Book Launch: The Echo of Battle: The Army's Way of War
Brian McAllister Linn, Professor of History and Claudius M. Easley Faculty Fellow, Texas A & M University, and former Fellow, Wilson Center, author; commentators Caroline Ziemke, Research Staff Member, Strategy, Forces, and Resources Division, Institute for Defense Analyses; Thomas A. Keaney,
Acting Director, Strategic Studies Program, and Executive Director, Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.
One of the pressing topics for today's military is the preparation of the United States' armed forces for the conflicts of the twenty-first century. Prof. Brian Linn, speaking at the Division of United States Studies' discussion of his The Echo of Battle: The Army's Way of War, explored the ways in which the U.S. Army has attempted and should attempt to prepare itself for the wars of today and the future.
While an instructor at the Army War College, which is charged with teaching its students the skills necessary to anticipate new military challenges, Linn found the curriculum to be problematic. It required the students to define the role of the Army in the world of today and the future by studying wars of the past, instead of focusing on and preparing for a war that reflects current world situations. Linn identified three strands of thinking in the Army when it came to war preparation, each of which has limited the ability of military thinkers to prepare adequately for the conflicts of today. He labeled the proponents of the various schools "guardians," "heroes," and "managers."
The "guardians," according to Linn, derived their philosophy of warfare from conflicts with Europe such as the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Assuming that any war would be the result of a European attack, the Guardians believed that the nation's security depended upon building harbor defenses around the coastal cities of the eastern United States. The "guardians," Linn said, "saw war preparation as an engineering project." Their way of thinking did not end with the nineteenth century, however. The promoters of the anti-ballistic missile defense system in the 1950s, for example, were among the inheritors of this tradition.
The "heroes" approach to the theory of warfare is grounded in the U.S. struggle to conquer the Western frontier in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For the "heroes," the war is a struggle among individuals, and the outcome of any war is determined by the virtue, morale and discipline of each individual soldier. Linn found this theory to be the most adaptable for warfare because it helped the army to cope with insurgent-style attacks as well as an organized European military. He cautioned, however, that the "heroes" philosophy's emphasis on the human spirit has often obscured strategic thinking and has led to the use of anti-intellectual phrases, such as "the army is meant to break things." The "heroes" theory of warfare is currently evident in military assertions such as "the lack of morale at home impairs the military's ability to fight in Iraq."
The "managers" approach, of which President Dwight D. Eisenhower, General George C. Marshall and Vietnam War generals were major proponents, maintains that success in war is dependent upon mobilization of the entire nation and on the Army's ability to overwhelm enemy forces quickly. This has led the Army to emphasize a strategy of building momentum, staying on the offensive and winning decisively. The assumptions are that the enemy will remain passive and that war will be primarily land warfare.
Commenting that Linn's book is "all about how the United States copes with the unexpected," Caroline Ziemke added that the Army's "bumper sticker" mentality may be in part a function of the PowerPoint era. She regards current and overly-short Pentagon briefings as sacrificing in-depth analyses for the kinds of bullet points that will fit on a slide. She noted as well that the past and current military is somewhat contemptuous of and loath to defer to the judgments of civilians. The political leadership and the citizenry generally, for their part, rarely challenge this attitude. That has, for example, impeded intelligence about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with politicians wary of questioning the military leadership. Thomas Keaney, a former professor of history at the U.S. Air Force Academy, found the tension between army intelligence and its civilian leadership to be ironic, as the army is rooted in civilian service. The commentators agreed that the Army must overcome the clashes with civilian leadership, with other branches of the armed forces, and among the different theories of warfare within its own intelligence community, to be better prepared for future conflicts.
Drafted by Acacia Reed
Philippa Strum, Director, Division of U.S. Studies 202-691-4129