Academic journal article Parameters

The US Army's Domestic Strategy 1945-1965

Academic journal article Parameters

The US Army's Domestic Strategy 1945-1965

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Post-war drawdowns often include a re-negotiation of the terms of civil-military relations. After World War II the US Army's command culture was marked by Army Utopianism, an expansive vision of the Army's place in American society. This article sketches the history of Army Utopianism, noting its contribution to failing strategies in Vietnam, and argues for greater attention to the link between operational concerns and the Army's domestic political strategy.

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"To use--and restrain--its immense social, economic, and political influence wisely and effectively, the Army must obviously hold itself in dose rapport with the people."--Russell F. Weigley. (1)

The United States Army can boast a distinguished record of innovation during times of war, when rapid technological advances 5 have been matched by innovations in organizational structure, principles of command, and logistics. But military organizational innovation does not end with the ceasefire. In the tense drawdown periods after war, Army leaders are tasked with preserving lessons of past wars while preparing for new challenges with shrinking budgets and fewer personnel. The drawdown period is thus a defacto re-negotiation of the terms of civil-military relations, and accordingly it is a time when domestic political strategy is especially important. (2) Since we find ourselves yet again in such a moment of re-negotiation, we would do well to consider how earlier attempts to guide the Army's post-war relations with state and society shaped the organization's readiness when war finally came again.

In these moments of re-negotiation, Army leaders may be inclined to agree with Russell F. Weigley that "the Army must obviously hold itself in close rapport with the people." What is not at all obvious is what Army leaders should do to bring this about. While domestic political strategy, the capacity to bring about such changes, is limited by law and custom, there is a growing sense that the reality of domestic statecraft should be acknowledged openly in the current post-war defense conversation. (3) For example, Charles D. Allen writes of the need for "senior leaders who are strategic assets capable of ensuring relevance of the Army to the nation," a turn of phrase echoed in William G. Braun's recent call for a "relevancy narrative" to secure the Army's fortunes despite the public's tendency to under-appreciate its peace-time military. (4)

As with any strategy, the Army's domestic political strategy bears the imprint of underlying attitudes and assumed meanings that form the organization's unique culture. Hints of how this is manifested in the current drawdown negotiation have been noted by Braun and Allen to "revert to a rhetoric dominated by the force sizing and prioritization mantra to 'fight and win the Nation's wars,' with all other uses of the military being 'lesser-included' capabilities." (5) These are not simple calculations, as there are particular challenges associated with changing the minds of top commanders on fundamental questions of this sort. (6) However, the deeper risk is that, faced with navigating this vast institution through changing operational and political waters, Army leaders will fall back on bad mental habits and lead the Army to fall ever further out of step with the state and the American public.

What follows is a description of a "cultural structure," or set of institutionalized patterns, that arose during the post-World War II drawdown and had negative consequences for the institution, contributing to an over-long investment in the failing strategies employed in Vietnam. (7) This was "Army Utopianism," a vision of the Army as a central structure of governance, one that was expected to connect a large proportion of citizens to the state and to the world. This cultural structure is ultimately a manifestation of a deeper well of civic republican thought in the American political tradition, reflecting in part what Samuel P. …

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