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 18, 2013 - Posted by | COIN, Current Events, H100, military history | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. It is national strategy that must must address the passion aspect of war. The military can if directed used planning and defense strategy to further the goals or even make recommendations to the SECDEF or National Security Counsel on how the military can be of use in addressing passion and ultimately it is the President who is the lead for directing/approving these endeavors. However, the military’s role is to act within the constraints of the security strategy and senior guidance. If the direction is to defeat the enemy then this is what must be achieved and options must be given to the President and senior decision makers so they can pick the path to victory.

    In the extreme, there can be no rogue execution of unauthorized planning by the military to reach unstated or possibly undesirable ends. I doubt that CENTCOM arrived at the decision on how to deal with stability and insurgent concerns without approval of the plan because it could have unwittingly committed the U.S. in a manner not consistent with national strategy or undercut other departments and agencies. The DoD is a member of the team but the captain and coach are the ones who will ultimately decide what play to run – and if that includes guidance addressing aspects of passion then that must become a vital piece of the mission.

    I do not intend to undersell the importance of a strategy that reaches into the passion of the people side of the trinity (such as stability and reconstruction operations), simply that I am of the opinion that the decision to execute these strategies falls on decision makers above the active duty ranks.

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | October 21, 2013

  2. I agree that the President and the Department of Defense establish strategies the guide our military. I also believe that Weigley’s template for the American Way of War as shaped the way we do things today, but not totally. Economic warfare is an ancient tradition that we have long surpassed. An example would be during the 1700’s the British blockades and the French embargoes under Napoleon. He used different techniques to destabilize an enemy’s economy in order to gain advantages during the wars. I believe we use to be pretty good at doing this as well. Ronald Reagan used economic means to win the Cold War and Franklin Roosevelt established a Economic Board of Warfare during WWII.

    In the Economic Warfare Report in 2009, it states that for the United States their is currently a divide between “leaders that are focused on guns and leader’s that are focused on butter. There is no such separation in places such as Russia, China and Iran”.

    In fact, it appears that all of our potential enemies understand the benefits of integration between the two disciplines. I believe they realize, as did Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt. With all the media reports and current National Defense Strategy it appears that the defense infrastructure is funded by the economy. This understanding is now becoming a great effort for our Congress who are working to minimize the trillion-dollar deficits. I’m not so sure that we are pursuing the Grant model in Afghanistan, I believe the “passion” is still there and that it’s addressed in the National Military Strategy, Defense Strategy and National Security strategy. Our leaders at the DOD level understand what our priorities are. Unfortunately, our countries current economic situation has made us all aware of the so call “economic terrorism” that we as a nation are currently undergoing as well as the long drawn out wars that are exhausting our resources. So, I would say that passion is there, but exhaustion may supersede it. I believe that DOD and Congress together are the lead for attacking our enemy’s passion. They just need to come up with a better COA to do so. What COA…I’m not so sure.

    Comment by Tawan Harris 17B | November 19, 2013

  3. It will be interesting to see how the Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement pans out. According to an article posted on 21 November on, “Without an accord on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the United States says it could pull out all its troops at the end of 2014 and leave Afghan forces to fight the Taliban insurgency on their own.”

    I am sure that there are many intelligence analysts and strategists, some who wear the uniform, and some who wear a suit and tie, who have “wargamed” the possible outcomes if Afghanistan does not sign the BSA.

    If the US removes its forces from Afgahistan, it is likely that others would follow, which could limit the amount of international financial assistance to Afghanistan. This decision, which would involve removing direct action forces who deliberately “attack the enemy’s passion”, could leave a void over time where even if our intelligence community was able to identify the “passion”, we would have to rely on Host Nation Forces to attack it. Only history will tell if our “actions” were correct, or if they were decided at the right time.

    In terms of the “enemy’s passion”, I am not positive who is the overall lead, but I imagine that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence plays a huge role in identifying the “enemy’s passion” along with the National Security Advisors to the White House. Based on recommendations from those offices, the SECDEF would take the lead in applying/allocating forces to attack the “passion”. It is the repsonsibility of the SECDEF, along with the Component Secretaries and JCS to ensure that the “exhaustion” referenced by MAJ Harris does not occur.

    Comment by Matt McCarty, SG 17A | November 22, 2013

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