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..". a strong and stimulating book. It has no rival in either scope or quality. For libraries, history buffs, and armchair warriors, it is a must. For political science students, career diplomats, and officers in the armed services, its reading should be required." --History "A particularly timely account." --Kansas City Times "It reads easily but is not a popularized histor ..". a strong and stimulating book. It has no rival in either scope or quality. For libraries, history buffs, and armchair warriors, it is a must. For political science students, career diplomats, and officers in the armed services, its reading should be required." --History "A particularly timely account." --Kansas City Times "It reads easily but is not a popularized history... nor does the book become a history of battles.... Weigley's analyses and interpretations are searching, competent, and useful." --Perspective


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..". a strong and stimulating book. It has no rival in either scope or quality. For libraries, history buffs, and armchair warriors, it is a must. For political science students, career diplomats, and officers in the armed services, its reading should be required." --History "A particularly timely account." --Kansas City Times "It reads easily but is not a popularized histor ..". a strong and stimulating book. It has no rival in either scope or quality. For libraries, history buffs, and armchair warriors, it is a must. For political science students, career diplomats, and officers in the armed services, its reading should be required." --History "A particularly timely account." --Kansas City Times "It reads easily but is not a popularized history... nor does the book become a history of battles.... Weigley's analyses and interpretations are searching, competent, and useful." --Perspective

