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    Post dissertation help please! US military culture and small wars.

    To the valued members of the small wars journal community.
    i am currently in my third year studying war in Swansea, Wales, and am writing my dissertation. the title that i have chosen is: 'How Does the Culture of the American Military Prevent Them From Waging Small Wars Effectively?'
    I was wondering if anyone would care to help me with ideas / book proposals/ suggestions. anything would help! i need particular help in relation to how the american military is changing to deal with the increasing prevalence of small wars - i have read ALOT about everything else, but can find very little about the current policies (force modularity?).
    here is my basic outline:

    The thesis of my dissertation is that the culture of the American military prevents it from fighting small wars effectively. The overarching focus of the essay will be upon how the U.S. Army’s preference for conventional warfare weakens significantly both their capacity to fight small wars, and their willingness to do so. The dissertation will show how this preference is a result of cultural biases and will extrapolate the various themes that feed these biases.
    The essay will centre upon how the American military’s preferred paradigm of conventional war is incompatible with the context of a small war and begin with a summary of why this is so. It will also look at the history of the American Army, and so will comment on the traditional division between the civilian sector and the military. It will outline this split and will look at how it came to exist, with particular reference to Upton’s ‘reforms’ of the Army in the wake of the civil war. It will also look at the Jominian basis for the army over a Clausewitzian ‘politics by other means’ stance, and discuss how this influences the United States’ ‘Big War’ paradigm, although this description and analysis will be kept to a minimum for reasons of brevity.
    Of major importance to this work will be the concept and ramifications of the so called ‘Vietnam Syndrome’. In itself the syndrome is incredibly significant in regard to the Big War paradigm, however the changes in doctrine that followed it, namely the ‘Never Again’ school, the Weinberger and Powell doctrines and the more recent ‘Decisive Force’ concept have damaged the U.S. Army’s small war fighting capability by codifying the idea that the expenditure of huge amounts of firepower can create a quick resolution to a conflict. This discussion will feature an analysis of the real impact of the Vietnam Syndrome, which Cassidy believes to effect the military’s willingness to fight wars far more than it effects the populations support of them: a paradoxical issue which may prove useful in discussing how cultural issues within the military may actually reinforce each other. The essay will widen this subject to include the ‘CNN’ and ‘bodybag’ effects in order to give a true account of the Vietnam Syndromes causes and strength as a concept, while referencing instances such as the withdrawal from Somalia and non-involvement in the Balkans to illustrate its impact. The war in Vietnam itself will be looked at of course, both to partially explain the Syndrome but also as a useful case study of how conventional warfare is inapplicable in a small war context. The war is again useful because the extensive amount of material regarding it has thrown up a number of cultural analyses which have exposed the Army’s cultural dedication to ‘Big War’ at the time.
    As part of the essays investigation into the American Army’s devotion to conventional warfare the issue of doctrinal forgetfulness will be reviewed, with particular reference to the small wars that the U.S. has fought, such as the Indian wars, the war of independence and obviously Vietnam itself. It will draw the conclusion that because of this cultural devotion to a big war paradigm, small wars are not accepted as pertinent, and so the lessons that are learned while fighting them are forgotten as soon as the war ends. One of the instances linked to this is that even during the irregularity of the Indian wars, the American Army was developing itself as a reflection of the Prussian (conventional) model of organisation. This section may also include reference to the power of the military industrial complex and interest groups in rejecting the change required to fight small wars.
    As with any work regarding unconventional warfare, the essay will give an overview of what is required of a military to win a small war, such as force limitation, the use of native forces, the importance of legitimacy (Kaldor’s book: New and Old Wars is particularly useful in this regard) and the relevancy of the political campaign. It will also talk about the currently changing nature of small wars, with reference to Al Qaeda and in particular its religious motivation. The essay will talk about these changes only where they effect the chances of American success, such as how the increasingly religious nature of such conflicts is making the political aspect of the campaign harder to win. It will also talk about the paradox of a large power fighting a small one, and so will discuss the relevancy of support, means and aims in relation to each side of the conflict. The main area of this will be a discussion of the asymmetry of will which is inherent in every small war engaged in by a large power and its relevancy in regard to the Vietnam Syndrome and conventional warfighting in general. This will conclude, in short, that small wars are long term affairs which often take decades to complete and that a conventional war stance is unprepared for such a time frame. It will also state that the unprofessional and inexperienced U.S. Army is unable to fight such protracted campaigns because of issues with public backing, a statement which will obviously refer back to both the American preferred paradigm of big war and the Vietnam Syndrome / bodybag effect.
    In explaining how American small war fighting methods can be improved, the essay shall feature an analysis of British examples of success in this field and why the British model is so effective. This will include an assessment of historical reasons for this effectiveness which will centre on the regimental system. The conclusion that will be drawn will be that the close nit nature of the regimental system serves as a home-away-from-home and as the support that American forces usually get from the public. It will also show how the colonial history of the British Army means that the public is more accepting of unclear missions and of casualties that occur in faraway places. An analysis of successful British unconventional missions will echo the tenets of the previous paragraph regarding what is required to win small wars, and will emphasise the minimal force emphasis of the Northern Ireland and Malaya campaigns. It will also look at how the British have traditionally taken a Fabian approach to warfare, with the Napoleonic wars and, again the colonial campaigns as the main instances of this. This approach, while lessening the Army’s effectiveness in conventional wars has made it more affective in unconventional confrontations.
    An investigation into the problems that big powers face while fighting small wars shall be carried out by looking into the Soviet and Russian experiences of unconventional warfare in Afghanistan and Chechnya. This section shall serve as a summary of many of the points that have already been made in the essay, but shall serve to show the similarities between the American problems and those of other large powers, and so shall support the asymmetry of will and paradoxes inherent within such confrontations. This section will be useful again because it will compare the cultures of each military and extrapolate relevant information from it, with particular relevance regarding the problems of big war when instigated in the wrong context.

