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Caveats on the American Way of War

[ 0 ] April 29, 2007 |

A couple of minor caveats regarding Yglesias’ discussion of the use of artillery in Iraq:

1. There’s a risk to taking the “American Way of War” a bit too seriously; the character and nature of the United States Army prior to 1900 is radically different than what we grew to accept in the 20th century. The Army prior to 1900 was primarily an anti-guerilla force, and one that was comfortable with the political role that Jeff Record argues has grown beyond its ken. For a number of reasons, not least the desire to heal intra-service rifts following the Civil War, the model had changed by the 20th century.

2. As Record helpfully points out, the Marine Corps has never fit the mold of high firepower, high tech, high intensity war organization. The role of the Marine Corps has shifted over the years, but it has consistently had more expertise and more success in low intensity conflicts than the Army.

3. Consequently, it’s wrong to think that there’s something intrinsically problematic about American counter-insurgency operations. The Army has handled such operations in the past, and the Marine Corps has conducted such operations on and off since its inception. The problem with the Army is the organizational culture that has developed over the last century, but this culture is subject to change, if only slowly.

And to respond a bit to this comment, I think it’s absolutely wrong to say that counter-insurgency is simply normal operations plus genocide. There has been an enormous range of counter-insurgency efforts over the last two centuries, some of which have verged on genocide, and most of which have not. Contra Glen, there’s a pretty wide body of work on low intensity operations, all of which suggests a different set of skills for such tasks than for high intensity military operations. It’s probably not quite right to say that counter-insurgency warfare represents a “science” but it surely cheapens the word “genocide” to conflate the varieties of counter-insurgency operations together as “war against the people”.

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