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Jeffrey Record

Foreword by The Honorable Sam Nunn

March 1998

Occasional Paper No. 4

Center for Strategy and Technology

Air War College

Air University

Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama

Perils Of Reasoning By Historical Analogy:
Munich, Vietnam, And American Use Of Force Since 1945

Jeffrey Record

March 1998

The Occasional Papers series was established by the Center for Strategy and Technology as a forum for research on topics that reflect long-term strategic thinking about technology and its implications for U.S. national security.  Copies of No. 4 in this series are available from the Center for Strategy and Technology, Air War College, 325 Chennault Circle, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama 36112.  The fax number is  (334) 953-1988; phone (334) 953-2384.

Occasional Paper No. 4
Center for Strategy and Technology
Air War College

Air University

Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama 36112


The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense, the United States Government, or of the Air War College Center for Strategy and Technology.



Disclaimer i

The Author ii

Foreword iii

I. Introduction 1

II. What Happened at Munich and in Vietnam, and What Lessons
Did They Present? 3

III. How Have Munich and Vietnam Influenced National
Security Policy? 10

IV. Have Munich and Vietnam Usefully Informed Policy? 21

V. Does Reasoning by Historical Analogy Help or Hinder? 29

Notes 31


Jeffrey Record is Visiting Professor of International Security Studies at the Air War College and former professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  The author of over 250 books, monographs, and articles, including Hollow Victory, A Contrary View of the Gulf War (1993) and The Wrong War, Why We Lost in Vietnam (1998), Dr. Record served as a civilian advisor in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War, and subsequently as research associate at the Brookings Institution, legislative assistant to Senator Sam Nunn, and senior fellow at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, Hudson Institute, and the BDM International Corporation.  He received his BA from Occidental College, and MA and Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.


By the Honorable Sam Nunn

For almost half a century, American foreign policy was driven by strategic competition with the Soviet Union.  The policy of containment, as it was known, rested on the assumption that the United States and the Soviet Union had diametrically opposed interests, and that the United States had to prepare itself, both physically and morally, for indefinite struggle with the Soviet Union.

Now that the Cold War is receding in memory, it is easy to underestimate the magnitude of the former Soviet threat and the totality of American preparations to deal with it.  Beginning in the late 1940s, accelerating through the next three decades, and concluding in the late 1980s, the United States spent trillions of dollars on deterring war with the Soviet Union.  The military and technological programs the United States pursued enabled it to wage war virtually anywhere in the world and, on a moment’s notice, to respond to a nuclear attack by destroying the Soviet Union.

The peculiar aspect of the Cold War is that as real as it was while it was going on, it seems increasingly unreal today.  Coming generations of American political leaders are not likely to know much about the Cold War, but may nonetheless make critical foreign policy decisions based on perceived Cold War analogies.  It is precisely this possibility that Jeffrey Record examines in this Occasional Paper.

The intellectual starting point for his essay is that the normal human predilection is to reason by historical analogy, and that, in his words, such reasoning “has played a significant role in the formulation and implementation of US foreign policy since the end of World War II.”  Record’s essay examines the downside of over-reliance on reasoning by historical analogy, focusing on perhaps the two most influential analogies, the Munich Conference of 1938 and the Vietnam War.  As Record makes clear, each of these events shaped how several generations viewed and continue to view international politics and the responsibilities of the United States.  Record warns that careless reasoning by historical analogy can have disastrous consequences for American foreign policy.  The perceived lessons of Munich underpinned US intervention in Vietnam.  Will the Cold War’s necessity and experience of containing the Soviet Union come to be seen as applicable to emerging Chinese power?

On a personal note, let me add that in my long tenure on the Senate Armed Services Committee I benefited handsomely from Jeff’s professional assistance, first as a legislative assistant on my personal staff, and later as a member of the staff of the Armed Services Committee.

The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs

Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta, Georgia

I. Introduction

Reasoning by historical analogy has played a significant role in the formulation and implementation of US foreign policy since the end of World War II, especially on matters involving consideration or actual use of force.  States, like individuals, make decisions based at least in part on past experience, or, more specifically, what they believe past experience teaches.  

But reasoning by historical analogy can be dangerous, especially if such reasoning is untempered by recognition that no two historical events are identical and that the future is more than a linear extension of the past.  The instructiveness of historical events tends to diminish the greater their distance in time and space from the day and place they occurred.

To be sure, historical analogies can helpfully inform policy.  Many policy-makers, however, are historically illiterate, and most that are well read make policy decisions, just like their untutored brethren, primarily on the basis of considerations having nothing to do with the perceived lessons of past experience.  For example, the Johnson administration’s very reluctant decision to fight in Vietnam was driven as much by perceived domestic political imperatives (notably fear that abandoning South Vietnam would provoke a presidency-destroying “soft-on-communism” political backlash) as by any other factor.

Two historical events in particular have influenced US use-of-force decisions since 1945: the infamous Munich Conference of 1938, and the lost American war in Vietnam.  The power of these two analogies has been such as to merit the definition “syndrome,” or the political analog to a set of signs and symptoms that together indicate the presence of a disease or abnormal conditions.  Decision-makers have regarded Munich and Vietnam as disastrous events whose repetition on any scale is to be avoided at any cost.  Indeed, it was the perceived lessons of Munich and its corollary domino theory that perhaps more than any other non-domestic political factor propelled the United States into Vietnam.  And it was America’s calamitous experience in Vietnam that in turn continues to exert a no less profound hold on the present generation of American decision-makers.  Munich promoted a propensity to use force against what was held to be insatiable aggression by totalitarian states.  In contrast, Vietnam has served, within the Congress and Pentagon if not the White House, to discourage and constrain, if not prohibit, non-mandatory uses of force1 in all but the most exceptionally favorable political and operational circumstances.  Indeed, some observers have bemoaned what they believe is Vietnam’s endowment of geopolitical timidity.  “The legacy of Munich,” wrote Norman Podhoretz in 1982, “had been a disposition, even a great readiness, to resist, by force if necessary, the expansion of totalitarianism; the legacy of Vietnam would obversely be a reluctance, even a refusal, to resist, especially if resistance required the use of force.”2

This monograph addresses four questions.   First, what exactly happened at Munich and in Vietnam, and what foreign and military policy lessons did US national political and military leadership draw from these two events?  Second, to what extent have those lessons influenced situations involving consideration or actual use of force?  Third, have Munich and Vietnam provided national decision-makers useful guidance in dealing with matters of war and peace since 1945?  Finally, as a general rule, does reasoning by historical analogy help or hinder decision-makers?

