The Claremont Institute reviews Brian McAllister Linn's The Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War. And a complex way of war it is indeed. The campaign in Iraq, for example, was not one conflict but several, one form succeeding the other in rapid succession.
That has been the pattern from the beginning in Iraq, where our fighting men and women conquered a conventional force in the dizzyingly successful initial campaign, then were surprised by the part-criminal, part-ideological insurgency that followed. They adjusted and crushed the large-unit insurgents, faced a new threat from small-unit insurgents using booby traps, and adjusted again to limit the effectiveness of such attacks. Seeing the hostile elements turn toward localized attacks on civilian populations to try to foment civil war they adjusted once again with the surge to provide localized security for Iraqi civilians. And all this was done while training Iraqis to do the job themselves.
The "way" is not a fixed method but a mental attitude. That would be how an academic might describe it at a distance. Up close it was probably closer to "oh hell, what do we do next?".
But that mental attitude was not wholly unfettered; it was never completely up to the professional military to think as creatively as the situation demanded. The American Way of War is inextricably linked to politics. It is that way by design. And the reviewer points out that this sort of politics operated on two levels. The first existed at the level of the national mood. The other consisted of what went on in Washington and in the power centers of the country. The Home Front was always a key theater of any war America has fought.
American political and military leaders have long understood that they must contend with the inescapable and unique reality of the American democratic polity, a population that is collectively quick to anger though individually hesitant to go to war. Americans as a group have a way of life that they jealously defend, so much so that they cannot stand to see it diminished by real or imagined losses. That same way of life that is so worth defending makes the peacetime homefront an enormously attractive place. Americans have from the beginning distrusted standing armies because of the inherent threat such armies present to republican government, but even more so because standing armies require soldiers, and Americans are too caught up in their own lives to be soldiers. If Americans must take up arms to defend what they hold dear, they demand victory, and that it come soon. That consideration, more than any other, is at the core of the American mind for war. ...
The current war is disconcerting in its own ways, because the precipitating incident on 9/11 did draw the civilian population into the war. Then the initial rhetoric from just about everyone about the Global War on Terrorism linked the conflict to great citizen wars of the past, and the American public became engaged emotionally. Yet the country did not mobilize in any meaningful way. Whatever their feelings about Afghanistan and Iraq, the citizenry never felt the pain of separating from their peacetime lives. The military has fought the war with the professional force that has kept the brutality to a minimum—probably even to the extent that it has hampered their fighting effectiveness. This feels like citizen war, but it is being fought like a professional war, which drives the American mind for war half-mad.
I suspect that America has mobilized to a greater extent than is evident. The Homeland Security hassles; the relatively extensive use of contractors; even the battles on the Internet are forms of nontraditional mobilization. But despite this, I think the Claremont reviewer is fundamentally right. A global, low-intensity conflict is at odds with the traditional American way of conflict. What is less evident is whether today's experience will create a new tradition in its own right.
Just as the armed forces learned to cope with the ever changing nature of the conflict in Iraq so too may broader attitudes adjust themselves to twists and turns of history.
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