Small Wars Journal

Understanding Endgame: The Essential Re-Shaping of Military Thinking in 21st Century Warfare

Tue, 07/19/2016 - 1:18am

Understanding Endgame: The Essential Re-Shaping of Military Thinking in 21st Century Warfare

Richard M. Ingleby

Volumes have been written on the various facets of warfare, and today ever-increasing amounts of effort are being devoted specifically to the study of insurgent conflict. In spite of this, scholars and students of warfare have yet to look at military occupations collectively to see if any common themes, trends or correlations emerge. As we currently seek to find solutions for occupations in light of recent conflicts, this scientific approach to the historical study of occupations is long overdue. Doing so is the aim of this article; what the reader will see is potentially ground-breaking in this regard, and perhaps the lessons here will finally give the US military an edge in insurgent conflicts that is so desperately needed for the future. The method for which will be seen at the end of this article.

When one looks at every Western military occupation from the advent of Total Warfare (e.g. the American Civil War) to the present, a singular, and thus far unstudied, critical common thread does in fact emerge, one that actually links all insurgent conflict in modern warfare: that the level of devastation a defeated nation suffers during initial conflict has a direct correlation, in every instance, to the rise of an insurgency during the subsequent military occupation. In other words, in every modern military conflict wherein Total Warfare was utilized, meaning the incorporation of civilian populations, infrastructure, etc. into the battlefield itself, the subsequent occupation never had to cope with a significant insurgency, if any at all. For the devastation suffered by a population in such cases was so immense that their will to resist was completely broken, to the point where continued resistance could no longer even be contemplated.

For example, during the period mentioned the United States has been involved in three military conflicts that have utilized Total War followed by an invasion and occupation: the US Civil War, and WWII Germany and Japan. In each case, after significant conflict and great loss on both the battlefield and at home, after each opponent’s surrender their militaries laid down their arms and resistance as a whole ceased thereafter. Yet note the level of dedication and even fanaticism in the case of each of these groups — it almost defies belief that in each case some of the most fanatical adversaries the world has ever seen so readily and collectively abandoned their cause and simply ceased to further resist.  Why?

First, the American Civil War. As the guns gradually fell silent through the month of April 1865, the young American nation had suffered loss seldom experienced in history. After years of tremendously bloody conflict, the Southern states alone had suffered over 260,000 killed from combat and disease — one fifth of its pre-war white male population.1 Hundreds of thousands more suffered from serious injury. And while civilian casualties generally remained relatively light, vast portions of Southern territory, both rural and urban, public and private, had been completely devastated by Union troops as they destroyed anything of value during sieges and now-famous “marches” bent on destruction. Some of the largest Southern population centers like Richmond, Atlanta and Savannah were almost completely destroyed, where nothing of the city was left standing but a landscape of lone-standing brick chimneys. 

In addition, any transportable property or wealth not destroyed by Union soldiers had long before been impressed through the poorly-run Confederate war effort, to include livestock, wagons or tools. Further still — although for good reason— the South’s system of labor was completely reformed, leaving the lands relatively uncultivated in this agrarian economy, causing a severe drop in property values and subsequent outputs that lasted though most the 1870s. For the South the price of the failed civil war indeed was an unimaginable burden to bear.

But the passion of Southerners at the start of the war should not be forgotten, as calls for secession passionately swept through the region in the middle of the 19th Century until finally put into practice by South Carolina in December of 1860. And the dedication and diligence of Confederate soldiers fighting against tremendous odds from 1861-65 likewise needs no mention here. Yet interestingly, as Robert E. Lee was considering surrender in the early morning of April 9, 1865, one of his staff officers suggested that the Army of Northern Virginia scatter and continue its resistance through guerrilla operations. But Lee quickly dismissed the idea, knowing that few had the heart to continue. And even if they did, he specifically worried that such action would only serve to give Union troops reason to continue to consume and destroy even more territory, responding, “the enemy’s cavalry would pursue them and overrun many wide [areas] they may never have occasion to visit. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from.”2 With this realization, that the cost of the war had been too great to consider continuing any further, even through alternative forms of resistance, Lee went to General Ulysses S. Grant and surrendered his army at Appomattox Courthouse.

As undeniably devoted as this “nation” was in its cause, and in spite of the fact that many of its veterans had significant experience with raiding and guerrilla warfare, as word spread of Appomattox, within weeks this absolutely fanatical and revolutionary society laid down its arms completely, never again to resist US national authority militantly.3 To see a society so passionately devoted to a cause capitulate so completely in such a short amount of time is absolutely astounding. After such devastation however, continued resistance in the South was unthinkable.

Later, in 1930-40s Germany, a different society became far more radicalized and fanatical than the Confederates. Under the direction of Adolf Hitler, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arteiterpartei (NSDAP, or “Nazi” party) indoctrinated and militarized an entire nation along the lines of racial superiority. Its militant political arm, the Schutzstaffel (or SS), displayed a fanaticism in both its civilian and military components only rarely seen in history, and German armies reigned a terror across Europe, Eurasia and North Africa so severe that its repercussions are still evident today. Yet in spite of a fanaticism that itself has been the subject of numerous works, as peace finally returned to Europe on May 8th 1945, the thought of continued resistance in Nazi Germany died away as quickly as did the fantasy of Das Drittes Reich.