II. What Happened at Munich and in Vietnam, and What Lessons Did They Present?

The Munich Conference of October 1938, attended by representatives of France (Premier Edouard Daladier), Great Britain (Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain), Germany (Adolf Hitler), and Italy (Benito Mussolini) was held to address German demands for the incorporation into the Third Reich of those areas of Czechoslovakia, known as the Sudetenland, harboring German population majorities.  The Sudetenland fronted the Czech-German border and contained powerful fortifications essential to Czechoslovakia’s defense against German attack.  At the time of the conference, to which Czech representatives were invited only as observers (they had to stay in their hotel rooms until the fate of their country was decided), Czechoslovakia enjoyed a defensive alliance with France.3

Hitler’s demand for the Sudetenland was, by the time of the Munich Conference, but the latest in a series of German moves that suggested a determination by Hitler to expand the Third Reich to encompass, at a minimum, all “lost” German territory.  During the first years of his rule, Hitler had denounced the Versailles Treaty settlement imposed upon Germany after World War I, initiated Germany’s rearmament, and revoked German membership in the League of Nations. In 1936 Hitler ordered the military reoccupation of the Versailles-mandated demilitarized Rhineland, which among things dealt a disabling blow to the credibility of French military guarantees to other potential victims of Nazi aggression.  The credibility of those guarantees rested on a French willingness to invade Germany through an undefended Rhineland; yet the French not only refused to challenge Germany’s reoccupation of the Rhineland but also embraced a purely defensive strategy epitomized by the Maginot Line.   In March 1938, Hitler engineered the Anschluss, or the union of Germany and Austria.

Hitler claimed that the Sudetenland was his last territorial demand in Europe, implying that Nazi Germany’s imperial ambitions did not extend to non-German territories and states, and he walked away from the Munich Conference with the Sudetenland in his pocket.  Six months later, German forces occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia, and within another six months plunged Europe into the Second World War by invading Poland (to which France and Great Britain had belatedly given security guarantees).  Hitler went on to attack Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, North Africa, Russia, and Italy.  He also declared war on the United States.

What happened at Munich?  France and Great Britain, as Hitler saw all too clearly, were gripped by fear both of Germany’s growing military might, especially German air power, whose strength Nazi propagandists had deliberately inflated,4 and of the prospect of repeating the nightmare of World War I.  (Both Chamberlain and Daladier were politically imprisoned by widespread public pacifism in their respective countries.)  Paris and London also were blind to the true scope of Hitler’s ambitions in Europe.  Accordingly, the democracies appeased Hitler by acceding to Germany’s occupation of the Sudetenland.  A crippled Czechoslovakia was a small price to pay for avoidance of another world war.  Indeed, Chamberlain, in a radio address to the British people, dismissed the entire Sudetenland issue as “a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”5

Though Munich was widely hailed in France and Britain as a masterstroke for peace, the democracies, as quickly became apparent, had fatally miscalculated.  First, they had overrated Germany’s military power.  In 1938, the formidable Czech army, assisted by Britain and France and by Czech fortifications in armor-unfriendly western Czechoslovakia, probably could have defeated a German invasion of Czechoslovakia.6  Germany’s military leadership was acutely aware of the Third Reich’s relative military weakness at the time of Munich.  Indeed, key German military leaders, including Army Chief of Staff Walther von Brauchitsch and General Staff Chief Franz Halder, strongly opposed risking war over the Sudetenland, and — we now know — were contemplating Hitler’s removal in the event the democracies called dictator’s bluff at Munich.7  Second, the French and British governments believed, or wanted to believe, that Hitler’s ambitions were indeed limited to Germanic Europe.  They also believed that Hitler’s ambitions within the German nation were in large measure legitimate because they reflected in part a desire to overturn the unwise punitive peace the democracies had imposed upon a defeated Germany in 1919.

Clearly, appeasement of Germany at Munich encouraged Hitler to believe that he could grab even more territory in Europe with little risk of provoking war, just as the Rhineland and Anschluss had encouraged him to believe that he could get away with the Sudetenland.  Appeasement also made the terms of war with Germany, when war finally came, much less favorable to the democracies.  The military price of stopping Hitler in 1938 was much cheaper than it was even just a year later, when a Nazi Germany now aligned with Stalin’s Russia gobbled up a Poland that neither Britain nor France was in any position to assist militarily, notwithstanding pledges to do so.  The price was dwarfed by the cost of the much wider war that followed.  By the end of 1940, Hitler had crushed France and had marginalized British military power in Europe.  Britain could not even hope to overturn Nazi control of Europe absent the entrance into the war of both the United States and the Soviet Union, a condition fulfilled in 1941 by Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June and utterly gratuitous declaration of war on the United States in December.8

The main lesson the democracies, including the United States, drew from Munich was simple and clear: appeasement of aggression only invites more aggression, and can be stopped only by an early collective defense.  Totalitarian states, be they fascist or communist, are insatiably aggressive, and their imperial ambitions must be thwarted early, and by war if necessary.  Appeasement feeds and encourages the aggressor, and in so doing makes the terms of inevitable military confrontation all the more unfavorable to those anti-aggressor states still in the field.  The price for initial appeasement is a larger, even global war later on.  World War II in Europe could have been averted had the democracies been prepared to use force against Hitler in 1936 (Rhineland) and certainly in 1938 (Sudetenland).  Indeed, force is the only language totalitarians understand, and the key to preventing yet another world war is to draw lines clearly and early and not hesitate to shoot when those lines are transgressed.

Though, as we shall see, Munich exerted a powerful influence on US decision-makers responsible for America’s intervention in the Vietnam War, that war itself conveyed quite different messages to post-Vietnam generations of decision-makers.  If Munich encouraged an embrace of force, Vietnam encouraged an aversion to it, although the strength of that aversion has varied in time and place.

