The Complexities of Ending War

By Logel, Jon Scott | Army, April 2012 | Go to article overview

The Complexities of Ending War


Logel, Jon Scott, Army


The Complexities of Ending War Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars. COL Matthew Moten, editor. The Free Press. 371 pages; maps; index; $17.

A quarter century ago, Charles E. Heller and William A. Stofft published America's First Battles, 1776-1965, a collection of essays by leading military historians that focused on how the U.S. military transitioned from peace to war. Commissioned by GEN Dortn Starry while he was the commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), that book was to help the "Army's officer corps ... anticipate the nature and evolution of future conflicts." A staple of military education and officer development, America's First Battles subscribes to the idea that if American leaders study past wars, they can achieve a better victory in the next.

Now, as the nation hopes to end a decade of war, COL Matthew Moten has led the effort to follow America's First Battles with Between War and Peace: How America Ends lis Wars, a similar collection of essays written by today's most prominent military historians. This time, however, the authors focus on the transition from war to peace.

In 2009, GEN Martin E. Dempsey, as commander of TRADOC, asked COL Moten to lead a collaborative study of "war termination in American history." COL Moten writes that the endings to American conflicts "have brought about unforeseen and unwanted consequences; the aftermath has seldom resembled the peaceful future the nation's leaders had imagined and hoped for when they first decided for war."

The book's 15 essayists explore a timeless problem that is arguably "more complex than war itself." From the Battle of Yorktown through the end of Desert Storm in 1991, the authors systematically analyze the trajectory of America's wars by examining the origins, evolving political aims, changing strategic objectives, war termination and the implications of the peace that followed. Between War and Peace is a study of policy and strategy that seeks to inform not only the military leader but also the civilian leadership, who ultimately must decide between waging war and making peace.

Roger J. Spiller's first essay sets the book's tone by making six general propositions about the American perspective of war termination. Noting that these propositions may appear "counterintuitive" at first, Spiller invites readers to question the idea of a decisive campaign and to consider more carefully how in "war the aims of all sides ... gradually converge toward an agreement to stop fighting." Instead of just focusing on how one side compels the other to do its will, as Clausewitz describes, Spiller and the other authors thoughtfully consider the aims of all sides as the belligerents reach war's end.

Between War and Peace explores the convergence of adversarial war aims across the continuum of American military history. By framing their analyses with familiar wars and events, the authors help us understand the complexities of war termination. For example, Ira D. Gruber 's chapter on the end of the American Revolutionary War recounts the well-known events that transpired between Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris, and then considers how those terms failed to resolve American security interests on the western frontier and the Atlantic Ocean.

In his chapter on the War of 1812, Wayne E. Lee argues that the Battles of Plattsburgh were decisive in ending the war for Britain; the United States, however, pursued a "fortress America" postwar strategy based upon the burning of Washington, D.C., and the defense of Baltimore, Md. With both of these early wars, the authors make the case that U.S. postwar policy was misguided in light of the threats and conflicts that came next. …

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