The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H108 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 14, 2015 - Posted by | H100 | , , , , ,


  1. Under President Bush’s leadership, we were pursuing insurgents and their leadership, but when the administration shifted, so did our strategy. The focus was shifted from the battlefield to politics at home. Over the past 7 seven years, our forces in Afghanistan have dwindled to almost nothing and our mission has shifted from conducting combat operations to advising and training. Clearly, we have ignored the “passion” that is fueling the insurgency hence the rise in lone wolf attacks both in the US and abroad. Whether or not we should have gone is irrelevant because we went, but without question, we should not leave nor should we continue to ignore the obvious problems and power vacuum we have inadvertently created; otherwise, the second and third order effects will produce ramifications for generations to come.

    Comment by Major John McAlister | October 15, 2015

  2. While the template issued by Weigley is still appropriate to conventional conflicts, recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the requirement for an adjustment to strategy to account for unconventional passion and prejudice management. In this vein, military strategy should directly influence enemy passion while thoroughly exploring enemy psychological centers of gravity. Without accounting for the passions, a military force could win the conventional battle while losing the unconventional war.

    Strategy must incorporate all forms of national power to include diplomatic, informational, military, and economic aspects. Any strategy that fails to leverage these instruments of national power invites risk and could fail to win the enemy’s passion and therefore invite strategic failure. This should manifest at the national level with a whole of government strategy while simultaneously appearing at the military’s level in how the fielded force intends to affect the enemy’s will. By embracing a whole of government approach at strategic, operational, and tactical levels the nation heightens the effectiveness of the informational campaign.

    The lead for attacking the enemy’s passion should be designated according to specific missions. This might be the Commander in Chief for certain missions, the Secretary of State for others, or potentially the lead General or Admiral for a mission. By tailoring the lead agency and agent for attacking the enemy’s passion, the government can optimize the resources specific to a campaign and enemy.

    Comment by Matt Wunderlich, SG 19A | October 26, 2015

  3. 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?

    Weigley’s template for the American Way of War does not apply today. Our leaders through the course of the last decade of war had developed an understanding and need to attack problems at the root of the cause rather than the ones conducting the cause. Therefore, by attacking the passion of the war we essentially choke out the insurgency. Hence we have developed a lot of stability operations within the COIN strategy to earn hearts and minds of the public and essentially starve an insurgency. In developing a proper stability strategy the US leadership must understand what fuels insurgencies, therefore a strategy that affects the passion in war can benefit the US. A mix of the President, his cabinet, military advisors, and other government organizations are responsible for attacking the enemy’s passion. They must understand the culture, and develop the ways to affect passion of the people.

    Comment by James Stall, 19A | November 11, 2015

  4. In “Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror” by Mary Habeck, Habeck notes that the central tenet of Jihadist ideology is Tawhid – the absoluteness of God’s sovereignty. The implication is that Islam should permeate all aspects of life with societies organized based on the Shari’a – the law system given by God. Jihadists therefore believe in the complete rejection and destruction of other ideologies. In addition, Jihadists believe that unbelievers are an existential threat to Islam and that the US leads the current war to destroy Islam.

    Given this context, it is therefore extremely challenging for the US to win over the “passion” of the people. A possible measure would be to adopt an information campaign through respected Islamic scholars in Islamic countries to counter this Jihadist ideology. From this perspective, the “war on terror” should be as much an information / ideological war as it is a combat operation.

    Comment by Luke Goh, SG 19B | November 13, 2015

  5. Our nation must recognize which elements of our national power have the ability to influence the passion for wars. I believe our military put a lot of effort into conducting the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan within the context of the passion of the people. Our shift to COIN focus placed a great deal of responsibility on the military to carry out diplomacy and information aspects within the context of winning the war. When was the last time we invested the time and effort into teaching cultural awareness to military leaders in the midst of a war?

    What other entities can be leveraged to help shift the passion of the people? We face a dynamic and complex problem, the victims of the Taliban and of Sadaam’s regime learned a way of life that we deemed wrong. There is a long education and informative process to helping people understand the why of problems and then there is the major task of establishing rapport. The history of Afghanistan seems to have taught the people there to be very weary of outsiders, every generation seems to see their wave of foreigners, national resistance, regime changes, etc.

    I think it comes down to learning, teaching and sharing knowledge. How is that facilitated and built upon?

    Comment by Melissa Brown 19A | November 15, 2015

  6. Unfortunately, I believe we continue to apply the “American Way of War” mentality in the current operating environment. I say unfortunately, because it is very unlikely to see the complete overthrow of a non-state actor or radical ideology, yet we pursue conflicts in a seemingly black and white, war-or-peace, mentality. This is pronounced clearly in the Army Strategic Planning Guidance: the Army “prevents, shapes, and wins across the range of military operations.” The implication is that if the might of the American military efforts are not enough to prevent or shape the environment, then we will use military force to win, decidedly. But shouldn’t we view preventing a conflict as a win? If we shape our adversaries actions to seek political solutions before war, isn’t that a win?

    The American Way of War narrows our thinking, and frames our understanding of victory. We believe that in order to be victorious we must have an overwhelming military victory that ends in total capitulation of our adversary. This paradigm must change. In order to win in the future, we cannot view victory as the total overthrow of our opponent and complete destruction of his forces. Winning should mean bringing warring parties into the existing international system, normalizing their behavior, and slowly liberalizing their societies.

    Comment by Kyle Johnston | November 30, 2015

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