What happened to the United States in Vietnam?  There is still no consensus on the reasons for America’s defeat in Indochina.   But in retrospect there seems to be broad if not universal agreement on the following points: (1) It was a mistake to intervene in the Vietnam War, because (2) that war was in the first instance a civil war among Vietnamese and was waged in a place of peripheral strategic importance to the United States, and because (3) the military proficiency and especially political tenacity displayed by Vietnamese communists, who regarded the war as total, exceeded that of both the United States, which waged a limited war, and its feckless South Vietnamese client.  It is also widely recognized that (4) civilian authority imposed substantial political restrictions on the American use of force in Indochina, though controversy has scarcely abated over the issue or whether those restrictions self-denied a US victory, and that (5) the defeat of the American cause in Vietnam — the preservation of an independent, non-Communist South Vietnam — was occasioned not by outright military defeat but rather by US loss of political will to pursue a conclusive military solution to the war.

Disagreement centers on whether the war was America’s to lose, and if so, why the United States lost.  There are two basic schools of thought on the causes of US defeat.  The first school contends that defeat was attributable to a combination of fatal miscalculations (e.g., misinterpretation of the war’s nature and strategic significance, gross underestimation of the enemy’s fighting power and overestimation of America’s, incomprehension of conventional warfare’s utility against a pre-industrial opponent waging revolutionary war) and a South Vietnamese client state inherently irredeemable because of its lack of political legitimacy and a professionally competent military.9  The second school asserts that a decisive US military victory in Indochina was attainable, but was, in the event, self-denied primarily by crippling civilian intrusion upon the conduct of military operations, a subversive domestic anti-war movement, and a hostile press.10  A variant of this school condemns US military as well as civilian leadership; the former is criticized for disunity of command, choice of improper strategy, self-defeating personnel policies, reliance on lavish base camps, and lack of courage to confront civilian authority for failure to take sound professional military advice.11  

(My own view is that the Vietnamese communists won the war as much as the United States lost it.  I reject the conclusion advanced by such analysts as H.R. McMaster that the war was lost in Washington.12  This conclusion implicitly belittles the remarkable tenacity and fighting power of Vietnamese communism.  After all, the 7th Cavalry was not the only force present along the Little Bighorn on that fateful day in 1876.  The Sioux also showed up, and they had something do with subsequent events.13)   

The principal grand strategic lesson that post-Vietnam War American decision-makers drew from experience in that war was seemingly as clear and simple as Munich’s: Stay out of other peoples’ civil wars, especially protracted civil wars in non-vital places.  For the Defense Department and much of the rest of post-Vietnam US officialdom, including perhaps a Congressional majority today, the specific political-military lessons of the war are, however, fundamentally those enunciated by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in his famous speech to the National Press Club in late 1984.  For Weinberger, who believed that Truman was “seriously limit General Douglas MacArthur’s freedom of movement in Korea” and to reprimand the general “for going too far,”14 the lessons of Vietnam were reaffirmed by disastrous US intervention in Lebanon in 1982-1984 and waiting to be relearned yet again in prospective US intervention in Central America. By the mid-1980s, fear of US combat forces being drawn directly into the anti-Sandinista war in El Salvador prompted not only Weinberger to speak out.  Congress also moved to prohibit aid to the Contras seeking to overthrow Sandinista rule in Nicaragua (via the famous Boland Amendment).

The Weinberger lessons amounted to six tests to be passed before the United States committed force — tests that by implication were not mastered in 1960s in Indochina.  The tests were that: (1) vital interests must be at stake; (2) force must be committed wholeheartedly and with the intention of winning; (3) political and military objectives must be clearly defined; (4) harmony must be maintained between objectives and the size, composition, and disposition of committed forces; (5) there must be a reasonable assurance of public and congressional support; and (6) non-violent alternatives to force must be exhausted before force is employed.15  

Weinberger’s critics, as will be discussed below, claimed that a policy based on satisfaction of all six tests would cripple America’s will and capacity to use force effectively, and challenged the “vital interest” and “last resort” theses. (The democracies postponed use of force against Hitler at the price of subsequent war on very unfavorable terms).  Indeed, in no war other than World War II has the United States satisfied all six tests.  But the Weinberger speech did prompt continuing debate on the subject highlighted by the appearance during the Bush administration of what became known as the “Powell doctrine” of overwhelming force and the subsequent proclamation by the Clinton administration of even more detailed and restrictive conditions on the use of force.  

Powell had served as Weinberger’s military aide and helped draft the National Press Club speech.  As a Vietnam War veteran he passionately believed, as did many of his fellow officers who later planned and executed the stunning performance of American military power in the Gulf War, that US military forces had been almost criminally misused by both the White House and the armed services professional leadership.  “War should be the politics of last resort,” writes Powell on Vietnam.  “And when we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support; we should mobilize the country’s resources to fulfill that mission and then go in to win.  In Vietnam, we entered a halfhearted half-war, with much of the nation opposed or indifferent, while a small fraction carried the burden.”16  Indeed, Powell made avoidance of another Vietnam War his life’s mission.  “Many of my generation, the career captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels seasoned in that war, vowed that when our turn came to call the shots, we would not quietly acquiesce in halfhearted warfare for half-baked reasons that the American people could not understand or support.  If we could make good on that promise to ourselves, to the civilian leadership, and to the country, then the sacrifices of Vietnam would not have been in vain.”17

As one of President Reagan’s national security advisors, and later, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under presidents Bush and Clinton, Powell embraced what became known as the doctrine of overwhelming force, or Powell doctrine, which is essentially a restatement of the Weinberger doctrine.  The Powell doctrine holds that US use of force should be restricted to situations in which most and hopefully all of the Weinberger tests can be satisfied.  Especially to be avoided are uses of in situations where one or more of the following conditions apply: political considerations threaten to impede effective use of force; a clear and quick military win is not attainable; and public and congressional opinion is indifferent or hostile to the purpose for which force is being used.  In effect, the Powell doctrine, like Weinberger’s, not only places considerations of feasibility over those of desirability when it comes to using force.  It also establishes, as the basic standard of feasibility, prior confidence in the near-certainty of military victory and political sustainability.  The doctrine also ignores the likely presence — as in the Gulf War — of significant and politically indispensable allies in future major US wars, allies whose own interests may have to be accommodated in a manner violating doctrinal tenets.  

