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Antulio J. Echevarria II reveals how successive generations of American strategic theorists have thought about war. Analyzing the work of Alfred Thayer Mahan, Billy Mitchell, Bernard Brodie, Robert Osgood, Thomas Schelling, Herman Kahn, Henry Eccles, Joseph Wiley, Harry Summers, John Boyd, William Lind, and John Warden, he uncovers the logic that underpinned each theorist's critical concepts, core principles, and basic assumptions about the nature and character of war. In so doing, he identifies four paradigms of war's nature - traditional, modern, political, and materialist - that have shaped American strategic thought. If war's logic is political, as Carl von Clausewitz said, then so too is thinking about war.
Early modern European warfare features prominently in several important discussions of early modern violence, notably the debate on the Military Revolution and its variants, as well as forming part of the standard narrative of state formation and the emergence of an international order based on sovereign states. While the dominant trend was towards establishing the state as a monopoly of legitimate violence, the patterns and practices of European warfare remained diverse, as were the ways in which they interacted with state and ‘international’ structures. The creation of permanent forces was slow and uneven, while their implications varied depending on whether they were navies or armies. This chapter contests conventional conceptual models, such as that of ‘limited war’ waged by allegedly disinterested ‘mercenaries’. It argues that efforts to impose tighter discipline arose from multiple political, cultural, social and religious impulses, and varied in effectiveness. War was certainly not limited in terms of its capacity for violence and destruction, but it nonetheless remained broadly within established Christian concepts of ‘just war’ directed by a ‘proper authority’ for legitimate ends. The risks inherent in military operations were an additional constraining factor, despite this period becoming known as an ‘age of battles’.
It is critical to understand how to use military force to achieve the political aim sought. This requires conducting a rational assessment of the situation, developing a strategy or plan for getting there, and determining the means required for fulfilling the plan and achieving the political aim. Critically, one of the worst failures of previous limited war is thinking that the forces must be “limited” because the political objective is. This is a fallacy. One can use overwhelming force in a war fought for a limited political aim. One should – at the least –
The first thing we have to do is fix how we think about limited war. To do this we have to repair how we think about all wars. The basis of our approach is to start with the political aim. This is established by the policymakers. The political and military leaders should then develop a grand strategy for fighting the war, meaning using all of the elements of national power in pursuit of the objective. Military strategy is an important part of this and is supported by operations, which then dictate battles and tactical responses. We must also be careful to avoid jargon and unclear terms such as “total war” because these are based upon undefinable concepts, such as the means used. Existing ideas on limited war are also of little use and must be replaced because they are built upon a Cold War situation that no longer exists, based upon poor and inconsistent definitions, and take as their archetypal case study the Korean War, which is misunderstood by those who write about it. The most prominent limited war writers also assume a form of rationality on the part of opponents that logically cannot be expected.
How can you achieve victory in war if you don't have a clear idea of your political objectives and a vision of what victory means? In this provocative challenge to US policy and strategy, Donald Stoker argues that America endures endless wars because its leaders no longer know how to think about war, particularly limited wars. He reveals how ideas on limited war and war in general evolved against the backdrop of American conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. These ideas, he shows, were flawed and have undermined America's ability to understand, wage, and win its wars, and to secure peace afterwards. America's leaders have too often taken the nation to war without understanding what they want or valuing victory, leading to the 'forever wars' of today. Why America Loses Wars dismantles seventy years of misguided thinking and lays the foundations for a new approach to the wars of tomorrow.
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