Scales on War: The Future of America's Military at Risk

By Warren, Tarn | Parameters, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Scales on War: The Future of America's Military at Risk


Warren, Tarn, Parameters


Scales on War: The Future of America's Military at Risk

By Maj. Gen. Bob Scales, USA (Ret.)

Reviewed by COL Tarn Warren, Chair, Department of Military Strategy, Planning, and Operations, US Army War College

This work is about the infantry, in close combat, the unique burden it has and will continue to bear for our nation, why we are neglecting it, and the cost of this neglect. A compelling narrative packed with piercing insights, Scales on War: The Future of America's Military at Risk is a well-earned tribute to the military personnel who shoulder the weight of victory or defeat on the battlefield and a cogent and persistent argument that future conflict will demand more than ever before in our history from small combat units. Written principally for US policymakers but immensely useful for the wider defense community, Scales on War reminds readers those who do most of the dying overseas--the infantry--often also, and ironically, suffer at home from resource neglect and thin advocacy. With urgency, Major General (Ret.) Bob Scales implores national leaders not to be lured by high-tech, clean, quick, and bloodless thinking about victory that distorts the true character and nature of war. Although his book is thinly sourced, he effectively uses his lifetime of combat, senior military leader, and national security experience to make his case.

Galloping through the past 100 years of US military history, Scales adeptly describes the cyclical buildup and breaking of the Army before and after each major war or conflict. As a result of this cycle, the US Army, and especially the infantry, suffered from what he calls "amateurism," at least until the beginning of the all-volunteer force in the early 1970s. This amateurism has, in part, resulted in higher and needless casualties on the battlefield by those most likely to face close combat and has, again in part, accelerated the pursuit of quick and bloodless victory using hightech standoff weaponry. To be sure, Scales does not eschew technology in warfare. On the contrary, he embraces the need to leverage technology to ensure dominant small-unit lethality and to better protect the soldier. He asserts, however, that current policymakers and the entrenched defense industrial base continue to steer warfare to a place it will not naturally go--to a clean, quick, strategic victory via technology.

Indeed, Scales spends a considerable amount of time describing current and future threats as those nearly immune from US technological advantages and willing to trade space and lives for time. Using the oft-cited "asymmetric" playbook, future threats do not have to win but merely not lose, run out the clock, and wait for the inevitable US domestic aversion to increased casualties, resulting in gradual withdrawal from the effort. His point here is to leverage resources and technology at the small-unit level to improve lethality, reduce friendly casualties, and achieve victory where the enemy lives and exerts its political power. …

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