In May 1945 the once proud and powerful nation of Germany lie in complete ruin. The Wehrmacht had lost an estimated 5 million soldiers killed and missing over the course of the war, in addition to suffering a further estimated 1.8 million civilian deaths — approximately 8.5 percent of its pre-war population.4 And these numbers do not include the millions more injured, nor the roughly 2.2 million that died in the years following the conflict due to disease or starvation as basic services nation-wide ceased to function for years. Twenty percent of German homes were destroyed by the war, with even more abandoned (by force or by choice), leaving an additional 16.5 million people homeless, unsheltered and vagrant.5

Yet even more surprisingly than in the Confederate example, although so many indoctrinated persons roamed a lawless Germany in the second half of 1945 and in the years following, German resistance ended with the Wehrmacht’s surrender.6 This is especially surprising in light of the feared and brutal occupation of the eastern half of the country by the Soviet Union. For while many, to include French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, felt that  “…as long as there is reason for revenge [in Germany], there will be a renewed risk of war”, the truth of it was that in the case of post-war Germany, any reason or even thought revenge had been long since snuffed out.7

An even more astounding example of fanaticism was found on the other side of the world at the same time in Imperial Japan. Likewise, a belief in racial superiority led to the rise of a fanaticism that was comparable perhaps only to Islamic fundamentalists today — where the giving of one’s life during combat or through suicide was preferred; surrender or survival in defeat brought only disgrace. As a result, tremendously bloody conflicts raged across generally unknown and previously insignificant islands in the Pacific from 1941-1945, as Allied Soldiers and Marines inched forward and dug suicidal defenders out of never-ending caves and emplacements.

And such beliefs were not exclusive to Japanese military personnel — civilians were expected to conduct themselves likewise and equally. The most striking example of this was seen in the closing days of the battle for the Marianas’ island of Saipan, where horrified American Marines watched as Japanese mothers tossed their children from cliffs into the rocky and churning ocean below just prior to jumping themselves. This widespread militancy caused a fear so great that Allied planners for the invasion of Japan estimated that casualties in just that campaign alone would dwarf the total American losses suffered in the war thus far combined.

But much like Germany, by the summer of 1945 Japan had been equally devastated. Years of submarine warfare had strangled the island nation like a noose, causing an almost-complete collapse of even the most basic of provision and services. Heavy bombing had left most of Japan’s cities in ruins — particularly in the frequent firebombing that ignited paper and wooden homes, and caused city-wide firestorms resembling a scene out of Dante’s Inferno. Then finally, after the second atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 and Japanese war deaths had reached an estimated 2.6 million with scores of millions more to come should the Allies invade, the Imperial head and descendant of deity decided his nation could take no more and announced acceptance of the terms of surrender unconditionally.8 Almost impossibly, in a society so fanatical in combat and so imbued with suicide as the only other option to an honorable combat death, any discussion of continuation was short-lived and quickly dismissed, and millions of Japanese collectively turned to a life of peace. 

In all three of these examples an extremely passionate and devoted opponent was defeated and their territory occupied. But while as historian Giles MacDonogh stated, “to be occupied is to be violated”, in all three cases, each of the most extreme of enemies laid down their arms and succumbed completely and unconditionally to such violation.9 With such diverse cultures and circumstances, the only reason each of these examples followed a similar course is because each had been so devastated by war that any will to further resist was completely broken — including the will of even the most hardcore of fanatics.

Contrast this then with far less devoted opponents who conversely were engaged against in Limited Warfare conflicts during the same period — those that did not suffer this unilateral devastation prior to occupation, where civilian populations and infrastructure were left relatively unaffected — in each instance, an insurgency always developed. For in the post-Spanish-American War Philippine Insurrection, in the many Axis occupations of the Second World War, in the Arab-Israeli wars, in Soviet and US Afghanistan, and in American Iraq, where in each case Limited War was used, and a major insurgency developed after.10 When contrasted with the previous examples mentioned, such developments in Limited conflicts can be no coincidence.

To be clear, this is by no means a call for the mass-targeting of civilians or for the unrestrained total devastation of opposing nations and their populaces in order to be militarily successful in the future. Doing so would in many instances be counter-productive in the long-term and extremely hard to justify morally. However, even today military planners must understand the advantages and disadvantages of each type of warfare — they must understand that the choice of either Total or Limited war is one of two options from which to consider and decide from based on their circumstances and mission requirements. But herein lies the issue that has proven such a struggle in recent history: military leaders must understand that there are in fact only these two options, and between these they must make a deliberate decision prior to engaging in conflict.

Planners should utilize this “if-then” planning model as they make to through this decision-making process, allowing the effects of each type of conflict to be clearly understood beforehand and ultimately planned against. Specifically, that if circumstances dictate or leaders for whatever reason chose to conduct a limited war that will be followed by an occupation, they must know the consequences that will automatically result: an insurgency. And if it is clearly realized up front that an insurgency will in fact be faced, it can then be planned for and engaged from the very beginning, thereby easing or even completely bypassing the hurdles that come with such long-term repercussions that occupiers seem so frequently prone to stumble over. Clearly, the application of a solid understanding of just this paragraph could have shaped recent history into far more positive outcomes.

This incorporation of planning for an insurgency from the beginning is absolutely critical. For although strategists today are devoting a massive amount of effort in an attempt to finally find the ever-elusive solution to decisively defeating an insurgency, their approach to the issue is flawed for one primary reason, and as a result their solutions will continually fall short of solving the problem: their focus and attention is devoted to a point in time so late in a conflict that only the combination of tremendous luck and sacrifice could then only possibly allow for a reversal to be brought about. In other words, to look at counter-insurgency operations as something to be implemented once an insurgency has become apparent is to administer medication after the patient’s illness has become terminal.