30 review for The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Graham

    As a foundational text for understanding not only American strategy, but basic concepts of national strategy itself, this book is unsurpassed. It’s one of the few I can truly call “epic.” Beginning with George Washington’s “strategy of attrition” during the Revolutionary War, Weigley traces the scope of American strategic thought up to the closing days of the Vietnam War. Structurally, American strategy falls into several phases. Washington eventually gives way to Halleck, who is then replaced by As a foundational text for understanding not only American strategy, but basic concepts of national strategy itself, this book is unsurpassed. It’s one of the few I can truly call “epic.” Beginning with George Washington’s “strategy of attrition” during the Revolutionary War, Weigley traces the scope of American strategic thought up to the closing days of the Vietnam War. Structurally, American strategy falls into several phases. Washington eventually gives way to Halleck, who is then replaced by Ulysses Grant. Grant’s approach to war – “a strategy of annihilation” – then serves as the United States’ guiding principle until well into the twentieth century. As was the case in most arenas, nukes changed everything. The beginning of the Cold War was a return to Marshall and MacArthur’s styles from World War II, but that emphasis on conventional war didn’t last long. Deterrence soon became the word of the day, and the strategic legacies that the army had inherited from Washington, Greene, Grant, and a host of other thinkers fell completely by the wayside. The modern U.S. Navy is, of course, born out of the writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan. Mahanian naval thought went relatively unchanged until after World War II, but the dominance of battleships remained alive and well until relatively late in the war. The Air Force gets a similar ‘father figure’ in Billy Mitchell, and the struggle to become an independent branch of the armed services bears particular resonance now, with that very independence being questioned. The turf war between the navy and air force in the early days of the Cold War is very well-documented, with the emphasis on strategic bombers versus carrier aviation shown to be more important than a mere interservice spat. Weigley’s writing is accessible in that rarest of ways – intelligible yet sophisticated. At times he explains fairly complex concepts, but manages to avoid getting too caught up in minutiae while still covering all the important details. Thinkers in every echelon of the military get a fair hearing, from the usual generals and Joint Chiefs down to the occasional major or even captain (Boyd: curiously absent). And while the overall relevance of The American Way of War is unquestionable, the rather abrupt stopping-point of 1973 is somewhat jarring, and one wishes that Weigley had continued to examine the evolution of American strategy. For career strategists, The American Way of War might seem oversimplified, but for everyone else, it’s a perfect introduction to not just American doctrine, but national strategy as a concept. And perhaps most important, Weigley demonstrates just where we’ve come from, and how far we have – or haven’t – come since Washington and Valley Forge.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    In recent years, the American political landscape has been often preoccupied by discussion of the military, both in aspects of its financial costs and, more broadly, on the role that the American military should take in world affairs. Although published originally in 1973, Russel F. Weigley's The American Way of War remains an incredibly important voice in that discussion. The book aims high, attempting to conduct a survey of all American military history and discern a unique American method of In recent years, the American political landscape has been often preoccupied by discussion of the military, both in aspects of its financial costs and, more broadly, on the role that the American military should take in world affairs. Although published originally in 1973, Russel F. Weigley's The American Way of War remains an incredibly important voice in that discussion. The book aims high, attempting to conduct a survey of all American military history and discern a unique American method of warfare. The book, in addition to providing this useful survey, succeeds by dividing American military methodology into three distinct eras, submitting that George Washington's method of evasion and attrition gave way to a Civil War method of total annihilation, which dominated military strategy until the atomic era, where the advent of nuclear weapons confused strategic thought. Possibly the book's greatest strength is its sweeping overview of American military history. Beginning with the Continental Army's struggle against Great Britain during the Revolutionary War, Weigley examines every major military conflict that American forces have engaged in up to Vietnam. In this sense, the book is a wonderful introductory text to American military history, even aside from its analysis. While these conflicts cannot be examined in incredible depth, they provide a wonderful base of information and Weigley's detailed notes give plenty of direction for further study of any particular era. Weigley's dissection of American methodology opens by characterizing George Washington's warfare as a method of evasion and attrition, a strategy mainly dictated by Washington's extremely limited resources. Washington needed to act offensively, as the temperament of the nation and accepted military thought of the times suggested, yet not be so daring that he would risk losing the meager forces upon which the hopes of the nation depended. “Washington concluded that if the army could be kept alive, the Revolutionary cause would also remain alive. Then in time it could be hoped that the British government would lose patience and abandon the war.” This attempt to slowly wear down the British over time marked Washington's entire strategic approach, which was dictated by his resources. “It may be too much to call it even a strategy of attrition. Perhaps the phrase 'strategy of erosion' would be more accurate; to wear away the resolution of the British by gradual, persistent action... was as much of an offensive purpose as Washington could afford.” Weigley also makes mention of the importance of guerrilla tactics in the Revolution. However, these attempts can also be said to fit with an attrition (or erosion) based model, as a guerrilla force would also not have the resources for complete annihilation of the enemy's forces in a single stroke. This blending of two styles of achieving the same basic strategic goals marked Nathaniel Greene's career. “Greene's outstanding characteristic as a strategist was his ability to weave the maraudings of partisan raiders into a coherent pattern, coordinating them with the maneuvers of a field army otherwise too weak to accomplish much, and making the combination a deadly one.” America proceeded along these lines for some time, amid the early nineteenth century engaging in military activities with a similar, primarily defensive strategy. The American Army remained small and relatively unchallenged, dealing mostly with clashes with Indians on the frontier and minor conflict in the Spanish American War. The Civil War, according to Weigley, represented a momentous shift in strategy for the nation. Part of the reason for the shift lay in the nature of the war itself. “Not only did the North have to conquer the Confederacy, while the Confederacy only had to maintain itself... The North had to win the was as quickly as possible.” But while the demands of the North were assuredly more offensive, they contained another dimension which added complexity to the issues of strategy, the fact that “Lincoln did not seek military conquest. The primary object of his government was the restoration of the Union, the achievement of which demanded that sooner or later the South must yield to the Union with some measure of voluntary consent.” To confuse the issue further, the Civil War featured combat with new technologies, methods of warfare which would have dramatic effects on the way in which war would be fought. Developments of rifles, which increased a firearms range of accuracy dramatically, and railroads, which allowed for the formation, movement and supply of mass armies would cause new and unforeseen problems for generals. Thus, Ulysses S. Grant adopted a strategy unlike his predecessors, which would eventually come to define American strategic thinking for years to follow. “Grant proposed a strategy of annihilation based upon the principle of concentration and mass, hitting the main Confederate armies with the concentrated thrust of massive Federal forces until the Confederate armies were smashed into impotence.” The annihilation of the enemy's army became the main goal. Weigley does not settle for quite so simplistic an analysis, but examines each side of the Civil War and reveals some subtleties. However, the basic concepts of concentration, mass and annihilation, he argues, became predominant and would define American strategic thought consciously or unconsciously for some time. While after the Civil War, Americans returned mostly to a demilitarized, defensive posture, the influence of Grant's thinking would begin to be felt first in the development of the Navy. Alfred T. Mahan became a prominent voice, calling for a navy that would dominate the sea and be capable of annihilating rival navies. “He [Mahan] insisted that the American fleet should be kept concentrated; the essence of sea power was a concentrated battle fleet able to assume to primary strategic task of confronting and defeating an enemy battle fleet in order to assert control of the sea.” Mahan's thinking, which was in many ways a Naval application of Grant's thinking, would color American strategic thought well into the twentieth century. The strategy of annihilation marked the approach of American strategy in World War One, although Weigley deftly points out that this strategy was embraced by most belligerents, and could not have been much influenced by America. “There was not much chance for the belatedly belligerent United States to shape the military strategy of the World War... No real alternative remained to a strategy which aimed at destroying the German armies by grinding them into ruin.” At least part of this problem was inherent in the technological issues surrounding World