The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy Indiana University Press paperback ed Edition
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- Item Weight : 1.86 pounds
- Paperback : 608 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-0253280299
- ISBN-10 : 025328029X
- Publisher : Indiana University Press; Indiana University Press paperback ed Edition (June 1, 1977)
- Reading level : 18 and up
- Product Dimensions : 9.2 x 6.18 x 1.58 inches
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #379,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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WHY READ THIS BOOK? Do your interests lie in military theory, doctrine and practice? What ‘guided’ the military decisions being made? And where and at what level? Then you should consider either selectively or, better yet, thoroughly reading this book despite its age.
A STRONG RECOMMENDATION BY THIS REVIEWER (educated in information sciences (BS), organizational behavior (BA), and corporate planning & policy formulation (PhD studies); and an autodidactic student of the American Revolution, Civil War & some WW II).
THEME: Weigley “turn[s] to the history of American strategic [& operational] thought, rather, to the history of American strategy; for the evolution of American strategy before the 1950s has to be traced less in writings about strategy than in the application of strategic thought in war.” (p.xx)
>>> This book ranges from the American Revolution through Vietnam. <<<
Military force is not the only means; it is one choice or possibly part of a set of choices to attain national objectives. If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems look like nails. This view was a dramatically different panorama for a military strategist or a government leader. Your thoughts change from military force to alternative exercises of power when attempting to ‘control’ or guide your enemies – and friends – actions so they’re beneficial to you, possibly themselves, and perhaps with no or less carnage and destruction. If only it were so easy or assured to happen. However, given the force alternatives, it’s worth the try.
STRATEGIC CHOICES WHEN RESOURCES ARE LIMITED
Weigley approaches American military strategy chronologically starting when our early ‘country’ was constrained by comparatively limited martial resources. The strategy of ATTRITION is simply to outlast your enemy – exhaust his resources or willingness to continue before exhausting your own – and he decides to withdraw from your territory. Those resources are human (manpower); war material, financial or economic, and home front tenacity and resolve. You are willing to ‘trade’ territory for time during which you hope your enemy exhausts themselves. Within this strategy is an operational option of stretching your enemy thin to the point where your limited resources are sufficient to prevail.
Another limited means option is the strategy of PARTISAN WAR. Its essence is to identify and provide support to pockets of resistance residing within contested territory that can provide the human resources possessing a willingness to fight. Their main tactic is partisan terrorism against those supporting your enemy.
A third limited means ‘strategic’ option implemented during the early years of the U.S. was A PASSIVE NATIONAL DEFENSE. In essence a force of military reserves with some pre-positioned ‘mothballed’ or warehoused war materials. This is really an operational strategy to be proportionately activated in a time of crisis. There would be a small standing navy to project at specific overseas targets – for example, Barbary ‘pirates.’ Key harbors and coastal points would be fortified and patrolled by a few gunboats. The mothballed gunboats would be launched and manned by sailors summoned to temporary combat duty. Similarly, soldiers could be called up from the voluntary state militias for any land combats. Remember that 2nd Amendment in our U.S. Constitution about maintaining a well-regulated militia? Article II, Section 2 tersely mentions a national army and navy without providing any further details.
Later in his book, Weigley briefly discusses ‘LEAP FROGGING’ -- a fourth constrained resources option in his analytical and narrative coverage of strategies in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. This operational strategy (my choice of words) was used to address the resource crunch resulting from concurrently conducting war in the European Theatre and two major operations in the Pacific.
STRATEGIC ALTERNATIVES WHEN OF COMPARABLE STRENGTH
Very frequently, Weigley describes military leaders as searching for A SINGLE DECISIVE BATTLE or VICTORY on land (Napoleonic) or at sea (Mahanian) that in effect eliminates an enemy force as a threat or, better still, ends the war or a campaign, theatre of operations, or entirely. That opening or opportunity is more in your favor when your military force at that point of attack is comparatively stronger or at least even (perhaps with an added element of surprise). When weaker and at sea, A. T. Mahan calls it Nelsonian – a ‘calculated’ risk with a great potential result. However, the more probable failure could be catastrophic for you. So do not get overanxious or miscalculate.
Then there is A Strategy of ANNIHILATION, ‘total war’ or ‘hard war.’ You take the steps necessary to eliminate (with extreme prejudice) your enemy’s military forces or capacity to wage war. The object of war expands beyond your enemies’ military to its noncombatant people. In World War II, those measures included destroying the enemy’s economy (Britain was on the brink of financial collapse), terror bombing cities (London, Dresden, Tokyo), and, ultimately, complete obliteration of cities by exploding atomic bombs. Weigley employs Lt. General U.S. Grant’s “total war” policy during the Civil War for this discussion. Although only explicitly discussed by Weigley as a policy during our internal Indian Wars, you could (if sufficiently immoral) consider the possible subsets of an annihilation policy like racial[, ethnic, cultural, or religious] ‘genocide’ as part of your war policy. Nazi Germany did.