The Clinton administration, in response to strong congressional opposition to intervention in Haiti and Bosnia and sharp criticism of its handling of the Somalia intervention it inherited from the Bush administration, has belatedly if only rhetorically endorsed the basic principles of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine. In deciding when and how to employ US forces, the administration declares, a clear distinction must be made between vital interests (those of broad overriding importance to the survival, security, and vitality of our national entity), important interests (those that do not affect our survival but that do affect our national well-being and the character of the world in which we live), and humanitarian interests.18  In the case of vital interests, “use of force will be decisive and, if necessary, unilateral.”  With respect to important interests, “the costs and risks of U.S. military involvement must be judged to be commensurate with the stakes involved,” and that involvement must not preempt consideration of “nonmilitary means that offer a reasonable chance of success.”  For humanitarian interests, military forces will be used only in appropriate circumstances — i.e., “when a humanitarian catastrophe dwarfs the ability of civilian agencies to respond; when the need for relief is urgent and only the military has the ability to jump-start the longer-term response to the disaster; when the response requires resources unique to the military; and when the risk to American troops is minimal.”19

On how to use force, the administration builds on the main principles postulated by Weinberger and asserted by Powell.  US troops must have “a clear mission” and the “means to achieve their objectives decisively,” and should not be exposed to risks that outweigh the significance of the interests they are placed in harm’s way to protect.  Finally, any use of force, be it for war or operations other than war, must rest on recognition that “the United States cannot long sustain a fight without the support of the public, and close consultations with Congress are important.”20

III. How Have Munich and Vietnam Influenced National Security Policy?

It is difficult to underestimate the influence of Munich — and World War II —on the imagination of senior US decision-makers during the two decades separating the end of World War II and the introduction of US ground combat troops into Vietnam.21  To be sure, Munich, unlike the Vietnam War, entailed no American loss of life and caused no bitter domestic social division.  Nor did Munich, as did Vietnam (and Watergate), deal a body blow to public trust in the integrity and competence of government or damage American psychological self-confidence and sense of national uniqueness.

But presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson and their senior foreign policy lieutenants — Marshall, Acheson, Dulles, Rusk, Bundy, and Rostow — did believe that Munich had led directly to the outbreak of World War II, and all cited the example of Munich as a powerful argument for US Cold War policies and decisions.  Munich — i.e., the consequences of appeasing fascist aggression in the 1930s — was invoked in the late 1940s on behalf of establishing the containment of Soviet power and influence as the organizing principle of American foreign policy.  It was subsequently invoked on behalf of the Truman administration’s decision to fight in Korea; on behalf of containment’s militarization and extension to Asia and the Middle East; and on behalf of the Johnson administration’s decision to intervene in the Vietnam War.

Munich was, of course, but one of many factors contributing to each of these decisions.  But the consequences of Munich were both searing and remembered, and Munich seemed an historical analogy highly relevant to the post-World War II world.  By the late 1940s, most policy-makers had come to see Stalin’s Russia as, like Nazi Germany, an implacably hostile and globally ambitious totalitarian state bent on dominating Eurasia.  The Truman administration interpreted both Mao Tse-Tung’s victory in China and the outbreak of war in Korea as part of a larger program of aggression orchestrated from Moscow.  Dean Rusk, in 1951 Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs and later (1961-1968) Secretary of State and key Vietnam War player, declared Mao’s regime to be “a colonial Russian government — a Slavic Manchukuo on a large scale.  It is not the Government of China.”22  Earlier, Secretary of State Dean Acheson had asserted that Soviet and Communist Chinese diplomatic recognition of Ho Chi Minh’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam “should reveal Ho in his true colors as a mortal enemy of native independence in Indochina.”23

Truman himself saw the North Korean invasion of South Korea as a move by “the get Korea by default, gambling that we would be afraid of starting a third world war and would offer no resistance.”24  That Munich captured his imagination was manifest in a 1951 radio address on the Korean War and US policy in the Far East.  “Communists in the Kremlin are engaged in a monstrous conspiracy to stamp out freedom all over the world,” he said, adding that, “It is easier to put out a fire when it is small than after it has become a roaring blaze.  And the best way to meet the threat of aggression is for the peace-loving nations to act together.  If they don’t act together, they are likely to be picked off one by one.... If the free countries of the world had acted together to crush the aggression of the [fascist] dictators [in the 1930s], there probably would have been no World War II.  If history has taught us anything, it is that aggression anywhere in the world is a threat to peace everywhere in the world.”25

The Korean War facilitated subsequent US intervention in Vietnam by sparking not only the permanent rearmament of the United States but also the extension of containment to Asia in the form of US direct defense guarantees to South Korea, Japan, the Republic of China (Formosa) and indirect guarantees to the former states of French Indochina (by according them status as protocol states to the SEATO Treaty of 1954).  Until 1950, the Truman administration had paid little attention to the Vietnamese struggle against French colonial rule, but North Korea’s invasion of South Korea transformed the significance of the First Indochina War in the administration’s eyes.  That war was suddenly seen as but another front in a centrally directed program of communist aggression in Asia, aggression that would continue until it encountered effective armed resistance.