War One, seen partially in the Civil War, of which Weigley gives an excellent synopsis. Though The Great War has traditionally been thought of as a war of attrition, and Weigley correctly attributes eventual success to “not [the] purely military but economic, political, and moral as well,” it should still be noted that the war was fought with a strategy of annihilation, in which the goal was to concentrate in mass to destroy enemy armies, as opposed to Washington's primarily defensive strategy of exhaustion and erosion. Weigley's discussion of the interwar era demonstrates the controversy surrounding the integration of the new technologies of tanks and airplanes. These discussions are quite thorough, and developed in accordance with his thesis, that for the most part, these new weapons were seen as ways to destroy the enemy forces in a battle of annihilation. These developments directly informed the American approach to fighting in all theaters of World War Two. As Weigley summarizes, “the American Army's interwar emphasis of hard fighting as the only sure road to victory... seemed once again sound... An army strong enough to choose the strategy of annihilation should always choose it, because the most certain and probably the most rapid route to victory lay through the destruction of the enemy's armed forces. To destroy the enemy army, the only proven way remained the application of mass and concentration in the manner of U. S. Grant.” In this light, the strategy of strategic bombing, which focused on destroying enemy production capability through precision air attacks, can also be seen as a direct strategy to annihilate enemy forces by removing their ability to support themselves. While this strategy of annihilation worked as intended against Germany, it encountered issues when brought to bear against Japan. “Japanese defenders of Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa had amply demonstrated that to them, indices normally consulted in the West and normal limits upon the capacity to resist did not apply.” Japan appeared willing to fight literally to the last man. Only an unprecedented intervention by the Emperor allowed for a peaceful resolution. However, the methods employed at the conclusion of the Japanese campaign would prove to be game changing. As Weigley succinctly states, “it soon became evident that by carrying a strategy of annihilation to the literalness of absurdity, the atomic bomb also represented a strategic revolution.” Thus, a Grantian strategy of annihilation seemed obsolete in an age where literal complete annihilation of the enemy could be accomplished with the press of a button. Thus, military strategy became even more closely tied to political policy than it had been in the past as the nation shifted to ideas of deterrence. “To shift the American definition of strategy from the use of combats for the object of wars to the use of military force for the deterrence of war, albeit while still serving the national interest in an active manner, amounted to a revolution in the history of American military policy.” Weigley traces the development of these implications through the frustrations of Korea, Vietnam and general tensions with the Soviet Union. He notes that “any strategy other than the now familiar strategy of annihilation proved so frustratingly at variance with the American conception of war that it upset the balance of judgment of American officers in the field and threatened the psychological balance of the nation itself.” Ultimately, Weigley shows a trend that “limited” military actions tend to develop an inertia of their own, as the desire for annihilation is at odds with the limited aims of deterrent strategy, and rarely, if ever, is such a limited strategy able to achieve the desired results. Weigley concludes the work with almost eerie sentiment, claiming, “the idea that the United States can work its will in distant parts of the world by means of the measured, controlled application of punitive violence seems especially dubious... Because the record of nonnuclear limited war in obtaining acceptable decisions at tolerable cost is also scarcely heartening, the history of usable combat may at last be reaching its end.” Published in 1973, the book's thoughts remain increasingly relevant today, as America finds itself working its will on distant parts of the world in the War on Terror and other conflicts. Certainly it would be interesting to see how Weigley would respond to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the developing problems in the Middle East, as well as the attempts at nation-building. There is perhaps room to say that his categorical approach is simplistic. In some senses there is a tendency to reduce complex ideas so that they neatly fit a thesis based on neatly categorizing strategic thought. Yet, he does provide ample evidence for his approach and remains very convincing. Even for those who may disagree with his broad generalizations of the impetus behind American strategic history can find the book to be incredibly useful as a survey of military history. His impressive notes provide an incredible array of secondary sources for further reading. Some primary, archival material appears to have been used, but for the most part Weigley confines himself to a synthesis of secondary sources of all eras of American history. The American Way of War remains a classic text that is often discussed over forty years after its publication, and this is no accident. Its well written, scholarly prose provides not only a broad survey of history, but a solid context framing discussions of strategy and military policy both in the past and the future. The book still feels as fresh and relevant as it likely did upon its arrival. How relevant Weigley's observations will be to future generations of strategic planners and historians remains to be seen.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    Weigley covers American military history from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War, showing that since the Civil War the US has preferred the "strategy of annihilation" over both the Napoleonic strategy of the decisive battle (followed by Lee in the Civil War) and the strategy of attrition, pursued by Washington in the Revolutionary War. The strategy of annihilation says that the military should focus on the destruction of the enemy's military forces through the application of overwhelming f Weigley covers American military history from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War, showing that since the Civil War the US has preferred the "strategy of annihilation" over both the Napoleonic strategy of the decisive battle (followed by Lee in the Civil War) and the strategy of attrition, pursued by Washington in the Revolutionary War. The strategy of annihilation says that the military should focus on the destruction of the enemy's military forces through the application of overwhelming force. The US pursued the strategy of annihilation for several reasons. From the time of the Civil War on, we had the resources and manpower to batter enemy forces into submission, as Grant did to Lee in the 1864-1865 campaigns. As a democracy, the strategy of annihilation serves the public need for a relatively rapid victory by defeating the enemy quickly and decisively, avoiding long drawn-out conflicts that would undermine electoral support. Finally, the US has avoided having to compromise at the end of wars because the strategy of annihilation renders foes completely prostrate, at least before the Cold War. What makes this book so valuable is the clear thinking and presentation of complex ideas about strategy, one of the most overused and misunderstood terms of the present day. Weigley walks the reader through the problems faced by the US at different times, the doctrinal theorizing, and the successes and failures of the application of doctrine. The most interesting part of the book is the final section about strategy in the Cold War. The Atomic Revolution rendered the strategy of annihilation moot against America's principle foe, because pursuing the annihilation of the foe would virtually guarantee one's own annihilation. Ike's massive retaliation policy reflected the American annihilation tradition, but it was unsuited to stopping Communist advances below the level of nuclear or even conventional war. Therefore, the US developed limited war capabilities, including unconventional war, new tactics like airmobile infantry, expanded military aid missions, and counterinsurgency. The military, however, chafed under increased political restrictions on the use of force in both Korea and Vietnam. Despite the push of JFK and others to change the military's strategic thinking, pursuing the annihilation of the foe's military forces remained the default strategic concept. When the US started putting forces in Vietnam, the civilian leaders at the DoD and the military leadership were thinking in very different terms. The DoD under McNamara pursued a limited war strategy called graduated response, in which force is used at calibrated levels to communicate resolve to and punish North Vietnam. The military, however, expanded their mission rapidly from protecting airbases and carving out enclaves (limited war) to search and destroy missions, huge troops requests, and massive aerial bombing (. In a sense, these two parties saw the use of force in very different ways, and both strategies were probably erroneous for Vietnam. Weigley concedes that if the US had actually pursued a COIN-type strategy in Vietnam, they would have had a better chance at succeeding. It's important to keep in mind here that the military's shift to limited war did not necessarily mean a shift away from conventional strategy or thinking. Weigley ends the book with a provocative idea "Because the record of nonnuclear limited war in obtaining acceptable decisions at tolerable cost is also scarcely heartening, the history of usable combat may at last be reaching its end." I may be missing his meaning here, but I think he's pretty off, and not just in hindsight. Limited war failed in Vietnam, but that doesn't mean that the use of force, carefully calibrated to one's political goals, the interests of other nations such as the USSR, and the realities on the ground, can't be useful. He's right to say that the strategy of annihilation is less applicable than in the past, but the vast spectrum of military intervention below that remains potentially useful to the US and other nations. 477 pages.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Scottnshana

    I used to teach out of this text--discussing Jomini's influence on West Point in the 19th century and therefore how the Civil War was fought, for instance--but I wanted to finally sit down and read the entire "Big Pink Book." I wanted to start at George Washington and end at "Vietnamization" to view the common threads in the way U.S. military and civilian strategists viewed our commitments to war. Dr. Weigley's book does all this, linking the events we read about in high school history classes w I used to teach out of this text--discussing Jomini's influence on West Point in the 19th century and therefore how the Civil War was fought, for instance--but I wanted to finally sit down and read the entire "Big Pink Book." I wanted to start at George Washington and end at "Vietnamization" to view the common threads in the way U.S. military and civilian strategists viewed our commitments to war. Dr. Weigley's book does all this, linking the events we read about in high school history classes with decisions on weapons procurement, national interests, and plans to defend those interests both on-shore and abroad. I have spent the last 25 years studying the Cold War, but I found that Weigley's treatment of the early American air- and sea-power theorists brought out the details for me in topics like Strategic Air Command, the MacArthur/Ridgway transition in Korea, and JFK's fight to create and nurture a SOF capability to counter Soviet support for "Wars of National Liberation." I have always suspected that General Maxwell Taylor was more complex than the personality McMaster describes in "Dereliction of Duty" (you're not going to change my mind on LBJ or McNamara, though, which I think McMaster nailed down well) and this is elucidated in the Weigley book. I also think Weigley makes a pretty good case for Dien Bien Phu's deleterious effect on the Eisenhower Administration's attempts to defend the free world on the cheap (and pushing most of the resources to one of our armed forces at the expense of the others). Admittedly, it's a big doorstop of a book, but I found reading a chapter a week gave me time to ruminate on each of them and I'd recommend that approach to anyone interested in American military history and how the U.S. views its interaction with the rest of the world.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elwin Kline

    This was a recommended read for a college course I took back in 2015 combining military history and psychology, the class was titled "Principles of War." I really enjoyed the course and learned a lot. Unfortunately that was 4+ years ago since the time of this review and I honestly don't remember anything specifically remarkable that sticks out in my mind about this book. However, I do remember it did enhance my experience for the class. I may re-read this again one day, however for the time bein This was a recommended read for a college course I took back in 2015 combining military history and psychology, the class was titled "Principles of War." I really enjoyed the course and learned a lot. Unfortunately that was 4+ years ago since the time of this review and I honestly don't remember anything specifically remarkable that sticks out in my mind about this book. However, I do remember it did enhance my experience for the class. I may re-read this again one day, however for the time being I have quite the queue going and I am looking forward to getting through those before I start any sort of "re-read journey."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    A deserved classic. Weigley provides an engaging and insightful analysis of the evolution and development of US strategic practice and thought. This book demonstrates the power of ideas - namely the long standing jominian preference for 'annihilation', meaning the direct destruction of the enemies main armed force - as the primary US way of war from the Civil War to the 1970s. Occasionally it gets bogged down into the details of military operations, but it is largely an impressive analysis of th A deserved classic. Weigley provides an engaging and insightful analysis of the evolution and development of US strategic practice and thought. This book demonstrates the power of ideas - namely the long standing jominian preference for 'annihilation', meaning the direct destruction of the enemies main armed force - as the primary US way of war from the Civil War to the 1970s. Occasionally it gets bogged down into the details of military operations, but it is largely an impressive analysis of the strategic level. An all too rare achievement. There are also engaging analyses of US strategic thinkers and their key work.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dale

    This book is often referred to at the US Army's School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) but was not required reading when I was there. Took the time to read it and wished I would have done so earlier. Very insightful into how American leaders and strategists have approached our wars. Recommended for operational planners, strategists, and military history readers so that they can understand underlining strategies in America's conflicts.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Janine Spendlove

    For anyone interested in the history of military tactics, well, specifically American military tactics, this is definitely the most comprehensive book on the subject I've found. I give 3 stars because while it was very informative, I found the writing to be uneven - it was dull and difficult to read at times, while at others I raced along. It felt almost as if several people wrote the book, though perhaps it's just because I found certain subjects more interesting than others.

  9. 4 out of 5

    William Oneill

    I read Weigley's monograph in 1990 as a textbook for a course on Military Policy. Weigley's study examines American miltary revolution to the Vietnam War. His comments apply to today's ongoing fights in Iraq and Afghanistan

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    Overview of military strategy and campaigns in American history - very interesting if you're interested in military strategy, very boring if you're not :)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sean Chick

    A brilliant summation of America in war. I may not agree with everything in this book, but I respect it none the less.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dane Christensen

    History, history, history, with commentary on how it relates to current thought.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Barron

    Overrated.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Packard Mills

    Notes, as part of the US Navy War College's Strategy and War

  15. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    A seminal work tracing the history of US strategic thought and application. Weigley demonstrates that as often as not, the US has failed to adopt a coherent strategic approach and frequently enters conflicts without a clear strategy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Josh Paul

    The 2/3s of this book I read were a good survey of American military policy and strategy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Claire S

    Relatively abhorent to me, but - then again - we keep being involved in military conflict, so perhaps as a citizen I should be a bit more informed than I am.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cath Holden

    This reminds of mcpherson's battle cry of freedom.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Al

    Very good work which traces the development of U.S. warfighting doctrine. The bibliography is a gold mine of hard-to-find works. This is a foundational text.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Levie Galapon

    Incredibly good sweep over American military history. Breaks up our history into different elements of strategy (or non-strategy).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paul Holloway

    The American way of war; a history of United States military strategy and policy by Russell Frank Weigley (1973)

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A classic.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Graham

    Hard to get through, but still very informative.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Martin Gibson

  25. 4 out of 5

    Pete

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  27. 5 out of 5

    General Jim

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mahlon

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

  30. 4 out of 5

    Haris Ali

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