The American Way of War – My Opinion

The American Way of War was introduced as a concept by Russell Weigley in his book of the same name during the early 1970’s.   Essentially the theory runs that America attempts to totally dominate her enemies in war thus ending the war.   The American method of achieving this during and since World War II has been through the judicious application of firepower; that is, overwhelming force directed against an enemy.

American doctrine as it developed during and after World War II stresses the use of maximum force at the point of decision.   This is not much different from other nations doctrine, what makes it different is the means by which the American army applies this force.   For example, an American armored division of World War II contained almost twice as many tanks as the armored divisions of other countries.   American divisions also had a larger establishment of artillery per division with more allocated to higher echelons for use when needed.

This trend of large divisions changed in the post-war period, but firepower availability was not lessened as technology increased the firepower of available units.   In World War II and up to the present time American battalions whether infantry, armor, or artillery have more firepower available to them than comparable units from around the world.

One of the signature differences of the American Way of War versus other countries is the lengths to which Americans go to avoid excessive casualties.   American armies prefer to make the other person die and use technology to accomplish that as much as possible.   Three of the most prominent systems Americans rely on to help reduce casualties are artillery, reconnaissance, and airpower.   During World War II rather than clear a building of enemy with infantry and risk excessive casualties American units would instead use artillery to destroy the building and then mop up.   Reconnaissance was used to detect enemy movements and then artillery or airpower was sent to destroy the target rather than ground units.

Make no mistake, during and since World War II, American units would fight in close quarters, but even then they were (and still are) very profligate with ammunition. The thinking is that bullets and equipment can be replaced easily, trained soldiers are harder to come by.   For example, in the Tet offensive in Vietnam the Citadel in Hue, a Vietnamese cultural landmark, was largely destroyed during its recapture, but US Marine casualties were minimized once firepower restrictions were raised during its recapture.   Even in Iraq today firepower can be used to make up strength deficiencies and often is.

The American Way of war is one that seeks decision through the use of maneuver and shock effect by inflicting maximum casualties on the enemy while simultaneously minimizing friendly casualties.   This formula has worked well for American forces in wars large and small since 1941.   Unfortunately, the American military has focused on winning battles and is very good at it, but the American government has not demonstrated an equivalent grasp of the intricacies of diplomacy.   This failure on the diplomatic front will ensure that America needs its military far into the future.