By waiting to implement a counter-insurgency strategy until the insurgency has actually raised its head enough to be recognized for what it is, enemies have already organized and taken the initiative, and a considerable amount of damage has already been done; damage that is most likely irreversible at that point. However, with a slight shift in strategic thinking, occupations can indeed become far less difficult and costly, and actually become decisively-successful endeavors — hard as that may be to believe. If leaders can follow the above model, and clearly understand that due to their choice in implementation of limited warfare, that they will undoubtedly face an insurgency during the subsequent occupation, they can therefore decide from the very start to implement an overall strategy that transitions without pause from conventional combat directly into a counter-insurgency campaign.12 Doing so undoubtedly will exponentially better the odds of success, far more than any we have experienced previously. But the only way this happens is if this concept becomes thoroughly understood, accepted and instilled now, before the next conflict begins.

And this can be easily done, through a small addition to the planning process. Although seemingly simple, the specific incorporation of this proposed “if-then” concept during the “Understand the Operational Environment” phase of their Unified Land Operations-based planning, military planners will know from the very outset the nature of the occupation they will deal with and can prepare accordingly. Currently, this step is at best only implied in recent and emerging military doctrine and only those familiar with this article will know to incorporate it — it must therefore be specifically directed as a deliberate step for the planning process in doctrine. Otherwise it will be left up to the individual leaders to follow this model, and the results will vary. And any such variance will lead to failure.

The harsh truth is that the United States, the leading Western military power, has engaged in four major conflicts since its celebrated victory in the Second World War.12 And although difficult to consider, in all four of these conflicts the United States has consistently performed exceptionally well tactically, yet in the end has withdrawn from the field without having achieved its original aims. Put more bluntly, this means having been defeated. To reiterate: in every major military campaign within the last three-quarters of a century, the most lethal and advanced military power in the world has been defeated. And three of these four conflicts were military occupations. And the United States is not alone in this performance. Other nations have faired similarly in the same time period in similar conflicts. 

The bottom line is, we must first understand that while Western militaries are highly professional and their technologically superior to a level that has never been equaled in history, our actual military performance since the Second World War is in decline. Granted there are examples of success in conflicts such as the 1982 Falklands War or the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but these relatively short and conventional engagements played into the strengths of the Western militaries engaged and were up against far inferior opponents — and none involved post-conflict occupations. It is time therefore for a complete change in how we approach and think about future military conflicts; the “ways of war” in which we are familiar and comfortable are no longer the conflicts that we face today, and even if we do not like to admit it, they have not been for quite some time.

Unfortunately, the losses of the past cannot be reversed.  But this does not mean that we cannot correct ourselves going forward. The mastery of military occupations is long overdue. It absolutely needs to be done, and immediately, for the civil and military leaders frankly owe it to the Soldiers they oversee. And with the preponderance of recent conflicts being or involving occupations, if the United States wishes to remain the world’s dominant military power it must become the unequalled master of occupations.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson states that one of the traits that gives the West and its “Way of War” its military preeminence over the rest of the world, is not the its military skill particularly, but its willingness to rapidly adapt itself to overcome any deficiencies that are found as new types of conflicts emerge.13 We are at the precipice of such a moment now. These findings here are significant and have major implications for military planners going forward, and the consequences for not doing so are even more critical. 

This nation frankly cannot afford any longer to be indecisive in achieving our military aims in the future. We therefore cannot afford to look at our history and dismiss our shortfalls as circumstantial; we must look at our history analytically, clearly identify our failures and correct them. More specifically, we must absolutely, without question, return to unquestionable military supremacy in the world — which only comes through a mastery of military occupations. In order to do so, we must realize that there is this common thread in all insurgent conflict. Fortunately, this thread gives us clues towards its solution: it clearly shows us that by a simple adjustment in our thinking and planning, we can in fact overcome the recent and disheartening battlefield challenges and return the United States to decisive and unequalled military success once again.

End Notes

[1] Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2014), 125.

2 Edward P. Alexander, Military Memoirs of a Confederate (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907), 604-05.

3 Note that although the Ku Klux Klan was without a doubt a violent organization, its goals lied within the US system: to force white racial superiority and democratic political control. Never did their efforts target US military occupational garrisons, nor were they aimed at continued resistance toward secession.

4 Jason Pipes, - Research on the German Armed Forces 1918-1945, copyright 1996-2015.

5 Giles MacDonogh, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation (New York: Basic Books, 2007), 1.

6 There was a small amount of insurgent activity after the surrender committed by various independent groups known generally as Werewolves. However, the majority of their efforts were focused toward reprisals against alleged collaborators, and each group was quickly dispatched — in most cases by the Germans themselves. Many since have tried to over-inflate the impact of these Werewolves, but in reality, as historian Giles MacDonogh stated, “the Allied soldiers were more a danger to themselves” than any post-war Nazi insurgency.*

*ibid, 92.

7 Robert Schuman, Pour l’Europe 2nd ed. (Paris: Nagel, 1964) 110. from MacDonogh ibid., 542.

8 Max Hastings, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 (New York: Knopf Books, 2007), 541.

9 Giles MacDonogh, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, 3.

10 I have deliberately not included conflicts stemming from colonial occupations, since they are so different in nature from post-conflict occupations that their examples are outliers in this study, in spite of the fact that most of these conflicts involved guerrilla operations. This includes French and American involvement in Vietnam, where the occupation was not the result of a war previously with the occupied power — e.g. the US never fought and invaded South Vietnam (nor did it even do so with North Vietnam for that matter, its principle enemy) as it did in Afghanistan and Iraq.

