WAGING MODERN WAR
"The American way of war." That phrase -- popularized by the military historian Russell Weigley in his 1973 book -- has come to refer to a grinding strategy of attrition: the strategy employed by Ulysses S. Grant to destroy Robert E. Lee's army in 1864-65, by John J. Pershing to wear down the German army in 1918, and by the U.S. Army Air Force to pulverize all the major cities of Germany and Japan in 1944-45. In this view, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II were won not by tactical or strategic brilliance but by the sheer weight of numbers -- the awesome destructive power that only a fully mobilized and highly industrialized democracy can bring to bear. In all these conflicts, U.S. armies composed of citizen-soldiers suffered and inflicted massive casualties.
Much the same methods characterized the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, though with decreasing levels of success; the former being a costly draw, the latter a bloody failure. The first Gulf War was much more successful, but in many ways, it still fit the traditional, firepower-intensive mode: more than five weeks of relentless bombing was followed by a massive armored onslaught. Although the "left hook" that swept around Iraqi forces entrenched in Kuwait showed some operational flair, it was hardly a gamble -- the eight-division allied force was so heavy that it simply crushed everything in its path.
As with all generalizations, this view of the American way of war has
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