monitoring that exact frequency at the crucial moment.
Radios usually develop weak batteries or malfunctions whenever
you desperately need to call for fire-support.
If command-and-control can't locate you, then you're
"unconventionally redistributed"; but if the enemy finds you, and
fire-support can't fix you, then you're truly lost!
If you don't know your exact location, then the enemy probably
If you're forward of your plotted position, then the supporting
artillery will always fall short.
Close only counts in horseshoes, grenades, mortars, and
If the enemy is in range, then so are you!
Incoming fire has the right-of-way.
The only thing more accurate than incoming enemy fire is incoming
So-called "friendly fire" ... isn't!
Automatic weapons ... aren't!
Recoilless rifles ... aren't!
Suppressive fire ... won't!
Reconnaissance by fire ... doesn't!
Whenever in doubt ... fire at will!
Tracers work both ways!
The item you left in basecamp to lighten your pack-load will be
Whatever you don't check, and hasn't been double-checked by
someone else, is probably incomplete, defective, missing, or set
Due to creative rearrangement and personal innovation, the item
you want will always be in the last place you search ... if you
live long enough to find it.
There's a place for everything, but don't expect everything to be
in its place.
If you're not too enervated to dig a 'cat-hole', then you're
constipated; and if you're too exhausted to find the latrine,
then you've got 'the trots'!
Once you have secured and pacified an area, don't forget to tell
Field body-count mathematics: two armed guerrillas plus one
probable regular and three blood-trails plus two dead pigs and a
water-buffalo equals half the unit's beer ration in "enemy
Headquarters body-count mathematics: double the field body-count
equals a decoration or a promotion.
Boondocks beer ration mathematics: two beers for each unit member
equals half of the rear-area supply!
Systematic progress is always geometric, and body-count is always
exponential, but beer-count remains arithmetic ... sophisticated
analysts with their fancy computational slide- rules are being
wasted on the wrong problems!
Planning and preparing for the worst situation doesn't mean that
it won't still happen anyway!
Whatever happens was supposed to happen.
For the uninitiated, any high-tech solutions or strategic
successes are indistinguishable from magic! ... and experience is
considered mystical by the uninformed.
The malfunction rate of technological devices is directly
proportional to their level of sophistication ... the more
complicated generates a greater potential for defects.
The logical possibilities may be acceptable, but the reasonable
odds are always against survival or success. You bet your life on
a marginal chance, and your fortune is often surprisingly
Every operation that offers a potential advantage also offers a
Combat is much too dangerous and important to risk by
experimentation; but it's the only place that experiments will
If you can't remember, then the claymore is facing the wrong
If you can't remember, then the safety device is still
There is no situation, circumstance, or condition that cannot be
resolved, remedied, or rectified by the proper application of a
sufficiently sized, shaped, and placed charge of high
explosive that's detonated in a timely manner.
It's impossible to use too much ordnance to kill the enemy.
It's impossible to use too much explosive to demolish the
It's impossible to determine victory if the battlefield has been
Nothing is ever as easy as it looks.
Yesterday is always easier than tomorrow.
The easier it is to get into trouble, then the harder it will be
to get back out!
If your perimeter is fortified enough to keep the enemy outside,
then it will also keep you inside!
If you're dug-in, then it's more difficult for you to be
Some of the things that seem to be very difficult are, in fact,
impossible ... but you won't know which ones until you try.
In problem solving, knowing the answer is always an aid, but
isn't always the best solution! ... particularly if you don't
know the mechanics of how to resolve it.
Problems never come singly ... but remedies always do.
There is always a way ... because there's always a will.
The only easy day was yesterday.
Being first or last increases risk and reduces survivability.
No one ever grew old and successful by under-estimating the
enemy, or by over-estimating his cohorts and allies.
Friends may come and comrades may go, but enemies will accumulate
Keep your friends near, and keep your enemies closer.
The leader who can smile when things go wrong has already thought
of someone to blame.
Prudence in a combat leader is like coyness in a harlot.
The word root of command isn't man
(comMANd), but rather is comma
The best leader may not have the appropriate rank ... but follow
The person with the highest rank is generally not the best
The rank hierarchy exists to protect incompetence and reinforce
To err is human, but to forgive is a commander's prerogative.
It is easier to beg pardon than to seek permission.
Whatever hits the fan will not be evenly distributed.
Crises are never fairly or consistently distributed.
A day without a crisis or conflict is incomplete.
Plans made in calm assessment do not work in crisis.
A temporary assignment can be the longest tour of any
Pain can make every minute of every hour of every day seem
The further you are from your last encounter, the nearer you are
to your next engagement.
If you take more than your fair share of objectives, then you'll
have more than your fair share of objectives to take.
Combat takes from each soldier according to his ability, and
gives to each according to his situation.
If you're good, then you'll get assigned more work; but if you're
really good, then you'll get out of doing it.
If both sides believe they're about to lose, then they're both
right, and neither one knows it.
Never interrupt the enemy when they're in the middle of making a
The side that continues fighting without food, ammo, medicine, or
replacements will eventually win.
They wouldn't call it "wasted" if getting killed in combat
weren't so futile and stupid!
No good deed ever goes unpunished.
Friendly is not a military skill-set
that's worthwhile in combat.
Courtesy is a necessary component of respect
when cooperatively accomplishing the mission ... but it's
not a decisive factor on the battlefield!
By the time they've taught us everything we need to know to stay
alive, we'll either be too old to accomplish the mission, or the
war will be over!
Strategy is always theoretical, and tactics are empirical;
because the improvements and revisions that enable victory are
always taught by the enemy on the battlefield.
Professional soldiers are predictable, but the world is full of
Training is just like combat without blood; and war is just like
training without sweat!
Nobody ever drown in sweat!
Armies need to go to war every so often just so they'll
understand what all the absurd training has been for, so they can
reorganize their priorities again, and so they'll remember that
they exist for more than drill and ceremonies.
No combat-ready unit has ever passed a white-glove inspection!
... and no spit-and-polish unit has ever "passed" combat.
The army with the simplest uniform always wins the war.
The more colorful and numerous the medals, then the less
important the war.
Pain is only temporary; but pride is forever.
Invest pride in the uniform, but invest confidence in the
If you don't sweat the small stuff, then the big stuff will take
care of itself ... but it's all small stuff.
The important things are always simple; and the simple things are
Simple problems may be corrected in the military provided that
the solution is complex ... simple solutions to complex problems
are not tolerated.
Nations conceal their moral bankruptcy behind a facade of
impervious patriotism, just as the aristocracy hides its poverty;
but servants know about secret economies, just as soldiers know
An infantryman is something like a watchdog: he's too
unmannerly to be allowed inside the house that he guards to meet
the guests and too bumptious to play with the children, so
whenever there's a party with good food and small talk, he's
locked in the garage and ordered not to bark; but later, when a
burglar comes to wreck and steal, the owner is glad to have this
rude beast defend his family.
Murphy's comment on Alexander's solution for the Ghiordian Knot:
never cut what can be untied in time ... unless the tangle is a
messy result, instead of a puzzled cause.
Tradition is the religion of the military, and history is its
If something cannot continue, then it will eventually stop.
Superior thinking has always overcome superior force.
Murphy's Last Law: if something doesn't eventually go wrong, then
it will ultimately be discovered that something should have been
done otherwise, or done differently.
Murphy is a grunt! ... but he never takes R&R.
When all is said and done, alot more has been said than done.