Under the Shadow of Napoleon: French Influence on the American Way of Warfare from the War of 1812 to the Outbreak of WWII

Under the Shadow of Napoleon: French Influence on the American Way of Warfare from the War of 1812 to the Outbreak of WWII

Under the Shadow of Napoleon: French Influence on the American Way of Warfare from the War of 1812 to the Outbreak of WWII

Under the Shadow of Napoleon: French Influence on the American Way of Warfare from the War of 1812 to the Outbreak of WWII

Synopsis

The way an army thinks about and understands warfare has a tremendous impact on its organization, training, and operations. The central ideas of that understanding form a nation's way of warfare that influences decisions on and off the battlefield. From the disasters of the War of 1812, Winfield Scott ensured that America adopted a series of ideas formed in the crucible of the Wars of the French Revolution and epitomized by Napoleon. Reflecting American cultural changes, these French ideas dominated American warfare on the battlefields of the Mexican-American War, the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. America remained committed to these ideas until cultural pressures and the successes of German Blitzkrieg from 1939-1940 led George C. Marshall to orchestrate the adoption of a different understanding of warfare. Michael A. Bonura examines concrete battlefield tactics, army regulations, and theoretical works on war as they were presented in American army education manuals, professional journals, and the popular press, to demonstrate that as a cultural construction, warfare and ways of warfare can be transnational and influence other nations

Excerpt

Since the 1960s, Americans’ attitudes toward France have involved a wide array of emotions, from suspicion to anger and even, at times, betrayal. France’s withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s integrated military command in 1966 and its refusal to allow American military aircraft to enter its airspace during the 1986 bombing of Libya deteriorated the congenial American attitudes toward the French, which had been prevalent prior to World War II. The current global war on terror has not changed this opinion, and at times there has been a great deal of hatred of all things French. The “Freedom Fries” movement of 2001–2 that refused to use the word “French” when ordering fast food and the always popular jokes concerning the effeminacy of French arms are reminders of the animosity of Americans to all things French. A recent book titled Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France, which received favorable reviews from the Wall Street Journal, documented the history of evil French machinations against America. When France offered the United States advice about the dangers of appeasement in early 2010, Minnesota’s Governor Tim Pawlenty replied that it was like “AIG [a company generally held responsible in part for the financial collapse of 2007] lecturing us on financial responsibility.” However, this was not always the case. Across a broad spectrum of intellectual activity, America once considered France the model for a wide range of professions, including the profession of arms.

Consider this scene from the United States Military Academy at West Point: there is a small classroom of sixteen cadets and a single commissioned officer professor, in this case a major. The cadets listen attentively to the officer as he describes the movements of Napoleon’s Grande Armée from its victory over the unfortunate Austrian General Karl Mack at Ulm, to its subsequent pursuit of the Austrians and their Russian allies. The officer provides a quick summary of Napoleon’s strategic situation, his capabilities and constraints, and his plan to draw the army of the Third Coalition into a decisive battle. The cadets then analyze the French plan and the Allied response . . .

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