EXPANDING THE DIMENSIONS OF WAR
Another facet that Weigley builds upon is how military theory and weapons technology greatly changed the strategies for American warfare. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s SEA POWER concepts displaced the older coastal fortification-oriented U.S. naval approaches for projecting our naval might globally to shield our merchant shipping and supporting national aims such as U.S. territorial expansion.
Theorists General Giulio Douhet, Major Alexander P. De Seversky, and General William ‘Billy’ Mitchell delved into AIR POWER – adding a 3rd vertical dimension for war. Aircraft brought the enemies’ industries, economy, and noncombatant populace within military reach. Military ‘ethics’ were strained by the question of intentionally applying military force against civilian noncombatants to shatter their will to continue a war. It was judged much less effective than they had initially believed when used against Great Britain and Germany. So in Japan the U.S. took more extreme measures – igniting firestorms among very combustible urban construction and using the atomic bomb.
ATOMIC POWER dramatically altered the exercise of military power. It was total war taken well beyond any previously imaginable limits. It exponentially multiplied noncombatant casualties. And it severely altered national war aims – how do you constrain mutual destruction when all sides possess nuclear weapons with various delivery capabilities, and in detonating them nobody wins?
Weigley devotes considerable space to the concept of DETERRENCE focusing on atomic weapons, not war in general. This has been a strategic concern of the United States military and government since the U.S.S.R. was attempting to install missiles in Cuba, 90 miles off shore from the American mainland. Never mind the short-range missiles, we had ringing Soviet-controlled territory. The issues concerned quantity, nuclear payloads, and delivery system capabilities. It escalated into rising military budgets that strained national economies.
beyond The American Way Of War
More than 15 years after the publication of this book, the nuclear issues had expanded to mutually assured destruction, the multiples of overkill, nuclear survivability of government institutions, the ever-increasing stress on national economies, and anti-ballistic missile capabilities. Finally, it was addressed diplomatically through bilateral Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and negotiated ‘verification’ measures. Now there are a number of countries possessing nuclear weapons and the means for delivery.
All during this time, military combat was being scaled down to aggressive posturing (i.e. the crisis of that moment – Korean nuclear testing and missile launchings, facilities for producing nuclear fusible materials, Communist China building man-made islands to ‘extend’ territorial claims, etc.), and PROXY WARS.
“A war instigated by a major power which does not itself become involved: the end of the Cold War brought an end to many of the proxy wars through which the two sides struggled to exert their influence.” [Really?]
For example Korea (Communist China got involved as UN forces approached the Chinese border), Vietnam (China), Nicaragua (U.S. via the Contras during the Reagan administration), and Grenada (hosting Cuban troops was invaded by the U.S.).
ONE ADDITIONAL POINT TO CONSIDER
We should take into account that this book was published in 1973. The U.S. was disengaging from South Vietnam, which was cast as part of the effort to confront the worldwide expansion of Communism by not one, but now by two competing Communist powers – the U.S.S.R. and mainland Maoist China. Nuclear bombs and the capacity to deliver them was limited. It is currently in the arsenal of about a dozen countries (2-4 when this book was written) – although the self-control of a number of these countries is questionable. Economic competition AND commerce constraints were still rising to the level of military measures to exert international influence on specific countries. The U.S.S.R. was monolithic and controlled considerably more territory. It had been economically diminished in a military / space arms race, only to regain most of that power.
Middle East conflicts pit Israel against a few Arab countries – the religious aspect of Islam was there, but the variety of sects y were not theocracies. The United Nations still remained ineffectual, especially since the Korean conflict. Iran and Iraq remained under the control of strong dictatorships with opposing religious factions suppressed. And INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY has joined the military and economic fronts. Weigley may not address the specifics of this new world, but he does provide some ideas for assessing the situation and setting national and military policies.
The following COMMENT lists other books by Dr. Weigley.
Very highly recommended!
The only gripe I have about the book is that the discussion of American strategy in a nuclear world got into too much detail of budgets and bureaucracy. Also, the discussion of Vietnam is weak, but that can be excused since he did not have the advantage of highsight (the book being published in 1973).
Overall an excellent and thought-provoking study of the evolution of American military strategy.