The "Casualty Issue" in American Military Practice: The Impact of World War I

The "Casualty Issue" in American Military Practice: The Impact of World War I

The "Casualty Issue" in American Military Practice: The Impact of World War I

The "Casualty Issue" in American Military Practice: The Impact of World War I

Excerpt

The American Expeditionary Force’s brief exposure to combat in the First World War resulted in over a third of a million total casualties, including 126,000 killed. This sobering experience left an indelible mark upon the returning veterans and the nation as a whole. The citizenry opposed political entanglement in foreign affairs while policy makers embarked upon a sustained campaign to prevent the recurrence of another costly tragedy. Military leaders analyzed closely the causes behind the losses to avoid a similar outcome in future conflicts.

This study examines the “casualty issue” during the years between the World Wars. It argues that Americans exhibited a distinct aversion to combat casualties during the interwar period, a phenomenon visibly influencing the U.S. Army officer corps. It explores the social, political, and cultural milieu of the 1920s and 1930s that helped shape strategic planning, force modernization, and rearmament for World War II. Among the many considerations driving military decision making, preserving the nation’s “sacred treasures”—its young men—was a high priority.

This national aversion to casualties permeated military thinking and policy. Bitter disillusionment following the war inspired diplomatic activity to ban war and its cruel instruments. In that restrictive strategic environment, the military found itself further restrained by crippling low budgets. Lessons gleaned from the last war percolated down through the military educational pyramid, imbuing the officer corps with an expectation to minimize losses in future engagements. Some officers hoped that technological advances could offer a promising alternative to the bloody stalemate of trench warfare. Tank enthusiasts extolled its ability to restore . . .

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