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Toward an American Way of War

Authored by Dr. Antulio J. Echevarria II. | March 2004

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Understanding of the American approach to warfare begins with historian Russell Weigley?s classic work, The American Way of War. He concluded that the American style of waging war centered primarily on the idea of achieving a crushing military victory over an opponent. Americans?not unlike many of their European counterparts?considered war an alternative to bargaining, rather than part of an ongoing bargaining process, as in the Clausewitzian view. Their concept of war rarely extended beyond the winning of battles and campaigns to the gritty work of turning military victory into strategic success, and hence was more a way of battle than an actual way of war. Unfortunately, the American way of battle has not yet matured into a way of war.
The subject is important not just for academic reasons, but for policy ones as well. Assumptions about how American political and military leaders conceive of war and approach the waging of it tend to inform their decisions in matters of strategic planning, budgeting, and concept and doctrine development. The assumptions underpinning Defense Transformation, for example, appear to have more to do with developing an ever exquisite grammar than they do with serving war?s logic.