Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The narrowness of War College papers

By John Fox Best Defense guest columnist I was interested to re-read your re-posting of thoughts on Army War College papers. You noted the lack of papers on wars and battles that didn’t involve the United States. You certainly have a point — for example, as a professor at the AWC discussing Yorktown, I used ...

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

By John Fox

Best Defense guest columnist

I was interested to re-read your re-posting of thoughts on Army War College papers. You noted the lack of papers on wars and battles that didn't involve the United States. You certainly have a point -- for example, as a professor at the AWC discussing Yorktown, I used to ask students how many of them had heard of the Battle of the Capes, the French-British naval battle that prevented the Royal Navy from rescuing the British force at Yorktown, and thus ensuring Washington's and Rochambeau's victory. None (repeat none), including the Navy students, had ever heard of it.

By John Fox

Best Defense guest columnist

I was interested to re-read your re-posting of thoughts on Army War College papers. You noted the lack of papers on wars and battles that didn’t involve the United States. You certainly have a point — for example, as a professor at the AWC discussing Yorktown, I used to ask students how many of them had heard of the Battle of the Capes, the French-British naval battle that prevented the Royal Navy from rescuing the British force at Yorktown, and thus ensuring Washington’s and Rochambeau’s victory. None (repeat none), including the Navy students, had ever heard of it.

On the other hand, in the elective I taught, "Winning the Battles, Losing the War," students often chose non-U.S. wars to analyze from the point of view of political aims and military strategy. Especially popular ones (apart from Thucydides and Xenophon, which they had to study whether they wanted to or not) were Operation Peace for Galilee (1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon) and the Third Punic War. One (American) student analyzed the American Revolutionary War from the British point of view.

But the overall orientation of students toward American wars does speak of a certain insularity. I believe the problem is even more acute, as I often found that students’ conceptual world did not extend beyond the Geographical Combatant Command. A frequent question (and topic for papers) was "Why don’t other agencies just establish regional headquarters at GCCs in order to make it easier for the GCCs to coordinate with them?" Those students with experience at OSD or on the Joint Staff had a broader point of view and a better understanding that DoD is more than just a collection of GCCs, but these students were very few.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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