11 This would include non-lethal operations such as reconstruction, establishment of government, policing functions, etc.

12 The term “major conflict” being defined here as a military conflict being of an extensive duration. In this case Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

13 Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power (New York: Anchor Books, 2002).

About the Author(s)

Major Richard M. Ingleby is a Field Artillery Officer currently attending CGSC at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas with a follow-on assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division. He holds a BA in History from the University of Utah and a MA in Military History from Norwich University. He has served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 4th Infantry Division along with multiple TRADOC assignments. He has served two tours in RC-East Afghanistan. The author always welcomes any feedback in the comments here or via enterprise email.



Tue, 07/26/2016 - 11:43pm

In reply to by RIngleby

That's an important point. Gulf War 1 was fought as a smart war, it doesn't really fit into the model your article presents IMO.


Tue, 07/26/2016 - 8:19pm

In reply to by Bill C.


Short answer: the Gulf War was not a Total War conflict, nor did it include an occupation of the opponent's territory.

Bill C.

Tue, 07/26/2016 - 5:30pm

In reply to by RIngleby

Richard: Above you said:

"Or, and easier, an example of a Limited War conflict that DID NOT result in an insurgency."

In this regard, we know that the First Gulf War re: Iraq -- given that it did not have a transformational purpose -- did not have an insurgency.

However, what I think you wanted to say/meant to say is:

"Or, and easier, an example of a Limited War conflict -- which included an occupation -- that DID NOT result in an insurgency."

If this latter statement -- found immediately above -- is in fact correct, then would it not benefit you to change your proposed "If - Then" Model:

a. From "Total War equals No Insurgency;" "Limited War equals Insurgency."

b. To "Total War -- plus occupation -- equals No Insurgency;" "Limited War -- plus occupation -- equals Insurgency."

This, so as to eliminate those cases, such as the First Gulf War, wherein truly limited means (limited war) were, much more intelligently and properly, utilized to achieve truly limited ends (the liberation of Kuwait)?

(In this regard to suggest that -- re: limited war -- no amount of properly factored-in planning and preparation for insurgencies may be able to overcome the exceptionally gross error of attempting to use limited means [for example: limited war] to achieve truly enormous/gargantuan ends [for example: the fundamental, complete and contested transformation of another state and its societies; this, more along the foreign intervening powers' -- often alien and profane -- political, economic and social lines]?)

Final Thought:

For the reasons outlined above, the concept of "occupation" (an enormous undertaking with generally enormous requirements and generally enormous goals) simply does not seem to "fit" within the scope of such understandings as "limited means" (such as limited war) utilized to achieve "limited ends."

With "total war," in stark contrast, and re: its enormous undertakings and substantial goals (such as total, fundamental and complete state and societal transformation) -- and enormous resources applied accordingly thereto -- the concept of "occupation" does seem to be a good fit.

This being the adjustment to our thinking -- and our methods -- that we need to apply?


Sun, 07/24/2016 - 6:06pm

In reply to by Bill C.

In short, this isn't Western-centric. There are many non-Western examples I will use in the final product (eg Japanese occupations in the Pacific vs China, Russia-Afghanistan, Isreali occupations, perhaps some others). Each of the non-Western examples support my thesis as well.

I chose those three, not because they were all US occupations, but because those are the only true examples of Total War the modern world has ever seen (IMO), and that such fanatic opponents would completely pacify was astounding.

The only way to shoot down my thesis is to find a post-1862 occupation (non-colonial - where two combatants fought and the victor occupied the other) that was a Total War conflict and DID result in an insurgency. Or, and easier, an example of a Limited War conflict that DID NOT result in an insurgency. That's what I'm looking for here.

I have had several PhD historians review a more fuller version, none have been able to provide examples; all have agreed that my thesis is both unique and solid. But I would like to open it up to more (hence the article).

The only exception to my thesis is when an invader and occupier occupies a territory that is made up of the same cultural/national background. The establishment of Bangaladesh from its Indian invader/occupier or what is playing out in Ukraine are examples of such an exception.


Having suggested an exceptional, hard-core link between (a) the U.S./the Wests wars and military occupations -- yesterday, today and in the future -- and (b) the generally "transformative" nature of the U.S./the West's foreign policy goals and objectives (transformation of outlyings states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines), I did some further research on this matter and found the following -- rather long -- 2006 "American Journal of International Law" article entitled "Transformative Military Occupation: Applying the Laws of War and Human Rights;" a link to which I have provide below:

Here is an excerpt:


III Post-1945 Occupations with a Transformative Purpose:

Many interventions and occupations since 1945 have been more than mere byproduct of war: They have often been designed to affect the political order in the territory concerned. ...

This part looks selectively at foreign military processes aimed at foundational democratic transitions, and considers their possible implication for the law of occupations. ...

... The second view -- of the occupation as the bringer of progress -- can lead to a dangerous mix of crusading, self-righteousness, and self-delusion. Yet this view is the product of serious consideration based on actual events, including the post-World War II occupations, the interventions since the end of the Cold War, and the case of Iraq. Each will be considered in turn.


(The author is Adam Roberts, Montague Burton Professor of International Relations, Oxford University.)