Truman’s successor in the White House also saw the war in Indochina as being analogous to the march of fascism in Europe in the 1930s.  Indeed, it was Eisenhower who first publicly likened the consequences of Indochina’s fall to communism to that of a row of dominoes.  In 1953, in an address to a conference of state governors, Eisenhower warned that “if Indochina goes, several things happen right away. The Malayan peninsula would scarcely be defensible... All India would be outflanked...[and] how would the free world hold the rich empire of Indonesia?  So you see, somewhere along the line, this must be blocked.  It must be blocked now.”26  In a subsequent letter to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Eisenhower appealed for British help in rescuing the French: “We failed to halt Hirohito, Mussolini and Hitler by not acting in unity and in time.  That marked the beginning of many years of stark tragedy and desperate peril.  May it not be that our nations have learned something from that lesson?”27

Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were no less captives of Munich and the Munich-rooted domino theory.  As a student at Harvard, Kennedy had written his senior honors thesis on “Appeasement at Munich: The Inevitable Result of the Slowness of British Democracy to Change from a Disarmament Policy.”  (His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, though notoriously pro-appeasement during his service as US ambassador to Great Britain from 1937 to 1940, had his son’s thesis rewritten and published as the best-seller Why England Slept.)28  In a famous speech he delivered in 1956, the then Senator Kennedy declared: “Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the keystone to the arch, the finger in the dike.  Burma, Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines and obviously Laos and Cambodia are among those whose security would be threatened if the red tide of communism overflowed into Vietnam.”29  President Kennedy even cited Munich’s consequences as mandating his tough stand during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  In an address to the nation on October 22, 1962, Kennedy warned that the “1930s taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war.”30  Indeed, for Kennedy, Munich and appeasement “connoted not only past events and their supposed lessons but also his own need continually to prove that his views were not his father’s.”31

President Johnson also saw Munich lurking in Indochina.  After he left the White House, he told Doris Kearns that, “everything I knew about history told me that if I got out of Vietnam and let Ho Chi Minh run through the streets of Saigon, then I’d be doing exactly what Chamberlain did...I be giving a fat reward to aggression.”32  In early 1964, he told his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, that if the United States pulled out of Vietnam, “the dominoes would fall and a part of the world would go to the Communists.”33  For his secretary of state, Dean Rusk, the stakes in Vietnam were nothing short of another world war: the “overriding problem before us in Southeast Asia to prevent World War II.  The principal lesson I learned from World War II was that if aggression is allowed to gather momentum, it can continue to build and lead to general war.”34  Historian Eric F. Goldman concludes that Johnson, “like so many people who do not read history, was peculiarly a creature of it, and perhaps a prisoner of one particular interpretation of it.”  Johnson, who in the 1960 Democratic nomination fight had attacked Kennedy for his father’s support for the Munich settlement (“I wasn’t any Chamberlain umbrella man.”), believed that the post-World War II wave of communist aggression had replaced that of the 1930s fascist wave, and that the communists had to be taught, as did the fascists, that the democracies could and would fight.35  In early 1964, Johnson cautioned “those who advocate retreat or appeasement” in Vietnam that “we modestly suggest that...on history’s face the blotch of Munich is still visible.”36

The Vietnam War, notwithstanding its allegedly chilling effects on American will to use force abroad, has in fact exerted no such visible effect on the White House.  Post-Vietnam War presidents have displayed no discernibly greater reluctance to use force than their pre-war predecessors.  Since the fall of Saigon in 1975, presidents have employed force to rescue diplomatic hostages in Iran; restore central political authority in Lebanon; overthrow the government of Grenada; punish Libya (twice); halt shipping in Nicaragua’s harbors; protect oil shipping in the Persian Gulf; thwart a coup in the Philippines; overthrow the government of Panama; eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait and strip Iraq of its offensive military power; feed the starving and attempt to build central political authority in Somalia; restore “democracy” in Haiti; and enforce “peace” in Bosnia.  

Post-Vietnam presidents have, however, in contrast to both Kennedy and Johnson in Vietnam, exhibited a willingness to cut US losses in questionable or unsuccessful interventions (e.g., Carter in Iran, Reagan in Lebanon, and Clinton in Somalia).  Though neither Kennedy nor Johnson was optimistic about long-term prospects for South Vietnam’s survival, both believed that vital US interests were at stake in Indochina and that abandonment of Saigon would provoke a crippling domestic political firestorm.  Moreover, unlike post-Vietnam War presidents, presidents before the Vietnam War faced no significant congressional or professional military checks on their use-of-force decisions.  From the late 1940s onward, Congress, responding to what it believed were Cold War imperatives, eagerly deferred to the White House on matters of war and peace, going so far as to pass resolutions — the most infamous being the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of August 1964 — granting the president, in advance of anticipated possible hostilities, authority to use force when and where he saw fit.  

The Pentagon was equally docile in so far as it supported presidential decisions to use force in Korea (1950), Lebanon (1958), the Dominican Republic (1965), and Vietnam (1965).  In the pre-Vietnam era, however, the JCS by and large displayed a bellicosity exceeding that of both civilian authority at the time as well as post-Vietnam authoritative military opinion.37  For example, though President Eisenhower ultimately refrained from ordering US military forces to intervene in 1954 on behalf of the beleaguered French in Indochina, JCS Chairman Arthur W. Radford and Air Force Chief of Staff Nathan F. Twining favored intervention, as did Vice President Nixon and Secretary of State Dulles.  (Army Chief of Staff Matthew B. Ridgway adamantly opposed intervention and marshaled the convincing and ultimately persuasive — and prescient — argument that nothing short of massive US intervention on the ground could prevent a communist victory in Vietnam.38)  Seven years later, the JCS pushed President Kennedy to provide direct US air and naval support to the Cuban exile brigade that landed in a CIA-orchestrated invasion at the Bay of Pigs, even though President Kennedy had early on ruled out any such support.39  During the Laotian crisis of 1961, the JCS took an all-or-nothing stance on prospective US military intervention.  They rejected any limited use of force for the purposes of producing a negotiated settlement (which in the end the Kennedy White House successfully opted for via the dispatch of US Marines to neighboring Thailand), insisting instead that any use of force be overwhelming.  With the distaste of the limited Korean War still fresh, the JCS called for the deployment of 60,000-100,000 US troops to the Laotian panhandle, Thailand, and South Vietnam, followed by massive air operations against North Vietnam, and by, should the Chinese intervene, the use of nuclear weapons.40

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Chiefs again argued for a more belligerent course of action than their civilian superiors finally settled upon.  The Chiefs, initially with substantial civilian support within the hastily established independent National Security Council unit known as EXCOM, proposed a massive aerial bombardment of not only Soviet missile sites in Cuba but also Cuban air fields and air defenses.  The JCS opposed the ultimately successful naval “quarantine” option that Kennedy finally selected.  Indeed, after the crisis was over, Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay told a stunned Kennedy to his face that “We have been had.  It’s the greatest defeat in our history.  We should invade today.”41  Indeed, according to Kennedy’s alter ego, Ted Sorensen, during the crisis LeMay condemned the choice of a naval quarantine as a sellout “almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich.”42

And it is, of course, well known that the Chiefs, from the outset of US intervention in Vietnam, favored earlier and more extensive uses of force than the Johnson White House was prepared to entertain.  The JCS became especially embittered by Johnson’s refusal to order a reserve mobilization, the administration’s embrace of gradualist limited war theory, and civilian-imposed restrictions on the conduct of air operations against North Vietnam and prohibition of ground force operations in Laos.  Senior military opinion favored direct US military intervention in Vietnam, but chafed at restrictions subsequently placed on the employment of US military power there.