    rest to be added in a second....

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    Default the stuff that didnt fit...

    As a continuation of the Weinberger and Powell doctrines renewal of the conventional war dedication, one section of the essay will deal with how the belief in Decisive Force is self defeating. It will concentrate upon several distinct areas; technology, denial and self validation. In regard to technology the section will look at how such developments do not help the fighting of small wars. To do this it will look at a number of different authors arguments on the subject as well as drawing conclusions from previously successful irregular wars. Part of this will also look at the arguments for and against the relevancy of the current (disputed) revolution in military affairs (RMA), many critiques of which will prove useful not only for this section, but for the dissertation as a whole. The idea of self validation will look at how the first Gulf War ‘proved’ the relevancy of conventional warfare to the military leadership and is related to the previous assessment because the first Gulf War was enabled by technological superiority and is given by many as the evidence for the existence of the current RMA. This section will illustrate how the success of the Gulf War paradoxically weakened American military power and also how it relates to the military’s forgetfulness in regard to irregular war: President George H.W. Bush’s speech in which he claimed that America had finally got over the Vietnam Syndrome is the centrepiece for this argument and is a grand instance of denial.
    The final section of my dissertation will be a discussion of the changes that are taking place within the American military, such as the ‘Modular Force’ concept, and their, and its, relevancy. This section will, like so many others, be intentionally brief so as to not dominate the piece, but must be included if my essay is to be an accurate account. It will feature a summary of the proposed changes and their foreseen effects, with particular reference to the culture of individual units of the Army and how this culture will be altered with the implementation of these changes. The marine corps shall serve as the personification of this change because of their developed unit culture and individual lexicon.

    particular focus is upon the vietnam syndrome and the conventional warfighting stance of the U.S.

    for those that have spent the time reading this and helping me out, i thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Xander

  3. #3
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Perhaps another title for your dissertation

    might be "Does the Culture of the American Military Prevent Them From Waging Small Wars Effectively?" I suggest that because I'm unsure that what you've posted here justifies your thesis. In any event, some thoughts for you:

    Is the British model superior and if so what recent proof exists of that?

