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 16, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Doctrine, according to Dr. DiMarco, can be greatly effective at getting acquisition programs approved for the Army. It doesn’t not however, translate to sound warfighting. AirLand battle was born out of necessity when it was discovered that the Active Defense simply did not work. This is a lesson that I think the Army still needs to learn today. There is so much emphasis on doctrine and the doctrinally correct way to do something, that I wonder if anyone has bothered to check and see if the doctrine actually works. As a Naval Aviator, I can say that the Navy does not have doctrine and this has been to our benefit. Situations and threats change far too often to be hamstrung by something in an unclassified manual that takes far too long to read and even longer to incorporate a change. This is one of the many reasons why we operate based upon tactical recommendations. These are based upon the mission planning factors of the operational environment and can be altered to best fit your mission. Compared to the Army trying to fit a square peg in a round hole with their all encompassing doctrine, I think this makes us much more adaptable and flexible when conducting operations. Any USMC or USAF want to weigh in?

    Comment by Justin Reddick | March 16, 2017

  2. I’ll add a bit to what Justin from an Air Force acquisition perspective. There are numerous regulations on how acquisition programs must be handled. I believe this is to the detriment of the Air Force and government as a whole. There are so many regulations and so many steps to follow to create a program that it’s a wonder any equipment is actually purchased. As Justin stated, we have all the regulations but has anyone checked to see if they actually work. I for one think the Air Force acquisition process needs to be streamlined and I will say the same or the army doctrine. There is way too much of it and I believe not allowing wiggle room for the officers can lead to paralysis by analysis and so down the think to act cycle for their soldiers.

    Comment by Jeffery Hoover | March 16, 2017

  3. Given where we are today with doctrine, did Depuy actually win in the long-term? It seems Cushman’s ideas (the ones that resemble and are perhaps the antecedents of “Mission Command” and “disciplined initiative”) have resurfaced and formed some of the most talked-about doctrinal ideas that we have today….

    Comment by Scott Harr | March 17, 2017

  4. While Justin remarks made sense from the air domain prospective it does not apply to land operations due to the complexity and multi-level operational environment in which land forces operates due to the many control measures that are in place in today’s mission planning and execution. In addition, to vindicate the views of Cushman or DePuy based on their different policies would be myopathic in nature. Both elements of doctrine and mission command are equal part of the planning and execution process. While doctrine is necessary to stablish a start line for other entities to plan procurement, education, training and facilities, this by no means, should be the pure sole of the investment. In addition, as situations change tactically, mission command should be allowed to achieve mission success. Therefore, I present that Cushman and Depey were correct in their effort to better the Army. Depey convinced congress to approve a budget to improve the Army’s current obsolete equipment. Cushman wanted to increase effectiveness of the Army by focusing on the individual leader. Both regardless of success were critical to enhancing the Army’s interoperability from the ground up.

    Comment by Diego Alvarado | March 25, 2017

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