To be sure, in each of these crises the JCS “hard line” attracted some civilian support, but the president was the one civilian whose opinion counted in the end.  President Eisenhower was not prepared to go to war in Indochina in 1954.  Nor was President Kennedy ready to go to war over Laos and Cuba in 1961, or to undertake any action during the Cuban Missile Crisis inconsistent with his determination to minimize prospects for escalation to a general US-Soviet war.

Pre-Vietnam War interventions not only provoked no senior military opposition and usually enjoyed broad public support.  From the late 1940s to the late 1960s, there was also a public and congressional consensus on anti-communism as the organizing principle of American foreign policy, and presidents were taken at their word when they declared the need to use force against threats they labeled as communist. Indeed, the Johnson administration had no reason not to take public and congressional support for the Vietnam War for granted, even though it ended up overestimating national tolerance for a protracted conflict in which there was no convincing progress toward a decisive military resolution.  Dean Rusk later admitted that “as secretary of state I made two serious mistakes with respect to Vietnam.  First, I overestimated the patience of the American people, and second, I underestimated the tenacity of the North Vietnamese.”43  Public opinion did not turn against the war until after the Tet Offensive of 1968, just four years after Congress had eagerly passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.

The Vietnam War seems to have had a far greater impact on how force is used rather than on decisions whether to use force, and on the Congress and Pentagon rather than on the White House.  For structural and other reasons, neither the Congress nor the Pentagon is in a position easily to stop a president from sending US forces into harm’s way.  But the Congress can and has used its power to deny appropriations to condition and even terminate military operations already underway.  And while the Pentagon has no power to deny appropriations, it has since the Vietnam War, and especially since passage of the Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, placed a significant political impediment in the way of presidential use of force and increased its influence in the councils of war.  Indeed, the Vietnam War produced a de facto Congressional-military alliance dedicated to blocking or at least disciplining potentially reckless presidential uses of force.  That alliance rests — and continues to rest — on a combination of legislation, force structure reorganization, and doctrinal assertiveness — all driven by a determination never again to repeat the Vietnam War.

If Vietnam (along with Watergate) torpedoed the imperial presidency, in so doing it also altered both civil-military and Congressional-Executive relations in a manner significantly influencing consideration or actual use of force.  Congress responded to the Vietnam War by reasserting its prerogatives in foreign and defense policy.  From the early 1970s onward, Congress has used its appropriations power to block prospective US uses of force (e.g., Angola, Central America), terminate interventions already underway (Somalia), or condition support for interventions it opposed but was unprepared to terminate (Bosnia).  Congress also sought, though without success, to reassert its constitutional power to declare war via the 1973 War Powers Act; it did, however, prevail upon a very reluctant President Bush to seek formal congressional approval for the initiation of hostilities against Iraq in 1991.  Additionally, the Congress acted to increase the weight of military advice to civilian authority in the full knowledge of the military’s great post-Vietnam caution on matters involving the use of force.  

Since the Vietnam War, and especially since the end of the Cold War, congressional majorities have displayed much less enthusiasm for using force overseas than has the White House, and this lack of enthusiasm has been, if anything, even more pronounced inside the Pentagon.  The uniformed military responded to the Vietnam War in two ways aimed at restraining presidential recklessness.  First, it sought and received from the Nixon administration and an enthusiastic Congress authority to implement a Total Force Policy that among other things made it impossible for the president to undertake a major intervention absent a reserve call-up.  (Lyndon Johnson’s unprecedented refusal to mobilize the reserves was the bitterest and most enduring source of civil-military tension during the Vietnam War.)  Though the Total Force Policy served other purposes,44 its key objective, satisfied by transferring the bulk of combat service and combat service support functions from the active to the reserve components, was to prevent future presidents from going to war without having to clear the domestic political hurdle of a reserve call-up.  As Army Chief of Staff (1972-1974) Creighton Abrams remarked to General Don Starry, “They’re never  going to take us to war again without calling up the reserves.”45  The armed services have been frank in declaring the political intent of the Total Force Policy.  “The political argument for greater integration of the Reserves had its roots in Vietnam,” states the official Army history of the Gulf War, which begins with a review of the organizational and other reforms prompted by the Vietnam War and subsequently displayed in the Gulf.  “President Johnson chose to rely on the draft alone to prosecute the war in order to cause as little disruption on the home front as possible and thereby dampen popular opposition.  While successful during the early years, Johnson’s policy created an army in the field made up largely of the very young, the poor, and the disaffected.  As the war dragged on and casualties mounted, a rift was inevitable between the people and this unfamiliar, unrepresentative body of men fighting an unpopular war.  For that reason, Abrams, during his short tenure as Chief of Staff, had insisted that the Army could not go to war again without the involvement and tacit approval of the American people.  A call-up of Reserves would bring home to Americans from the beginning that they had a personal stake in the conflict.  Therefore, Abrams had sought to weave Reserve force so inextricably into established deployment schemes that no force would be able to fight a major war in the future without them.”46

The Total Force Policy and the larger Vietnam syndrome itself have not prevented post-Vietnam presidents from undertaking major interventions overseas, but they have compelled them to seek public and congressional support for such interventions to a degree that Lyndon Johnson did not during the Vietnam War.  Congressional opposition forced the Reagan administration, whose principal foreign and defense policy lieutenants (Alexander Haig, Jr., George Shultz, and Caspar Weinberger) all believed that Munich taught the dangers of appeasing the Soviet Union and communism in general, to terminate its military misadventure in Lebanon.  Congressional opposition also crippled the Reagan administration’s attempt to overthrow the communist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, a government whose survival, the White House believed, could be the first installment of a Soviet-Cuban-directed plan to communize all of Central America and Mexico. President Reagan and other administration spokesmen described the “malignancy in Managua” as a “strategic threat”; a potentially “mortal threat to the entire New World”; “another Cuba”; and “a privileged sanctuary for terrorists and subversives just two days driving time from Harlingen, Texas.”47  The invasion of Grenada, whose brevity and success rendered congressional opinion irrelevant, also was justified as a move to prevent the extension of Soviet-Cuban influence in the Western Hemisphere.   

