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Exploring the Operational Perspective

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Military historian Michael Howard once observed, A soldier in peacetime is like a sailor navigation by dead reckoning. You have left the terra firma of the last war and are exptrapolating from the experiences of that war. Today the US Army is extrapolating not only from its last war, but from its collective wartime history. It is seeking to understand a part of war that has not been a part of its recent experience. In World War II the Army effectively maneuvered field armies and army grounds on the battlefield in vast joint and combined operations. In Korea the Army had a field army operating as a part of the combined United Nations force. Since our Korean experience, however, in consonance with national policy, the Army has not had occasion to conduct operations of comparable size. The focus since shortly after World War II has been on limited wars where large conventional armed forces were not considered necessary because strategic nuclear forces could be used in place of them. Vietnam, our most recent large-scale combat experience, was almost exclusively a tactical war. Even though that may have been irrelevant to the outcome of the war, it has had a profound effect on the Armys doctrine. As a result of the shift in focus between World War II and Vietnam, the Army lost sight of how to fight that level of war lying between tactics and strategy. Todays officer corps has had no opportunity to gain practical combat experience at a higher level than the tactical. Since World War II nuclear weapons have dominated strategic planning, and until recently the Army concentrated its doctrine almost exclusively on tactical techniques. Consequently, the practical experience of the present officer corps has been limited to tactics, while its intellectual experience has been strategic. Moreover, the strategic nuclear theorizing has been the province of the nonmilitary intellectual rather than the serving Army officer.

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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