Small Wars Journal

The Roots of Military Doctrine: Change and Continuity in Understanding the Practice of Warfare

Tue, 08/13/2013 - 7:20am

The Roots of Military Doctrine: Change and Continuity in Understanding the Practice of Warfare - US Army Combat Studies Institute Monograph by Dr. Aaron P. Jackson. Foreword by COL Thomas E. Hanson, Director, Combat Studies Institute:

During the 1980s a fable circulated within the US Army concerning Soviet planning for a potential war with the United States. In the most common version, a Soviet general is alleged to have declared in frustration, “It is impossible to plan against the Americans because they don’t follow their own doctrine.” Many readers of this book will have heard (or said) that “doctrine is only a guide.” Indeed, the tactical agility demonstrated by the US Army on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan is due in no small part to a cultural imperative that prizes solutions above all else.

While not disputing the value of unorthodox solutions to difficult challenges, the organizational culture that underpins this perspective has resulted in a widespread lack of knowledge of Army doctrine by company and field grade officers and mid-level and senior noncommissioned officers. Recognizing this, the Army has dramatically re-engineered its doctrine to distill the timeless principles into a series of accessible, easily read documents. This process has led to a larger discussion of what should and should not be called “doctrine,” and has also included discussion of how we as members of the profession of arms conceptualize warfare. Unfortunately, this conversation has not yet included the bulk of the Army’s mid-level leaders.

Dr. Jackson’s monograph is an excellent contribution to remedy that shortfall. Its greatest value lies in the fact that it forces the reader to reconsider basic assumptions about the purpose and utility of doctrine, and what a nation’s military doctrine says about its military institution. Jackson’s arguments are well reasoned, his assertions are provocative, and his conclusions are profound. After reading this work, your view and understanding of doctrine will be powerfully enhanced, and will lead to lively discussions at every level.

Read the entire monograph.


G Martin

Sat, 08/17/2013 - 2:21am

Wow- just a quick scan of this put this at the top of my reading list. Even though I keep being told by Aussie officers that they aren't intellectually ahead of us, I keep seeing hints that their institution might be. I'm willing to bet that even though this was published by the U.S. military- it might be read more within the Australian military...

<em>"...Yet even as doctrine has evolved into each of the four schools, it has consistently been underpinned by ontological realism, a perspective that emphasizes that the world beyond human cognition is structured and tangible regardless of whether or not humans perceive and label it. The taxonomies propounded in doctrine have not been about defining and structuring reality. Rather, they have been about understanding reality and ultimately manipulating it, the intent being to achieve military victory as efficiently as possible. Where doctrine fails to sufficiently address a military’s ontology or where the taxonomies that constitute that ontology are inappropriate, adherence to doctrine can potentially create a dissonance between tactical means and strategic ends, as doctrine becomes susceptible to providing ill-suited guidance when faced with situations outside of its remit..." </em>