The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Economic Warfare: The American Way of War

The American Civil War vividly demonstrated how the products of the industrial revolution, the rifled musket, steam powered trains and ships, the telegraph, banking, and mass production manufacturing techniques changed tactical and operational warfare. Less noticable was the way in which the economic base of a country became an important aspect of its war making capability. Limited economic base meant limited war making capability while a large robust economic base meant a large war making capability. General Grant consiously developed his attritition strategy followed in the last eighteen months of the war based on his understanding of the economic advantages of the Union. Simply put, the Union could sustain losses of manpower and material and the South could not. Thus, tactical and operational victory, though desired, was not necessary to winning the war. Continuous fighting was necessary to make this happen –not continuous tactical victory. Thus Grant’s guidance to his subordinate :


Though focused tactically on battle, the purpose of battle was not to achieve tactical victory, but rather to deplete Southern resources, regardless of tactical victory. Thus, there was no direct link between military tactical victory and strategic victory. Military operations were necessary to enable the leveraging of the Union’s economic advantage, but the economic advantage was what was decisive not the supporting military campaign.

Grant focused on destroying the Southern Army, and then Southern governance.  Nothing done in the Civil War or after addressed the third aspect of Clausewitz’s trinity –the passion of the people.  Some argue that this was the reason for the failure of Reconstruction and domination of former Confederates of the South after the war.

Historian Russel Weigley sees the Civil War as a template for an “American Way of War:”  “The Civil War tended to fix the American image of war from the 1860s into America’s rise to world power at the turn of the century, and it also suggested that the complete overthrow of the enemy, the destruction of his military power, is the object of war.”

Does Weigley’s template for the American Way of War still apply today?  Are we pursuing a Grant model strategy in Afghanistan focused on insurgents and insurgent leadership, and ignoring the “passion” that supports the insurgency?

How does a strategy address the “passion” aspect of war?  Is it part of the military strategy or should it be part of the national strategy?  Who in government is the lead for attacking the enemy’s passion?


October 7, 2010 - Posted by | COIN, Current Events, H100, military history | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. The issue of the passion of the people is quite different in “The American Way of War”, which applies primarily to nation-states, and counter-insurgencies. Since we are now involved in the latter, I will confine my comments to passion in insurgencies and counter-insurgencies.

    The great advantage of the insurgent is that he does not require the passion of the people – only that of the few insurgents. The insurgent would like to have the power of the people, however, he will settle for ambivalence in the short-term until he can defeat the counter-insurgent.

    The counter-insurgent, on the other hand, requires the passion of the local populace to help separate the insurgent from the populace. The counter-insurgent also requires the passion of their home country populace in order to fight a sustained, bloody war.

    An insurgent attacks the passion of the local populace by using threats and terror to dissuade them from cooperating with the counter-insurgent. The insurgent also attacks the passion of the counter-insurgent’s home populace through a combination of information operations, spectacular attacks, and a steady flow of dead counter-insurgent soldiers.

    Comment by M.L. | October 8, 2010

  2. I have never seen attack the passion in an operations order or as part of a strategic plan. It maybe something used as a consideration at the tactical level, but attacking a people’s passion would be like attacking love. It’s not tangible and will not be defeated unless you plan to commit genocide or completely wipe out mankind.

    Passion can inspire the masses and troops in a cause that they will fight to their death for, but even if defeated in battle it doesn’t mean they will no longer have passion.

    People feel strongthly about their faith and their passions, but when it comes to war the tangible means of more forces, guns, and logistical superiority while denying it from the enemy will win the war.

    The Civil War left massive amounts of causalties on both sides so even though the North won the war the act of victorious celebration was more like swallowing a large pill. By the time the war ended those who celebrated were more happy as to not commit anymore lives to fighting in the war than bringing resolutions to the passions that brought them to that place to start off with.

    The Civil Rights movement ended decades ago, but racism lives on.

    Comment by MAJ Tanya Seymore | October 9, 2010

  3. I disagree with MAJ Seymore. You can absolutely target the passion of a people. One way is to simply break their will to fight. This was one of the objectives of General William T. Sherman as he marched across the South. This may not defeat the passion per se, but if the people no longer fight, it doesn’t really matter if they still feel strongly for their cause or not.

    Another way is to sway the passion from one loyalty to another. This is what we are trying to do in OEF today.

    Targeting the passion of a people can be tricky. Hitler tried to do it in WWII by bombing London and other civilian targets. However, by all accounts this hardened the resolve of the UK people, while simultaneously allowing the UK Air Force to regenerate.

    The Union Army seems to have more success with targeting the will of the people to fight during the Civil War between Sherman’s march and the naval blockade of the southern coasts.

    Comment by MAJ Trent Lythgoe | October 12, 2010

  4. “Does Weigley’s template for the American Way of War still apply today? Are we pursuing a Grant model strategy in Afghanistan focused on insurgents and insurgent leadership, and ignoring the “passion” that supports the insurgency?”

    I think that Weigley’s idea of the American Way of War still applies in today’s times but we Americans are less likely to apply this type of strategy in a conventional war. Afghanistan became a 10 year war due to us not achieving the results, not because we had the idea of trying to outlast the Taliban.

