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    Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    The American Way to Wage War

    The late Russell F. Weigley wrote a treatise, "How Americans Wage War: The Evolution of National Strategy" found in John Chambers and Kurt Piehler's Major Problems in American Military History(Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1999). In this work, he argues that America developed a specific theory and way of waging war based on the American Civil War and World War II. Based on Grant's success and that of the invasion of Normandy, America and Americans believe in a strategy of annihilation backed by a moral purpose.

    Weigley's purpose in setting up this argument is to propose that warfare in the 21st century will move towards smaller, faster, lighter armies and America can and must find examples in history that will make this new warfare "American" and guide strategists. He references generals in the Indian Wars, Revolutionary War, and Civil War who exhibited "unconventional, guerrilla-style" warfare.

    Weigley's right, yet he doesn't go far enough. This style of warfare is American just as much as you can make a "xerox" and everyone knows you're copying a paper. The action is synonymous with the name of the most well-known employer/maker.

    I propose this: "American Warfare" is the method of waging war in which a country with numerical or technological superiority attempts to annihilate the enemy. The country does so for unspoken self-interested reasons under a noticeable cloak of superior ideology.

    In this context, "Annihilate" means decimate and destroy a population or civilization until it becomes maleable enough to be reshaped by the victor to whatever is seen fit. This may be total destruction, or it may be like World War II--molding Germany into a democracy with pro-western ties.

    Although the war in Iraq currently is being reshaped to fit the more mobile, guerrilla-style warfare Weigley invisioned, it is still American Warfare. From the American perspective, we have a large, technologically advanced country seeking to destroy Iraqi civilization until we can mold a new, pro-western democracy. We do this under the ideology that we are the light that is set on a hill, everyone wants to be like us, and democracy is the best government. We don't speak about the interests we have in the region--Iraqi oil, a foothold for pressure on Iran, etc.

    America isn't the only country following this method. China has done it in the past. I argue now that Islamic extremists are doing it right now. They are buoyed by an ideological/religious moral superiority which allows them to justify killing soldiers and civilians. They have "technological" superiority in the ability to know the terrain, culture of the inhabitants, use guerrilla warfare. Their goal is the annihilation of America from the region so it can be molded into an Islamist state. And of course, their unspoken intentions are an Islamic fundamentalist bastion for terrorist protection, withdrawl of American presence from the Middle East, and an arab Palestinian state.

    Maybe the Iraqis are thankful Saddham Hussein is gone, but maybe they don't want to be a democracy or pro-western. Maybe they don't want to be a Islamic fundamentalist state either. As much as I agree democracy and capitalism are the way to go, and I think Iraq would benefit from westernization, do we have the moral superiority to make them become like us? Perhaps America should do what my parents always told me, "live so that everyone who knows you will want to change and be like you, and those who don't know you will want to."

    1 comment:

    MGO said...

    Just curious, Triet - What does Weigley say of the way that many other Western empires waged war? The Roman, Spanish, and British Empires come to mind, since they all operated under a theory of superiority of technology and culture when waging war against non-Western militaries.

    Victor Davis Hanson (of 'Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Culture' - interesting book, but I just couldn't buy some of his arguments)has noted that when two Western militaries fight together the casualties are generally extremely high (American Civil War, WWI, WWII). With your understanding of Asian history, does the same thing happen when Asian militaries would clash?