    You might wish to be careful with "the withdrawal from Somalia and non-involvement in the Balkans..." The former was an aberration and a political miscalculation due to another political miscalculation; the latter was due to the misplaced belief that Europe could and would take care of a European problem of little concern to the US. I.e. both events were due to political -- not military -- errors and thus have little bearing on your thesis.

    While this is true and deserves mention "...power of the military industrial complex and interest groups in rejecting the change required to fight small wars." you should also consider that the US Congress has as much or more say in that seeming and nominal 'complex' than do the military and the industrialists.

    Caution is needed with this as well: "This will conclude, in short, that small wars are long term affairs which often take decades..." while that may historically be marginally correct; need it be that way? I'd say no.

    Same here: "It will also state that the unprofessional and inexperienced U.S. Army is unable to fight such protracted campaigns because of issues with public backing, a statement which will obviously refer back to both the American preferred paradigm of big war and the Vietnam Syndrome / bodybag effect." Unprofessional or just undertrained and poorly focused (for counterinsurgency small wars; one presumes you did not mean to apply that to large wars as well -- else you'll have a dichotomy... ) -- the two are not at all synonymous. I do not disagree at all with your preferred paradigm statement but I do think the Viet Nam syndrome and bodybag effect can be and are overdone. The One Third Rule applies. I also believe that if you talk to the British Army today, they will not concur that the US army today (as opposed to five years ago) is either unprofessional or inexperienced with regard to small wars.

    This statement: "and will emphasise the minimal force emphasis of the Northern Ireland and Malaya campaigns." is subject to serious question on many levels. For example if X force for Y years is minimal, then is X force for (Yx4) years still minimal? Far more importantly, be very sure you consider the fact that in both those operations, Britain WAS the government; a situation the US has not been involved with since the Indian wars of the 19th Century and the Philippine involvement in the early 20th. It makes a difference. A big difference. I think you need to be rather careful in the assumptions on this one...

    When you complete your dissertation, I look forward to reading your treatment of this: "As a continuation of the Weinberger and Powell doctrines renewal of the conventional war dedication, one section of the essay will deal with how the belief in Decisive Force is self defeating."

    My overall perception is that your effort is based on common wisdom (Heh) and perceptions. They're not totally incorrect but they do bear a great deal more thought than they seem to have been given thus far. Good luck.

    I suspect you might attract a few more responses after the US Thanksgiving holiday -- which essentially lasts until next Monday. Gian may stop by...
    Last edited by Ken White; 11-27-2008 at 06:24 PM.

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    Default If you were writing a dissertation (thesis/paper)

    for me, I would be telling you to NARROW YOUR FOCUS! A common fallacy among new thesis writiers is to try to do too much. The second thing I would tell you is that you clearly believe that you know what the answer is so you should be developing this as a hypothesis to be tested. By testing I mean that you must state your tentative conclusion in a form such that you can collect and analyze data so that it could prove your hypothesis false or wrong. If you can't disprove your hypothesis then it will stand as a firmer conclusion.

    In the case of your topic, the evidence is all over the map. There are cases which support your thesis and other cases which tend to disprove it. All the caveats theat Ken mentioned apply. Here are a few sources you could look at: the 4 colonels report on El Salvador, Schwartz's Rand study of the same, Chapter 7 of Max Manwaring and my Uncomfortable Wars Revisited which refutes both studies of El Sal, my 1995 article in Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, "Little Wars, Small Wars, LIC, OOTW, the GAP, and Things That Go Bump in the Night." Also see John Nagl's Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife and Richard Downie, Learning From Conflict.

    Good luck

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member RTK's Avatar
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    I agree with Dr. Fishel. You've thrown a lot of red meat on the grill. I wouldn't call it a disertation, I'd call it an epic novel.
    Example is better than precept.

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    guys, i am amazed by both the speed of your replies and also the effort that you have all put in to help me with this! thanks so much!

