The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Clausewitz and the American Military Profession

Clausewitz is famous for his comment that war is an extension of politics by other means. This is not the definition of war, but rather the context within which war takes place. That is, war takes place and is only understandable within the context of politics. By extension then, to be able to effectively plan, supervise, and conduct war a senior military leader must, in addition to his expertise regarding military matters, also be expert at understanding politics.

The sticking point here, is that the professional American military officer is taught to avoid politics. Expert on American military professionalism, Morris Janowitz, stated:

Under democratic theory, the “above politics” formula requires that, in domestic politics, generals and admirals do not attach themselves to political parties or overtly display partisanship. Furthermore, military men are civil servants, so that elected leaders are assured of the military’s partisan neutrality.

In practice, with only isolated exceptions, regulations and traditions have worked to enforce an essential absence of political partisanship.

Has this tradition of non-partisanship caused American military leadership to focus too much on the mechanics of making war at the operational and tactical level? What is the role of the senior military leader in formulating national strategy and can that leader avoid being politically partisan if the different political parties disagree on strategy?

How has the war in Iraq illustrated Clausewitz’s concept of the relationship between war and politics?

How do Clausewitz’s ideas, including the important idea of the trinity, influence our understanding of the current situation in Afghanistan?

October 12, 2012 Posted by | H100 | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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 | , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

My Doctrine Right or Wrong

The results of flawed doctrine: Unescorted Daylight Strategic Bombing

The focus of H200 was an analysis of how useful doctrine developed in peace time, based on previous war experience, proved to be in the conduct of operations in World War II.

The history of interwar transformation and doctrine development process provides insights into the relationship of peacetime visions of future wars and the actual conduct of war. In World War II the German army, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Army Air Force all attempted to execute doctrine developed in the years after WWI, on the battlefields of WWII.

In some cases, blitzkrieg doctrine for example, the doctrine proved remarkably effective. In other cases, the primacy of the battleship in navy doctrine for example, the doctrine failed to meet the requirements of modern war. Were there organizational characteristics that permitted a particular service (the German army) to have an accurate understanding of tactical ground warfare, and another (the U.S. navy) fail to understand the importance of key technologies?

Some observers believe that writing doctrine in peace time is a futile exercise because the lessons of history are such that the conditions of the next war will be completely different from the last war and impossible to predict. Getting doctrine right is more luck than genius. Thus only very multi-functional formations are of any use to the army of the future, and only vague, general and generic doctrine is appropriate for the current and future operating environment. Do you agree or disagree?

Are there doctrinal issues which our current military refuses to recognize because we have invested too much in organization, training, and equipment to change the doctrine at this point? If so what are they and why are they flawed?

February 17, 2012 Posted by | H200, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Clausewitz and the American Military Profession

Clausewitz is famous for his comment that war is an extension of politics by other means. This is not the definition of war, but rather the context within which war takes place. That is, war takes place and is only understandable within the context of politics. By extension then, to be able to effectively plan, supervise, and conduct war a senior military leader must, in addition to his expertise regarding military matters, also be expert at understanding politics.

The sticking point here, is that the professional American military officer is taught to avoid politics. Expert on American military professionalism, Morris Janowitz, stated:

Under democratic theory, the “above politics” formula requires that, in domestic politics, generals and admirals do not attach themselves to political parties or overtly display partisanship. Furthermore, military men are civil servants, so that elected leaders are assured of the military’s partisan neutrality.

In practice, with only isolated exceptions, regulations and traditions have worked to enforce an essential absence of political partisanship.

Has this tradition of non-partisanship caused American military leadership to focus too much on the mechanics of making war at the operational and tactical level? What is the role of the senior military leader in formulating national strategy and can that leader avoid being politically partisan if the different political parties disagree on strategy?

How has the war in Iraq illustrated Clausewitz’s concept of the relationship between war and politics?

How do Clausewitz’s ideas, including the important idea of the trinity, influence our understanding of the current situation in Afghanistan?

September 22, 2011 Posted by | H100 | , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Professionals

The 18th Century saw the perfection of the concept of the professional army. From the point of view of the monarch they were a great asset to the kingdom –ensuring protection from enemies from within as well as without the crown’s borders. The professional army had numerous positive attributes. It also had limitations. Both its attributes and its limitations directly effectived how the Kingdoms and Empires of the 18th Century waged wars. What were those effects?

Today the Western military forces, including the U.S. Army, are considered the finest professional military forces ever produced. As a professional military force, what attributes, both positive and negative, does the U.S. military, and the army in particular share with the professional forces of Frederick the Great’s Prussia?

Do the professional attributes of the U.S. military effect how the U.S. military wages war in a way similiar to the professionals effect on war in 18th Century? If so, how?

September 1, 2011 Posted by | H100 | , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Grooming and Picking Generals

In his article, A Failure in Generalship, Paul Yingling argues that the American army’s process for selecting generals is flawed. He advocates taking the general officer promotion system away from the military and making it a task for Congress. Recently, retired MG Scales wrote an article which seemed to back up Yingling’s view (see previous blog). Numerous other analysts believe that Yingling’s general point is accurate.

There are essentially two different military philosophies regarding the system used to pick general officers. One view is a view that comes from the French revolutionary armies of the 18th and early 19th century. That view is promotion should be based strictly on merit. In this system officers are selected from among their peers for promotion based on their demonstrated performance of duty. Ultimately, this promotion by merit system results in the most competent officers achieving the highest rank.