Thus the question:

If (a) the "end-game" is outlying states and societies organized, ordered and oriented more along modern western political, economic and social lines, then (as per my thoughts below) must not, accordingly, (b) "nation-building" be the expertise -- and the mission requirement -- of our occupations forces; today and going forward?

This, in fact, being the "essential re-shaping of the military in 21st Century warfare" that we must get after?


Given that "total war" between great powers (due to nuclear weapons) is not thought to be survivable today (and re: great powers versus much weaker opponents is not thought to be lawful?)

And given that, thus, the "limited wars" that the U.S./the West should expect to be involved in today will be more as per our grand strategic objective of transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

Then might we suggest that, accordingly, a different "If-Then" Model would best serve our interests in the years ahead; specifically, one that would -- accurately -- tell us whether our such radical state and societal "transformation" designs re: other states and societies would, as per the targeted populations concerned,

a. Be near-universally welcomed and be near-uniformly supported. Or would

b. Be adamantly or otherwise opposed.

THIS being the matter that we must know before we proceed further re:

a. Determining whether we will undertake this or that specific "transformational" mission. And

b. Determining what forces will be needed to see this or that such, unique and specific, mission through?

(This suggested alternative "If-Then" Model, thus, better addressing our hard-earned lessons learned re: our recent "wars of choice." Wars which were undertaken by our national leaders based on such erroneous beliefs as "universal values," etc.. To wit, the very matters which actually determined both [a] whether we went in at all and [b] how we would go in [for example: "heavy" as per Shinseki or "light" as per Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld].)


Tue, 07/26/2016 - 8:10am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Fantastic thought! So if you are a smaller nation that you know are about to be occupied, you're better off to fight just enough to get your populace fired up, distribute weapons and let the invader occupy...


Sat, 07/23/2016 - 5:12pm

In reply to by RIngleby

Your ideas also present an interesting corollary - to ensure your nation is prepared to conduct an insurgency should you be defeated, you must keep them from feeling like they have been at war at all. The war must not be real to them. There must be no sacrifice on their part. That is the best way for them to be ready to conduct an insurgency should you lose.


Tue, 07/26/2016 - 8:13am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

"What you need to do is find a way to recreate that feeling of utter defeat within the parameters of modern war."

Fair enough. If you can figure that one out, there's your golden ticket.

For teenagers it might just be shutting off cell phones for a while...


Sat, 07/23/2016 - 5:08pm

In reply to by RIngleby

Like I said, I think you are right. But I also think you are confusing exhaustion with total war. I agree with your premise that utter defeat after years of war will exhaust your enemy. But I think you need to examine the "why." I would argue that the why is a mental and physical beating down of the opponent combined with an offer to allow the enemy the ability to leave the battlefield alive and with some modicum of dignity that matter, not total war. What you need to do is find a way to recreate that feeling of utter defeat within the parameters of modern war.


Tue, 07/26/2016 - 8:23am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Exactly - I don't see any way around it. Hence the second half of the article: it's not a call for the use of Total Warfare, just understanding its effects (and those of Limited War).

So, if Total War is not a feasible course to pursue, then just understand that an insurgency will appear and plan accordingly. There's plenty of good COIN lessons learned (not slamming a tax on the Korengali timber trade, not disbanding the Iraqi Army, or hiring the Sunnis to defend their neighborhoods; building projects that provide long-term employment (vs handing out bags of rice), etc.).

If we can lead an effective counter-insurgency right up front, WE CAN WIN LIMITED WARS. That's the beauty of this thesis. But in order to do that, we must understand the effects of our type of war, and thereby be able to identify the type of conflict we will face, and prepare and execute accordingly.

If we do that, the US will have returned to decisive mastery of warfare in the 21st century.


Fri, 07/22/2016 - 3:18pm

In reply to by RIngleby

You make a valid point, but I am not sure how you control that. If our way of war is to quickly, and with as little damage to the civilian population and infrastructure, force the enemy to bend to our will (or replace the government with one more to our liking), then I don't think you are getting the effect on the population you are talking about. I think that, mentally, you must wear the enemy down to the point that they see further resistance is counterproductive. I am not sure you can do that in modern war.

Further, it may not be politically feasible. Take for example, our current fight with ISIS. We could go in quickly, eviscerate the leadership, and retake the territory, but that would not be total war. We could take two or three years to slowly push them back, what is essentially our current method, but the administration is receiving flack for being weak on ISIS.

Like I said, I like where you are going. But I think you may want to examine a few more situations of modern war, like Blitzkrieg or how the Russians took Afghanistan or the Crimea.


Fri, 07/22/2016 - 2:19pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Thanks. I think you make my point in your French example - short and limited equals and insurgency.

So let me ask you this: would you say a French citizen in Marselles in June 1940 would say they felt involved in the war? What about one from Munich? I do not believe that blitzkrieg is Total War. It was intense in the very small regions where it was conducted, but the rest of the nation was left unaffected.

Total War is total. The majority of the nation will be actively included in the battlefield (from mobilization to severe food shortages to combat). The total nature will most likely result in exhaustion (one both sides).


Fri, 07/22/2016 - 12:49pm

I am sorry for the short post, but I have a meeting and I wanted to get this in. I think you are confusing exhaustion with total war. All of the wars you cite took years to execute and took a heavy toll in death and destruction on the vanquished. Now compare to the invasion of France in WWII. That invasion was accomplished in a matter of months, and there was a fairly strong resistance movement that sprung up in the wake of that invasion. Today, we plan to accomplish our military objectives in months, not years. Our enemies do not experience the level of exhaustion that five years of total war can produce.