    Oh, before going any further, I am sorry about the unprofessional and inexperienced comment. This was a statement taken from an analysis of American experience in small wars, the inexperienced part was because of the lack of doctrinal information regarding small wars available to U.S. servicemen and women (at the time of writing, which I believe was the start of the 1980s). The unprofessional part (I groaned when I re-read that) was referring to the differences between the British Regulars and the American draftees of Vietnam and the high turnover of recruits – DEFINATELY not in any way trying to say that the U.S. Army is in any way unprofessional.

    on to business:

    one of the problems that I have with this dissertation is in sourcing material. I do not, unfortunately, have access to the most up to date books and journals, and as such I am having to rely upon many useful, but old, sources- of which the university library only has a limited number. Hence why what I have outlined may well sound re-hashed or done before. Also, being a 21 year old student, I rely upon firsthand accounts, and so the quotes that I use and my writing in general will reflect the points raised by their authors. Please note however that I am using only accounts from the most long-serving and respected men and women.
    Since writing that outline (and it is very basic, for that I apologise) I have come across some more information to add in. Carnes Lord describes the role of Congress too, but the message of his article was rather confused; on the one hand he described how Congressional interference adds another voice to a large number of powerful voices and so splits small-war efforts (gave the CIA, Defence, Treasury and State Departments as other instances), but on the other presented the Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) Board as an area where Congressional ‘interference’ has helped America to wage low-intensity wars. He then later on described how (in 1992) the LIC was a ‘dead letter’ department and was essentially useless. Given that he is the only author that I have read so far that has talked about the role of congress in small warfighting, I am rather confused as to how in fact it does influence American capacity to wage such wars.
    The Vietnam Syndrome will be, I think, the central area of my essay. I recognise totally the need for constant evaluation and questioning of authors comments and I am going to evaluate the significance and actual impact of the Syndrome using different viewpoints. Robert M. Cassidy raises the idea that the Syndrome had more of an impact on military leaders than Vietnam actually had upon the American people: that decision makers were so scared of the Syndrome that they treated it with more trepidation that it infact needed to be. I will evaluate this argument, but from what I have read, his argument seems valid and easily supportable, especially in relation to the pullout from Somalia after the ambush of the Quick Reaction Force.
    Ken, what is the One Third Rule please?
    Finally guys, I recognise that you are the experts about this. Alot of you seemingly have had first-hand experience and/or write books on the issue that I am but glimpsing and accordingly I am sorry if anything of what I have said in this outline sounds... well... ridiculous. But I am a student: being wrong and having those with experience tell me in detail how and why I am is what I do, and it is how I will make this piece of writing better, so please PLEASE keep it up (in particular any authors or works that may be useful), you have already been incredibly helpful.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    my 1995 article in Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, "Little Wars, Small Wars, LIC, OOTW, the GAP, and Things That Go Bump in the Night."
    Go ahead and JUST TRY and get that article (or journal). I've been plying our electronic sources librarian with adult beverages for two years and Purdue isn't exactly a small school.
    Sam Liles
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    Default A couple of points that may be of interest.

    Quote Originally Posted by xander day View Post
    To the valued members of the small wars journal community.
    i am currently in my third year studying war in Swansea, Wales, and am writing my dissertation. the title that i have chosen is: 'How Does the Culture of the American Military Prevent Them From Waging Small Wars Effectively?'
    I was wondering if anyone would care to help me with ideas / book proposals/ suggestions. anything would help! i need particular help in relation to how the american military is changing to deal with the increasing prevalence of small wars - i have read ALOT about everything else, but can find very little about the current policies (force modularity?).
    It is unclear to me in what field you're writing your dissertation. That piece of information is crucial in regards how one assess your thesis statement.

    Regardless of the field, two recently published works that may be of interest to you are Ingo Trauschweizer, The Cold War U.S. Army: Building Deterrence for Limited War (ISBN-13: 978-0700615780) and Henry Cole, General William E. DePuy: Preparing the Army for Modern War (ISBN-13: 978-0813125008). Dr. Trauschweizer addresses convincingly some of your points and may provide a good point of departure for additional discussion (this is, if you're looking for a historiographical framework).

