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US Army and the strategy of punitive measures

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Technical Report,05 Jul 2015,26 May 2016

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US Army School for Advanced Military Studies Fort Leavenworth United States

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Previous armies that have successfully imposed their will upon an adversary provide operational planners lessons on how to transition to conflict resolution while maintaining a position of relative advantage. The US Army was able to impose its will upon its adversaries in multiple conflicts through the use of punitive measures. The purpose of this study is to examine the use of punitive measures by the US Army and how they brought about the peaceful conflict resolution. Carl von Clausewitz writes that war is a contest of wills. This contest is won by imposing will upon an adversary with force. This paper examines four historical examples of US Army campaigns and major operations, in which three relied on punitive measures and one did not. These events were Sheridans Shenandoah Valley major operation, Shermans Savannah and Columbia campaigns, the Philippines war 1898-1902, and the American Expeditionary Force following the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The study concludes that the use of punitive measures was necessary for conflict resolution during the Civil War and the Philippines War. The transition from strategies of benevolence to ones of civilian coercion were the only method to impose will on the adversary and the supportive population. The study also finds that when adversaries have already capitulated as German forces and civilians did following the Meuse-Argonne offensive then punitive measures are not necessary. Further study on selective punitive measures by the US Army and militaries can inform strategy and operational approaches against contemporary adversaries and their supportive populations.

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