During the run up to Operation Desert Storm, for which 231,000 reservists were recalled to active duty (with 105,000 of them deployed to the Persian Gulf),48 the Bush White House also orchestrated a major public relations campaign to demonize Saddam Hussein — comparing the Iraqi dictator to Hitler and citing the lessons of appeasing fascist aggression in the 1930s — and to instruct the nation on the vitality of American strategic interests in the Gulf.49

The Bush administration also planned and implemented Desert Storm in a manner designed to satisfy the tenets of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine.  Indeed, that doctrine constituted the second post-Vietnam Defense Department initiative designed to curb presidential recklessness.  In addition to locking in a reserve call-up for any major use of force, the recovering Pentagon of the 1980s began publicly propounding a use-of-force doctrine aimed at restricting non-mandatory uses of force to all but the most exceptionally compelling — and favorable — circumstances.  Weinberger and Powell spoke, as do their respective successors today, for a Vietnam-era generation of military professionals determined at all costs to avoid another Vietnam, and if those professionals have not been able to stop unwanted presidentially-ordered interventions, they have been able to extract concessions that limit the Pentagon’s potential liability.  In George Bush, the Pentagon enjoyed a president who also believed US military power had been disastrously mishandled in Vietnam by civilian authority, and whose behavior the Gulf crisis of 1990-1991 displayed a keen appreciation of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine’s insistence on the presence of vital interests, a determination to win, the establishment of clear political and military objectives, the assurance of public and congressional support, and the use of force as a last resort.  Bush acknowledged “fears of another Vietnam” and assured the American public that should war come in the Gulf, “this will not be another Vietnam.  This will not be a protracted, drawn-out war.”50  After the war, Bush triumphantly if prematurely declared that “we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all” because the “specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian peninsula.”51  Indeed, as Arnold Isaacs has concluded, “it was hard to escape the impression that laying the Vietnam syndrome to rest was itself a major administration goal, perhaps even equal in importance to the goal of defeating Iraq.”52  

Though Powell himself had serious reservations about going to war over Kuwait,53 once that issue was decided by Bush, he made sure that all possible doors to a protracted, indecisive war in the Gulf were closed as tightly as possible before hostilities commenced.  In the Persian Gulf, the Vietnam War-seared US military leadership finally encountered the redemptive war it had longed to fight.  Overwhelming force was swiftly and successfully employed on behalf of clear and attainable objectives in a war that had the nation behind it.  The Powell doctrine could be and was applied in the Gulf.  Yet, Charles Lane contends that, for conflicts not taking “the preferred, straightforward form of two armies in collision....the Powell Doctrine offers only one answer: ‘We do deserts, we don’t do mountains.’ The Powell Doctrine hinges, therefore, not only on a revised version of military tactics but also on a different, and constitutionally questionable, relationship between the soldier and the state.  It seems to be a relationship in which...professional military officers are able to exercise more influence — some might call it veto power — over the policy decisions of civilians.”54  

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, presidents have saddled the Pentagon with a host of so-called military operations other than war (MOOTW), which the armed services do not like and in which therefore they have sought — with considerable success — to restrict their potential liability.55  Most MOOTW are politically messy and militarily non-heroic affairs that, as Alvin Bernstein has pointed out, have “the added disadvantage, from the military’s point of view, of increasing the role of civilian leaders in shaping military operations.”56  US military leadership was reluctant to intervene in Somalia and opposed intervention in Haiti and Bosnia, though in the latter two interventions it extracted from the White House concessions that so narrowed the military’s mission as to compromise intervention’s political effectiveness.  The fear of “mission creep”  — i.e., being drawn into a conflict in excess of initial limited objectives — is rooted in the Americanization of a war in Vietnam in which US participation had been initially, and as it turns out, wisely, restricted to the provision of arms and advice to the South Vietnamese.  Mission creep subsequently led to disaster in Beirut and humiliation in Somalia.  In the case of Bosnia, the Pentagon anticipated a presidential decision to commit US forces to peace enforcement operations there, and was determined to prevent mission creep.  Accordingly, it secured a public White House pledge to limit the duration and scope of the US mission.  US forces were to stay in Bosnia only one year and were not to participate in any nation-building enterprises or other activities not strictly military in scope, such as nabbing war criminals.  In effect, they were sent in enforce a cease-fire, and having done that their de facto mission became one of self-protection — i.e., avoidance of a Balkan Beirut or Mogadishu.

A congressional majority also opposed intervention in Bosnia but could not bring itself to overturn the fait accompli presented to it by the Clinton administration’s pledge to provide US troops to enforce the Dayton Peace Accords.  Congress did, however, after considerable debate in which memory of Vietnam was invoked on numerous occasions, condition its support for intervention on a separate administration pledge.  That pledge, extracted from the White House in the form of a letter from President Clinton to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, committed the administration to provide the Bosnian Muslim government sufficient arms and training to ensure its own defense after the withdrawal of the NATO Implementation Force.  (The administration had previously opposed lifting the international arms embargo of former Yugoslavia even though the embargo tremendously disadvantaged the Bosnian government against Bosnian Serb forces.)  Congress also supported the military’s insistence on a one-year intervention deadline and prohibition on the performance of all but the narrowest of military tasks.57

The Vietnam War and Watergate predictably produced a Congress reassertive of its prerogatives in foreign and defense policy in competition with the Executive Branch.  But the military’s more recent outspokenness on what it regards as dubious prospective uses of force has provoked charges of transgression of traditional civil-military boundaries.58  Whatever one’s judgment on this issue, there is no doubt that the military’s influence on use of force issues has grown significantly since the days Lyndon Johnson boasted that the Air Force couldn’t bomb an outhouse in North Vietnam without his permission.  Moreover, Congress, via passage of the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act, played a critical role in increasing the weight of military opinion by elevating the power and authority of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the expense of the service chiefs themselves, whose ability to provide timely and useful advice was routinely compromised by primary loyalty to respective parochial service interests rather than to the common military good.  Weinberger and the Chiefs  opposed passage of the act, Weinberger because the Chiefs did, and the Chiefs because Goldwater-Nichols reduced their power.  However, subsequent secretaries of defense, JCS chairmen, and service chiefs themselves have praised reorganization as significantly improving US military effectiveness as well as increasing the military’s say when it comes to using force.  Powell certainly needed no prodding to use his reorganization-enhanced influence as a pulpit from which to preach his use-of-force gospel.

