Academic journal article Parameters

The US Army's Postwar Recoveries

Academic journal article Parameters

The US Army's Postwar Recoveries

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The US Army's typical postwar recovery process, which can last a decade, is characterized by increased strategic commitments, insufficient resources, and conflicting priorities. The most traumatic aspect of recovery, personnel turbulence, often manifests in the discharge of experienced leaders and technicians, generational discord, tension between policymakers and commanders in the field, insufficient maintenance, inadequate training, and social problems. As past examples illustrate, future success depends on how well soldiers today adapt to an austere postwar environment.


"What all Army operations will have in common is a need for innovative and adaptive leaders and cohesive teams that thrive in conditions of complexity and uncertainty." (1)

As the US Army transitions from full engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan to the uncertain and complex operational environment predicted by Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) planners, it must again undertake the historic process of military recovery. If the previous two centuries of Army history are any guide, this process will probably take almost a decade. And in the service's long institutional memory, the years after demobilization are always dark ages--long stretches of austerity, hollow forces, internal tensions, and public hostility. Despite their grim reputation, periods of recovery have often served to inform discussions about current military issues.

During the revolution in military affairs debate, analysts studied the two decades between the World Wars for insights on their own era's policies, doctrines, and technologies. (2) In the 1990s, the broken Army of the post-Vietnam era was romanticized as the incubator of the "prodigal soldiers" who had led it to victory in Desert Storm. A few years later that same Army was cited as a warning of the dangers of military overextension in Iraq and Afghanistan. (3) Perhaps because soldiers have served as sources of inspiration, literature on the Army's experiences after every war is extensive; however, there is very little analysis of postwar recovery as a distinct military phenomenon. This comparative study of the Army's recoveries from past wars illuminates some of the current and future problems likely to be faced even though it provides no easy solutions.

The Complexity of Recovery

For the last decade, the US Army's vision statements have defined the impending environment as complex and uncertain with adaptation and innovation as crucial abilities for professional soldiers. Today's planners, who are experts in current military affairs, have the daunting task of preserving the Army's present capabilities while simultaneously anticipating future contingencies. Planners make both immediate and imminent decisions on everything from spare parts to schools and post exchanges to personnel. They not only need to identify, retain, and place the next war's William T. Shermans and George C. Marshalls but also to purge today's Beetle Baileys. They must concurrently fulfill existing missions and plan for the near and long-terms. And they must do so under conditions of austerity that include restricted budgets, personnel cuts, and a civil-military atmosphere too often characterized by miscommunication and mistrust--just as they have in the past. In this unstable environment, the past can be both a guide and a trap, a postwar invitation to seize a few examples of strategic success--the blitzkrieg, amphibious war, AirLand Battle--as the road map to a future D-Day or Operation Desert Storm. The benefits of such an approach, perhaps more inspirational than practical, must be balanced by studying the unified themes, the problems, and the shared experiences of the Army's postwar recoveries as provided in this article.

The US Army is, was, and will always be a hierarchical, top-down organization overseen by a federal agency. The inevitable consequence is a focus on the study of postwar recovery based on Washington-mandated institutional and organizational changes. …

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