I agree with your premise that a full-blown occupation, complete with a military government that remains in control for at least twelve months, is the best post-conflict course of action (assuming you are not liberating a friendly nation). But I am not sure I would equate total war with no insurgency.

Bill C.

Fri, 07/22/2016 - 1:50pm

In reply to by Bill C.


Given my analysis above, what then, might we ask, caused both we ourselves, and indeed others (for example, the Soviets/the communists) to fail achieve our strategic objectives in these limited wars/these wars of choice?

Let me suggest a two-part answer:

First, as per our author above, the failure to understand and accept -- and thus, the failure to plan and prepare for -- insurgencies; matters which should be considered as being par for the course/part and parcel to wars such as these.

Second, to understand -- as per my thoughts above -- that these insurgencies will be based on an unwillingness -- or a simply inability -- of the occupied populations to (1) quickly abandon their own time-honored way of life, their own time-honored way of governance, etc., and, in the place of these (2) quickly adopt the alien and profane way of life, way of governance, etc., of the occupying power.

(In both the Soviet/the communist case, and indeed in our case also, this being caused by irrational/ridiculous notions re: such things as one's "universal values," one's version of "the end of history," and the [supposed] "overwhelming appeal" of the occupying power's way of life, way of governance, etc. These such irrational/ridiculous notions causing the occupying powers to [a] improperly consider such wars of choice in the first place and to [b] undertake such wars of choice without planning for the virulent [clash of civilizations?] insurgencies that would surely follow.)

Bill C.

Fri, 07/22/2016 - 1:32pm

In reply to by Bill C.


Consider the following as per the role that both war and military occupation must play to achieve today's desired end state:

First, as to the American Way of War, and the importance of first defining the end state that one seeks to achieve thereby -- to wit: the grand political objective to which the task of war and the task of military occupation is to be applied -- to consider the following thought/item:

"After the self-examination in the wake of Vietnam, U.S. strategic thinking finally reached the conclusion that wining a war really amounts to accomplishing one's strategic objectives." (See the bottom of page 2.)

Now, to define the U.S./the West's contemporary grand strategic objective (transformation of outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines) and why:

"Democracy and respect for human rights have long been central components of U.S. foreign policy. Supporting democracy not only promotes such fundamental American values as religious freedom and worker rights, but also helps create a more secure, stable, and prosperous global arena in which the United States can advance its national interests. In addition, democracy is the one national interest that helps to secure all the others. Democratically governed nations are more likely to secure the peace, deter aggression, expand open markets, promote economic development, protect American citizens, combat international terrorism and crime, uphold human and worker rights, avoid humanitarian crises and refugee flows, improve the global environment, and protect human health."

Next, to suggest both how (via colonization) and why (to achieve the exceptional benefits of expanded economic intercourse and free trade) the Western empires of old undertook "wars and occupations of choice" (i.e, what we are doing today).

"Where the cultural backwardness of a region makes normal economic intercourse dependent on colonization, it does not matter, assuming free trade, which of the ‘civilized’ nations undertakes the task of colonization."

Finally, to suggest that:

a. "Nation-building" (specifically, the transformation of outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines), today, has simply replaced "colonization" as the now-accepted means/method for overcoming the problems/the obstacles that "cultural backwardness" presents to the U.S./the West's (a) "normal economic intercourse" and "free trade" desires/designs re: other states and societies and (b) our "global peace and prosperity" goals associated therewith. And that, accordingly,

b. The "insurgent," today, is best understood as both (a) those states and societies (Russia, China, Iran?) and (b) those individuals and groups (ISIS, AQ?) that do not wish to be so utterly "transformed" (as outlined immediately above). These such states and societies, and these such individuals and groups, in fact, preferring to retain/attain/regain some, or all, of (a) their own unique identities and (b) the "cultural backwardness" matters (political, economic, social, cultural norms) which define same.


This being the case, then is not "nation-building," as I have defined and described it above, the specific and exact matter that both the mastery of war, and indeed the mastery of military occupation, must "get after" in the 21st Century?

This, if the U.S./the West is to achieve its strategic objective -- its desired end-state -- its grand political objective -- re: the other/outlying states and societies of the world?


Thu, 07/21/2016 - 8:17am

In reply to by Bill M.

Hopefully the debate advances the study - for the good of the troops finding themselves in these situations down the road.

I think the example of post-war Nazi Germany has been one of the most interesting things that I have examined due to its dichotomy. We need to remember that the occupation of Nazi Germany really was two occupations, not one. The Soviets were a far different combatant enemy and occupier than the Western nations, and were the ones truly feared and hated by the Germans. If an insurgency were to have developed it would have been there - in East Germany - but it didn't. The only reason therefore could be a complete loss of the will to resist (ref Clausewitz).

Dissatisfaction to Hitler did play a part, but that's not a separate issue, it's the same: dissatisfaction came from destruction and loss, which multiplied as the years went on and got more intense. Again, will to resist.

Albeit any occupation force (of which most at that point had undoubtedly had enough of the war and were pretty disinterested), the Germans had plenty of opportunity (and means) for a strong post-war insurgency. Let's not forget the fanaticism of many of its citizens (both SS and the populace) - this would have been a scary nation threat-wise to occupy. But they went to what was left of their home or went into hiding...

