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Book Review | "Left of Bang" by van Horne and Riley

Marines conducting operations outside of Fallujah, Iraq
Marines conducting operations outside of Fallujah, Iraq

The book “Left of Bang” is a facilitated version of the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter program. This advanced infantry program consists of tactics and techniques that are geared toward the asymmetric warfare that our troops on the ground are expected to encounter in 21st-century environments. According to the official Combat Hunter website: “Combat Hunter is the creation of a mindset through the integration of enhanced observation, combat profiling, and combat tracking skills in order to produce a more ethically minded, tactically cunning and lethal Marine better prepared to succeed across the Range of Military Operations.”

The authors of “Left of Bang” have first-hand experience teaching our Marines the tactics that are explained in the book. Authors Patrick van Horne and Jason Riley served as commissioned officers in the Marine Corps, where they both spent time overseas leading infantry units. Van Horne spearheaded the creation of the Combat Hunter program, and Riley was an instructor. These men are legitimate experts in this field, and their authority is well-proclaimed in the book.

The book feels like a military manual that has been rewritten for a more casual audience. Readers will encounter a lot of military-oriented teaching styles: a lot of repetition, citing of real-world examples, and a tiered approach from the big picture to the small picture. This allows the audience to digest the complex information in a manageable way.

US Marines on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq
Marines on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq

Unfortunately, I don’t think the casual audience will have many real-world takeaways upon completion of “Left of Bang”. The book truly panders the bulk of its knowledge toward active-duty soldiers, police officers, security personnel, bodyguards, etc. Don’t get me wrong; the average citizen can certainly benefit from heightened situational awareness. However, if the readers of this book are Wyatt Earp types who would rather shoot first and ask questions later, it may embolden their potential for aggression. Unless you’re on the front lines of a war zone, this book does not encourage aggression. Instead, it promotes acute observations of human behaviors and details how clusters of these behaviors can end up as potentially violent situations.

As police departments around the country begin to revise their tactics on how they encounter citizens, I hope this book will be included in the conversation around those revisions. An ethically and intellectually competent individual can take away tactics and procedures from this book that will keep them safe and allow them to treat their fellow citizens with respect, upholding the dignity required of all first-line defenders. “Left of Bang” should be essential reading for anyone who finds themselves in a position of security, protection, or war fighting.

Thank you for reading this book review of Left of Bang! Please check out some of my other posts and reviews.

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