The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Doctrine after Vietnam

Lieutenant General John H. Cushman, Combined Arms Center (CAC)Commander 1973-1976, and General William E. DePuy, US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Commander 1973-1976, had dyametrically opposed views of the purpose and nature of army doctrine. Ultimately, General Depuy’s view won out, resulting in the ineffective 1976 FM 100-5 focused on the concept of the “Active Defense.” General Cushman’s opposing view which included a nuanced view of war-fighting; emphasized education over training; and focused on creative thinking over predictable solutions, was the loser. Depuy’s view is largely credited with setting the conditions for the transformation to the successful “Airland Battle” doctrine of the 1980s. Did the army make an error following Depuy’s doctrinal view, and how does this debate provide insights into the on-going doctrinal transformation of the 21st Century? Was Depuy just “Lucky?”

February 21, 2012 - Posted by | H300, leadership, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I don’t believe DePuy was lucky at all. His strict adherance to doctrinal approaches was the right answer at the right time for the Army and the threat that we faced during that period. Although the Active Defense was later discredited as ineffective, the following wargaming and design did lead to a successful and sustainable doctrine. In today’s doctrinal transformation, the projected enemy threats will likely drive it’s evolution. Interestingly, considering the flexibility in Cushman’s doctrine and modern “hybrid” threats, I believe we will develop a refined doctrine far more similar to Chushman’s than DePuy’s.

    Comment by Matthew Wilder 17D | February 25, 2012

  2. Matt Wilder has several good points and in general I agree with him in principle that the docturnal approach was right for the times but I feel he was lucky because there were other great leaders like Starry and Otis that fixed or built off of his efforts. LTG Cushman might not have “won” but he was also a visionary who I think helped balance the doctrinal approach that Depuy had so we have the leaders that we have today.

    I think the debate today is ongoing because of the era of limited resources we are now facing. With an ILE selection board next year and the trend toward force on force at the training centers are we really preparing all our future leaders for a hybrid war doctrine or are taking a realistic approach with what funding we expect to have

    Comment by MAJ Ronald Eggelston/17D | February 27, 2012

  3. I agree that in today’s doctrinal transformation, enemy threats will likely drive evolution. Likewise in the future doctrine is highly likely to quite similar to Cushman than Depuy. Although Depuy was more successful, it was due in part to his strict drive and fortitude toward doctrinal approaches at that time.

    Comment by MAJ LaShaunda Jackson 17A | February 27, 2012

  4. DePuy needed to make a major doctrinal shift in order to “shake up” a deteriating Army. At the time, it was of the upmost importance to emphasis the “science” of command by clearly defining task, condition, and standards. Furthermore, the Army at the time, needed a defined model to developing training for Individuals and Collective Organizations. The other portion of this that is significant is that DePuy’s emphasis on the ‘active defense’ was easier to rally political (fiscal) support. If one briefs that the Army may not win an offensive campaign, then the Army can simply change the nature of the offensive plan to generate more favorable conditions. Conversely, if we are going to get beat because of aging equipment in the defense, that is unacceptable. Without doubt, the ‘active defense’ does not ‘seize the iniative,’ but there was genuine genious in DePuy’s approach to doctrine.

    Comment by Marcus Hay | February 28, 2012

  5. I do not believe the Army man an error selecting DePuy’s doctrinal view, nor do I think he was “Lucky.” General DePuy made the necessary drastic changes needed in the Army at that time. As we (ILE students) have learned, doctrine is an ever evolving document (good and bad changes, based on whose opinion you listen to); to count, there has been at least four new documents released since 12-01 started class.

    I believe a collaborative effort of lessons learned, theories and doctrine from other countries, to include the U.S., makes for a good Field Manual, Joint Doctrine, etc., tailored to the U.S. Forces Standards.

    Comment by MAJ LaMaudia Bentley, 17D / March 1, 2012 | March 1, 2012

  6. This historical example is a good one for our senior leaders to review with today’s looming force structure reduction. They must understand that our post-OIF / OEF force will have to face many of the same challenges that the post-Vietnam force face: reduced resourcing, reduced manning, unknown future threat, and focusing the force on operations other than COIN-like operations. With this in mind our nation’s senior leaders, military and civilian, should take the time to review how our actions immediately after Vietnam helped or impeded the successfully post-war transformation of our military and inter-agency counterparts.

