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Prophets or Praetorians? The Uptonian Paradox and the Powell Corollary

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The major risk of a big-war predilection is that the U.S. Army will retain the thinking, infrastructure, and forces appropriate for a large-scale war that may not materialize while failing to properly adapt itself to conduct simultaneous smaller engagements of the type that seem to be occurring with increasing frequency. This quotation highlights the salience of military culture as an influence on how military institutions perceive and conduct war. Military culture as an explanation of behavior may be particularly relevant to the U.S. Army now because the Army is transforming, is still engaged in a small counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, and is currently engaged in stability operations to counter terrorist and subversive paramilitary elements in Iraq. In short, military culture comprises the beliefs and attitudes within a military organization that shape its collective preferences toward the use of force. These attitudes can impede or foster innovation and adaptation, and military culture sometimes exhibits preferences for big wars in favor of small wars. This article discusses one characteristic of U.S. military culture that since the end of the 19th century has had a profound influence on how the American military views the nexus between politics and war. This characteristic is the Uptonian paradox, named so because Emory Uptons influence on American military thought contributed to the following contradiction the U.S. Army has embraced Clausewitz as the quintessential oracle of war, but it has also tended to distance itself from Clausewitzs overarching theme -- the linkage of the military instrument to political purposes. The big-war-only school was ultimately codified in the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine -- a prescription for the use of force that essentially proscribes anything other than conventional war. The author postulates that the Uptonian paradox remains an important influence on the U.S. military.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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