By Matthew Schmidt
Best Defense department of Armyology
The U.S. Army doesn't seem
to want to be an army. Or, rather, they seem to want to be half an army, like
(no offense) the Marines! They want to do the first part of war, the invasion
part, but not the less glamorous, more difficult, messy part that is occupation. The Army's seeming disdain for doing the work of occupying a
place after the Hollywood scenes of major combat are over betrays a culture
that just doesn't get the nature of (modern) war.
To be clear, plenty of
individual people in the Army do understand the importance of thinking about
the post-combat phase of warfare, but the institutional culture, the code of
language, and behavior that dominates the everyday world of the Army is
decidedly focused on the minutiae of combat tactics.
Put another way, the Army
has lost a clear sense of what makes it different from the other services. The
Navy and Air Force can fight. The Marines can fight. But only the Army can
occupy. This is the essential difference in the services when you strip away
all the trivia. Armies are built to occupy places. They are meant to be the big
ground force that sweeps over an area and sits on it. The Navy can project
power to 'turn' a stubborn mule of a regime back in the right direction. The
Air Force can heavily influence the ground game by providing air-space
superiority for troops, and it can project power like the Navy. And the Marines
can kick in the door to places and conduct small-scale land operations for
limited periods of time.
But only the Army is big
enough to extend control over the ground across an entire chunk of the planet
for any length of time.
Of course this usually
(but not always) means fighting conventional battles against other forces
similarly armed. So I'm not saying that major combat isn't part of the Army's
mission. But no other service can do what the Army should be designed to do
after the first part of the fight is done. No other service can control the
crucial space where real human beings live, engage in trade, or practice
politics. We like to imagine the art of war as being about winning the fight.
But at the highest level, as Tom pointed out in his
most recent Atlantic article, generalship "must link military action to political results."
This is, of course, just a restating of Carl von Clausewitz's famous dictum
that war should be understood as the continuation of political policy. Yet most
of Army culture is relentlessly tactical in nature, even in the staff college
where I teach.
I've always been curious
about this reading of military history. If you think of the history of the Army
as the story of the battles it fought from the Revolutionary War to today, of
course this is what you see. But a deeper reading of history shows that the
Army fought battles in order to occupy and administer large swaths of territory
with large populations for far more of its history. The battles of the Civil
War gave way to the occupation of the reconstruction era, a period of time that
had troops engaged in occupation operations three times as long as they had
combat. If you count the history of westward expansion, most of the work the
Army did involved a kind of armed public-administration, not Indian conquest.
The same is true of the Spanish American war, which saw U.S. troops conducting
counterinsurgency and civil affairs for years after in the Philippines. Add in
the post-WWII occupations of Germany and Japan, the long, tedious mix of combat
and occupation in Vietnam, and the extended occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan
and it's overwhelmingly clear that the Army's main historical work has been
occupation, not battle.
But we teach "operational
art" and "strategy" as though fighting battles is the only work of an army. It
isn't. It never has been. At best it's only half of what an army is asked to do
and it often isn't the most important part. We wonder how the Army fits into
strategic frameworks like the new AirSeaBattle, all the while ignoring the
obvious. We skimp on exploring the problems of using military force to achieve
the political ends that are the purpose of occupations, and effectively define
the work of generals and their staffs too narrowly, as a stringing together of
a series of battles in order to gain a military-strategic aim. We pay
relatively little attention to thinking about the work of generals as stringing
together actions best thought of not as battles, but as the problems associated
with using the resources that accompany military occupations to build political
regimes that further our interests.
What we should be doing
is devoting a much greater share of our time examining how the best generals in
history conducted occupations after the main fighting was done. This isn't just
the generalship of the future, it's the generalship of the vast bulk of
"military" history. Fighting is about the tactics of the battlefield. Winning
is about securing the victories of those battlefields. Neither the Navy, the
Air Force, or the Marines can secure battlefield victories where they
ultimately matter -- where people live. That's the Army's mission. We should
recognize that mission as being at least as important as winning in combat. And
we should educate, promote, and fire our military leaders to reflect that
Matthew Schmidt is
an assistant professor of Political Science and Planning at the U.S. Army
School of Advanced Military Studies. He originated the "Matters Military" blog at the Georgetown Journal of International
Affairs and has a book on developing strategic thinkers forthcoming from
Wiley/Jossey-Bass in 2013. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views
expressed are entirely those of the author and are not endorsed by the U.S. Army
or the Department of Defense.