An Asymmetric Annihilation of American Warfare

Essay by franzr72College, UndergraduateA+, December 2008

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racing the evolution of American military strategy and policy, beginning with George Washington's generalship in the revolutionary war and ending with the military's frustration in Vietnam, Russell Weigley surveys the nation's major conflicts and thinkers and makes a case for the emergence of a uniquely American way of warfare. Weigley sees an American way of war as evolving over time from the revolution's limited goal of eliminating British rule in North America into something less restrained.

As the United States expanded and became an industrial world power its goals in war likewise expanded, seeking for example to overthrow the enemy in the Indian campaigns and the Civil War by destroying their military power. Although at the beginning of its history the nation employed a strategy of attrition against the powerful British empire, growing wealth and territorial expansion led the way for the strategy of annihilation to become the characteristically American way of war.

After American military power became great enough to contemplate the destruction of the country's enemies, the history of American strategy came to be the problem of how to secure victory without undue or excessive costs. While Weigley's interpretation has its critics, his theory remains a challenging intellectual starting point for studying the Army's participation in America's past wars and for thinking about the Army's role in future conflicts.

Its time is now past, however. Spurred by dramatic advances in information technology, the U.S. military has adopted a new style of warfare that eschews the bloody slogging matches of old. It seeks a quick victory with minimal casualties on both sides. Its hallmarks are speed, maneuver, flexibility, and surprise. It is heavily reliant upon precision firepower, special forces, and psychological operations. And it strives to integrate naval, air, and land power into a seamless whole. This approach was...