A second system comes from the Prussian army of the 19th Century. That view is to identify through rigorous testing a small elite cadre of the most intelligent officers in the army. These officers then are specially educated and assigned for the rest of their careers. They are specifically groomed to lead the army at the highest levels. Promotion in this system is based on intellectual ability, special education, and talent.

The promotion by merit system assumes that the best qualifications for command are demonstrated by success in command. This philosophy is traditionally the bedrock of promotion in the naval service (both in the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy) where time in command of ships and at sea are the ultimate test of fitness for command.

Which system does the U.S. army promotion system seem to follow? Is Yingling right? Is there a failure of generalship in the U.S. Army? If so, is it because of the selection philosophy the army uses, or, is it just that the execution of the process is flawed? If the selection process is flawed, how does that explain Generals like Patraeus and McCrystal? What process or philosophy do you believe produces the best senior leaders? Does the senior officer promotion system need to change?

October 15, 2010 Posted by | H100 | , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

H301 Poll — Red Lobseters versus Mass. National Guard

Feel free to comment on your answer!

February 2, 2010 Posted by | H300 | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Who Noticed General Scales in our Classroom?

This month in Armed Forces Journal Major General Robert H. Scales wrtoe:

We have too few of these officers because the services tend to accelerate the careers of officers who, early in their careers, show talent at the tactical level of war. Battalion, squadron and ship commanders habitually reward subordinates who mirror themselves. These subordinates tend to be officers who get things done, the go-to, can-do types who make their mark with managerial brilliance. The irony of the system is that the requirement for competence shifts from the tactical to the strategic at just the time in their careers when tactical officers leave command to move on to higher levels of responsibility at the colonel and flag level. As a result, too often we see skillful tacticians thrust into strategic staff jobs they are ill-prepared to perform.

I’d like to know how come I didn’t notice him in the classroom during our discussion of Jomini?  Did someone tape the class and send it to him?  Maybe it was someone from last year’s class because he also hits on subjects from the article in Small Wars Journal and from my notes for next week’s class.  Regardless, it is also very interesting.

If you are interested in the complete article click here.

Comment below on any aspect of the article.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Current Events, H100, leadership, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Does the American Military See in the Mirror?

Jomini and Clausewitz coexist in many modern militaries.  Jomini, with his emphasis on principals and application may dominate at  the tactical level of war.  Clausewitz, with the emphasis on ambiguity, complexity and politics tends to become more important at the more senior leadership levels.  The break point logically seems to be at the level of brigade command.  Brigade commanders are the military’s senior tacticians.  They are involved in the day to day operations and maintenance of the force and have the responsibility to planning, leading, and executing operations.  Brigade commanders live in the tactical environment.  Cause and effect relationships at the brigade level are more direct and the certainty of factors influencing decisions is higher.  Some general officers operate in the tactical environment as well –depending on the operational situation.  However, at the general officer level the tendency is for issues to become more complex and for effects to become more separated from causes.  Politics, media, and other factors beyond the military’s control begins to intrude on decision making at the general officer level.

Do you agree or disagree with the above analysis?

A challenge facing the effectiveness of general officers is two-fold.  First, how does one select the best officer to operate in the Clausewitz world (senior leader) based on the performance of officers who are typically operating in the Jominian world (tactical)?  In addition, how does the army train senior leadership (Clausewitzian) thinking before the leader makes the general officer ranks, if there is little or no  opportunity to practice it for most of an officer’s career at the tactical level?

Some analysts believe, whether the above described relationship exists or not between Jomini and Clausewitz’s ideas, its irrelevant because American culture demands a demonstrated, positive, scientific approach to all activity and thus the Jominian approach to war dominates the American way of war at all levels.  Do you agree?

September 29, 2009 Posted by | H100 | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Creative Thinking and Military History

One of the recent popular books that delves into the subject of critical and creative thinking is Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling Blink:  The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  This book y is a fairly in depth discussion of intuitive decision making.  What is interesting is that I was not expecting Gladwell to talk about the military, but he does. The following is one excerpt from the book:

“Of all the interviews I conducted while researching Blink, the one that made the most lasting impression on me was my interview with General Paul Van Riper –the hero (or villain) of the Pentagon’s Millennium Challenge war game….  I remember being surprised when he took me on a tour of his house by the number of books in his study.  In retrospect, of course, that’s a silly thing to find surprising.  Why shouldn’t a Marine Corps general have as many books as an English professor?  I suppose that I had blithely assumed that generals were people who charged around and “did” things; that they were men of action, men of the moment.  But one of the things that Van Riper taught me was that being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous course of education and experience.    Van Riper beat Blue Team because of what he had learned about waging war in the jungles of Vietnam.  And he also beat Blue Team because of what he had learned in that library of his.  Van Riper was a student of military history.”

So, given the above and the readings for H101, consider the following questions:

Do you agree that military history is a critical tool for the professional officer?  If so, how do you rate the army as an institution, providing and emphasizing that skill?  Why?

If you think its an important skill, is it only important for senior leaders and field grade officers?  Does it  have uses for the company grade officer and NCO as well?

If it is an important skill –what can the Army do to teach the skill better than it does?

August 18, 2009 Posted by | H100 | , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments