Reconsidering the American Way of War: US Military Practice from the Revolution to Afghanistan

  • Published
Reconsidering the American Way of War: US Military Practice from the Revolution to Afghanistan by Antulio J. Echevarria II. Georgetown University Press7, 2014, 219 pp.

In his latest work, Dr. Antulio Echevarria, a leading Clausewitz scholar, applies some of the Prussian's theories to the controversial historical subject the "American Way of War." As any student of military history knows, several notable writers over the past few decades have tried to pigeonhole how and why America fights. Some claim that we use massive firepower or overwhelming numbers--or that we even rely on irregular warfare to fight our enemies. All of these theories have large holes in them, and Echevarria uses Clausewitz to show that the only common thread of American conflict is politics. Readers should keep in mind that "politics" does not necessarily refer to how our leaders are shown on cable news but how they choose to exert their ideas and power.

Reconsidering the American Way of War consists of three parts. The first examines the current body of knowledge regarding an American way of war and various scholarly ideas, including the myth of strategic culture; it also analyzes military art. The second part, which makes up the bulk of the work, is a brief synopsis of every conflict in which the United States has been involved, from the colonial era to the war on terror. This section in itself is worthwhile because Echevarria covers over 200 years of warfare in fewer than 100 pages without missing a conflict and examines the how/why of America's involvement. Finally, he briefly ties the conflicts together by concluding that the United States conducted every conflict based on the political ramifications of the time. Sometimes overwhelming force was required and used, sometimes America sought wars of attrition, and sometimes a minimal footprint became the political choice. If the work has a fault, it is that Echevarria does not elaborate on this point. To readers who have studied Clausewitz and understand his maxim that war is an extension of policy, the conclusion makes sense, and Echevarria's historical synopsis reinforces that point. However, someone unfamiliar with the Prussian may not as easily connect the dots.

Despite this shortcoming, Reconsidering the American Way of War is brief, to the point, and-most importantly-readable. Echevarria takes some complex ideas and simplifies them so a layperson can use this study as an introduction to US military history. Nonscholars may choose to skip the discussions on strategic culture and military art since the text can be a little tedious and is not essential to understand either the work or the author's conclusions. The book is a must for military historians but would also be appropriate for all military members who wish to learn about their heritage and how their country chooses to employ the force that they provide.

(Academic integrity note: Dr. Echevarria was the adviser for my master's degree in military history capstone work.)

Capt Ian S. Bertram, USAF
Kirtland AFB, New Mexico

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."