    Personally, I believe that there is adequate time, space, and resourcing for us to develop a force that is doctrinally sound and capable of critical thinking. I do not believe that our force has to focus on one or the other. Instead, I hope that our senior leaders realize that our force would be better prepared for the uncertainty of future operations by developing a doctrinally sound force that is also capable of critical thinking. That way, when the next operation is nothing like OIF / OEF, our force’s leaders can use their creative thinking skills to adapt our doctrine or even create new TTPs / SOPs / Doctrine to successfully accomplish our nation’s desired endstate.

    Comment by MAJ Chris Moore, 17A | March 4, 2012

  7. I have to agree with MAJ Bentley in that I would not be so quick to categorize the Army’s initial acceptance of Depuy’s doctrinal view as an error. I also would not have been so quick to hand him a wooden “Lucky D” placard for his desk.

    First, Gen. Depuy understood the need for transformation at the time and had also learned how to “speak” to those people he needed on his side in order to succeed in transforming the Army. Even though active defense itself was flawed, there was the recognition that doctrine was a very persuasive tool in the equipment procurement process. Active Defense notwithstanding, not all elements of his doctrine were wrong. FM 100-5 re-emphasized tactics, techniques and procedures, which not only focus on weapons systems but on training and, in the end, generated much needed discussion from the field that led to further improvements to the doctrine. In fact, had Depuy accepted and brought Cushman’s ideas into the new manual, it would have been a stronger product. Internal collaboration is not only important but in terms of the future operating environment, interservice and multinational elements should warrant careful consideration into any new doctrinal developments.

    There are several lessons that can provide useful insights into the on-going doctrinal transformation. We have to make clearer connections between the threat and any “new” doctrine and broadening your perspective, by taking input from the field, for example, is not necessarily a bad thing. We must also be careful not to put our blinders on by, for example, developing new systems designed for use with a specific or narrowly defined niche in mind. The same goes for any doctrinal categorization of what the next “theater” might be.

    I have no doubt that our senior leaders have the same disagreements today. In fact, I submit to you that in an organization as diverse and as large as the Army it should not be one single person who directs that – “this is the way to fight.” There must be critical and reflective discussion, receptive of new ideas. Contemporary debate centers on COIN or Hybrid Threat and the place it currently holds in our doctrine. The same goes to failed or fragile states, seen mostly in Africa and the Middle East as our next battlefield. The past is helpful, but just like doctrine, should be used as a guide and not as a checklist or a static idea of how to fight.

    Comment by MAJ Ramos | March 9, 2012

  8. I would like to approach the question from a different angle. I am not sure there is a “big” debate over doctrinal transformation today. The problem I see today is that we use both GEN DePuy and LTG Cushman’s approaches. Our “doctrine” today covers everything: Army Doctrine, Joint Doctrine, NATO, Doctrine, etc… The Army has doctrine that covers Combine Arms Maneuver in ADP 3-0 down to 40-mm Grenade Launchers in TM 3-22.31.
    I am not sure the debate is about the purpose and nature, but how the doctrine is organized. Let me try to explain: On the Army Publication Website, Doctrine and Training are under the same category. The sub-categories underneath go from ADP, ADRP, ATTP, SMCT, FMs, MTPs, STPs, TCs, TMs, What separates a Training Manual from a Field Manual from an Army Doctrine Publication? One year ago, “Operations” was FM 3-0 and over 200 pages long. Today, “Operations” is now an Army Doctrine Publications 3-0 (ADP 3-0) and is 14 pages long.
    So why the change? Was it to drastically shape the Army’s approach to war fighting or was it to make it easier to secure resources from Congress? I believe today’s “Doctrine” is going to focus on both: from Decisive Action down to Individual Common Tasks. The doctrine is going to cover it all. The only question is how the Army presents its Doctrine in a clear and precise manner that enables it to secure the technology and resources that support doing everything.

    Comment by MAJ Ryan Barnett, SG17D | March 15, 2012

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