Review: The American Way of War, by Russell
In his introduction, Russell
Weigley noted, "Military policy is based on two main elements, the
structure of a nation's armed forces and the strategy of their use." The American Way of War focuses on
the history of American strategy rather than the structure, which gives it
quite a different perspective than most military histories. The book is organized into chapters relating
to different general areas of strategic thought, not necessarily
chronological. For instance, Weigley
separated World War II into two chapters, dealing with the different strategies
that prevailed in the Pacific and European theaters.
Although he deliberately avoided
structural issues, Weigley nonetheless managed to give a coherent and detailed
account of most of American military history.
The role of technology in military history is brought out naturally by
examining its effects on strategic thought, such as the debate over air power
between the world wars. Through his use
of thematic rather than strictly chronological organization, Wiegley successfully
made his book both readable and understandable.
The American Way of War is a powerful analysis of the
historical foundation of the American military's quest for "total
victory," which was laid during the Civil War and reigned supreme during
World War II. Weigley's thesis was that
technological and social developments have robbed war of its power of decision,
resulting in wars in which the cost of victory exceeded the results, referring
specifically to the Vietnam War. On one
hand, nuclear weapons mean that total war serves no rational purpose, leading
to the negative strategy of deterrence.
The other option, limited war, is not likely to be successful because
"America's opponents in the locality involved . . . will almost certainly
feel too much larger a stake in the outcome . . . than does the United States
itself, to prove susceptible to manipulation by measured applications of
violence," pushing the Americans towards more "unlimited,
annihilative aims." (p. 476)
Weigley excelled both in his
analysis of current strategic dilemmas and in his comprehensive coverage of
American military history from a new perspective. He concluded that "at no point on the spectrum of violence
does the use of combat offer much promise for the United States today."
(p. 477) This conclusion is
well-supported for all types of nuclear warfare, but his sweeping conclusion
about "nonnuclear limited war" is weaker. He based it on the Korean and especially the Vietnam War, but
neglected to examine the specific circumstances that might have qualified his
conclusion. Overall, however, The
American Way of War successfully illuminates both the history and the
current problems of American military strategy.