    The American people are not accustomed to protracted wars. Protracted wars bring high casualties, high costs, and unfavorable support from the American people.

    A war of attrition would be best supported by the American people if it was a war that all Americans (or most Americans)believed in, a war where America had overwhelming odds of winning, or a war that required small amounts of resources from American forces.

    The pirate situation off the coast of Somalia would probably have support from the American people as a war of attrition due it meeting the criteria in the above paragraph.

    Comment by Eric Morris | October 12, 2010

  5. The concept of attacking the people’s passion is probably one of the hardest military objectives to achieve. It was noted in a previous comment that you could attack the people’s passion in one way by breaking their will to fight. My question is, does this really break their passion or just prevent them from acting on that passion?

    I think a passionate people will find other ways to resist if that is what it really believe. They may not picked up weapons and continue to fight an armed force, but that also doesn’t mean that they will support the goals and objectives of the winning force.

    Total victory can only be achieved when the people’s passion has been changed. Winning the hearts and minds of the populace can be achieved, but it isn’t achieved by breaking their will to fight. Instead, army’s need to give the populace a reason to support their calls. Question on the populace what is better about one side over the other and changing what they truly believe in will by definition change their passion. Changing people’s behavior starts with changing what they believe in. If you don’t change what they believe their windows behaviors will return.

    Comment by MAJ David Price - SG 17D | October 17, 2010

  6. I agree with Tanya that addressing the intangible “passion of the people” is the most challenging aspect of warfare. This discussion brought to mind my experiences in Kosovo in 2002. The Kosovar Serbs and Kosovar Albanians that I talked to had a great deal of passion about the horrific events that had happened in history. Each of them also had deeply personal stories about family members and loved ones that they had lost in recent years.

    Visiting the memorial site at Kosovo Polje especially brought home the depth of passion displayed throughout the region’s history. The inscription on the memorial, as translated by our tour guide, was very chilling. I looked it up for reference:

    “Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth
    And of Serb blood and heritage
    And comes not to the Battle of Kosovo,
    May he never have the progeny his heart desires!
    Neither son nor daughter
    May nothing grow that his hand sows!
    Neither dark wine nor white wheat!”

    Bringing this back more directly to the current discussion topic, I agree that the passion of the enemy is an aspect that we definitely have to consider and take into account for planning and strategy purposes as best we can. But unfortunately, there have been no easy answers to the complex problem of combating a hate-fueled ideology, either now or in Civil War times.

    Comment by Rachel Wienke, 17D | October 19, 2010

  7. Passion of the unaligned people is an extremely important objective in conducting COIN operations. However, winning hearts and minds, is easier said than done. A natural friction point exists when trying to foster passion among non-combatants while simultaneously directly and indirectly battling insurgents. In the Civil War example, the strategy to strategically attack the South’s economic infrastructure was an effective tool for curtailing their fighting capability. But it further alienated a disenfranchised societal segment.
    Victory in a military operation is predicated on destroying the opponent’s capability and/or willingness to fight. I think that the strategy for a specific conflict must be grounded in an informed decision on which of these two options is the “path of least resistance”.

    Comment by Marc Leduc | February 17, 2011

  8. I believe that Weigley’s template for the American Way of War still applies today. Initially I disagreed with Weigley’s definition of the American Way of War because it was my belief that the true American way of war was total war like the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. However, these are the only examples of total war in our history and there have been a vastly greater number of limited wars which include every other conflict. Weigley’s template of using our resource advatage to win wars strategically applies to pretty much every operation that the US has conducted in our history. I think that we are pursuing a Grant model in Afghanistan focused on killing the terrorists wherever they are, but we are also focused on fighting the passion aspect.

    I disagree with MAJ Seymore’s comment that “attack the passion” has not been in an operations order or strategic plan. I believe that we were and are attacking the passion of the people with the mission to “Win Hearts and Minds” in Iraq and Afghanistan. The greatest tactical successes that I observed in Afghanistan came about because local nationals gave us information on where the enemy was located and what they were doing (i.e. members of the Taliban are located at x village, they just placed IEDs in these locations, etc.). We received this information from the local nationals because we developed a relationship with them. We met with village elders and explained to them what our objectives were and convinced them that it was in their best interests to work with us. We provided security for them and conducted various humanitarian, stabilization, and reconstruction projects and in return they provided us actionable intelligence. It is my belief that by conducting these operations we were directly attacking the passion of the people. We won the people’s passion in many areas. We took it away from the insurgents and used it to achieve our objectives and to prevent the insurgents from achieving theirs. Despite our successes pockets of resistence remain where we have not won the hearts and minds, so there is still work to be done in this regard. The succeses that we have achieved have mostly been a result of our success at attacking and capitalizing upon the passion of the people in my opinion. For example during the intial invasion into Afghanistan most of the ground forces were provided by the Northern alliance because we were able to capitalize upon the passion of the Northern alliance over the al-Qaeda assasination of Ahmad Shah Massoud.

    Comment by MAJ Rick Mercer | October 16, 2011

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