The American Way of War – Fighting or Thinking?

Dr. Brian McAllister Linn – The 2012 Thompson Lecture

Article by 25752 OCdt (III) Christopher Lane

On the evening of Thursday, March 29th, RMC personnel had the pleasure of attending a lecture given by Dr. Brian McAllister Linn (photo left) of Texas A&M University. Dr. Linn is one of the most prominent historians in the United States, with multiple publications including his critically acclaimed 2007 book, The Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War. Dr. Linn is the only author to have been awarded the Society for Military History’s book prize twice.

Dr. Linn set the following thesis which he then elaborated on throughout the presentation: “US Army military intellectuals subscribe to three ‘visions’ or ‘ways’ of war. These ways of war shape how peacetime US Army Officers interpret past wars, and prepare for future ones.” These three ‘visions’ of war are those of: the engineers, who see war as an engineering project which will be won by he who masters the technology of the day; the heroes, who believe that war is won not by the bayonet but by the man behind it; and the managers, who believe that the winner will be he who best manages his resources and uses them effectively.

Dr. Linn described the evolution of these visions by explaining their relevance in the Cold War years, in the 1990s and in the most recent US engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. He alluded to his time at the US Army War College, stating that American military intellectuals were captivated by the ‘function’ of war, and ignored the need for an American ‘philosophy’ of war completely. In other words, the US military thought is dictated by who, what, where and when they are fighting, instead of thinking about the nature of fighting itself. Dr. Linn identified this as a key flaw in US military strategy, which must be recognized as such before anything can be done to fix it.

Until American strategic military thought seriously considers the philosophy of warfare, their peacetime thought process will forever be narrowed to the last and the next war. According to Dr. Linn, it would be in the best interest of the US, and subsequently the international community as a whole, for Americans to focus less on fighting, and more on thinking.

More photos from the evening: