Military History

Oct. 1, 2017

Time in War

Time has always been considered a key element in war. Speed, by definition, derives from time: “distance traveled divided by the time of travel” is the usual definition. Over two millennia ago, Sun Tzu remarked on its importance, noting that “speed is the essence of war” and “divine swiftness” is to be “esteemed.”1 Carl von Clausewitz believed similarly, commenting that time had a major psychological effect that would help provide secrecy as well as speed.2 Not just theorists, but also practitioners (such as Napoleon as quoted in this article’s epigraph) have recognized the importance of time and timing in war. But what is time?

Oct. 1, 2016

Fighting with Friends: Coalition Warfare in Korean Waters, 1950–1953

In late June 1950, President Harry Truman ordered U.S. forces into combat against the North Korean invasion of South Korea. One of the first units to respond was a combined U.S. Navy–Royal Navy task force with one aircraft carrier from each navy. Throughout the Korean War, British and American naval forces operated together to support the decisive actions on land. Although Anglo-American naval relations were close throughout the Korean War, these ties could be strained and frayed when U.S. Navy commanders operated as though the Royal Navy was a mirror image of their own fleet. This case study in managing multinational operations serves as a timely reminder for commanders and operators of the importance of understanding the history and organizational structure of their coalition partners and of being prepared to adjust practices and procedures based on this knowledge. The experience of Rear Admiral George Dyer illustrates the dangers of mirror-imaging coalition allies, even those as close as the Royal Navy.

Sept. 8, 2016

Fifty Shades of Friction Combat Climate, B-52 Crews, and the Vietnam War

“Four elements make up the climate of war: danger, exertion, uncertainty, and chance,” wrote Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz in his seminal On War. He observed that collectively, those four elements comprised the notion of friction, which he defined as “the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper.” Friction has disrupted the implementation of war plans since the dawn of civilization, and despite efforts to minimize its effects, it will continue to do so.

March 29, 2016

If We Fight Joint, Shouldn't Our History Reflect That?

American forces are fighting joint as never before in conjunction with the armed forces of allied nations. Joint and combined operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and current operations over Iraq and Syria have demonstrated conclusively that the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 came at the right time and has subsequently produced impressive results.

Dec. 1, 2010

The Surge: General Petraeus and the Turnaround in Iraq

When General David H. Petraeus, USA, took command of Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF–I) on February 10, 2007, beginning his 3d tour and 28th month in Iraq, the situation was grim. Increasing sectarian violence had led to an escalation of killings of civilians in Iraq, with up to 150 corpses being found daily in Baghdad.1 The government of Prime Minister Nouri alMaliki was viewed by almost everyone as ineffective at best, and the U.S. military strategy was not well defined and clearly not working. Iraq appeared to be sliding out of control toward civil war or disintegration, and the United States appeared to be headed inexorably toward defeat— another Vietnam. Popular sentiment held that the best course of action was to cut our losses and disengage from a fight we were losing. General George Casey, USA, the outgoing commander of MNF–I, had supported a gradual drawdown of U.S. forces and a handoff of security tasks to Iraqi forces even as the situation got worse