    The thesis of my dissertation is that the culture of the American military prevents it from fighting small wars effectively. The overarching focus of the essay will be upon how the U.S. Army’s preference for conventional warfare weakens significantly both their capacity to fight small wars, and their willingness to do so. The dissertation will show how this preference is a result of cultural biases and will extrapolate the various themes that feed these biases.
    Although the dust is starting to settle, "culture" remains a highly contested term and basis for analysis in historical studies as well as other fields. I don't think one has to master this literature to write about culture intelligently. Still, it may be worth your while to develop your definition of "culture" and place it within the broader debate over the term. This suggestion is aimed at positioning your work so it can reach a broader audience.
    The essay will centre upon how the American military’s preferred paradigm of conventional war is incompatible with the context of a small war and begin with a summary of why this is so. It will also look at the history of the American Army, and so will comment on the traditional division between the civilian sector and the military. It will outline this split and will look at how it came to exist, with particular reference to Upton’s ‘reforms’ of the Army in the wake of the civil war.
    In regards to Upton, his reforms, and the "traditional division" in civil-military relations, I advise the utmost caution. The late Russell Weigley offered some observations on Upton and his reforms which were expanded by the late Stephen Ambrose in his biography of that troubled man. In tandem, the two raised questions about the efficacy of Upton's proposed reforms. I have explored some of those questions in my own research (as well as adding one or two of my own). The short version of my findings is that I do not believe that the U.S. Army's official account of Upton's reforms or of civil-military relations during the Gilded Age are supported by the documentary evidence.

    If my interpretation is correct (I have evidence and a hunch that may lead me to a 'smoking gun'), many modern basic assumptions about civil military relations as well as the professionalism of the Army's officer corps may have to be re-examined.

    As this project is well over the horizon, I think you will do well enough if you consult carefully Weigley's works on the U.S. Army and be wary of works that reference works by Upton, his biographer and friend Peter Michie, and, especially, Samuel Huntington. (I advise using Ambrose's biography of Upton guardedly. Regrettably--because he inspired me to study military history--Ambrose was exposed as a plagiarist towards the end of his life. As his lapses of judgment spanned his career, it is difficult to know which paragraphs of which of his books are reliable. Until that gets sorted out, why take unnecessary risks?)

    In regards to your 'big war' versus 'small war' comparison, have you considered the preference you attribute to the U.S. Army (a conclusion with which I'm inclined to disagree) as a side effect of the quest for decisive battle?

    HTH

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    Regarding the Army's culture in terms of fighting small wars - I may be overly paraphrasing this, but a few thoughts...

    - I think the gist of Nagl's Eating Soup book was that out ability to prevail in COIN is dependent upon what kind of learning organization we are. How fast do we learn and are we sufficiently open to learning new things and, if so, how quickly can we implement those lessons?

    - Consider (generally) how we learned in Vietnam. A guy deployed for a year, learned a bunch of stuff, came home, went to a professional school, shared those lessons (somewhat) with his peers, his peers returned to their units and hopefully passed along those lessons. The process took months. (If I'm off base with that, I'm sure one of the board's resident dinosaurs can correct me). Now, it occurs in almost real time. Soldiers go on patrol, return to base, hop online, and share lessons learned with anyone else in the Army (anywhere in the world) who cares to listen. The amount of web traffic on our knowledge sharing networks suggests that many do care to listen.

    - Our online knowledge-sharing networks (PlatoonLeader.army.mil, CompanyCommand.army.mil, NCONet, S3-XONEt, etc, etc) help to facilitate this sharing of lessons learned directly among Soldiers. Our Center of Army Lessons Learned helps as well. The fact that the Army uses these networks effectively suggests that the Army culture is conducive to the change and learning necessary to win small wars that we were unprepared for when we first got engaged in them.

