The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H306: 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” that his active defense doctrine was never tested in battle? Should doctrine be focused solely on its warfighting utility or should it be a multi-demensional tool of the institutional army that facilitiates training, force development, procurement, and leader development as well as warfighting?

March 9, 2016 - Posted by | H300, Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,


  1. The debate between General Cushman and General DePuy highlights a necessary and important relationship between innovation and ordered infrastructure in the military. While DePuy’s active defense provided the necessary doctrinal capability and gap through the finish of the Cold War, the failure to test the theoretical doctrine meant it could never be validated in history. While an argument could manifest that the lack of need to test his doctrine was proof positive that active defense succeeded as a deterrent, I think the more important takeaway is that the United States military requires a balance between Cushman and DePuy’s ideals.

    The balance between innovation and infrastructure manifests at all levels of military organization and ultimately falls upon the leader for prudent direction. Leadership must not respond with risk avoidance when an unknown element emerges; instead, the unknown must serve as a stimulus for growth in the organization. This growth is only accomplished with leadership. Invariably, leadership is the by-product of institutional variables by those adhering to the mindsets of DePuy and Cushman. Ultimately, the military must amalgamate the two schools of thought into one viable alternative. Institutions must serve as points of departure instead of final destinations. Prudent risk must be invited instead of avoided. Doctrine must flexibly integrate the human dimension with a focus on adaptability and experimentation.

    Without the innovation of Cushman and the institutionalized determination of DePuy, the American military would not be in its current state of excellence. It falls upon the leaders of tomorrow to capture this spirit with an amalgamated focus on leadership to build an equally capable force in the future.

    Comment by Maj Matt Wunderlich, 19A | March 10, 2016

  2. I think the role of doctrine is a balance between General Cushman’s and General DePuy’s views. Doctrine cannot be too prescriptive that it impedes innovation because no two situations are identical and there needs to be scope for adjustment based on the context of the situation. On the other hand, doctrine cannot be completely focused on creative thinking because there needs to be standard procedures that facilitates common understanding and integration in a large organization like the military.

    Doctrine should also not just be focused on its warfighting utility. It is useful for a variety of functions, such as leader development, force development, etc. It can be used to provide guidelines and standardized procedures for various functions to align methods and promote best practices in a large organization like the military.

    Comment by Luke Goh, SG 19B | March 22, 2016

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