It's amazing to me that in this example, that very thing happened. That very fact alone should attract historians and military planners alike to study the conflict in this regard more fully.

Bill M.

Thu, 07/21/2016 - 7:01am

In reply to by RIngleby

Your point on the civil war is fair. Regarding Lowe's book, I was referring to the various small wars throughout wartorn Europe, not Germany. If I recall correctly, the U.S. only lost 100 soldiers to German resistance. In Germany I would offer the people and the military lost faith in Hitler, thus the will to resist. And unlike post war Iraq, the allies had a large occupation force to enforce martial law. I'm not decided if I'm sold in your thesis yet, thus the continued discussion. I made similar arguments supporting your thesis over the years in the forum, but I increasingly think there are too many variables to assign one reason, or action = effect. Still a worthwhile topic that deserves an honest debate.


Wed, 07/20/2016 - 8:35pm

In reply to by RIngleby

Don't get me wrong - if you are thinking it and bringing these questions up, others definitely will to. So again I appreciate the criticism - gives me areas that I will need to make sure I reinforce with the final product (I was already planning to in the areas you mentioned, just couldn't devote that much space to an article unfortunately...). So again, thanks!


Wed, 07/20/2016 - 8:26pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Thanks Bill. Again, I appreciate the feedback (and criticism).

To your first point, see my end note 3. The KKK did make a long-term (and very serious) impact on race relations in the South, but never was the issue of union again threatened. Nor did Southerners attempt again at armed violence against government targets. There were definitely criminals, but their efforts were geared at racism or general crime (James Younger, etc.), not something we should consider an insurgency against the US.

To your second, I am familiar with Lowe's work, but disagree. There's significant scholarly evidence out there to support that Germany was pacified. Europe was fractured, but Germany was done. The so-called "Werewolves" were disconnected groups bent more on local reprisals than continued resistance. They were not able to effectively recruit and grow (which would have made their insurgency viable). None of the groups did much damage, and all were quickly rounded up; any Werewolf action was wrapped up by 1946. Germany was too busy starving to death (quite literally) to contemplate further resistance. I would suggest an excellent book "After the Reich" by Giles MacDonogh if one really wants to see what post-war Germany was like.

To your last point, the point of this article was NOT to advocate for Total War. I specifically said so about half-way through. Just that recognition of the effects of the type of war we pursue needs to influence our planning going forward.

I am not saying we should have done so, but yes, according to historical precedent, I do believe that Total War in Iraq would have removed local insurgent participants completely from the battlefield (the majority of the insurgents faced). But you are correct, it would not have stopped the influx of global foreign fighters. Although without a stable base within the local populace, foreign insurgents would have had a FAR tougher time going it alone.

But again, I am not calling for that here. My recommendation is that had we had an understanding and implemented the tenets of this article before the invasion, we would have recognized that 1. we were going to (and should for moral reasons) fight a limited war in Iraq THEREFORE 2. we would face an insurgency THEREFORE planning for Iraq should have been a two-phased plan (Phase I: initial invasion, Phase II: stability). Imagine how much different things would have turned out if we hadn't just scratched our heads FOR SEVERAL YEARS and said "now what?" until Gen. Petraeus came along...

Slap's comment triggered a thought. My blood line runs back to Sherman, something I take pride in. However, his total war tactics did not prevent a follow on resistance movement to the reconstruction effort where a few thousand blacks and Republicans were killed. Some historians even argue the resistance defeated the reconstructionist effort. I haven't spent a lot of time studying the Civil War, but there are enough folks on SWJ that can confirm or refute that thought

Next, I encourage you to read Savage Continent, by Lowe also for a good review of post WWII Europe. The allies came very close to losing the peace. The book provides detailed insight into post war chaos and civil wars as different groups vied for power.

Final thoughts on for today. First, do you see this method of waging total war as practical against networked threats? Even we devastated Iraq before the occupation, foreign fighters would still have come under al Qaeda and inspired locals to resist. It is difficult to wage a counter value targeting campaign against a group that relishes death. If we conduct this type of operation we'll drive thousands of recruits into their ranks that will fight us globally, so these tactics of total war are not always appropriate, but it seems the only folks who understand this are those with experience, while civilians want quick and decisive wars with victory parades afterwards. Second, if a nation waged total war upon us, do you think we would all lose our will to resist? I don't think we would.


Thu, 07/21/2016 - 2:40pm

In reply to by RIngleby

The police method is a set of procedures used to gather evidence that meets a legal standard in order to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the investigators theory of the crime is correct. IMO you would do better with that than trying to use the scientific method, which would place an almost impossible burden on you.

I belive your theory is 100% correct and there is a lot of evidence to support it so I look forward to your book.

A couple of items in know particular order.

1- there was a discussion at the SWC a few years back by a professor who had a theory similar to yours and had written a book about it. He believed we failed in Iraq because we did not impose a military government.

2-The south was never truly disarmed. They were allowed to keep their side arms and muskets. This adds more credibility to your theory that something else had caused the defeat of the South.

3-I like how you treat the war with Germany as separate from the war with Japan. That is important.

4-I think it is important to point out that in all cases we destroyed the enemies production capacity but at the same time our capacity was almost untouched by the enemies war effort. This may in fact be a critical part of why defeat took place IMO.

later Slap


Wed, 07/20/2016 - 8:01pm

In reply to by slapout9

Thank you sir. I think you are on point that maybe "scientific method" isn't the right terminology. It does need a methodical and investigative approach, so maybe your model is what I am looking for. Could you give me a little more specifics on what you mean there? How would that work?

