America's School for War: Fort Leavenworth, Officer Education, and Victory in World War II

  • Published

America’s School for War: Fort Leavenworth, Officer Education, and Victory in World War II by Peter J. Schifferle. University Press of Kansas, 2010, 304 pp.

In light of the recent academic debates regarding the value of professional military education (PME), Peter Schifferle has serendipitously produced a book that reminds us what PME can do for the nation. His work, which rightfully should be considered a companion to Timothy Nenninger’s The Leavenworth Schools and the Old Army: Education, Professionalism, and the Officer Corps of the United States Army, 1881–1918 (Greenwood Press, 1978), presents a balanced look at the role of the Fort Leavenworth school structure in the interwar period, with special emphasis on the Command and General Staff School. In doing so, he successfully depicts the education provided at Leavenworth as important to the Army’s success in the Second World War.

Schifferle outlines the reopening of the Leavenworth school structure following the First World War and the predominant influence exerted by American Expeditionary Force veterans in shaping the postwar curriculum and teaching methodology, thus painting a nuanced picture of the interwar US Army. Rather than serve up the leisurely, ultraconservative institution often portrayed, he presents an officer corps grappling with an uncertain future in a time of fiscal austerity that—even in today’s environment—American officers can only imagine. The author makes clear how Leavenworth’s educational efforts fit into the Army’s doctrine under the National Defense Act of 1920. Specifically, the education of regular officers was designed to provide the core framework around which a massive mobilization would take place in the event (assumed by many people) of another European war. Additionally, he depicts the schools as forward thinking and concerned with employing mobile warfare and breaking through static defensive fronts long before the successes of the German offensives of 1939 and 1940.

Schifferle addresses the notion that deciding how to teach is just as important as determining what to teach. In this regard, the degree to which Leavenworth embraced the applicatory method (graded problems, map exercises, and the like) was paramount. By taking great pains to refute the oft-mentioned critique of rigidity towards “school solutions,” the author opposes the conclusions drawn by Jörg Muth in his book Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901–1940, and the Consequences for World War II (University of North Texas Press, 2011). Schifferle’s argument that students were not unduly burdened and stifled by overly constrictive adherence to these solutions is more much persuasive then Muth’s.

Though a faculty member at the Command and General Staff College’s School of Advanced Military Studies, the author does not engage in boosterism. He points to several clear shortcomings of Leavenworth’s interwar approach—foremost the dearth of Supply Corps and Air Corps topics as well as the outsized resistance to a one-year (versus two-year) curriculum. Throughout, he presents alternate views to his conclusions in a complete manner—not the traditional “straw men” that some historians use.

Any PME graduate will read with interest descriptions of the intense pressure, late evenings, and stringent grading of the interwar period. In an era when reduced budgets limited the opportunity for officers to lead large formations, they attempted to compensate through PME. Obviously, America’s School for War offers lessons for our own future. Overall, Schifferle’s work is well presented, well researched, and instructional to anyone concerned with the development of PME or the interwar Army.

Lt Col Christopher Parrish, USAF

Fort McNair, Washington, DC

"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."