It Ain't New

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Editorial Abstract: What follows is wise counsel about the importance of paying attention to history. The Honorable Ike Skelton reflects on similarities among various historical events and our technological, organizational, and leadership challenges in the military today. Particularly in the joint and coalition arenas, we can profit from the beneficial insight that historical analysis provides. As the preeminent military power in the world today, we should remain cognizant of historical precedents if we wish to continue to successfully organize, train, equip, and employ aerospace power.

Unless history can teach us how to look at the future, the history of war is but a bloody romance. -J. F. C. Fuller IN MY ROLE as ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, I rely on the lessons of history to help me understand and reach decisions about the future of the armed forces of today. Over the years, I have discovered that most dilemmas that face the military are actually not new issues. Frequently, I find similar situations from the past to use as guideposts to frame the issues of today.

Some national-security professionals, both civilian and military, think that a brand-new era of warfare is at hand. They believe that modern battles will be joint operations fought by loose coalitions of countries with various national interests. They also believe that US Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps forces will use controversial weapons produced by twenty-first-century technological breakthroughs. In fact, true students of military history realize that these concepts-joint operations, coalition warfare, and the integration of new technology-have their roots in battles of yesteryear. They look to the past for lessons on how to fight today.

Joint Operations

The nature of modern warfare demands that we fight as a joint team. This was important yesterday, it is essential today, and it will be even more important tomorrow.

-Gen John Shalikashvili

I've noticed an increase in the number of people who assume that joint operations began after enactment of the Goldwater-- Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986. Nothing could be further from the truth, although our most recent well-known and successful joint operation-- Desert Storm-owes a great deal of its success to that important legislation. The truth is that the United States armed forces have a long tradition of cooperation among the services in order to accomplish their missions.

One of America's First Joint Operations: The Siege of Veracruz

For example, the siege of Veracruz in 1847 during the Mexican War was the most successful of many joint operations during that war.1 This operation, planned and executed by the Army and Navy, represented the first major amphibious operation in American history and the largest one conducted until World War II. Maj Gen Winfield Scott, the senior Army commander, developed a plan that was clearly joint in every sense of the word. He placed great reliance on the Navy in order to execute his plan, including the unprecedented step of putting Army transports temporarily under the command of Commodore David Conner of the US Navy.2 General Scott also created a joint procurement process and developed command and control procedures to allow the Army and Navy to communicate with each other during the operation. Army troops on the transport ships needed small landing craft in order to get ashore, so Scott had "surfboats" specifically constructed for the amphibious assault. Although these vessels were contracted through the Army quarter-master, a naval officer-Lt George M. Totten-designed them.3 In order to synchronize the Army and Navy effort, General Scott and Commodore Conner worked out a new set of signals for supporting fires, loading surfboats, and assaulting the beach because the existing signals assumed an all-Army invasion.4 Once the Army troops assembled onshore, the Navy brought guns and personnel off the ships to Army emplacements in order to coordinate artillery efforts from ship- and land-based artillery. …