Sherman and Grant won the Civil War. Bottom line. Their tactics and strategy broke the Confederacy in about a year's time. They did so because they realized that the Jominian thinking that dominated military leaders of the era (eg McClellan), and brought one of the only examples of Total Warfare that the world has ever seen (I would argue there has only been three major ones: US Civil War, WWII Europe, WWII Japan). Unfortunately they have been greatly overshadowed by R.E. Lee...

Enterprise is the military email system. This works just fine too. Thanks again. Looking forward to your description of an police-style investigative approach.


Wed, 07/20/2016 - 3:57pm

Fantastic article. I have been promoting General Sherman ever since I started posting here over 10 years ago. Nice to see someone looking at the facts of the situation.

I do not know if the scientific method will apply to your search? It works well in military weapons system engineering but as far as Strategy I am not sure there can be such a thing. But there can be and should be Professional Military Judgement based upon FACTS!!!
What is differant in my approach is I have always tried to apply the methods of a Police Investigation to find the truth....a very novel approach I might add when it comes to Military theory. I am agast most of the time at at what passes for so called experienced Military Professionals. Perhaps you can chnage that.

I may have more for you later but for now here is MO of Sherman and what he did that was so differant. He had read CvC and rejected him as unworkable outside of the narrow confines of Europe. a very shrewd and accurate appraisal of the Souhtern midset. Second he understaood that war must be waged against the entire Southern/UK slave sysetm of economic power, not just ravaging the civilian population as so often has been reported.

In particular he had a set of special Tax maps prepared for Georgia and then he lierally waged war against the Rich (one of my preferred theories by the way). Once that System Infrastructure both visible and invisible was literally broken the South was doomed.

Think on that for awhile and let me know what you think.

PS. what is an enterprise email?


Wed, 07/20/2016 - 7:50am

In reply to by Bill M.

Thanks Bill, I do appreciate the feedback. I intend to devote a chapter to Japanese occupations because they do show a contrast. Specifically, while Japan fought a Total War in China, it never really dealt with an insurgency in its rear/occupied areas there. Conversely, in places where it didn't fight a total war (Philippines, etc.), it always dealt with it.

Another chapter will be devoted to Nazi German occupations, where interestingly, a negative effect of blitzkrieg was a lack of national devastation (devastation was limited only in relatively small areas wherein the schwerpunkt was operating), and as a result, they dealt with insurgencies everywhere. A new angle on blitzkrieg - it was so fast and on limited fronts that most of the nation was unaffected, so the Germans always had to deal with insurgencies.

The USSR had some civil unrest 20-30 years later. But the newly-acquired Soviet-block was tamed after WWII.

I think that at first, most will agree with you that there have/must be some counter-examples out there. But the more one really thinks about it and digs into the specifics of history, this distinction I point out becomes more and more clear. Unfortunately space was limited in article form, but I fully intend to devote a chapter on each of the examples you mentioned in the final product. Hopefully that will allow me to address some of the points you bring up (and others).

Again, really do appreciate the feedback.


I question your main assertion about nations devastated by war do resist their occupiers. In the case of Germany and Japan, you may also want to consider that we're mostly homogeneous and United populations that collectively surrendered to a largely benevolent occupier. Japan devastated China and other countries in WWII, as did Germany, and both faced substantial resistance in many of the countries they occupied. The USSR faced the same level of resistance in some locations. In fact, when you destroy the civil structure in a country with multiple groups competing for power we're more likely.


Tue, 07/19/2016 - 10:04pm

In reply to by SBLeland

Thank you sir, I sincerely appreciate the feedback. I think we probably are defining Total War differently. Specifically (frankly), I do not believe the world has seen a true Total War conflict since WWII. Korea could be a possible example, but we didn't occupy the North so can't really apply it.

Second, I don't call for aggressiveness or the pursuit of Total War conflict (see the second half of the article). Just that we need to understand what types of war we have available, and what the corresponding results will be depending on what we chose. This allows us to plan accordingly beforehand.

To your last point, I definitely do conflate military supremacy with success in military occupations. It's hard to argue one's supremacy when the only track record that can be pointed to is nothing but a series of struggles in small brush wars. If the US is to remain supreme, it must start winning its insurgent conflicts (eg occupations).

Again, thanks for the feedback. Please feel free to keep this dialogue going - sometimes it takes a few rounds to get a point to sink in with me, so steer me straight!



Tue, 07/19/2016 - 12:10pm


Two thoughts.

First, your Total War category does not include any examples from the Nuclear Age. There is a strong argument to made that the aggressiveness that you call for has become much more costly in the age of nuclear weapons, meaning it’s unlikely to be a viable option for modern conflict. For your argument to be truly persuasive, it needs to include an example of Total War success when confronting a nuclear adversary.

Second, you seem to conflate military supremacy with military occupation. Doing so disconnects the political ends sought and the military options used. Certain modern conflict, to which you only give cursory treatment, are seeking political ends that Total War occupation would make nearly impossible to achieve. Your model either needs to include an explanation and examples of Total War achieving success across multiple political ends or a rejection of any conflict not seeking the type of end seen in the Civil War and WWII.

As your “About the Author” indicated you are potentially working this taxonomy into a book manuscript, I just wanted to share a few thoughts about how the argument could be strengthened.


— SBLeland