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    Default Schmedlap, you are only

    off base if you think the system actually internalized the lessons from Vietnam. It recorded them and wrote them down and preserved them in doctrine. But it did not actually learn them. Oh, some folk did - SF, and what in the 80s would be called LICimites - but not the Army as a whole. The Marines, IMO, partially learned these lessons as a system but not the Army.

    Cheers from one old dinosaur

    JohnT

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    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    off base if you think the system actually internalized the lessons from Vietnam. It recorded them and wrote them down and preserved them in doctrine. But it did not actually learn them...

    Cheers from one old dinosaur
    Johnosaurus Rex,

    Understood. I was referring more to the process. The process being that lessons were learned by individuals who brought those lessons back after a one-year deployment and shared those lessons with whichever peers cared to listen, and then, in some cases, those peers spread those lessons by word of mouth (a very long delay between an individual learning and that lesson being shared). Did I get that part about right? It seems like what formerly took months now takes days. As for internalizing those lessons - agree - and I still wonder if we will internalize the lessons that we learn today or if we will try to forget it and revert back to preparing to fight an industrialized total war against some imaginary opponent who will be stupid enough to fight us on our terms.

    I guess not only speed by openness is relevant, too. My impression is that much of the military started to be exposed to the right lessons by the end of Vietnam, but a lot of leadership still didn't want to hear it. So even if the lesson-spreading was quicker, it would have simply slammed into the brick wall at a higher velocity, rather than scaling it.

  12. #12
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Boom. Boom. Boom. Whazzat? Sounds like the

    Dinosaurs have been attracted to fresh meat...

    Ditto what John T. said. Schmedlap missed only one small thing with respect to Viet Nam -- repeat tours. The Officers and NCOs who learned good lessons the bad way were only able to impart them to a few others before they left for another tour in the land of opportunity. The casualty and KIA rates for NCOs and Co Grade officers meant that the lesson diffusion was not great. Still, basic point that lesson impartation during that war was poor is generally correct.

    Lessons learned today indeed are proliferated rapidly and the Army has adapted far more rapidly and effectively than it did in Viet Nam. Organizations like the Asymmetric Warfare Group have been instrumental in pushing new techniques (and, equally or more importantly, reviving old ones) so that's correct.

    Two points for consideration though.

    While lessons learned do get rapidly disseminated and the system adapts more rapidly, everyone has to realize that the personnel system has NOT adapted and that personnel turbulence has a significant adverse impact on units, lessons learned and embedding those lessons in the units.

    We were unprepared for this bout of Small Wars due to a POLICY, not doctrine, that decreed they should be ignored. Numerous people in the Army during the 1975-2002 period tried to reverse that policy to no avail. So there is a culture issue because the culture drove that policy and most within the culture subscribed to it. Culture is largely molded in organizations by personnel selection and promotion policies as well as by organizational education and training processes. If you do not fix those things, you will not change the culture. Point is that all the effective networks in being do not translate to effective training (ask the Troops...) and that they have not thus far affected the culture.

    One can only hope they will...

    Boom, boom, boom, ...., ...

    P.S.

    Sigaba is on to something with Upton. The US Army adopted all the bad aspects of the German General Staff and training systems and none of their good ones. We should have developed as US specific system and we did not; we pulled our usual trick with many things -- copied someone else's idea, engineered it until it didn't work as well, tacked on a few minor embellishments and called it our brilliant solution to the problem.

    We are slow to learn...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    We are slow to learn...
    So the working title of the dissertation is: 'How Does the Culture of the American Military Prevent Them From Waging Small Wars Effectively?'

    Perhaps questions in the title of dissertations is more of the style in that part of the world, but if one were to write such a thing in the US it would probably be more along the lines of:
    Lessons Not Learned: American Military Culture and Small Wars, 1950-2006
    "The status quo is not sustainable. All of DoD needs to be placed in a large bag and thoroughly shaken. Bureaucracy and micromanagement kill."
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