Past Preparations for Wars of the Future

By Carafano, James Jay | Army, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Past Preparations for Wars of the Future


Carafano, James Jay, Army


Past Preparations for Wars of the Future Imagining Future War: The West's Technological Revolution and Visions of Wars to Come, 1880-1914. Antulio J. Echevarria II. Praeger Security International. 120 pages; black and white drawings; index; $39.95.

The Army constantly prepares to fight wars of the future. Today there are more men and women on operational missions around the world than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Still, the majority of the American Army spends its days preparing for the next battle, not fighting the one at hand. Cadets study. Troops train. Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) develops new requirements. Army Materiel Command refurbishes equipment. Army scientists push the envelope, applying new knowledge to combat capabilities. Few organizations spend more time worrying about what challenges-and pondering what possibilities-tomorrow will bring.

Antulio Echevarria's Imagining Future War: The West's Technological Revolution and Visions of Wars to Come, 1880-1914 offers a rare, exceptional and penetrating case study in analyzing predictions about the changing face of conflict. It is a book military professionals ought to read-a cautionary tale of the pitfalls and potential of writing, thinking and preparing for the war of the future.

Far too often and far too glibly, pundits accuse the military of preparing to fight the last war. Nothing could be further from the truth. Few organizations are more adept at learning and adapting to new requirements than the American armed forces. That said, the military is hardly immune to the effects of historical, intellectual and cultural forces that filter how institutions see the challenges ahead. The assumption today is that the Army will have to participate in persistent operations requiring years of effort and tens of thousands of boots on the ground, an all too obvious lesson from the current conflicts, but no more insightful than the need for an "expeditionary Army" as trumpeted a few years ago to win the first conventional battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast, new Navy and Air Force briefings highlight the potential for conflict with China-a mere coincidence that this theater places a higher premium on air, sea, cyber and space forces. All these predictions suffer from the tendency to envision the future merely by extending the trends of the present.

Perceptions of the future often contain impressionable impulses from the past as well, which skew thinking about how the next chapter of war will unfold.

Popular cultural and other societal influences (science fiction, for example) that shape how today's Army thinks about tomorrow's challenges were also present in the age leading up to World War I. Imagining Future War explores all of them and more in broadly examining how intellectual trends affect imagination and the effort to turn imaginative visions into real combat power.

Echevarria, a retired career Army officer and Clausewitz scholar, who currently serves as director of research at the Army War College, chose a particularly fertile subject for his study in military imagination. The period covered comes at the apex of the Industrial Revolution and the wave of globalization that swept across the 19th century. Not surprisingly, the dynamics of technological innovation, scientific development and social change weighed heavily in envisioning the future.

Imagining Future War delves into all of the salient factors that shaped 19th-century imagination, with chapters that describe in a jargon-free, straightforward manner the times and dominant intellectual movements of the age. Echevarria reviews the writings about future war in popular literary forms and professional military journals and books, and examines how futurists interpreted the lessons of the conflicts that preceded World War I, such as the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Even those not steeped in the history of the period or not deeply familiar with military affairs will profit from reading Imagining Future War. …

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