Of course facial hair doesn’t constitute a warfighting domain. Of course cherry-picked historical examples that suggest a correlation between beards and military victory does not prove a causal relationship. And maybe, 300 wasn’t quite historically accurate. So why did I spend 1,708 words arguing for something so absurd? Because absurdity can help reveal ridiculousness elsewhere. In this case, the beard domain illustrated the problems with current, capability-focused military thinking.

When I was serving as an opposing force commander, I often wondered why we dominated the training unit even though they greatly outnumbered us and had access to superior intelligence, artillery, and aviation capabilities than us. The beards were an obvious physical difference, but the reasons for our victories were more intangible and difficult to quantify. The paratroopers of Geronimo acted with an initiative not apparent in the training units. I never felt that training units got into our decision-making cycle and exploited our vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, Geronimo conducted bottom-up reconnaissance. The unit’s soldiers identified enemy vulnerabilities and rapidly exploited them. They understood the value of seizing the initiative in the attack and continuously disrupting the enemy to prevent a coordinated response.

As with World War I German infiltration tactics, Geronimo bypassed enemy strongpoints and moved with such tempo that its forces were overrunning command posts, seizing confused fuelers, and shooting sleeping aviators upset that their crew rest was being violated. There are few sights more miserable than that of a battalion commander, in the middle of his unit’s Super Bowl, being captured in his command post after having not even received a report that his defense had been breached. He must have had a taste of how French commanders felt in 1940.

Much of our doctrine echoes French methodical battle: the focus on convergence, the emphasis on centralized fires, the belief in the lethality of technology. The French had a scientifically grounded doctrine, tested in war games, but it failed to account for their need to fight a more mobile, open battle as they rushed into Belgium while conducting an economy-of-force action in their center. It was a unique context that they foresaw but did not adjust their doctrine to fight.

Today, we know the context of possible conflicts with Russia and China: defending against a rapid fait accompli in either the Baltic or Taiwan in a limited war that does not escalate to the use of nuclear weapons. But, instead of focusing on those problem sets, commentators use historic allusions to the island-hopping campaign of World War II that are as much of a misuse of history as I employ in “Clipping Convergence.” I explore the importance of context more seriously in a recent Military Review article, “Returning Context to Our Doctrine.”

Without context, our doctrine becomes overly capabilities focused. Instead of just talking about new capabilities, commentators trying to sound erudite will often refer to the changing character of war. But war does not have an all-encompassing character. It is almost as absurd a thought as the beard domain. Even individual conflicts do not have a single character. In Ukraine, the character of the war was different in 2022, 2023, and 2024. It was different in the steppes of the south and the woods north of Kyiv. Thinking in terms of the character of the war ignores these differences and prioritizes technological capabilities. This is a form of thinking that is so dominant that maybe it takes the absurd notion of the beard domain to reveal its ridiculousness.

For the capability minded, the beard domain provides a measurable metric to account for the intangibles ignored in multidomain operations. To see how intangibles matter, look back at a previous doctrine that was grounded in context. AirLand Battle, the Army’s doctrine published in 1982, was not simply combining air and land capabilities. Its key idea was seizing the initiative through the interdiction of deep fires and taking rapid action to destroy the Soviets’ second-echelon forces. The 1982 edition of Field Manual 100-5, Operations presented a chart showing the time horizons for action of US echelons. It was based on estimated times that would exploit the tempo of Soviet actions. It allowed units to understand how quickly they would need to act to seize the initiative from the Soviets. 2022’s Field Manual 3-0, Operations replicated that chart, but it was not based on the tempo of contemporary Russian or Chinese forces. It does not help guide units in how to train to seize the initiative in combat.

Geronimo understood how rotational units would fight. It could predict how they would deploy screens, where they would jump artillery firing points, and when defending forces would still be in the middle of digging in. This understanding, an aggressive mindset, and trusting paratroopers to fight with initiative allowed Geronimo to win, not their beards (well, maybe beards helped a little).

Satire revels in the absurd. Hopefully, my article helped uncover the ridiculousness of the ban on beards, the misuse of history, and the shortfalls of a capabilities-based doctrine that can only account for intangibles through a beard domain.

Maj. Robert G. Rose, US Army, serves as the commander for Alpine Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Security Forces Assistance Brigade. He holds an undergraduate degree from the United States Military Academy and graduate degrees from Harvard University and, as a Gates Scholar, from Cambridge University.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.