IV.  Have Munich and Vietnam Usefully Informed Policy?

If the significant influence of Munich and Vietnam on the formulation and implementation of US national security policy since 1945 is not to be gainsaid, the usefulness of these two historical analogies as policy informants is less evident.  Munich was indeed relevant to dealing with post-World War II Soviet expansionism.  Both Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia had imperial ambitions on a global scale and enormous resources to act upon those ambitions.  Indeed, the Munich analogy presupposes not only aggression relentlessly pursued but also military power on a scale commensurate with that of Great Power status.  Additionally, the Munich analogy’s corollary domino principle presupposes a relative equality on the part of victim states to armed takeover.  The states that Hitler invaded in sequence from September 1939 to July 1941 — all of them, except France, relatively weak — did indeed quickly fall, thereby resembling the fall of dominoes.  German power ground to a halt only at the English Channel and along the approaches to Moscow.

Nor was it unreasonable for the Truman administration to interpret North Korea’s invasion of South Korea as a surrogate Soviet invasion.  Soviet occupation forces had brought Kim Il Sung into Korea in 1945 and put him in power.  Kim Il Sung had no independent nationalist credentials; he had no more political legitimacy than the Soviet-installed regimes in Eastern Europe that also served Stalin’s strategic agenda.  By 1949 his regime had become a Soviet client state to the point where the North Korean dictator felt compelled to travel to Moscow to obtain Stalin’s permission to start a war on the South.  Indeed, Stalin not only approved but also supplied North Korea with heavy weapons, including the then still-superb T-34 tank (against which the South Korean’s had no effective defenses).59

Nor was George Bush’s invocation of the lessons of the 1930s altogether misplaced in the Persian Gulf forty years later.  Though Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was hardly a great power, it sought hegemony in a region of indisputably vital importance to the United States and its Western allies.  In 1990 Saddam was a brutal aggressor whose conquest of Kuwait, if allowed to stand, would have placed him in a position to easily invade Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province or, more likely, to coerce Saudi concessions on oil and even security issues.  Saddam’s military power had no local equal and dwarfed that of Saudi Arabia, a US client state for whose survival past US presidents had declared a willingness to fight.  The US response to Saddam’s move not only ejected Iraqi forces from Kuwait but also stripped Saddam of sustainable offensive conventional military power.

In Vietnam, however, Munich blinded rather than enlightened American policy-makers.  Indeed, as noted, their propensity to view events in Southeast Asia in the 1960s through the prism of events in Europe in the 1930s helped lay the foundation for the very disaster memories of which today shape US policy just as profoundly as did Munich in Southeast Asia.  Three decades after Chamberlain and Daladier agreed to sit down with Hitler and Mussolini, Munich simply spoiled on its long journey to Indochina.  In Southeast Asia the United States was dealing with a small, poor communist state.  There was simply no analogy between Ho Chi Minh and Hitler, and between South Vietnam and the Sudetenland.  The Asian communist dictator, whose credentials as a Vietnamese nationalist had no equal anywhere in Vietnam, was an instrument neither of Chinese nor of Soviet expansion.  Nor did he harbor imperial ambitions outside Indochina, which his very limited military power was insufficient to fulfill in any event.  

The assumption that no communist leader could be a genuine nationalist — and therefore have legitimate political appeal — obscured the persistence of substantial national tensions within the so-called “Communist Bloc” of states.  Tito’s dramatic break with Stalin in the late 1940s, which provoked the extension of substantial US military assistance to communist Yugoslavia, was an example available to Vietnam era policy-makers, who were also aware of rising Sino-Soviet tensions and who should have been aware of historic Sino-Vietnamese hatreds.  Powell himself has complained that in Vietnam, “Our political leaders led us into a war for the one-size-fits-all rationale of anti-communism, which was only a partial fit in Vietnam, where the war had its own historical roots in nationalism, anticolonialism and civil strife.”60  

As for dominoes, the Vietnamese revolution, because of its predominately nationalist nature, could not be readily exported beyond Indochina.61  Official prognostications that South Vietnam’s fall would provoke that of the rest of Southeast Asia failed to recognize that communism’s success in Vietnam derived from a confluence of historical, cultural, and political factors peculiar to that country.  In Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, aggression was centrally directed from Berlin.  No such authority directed it in Asia in the 1960s.

In sum, the Munich analogy is a useful policy informant with respect to some kinds of external security threats, but it was not relevant to any and all cases of aggression.  Indeed, the Johnson administration’s insistence that Vietnam was a case of international aggression as clear as Germany’s invasion of other European states during World War II obscured the reality of the Vietnam War as first and foremost a civil war among Vietnamese to determine who was govern the southern half of the Vietnamese nation.  If the southward trek of communist forces was an act of international aggression, then so too was the southward movement of Union armies into Confederate territory.

As for the Vietnam War analogy, its usefulness as a guide to using force since that war would appear to hinge on what is meant by the use of force.  There are many ways force can be employed, only one of them being war against another state.  Richard Haass’ taxonomy of uses of force includes deterrence, preventive attacks, compellence, punitive attacks, peacekeeping, peace-making, nation-building, interdiction, humanitarian assistance, rescue, and war-fighting.62  In addition to actual uses of force are threatened uses of force for purposes varying from coercion to war avoidance.  Successfully threatened force, however, rests on conveying to an adversary a willingness to use force.

The Weinberger-Powell doctrine correctly cautions against rushing off to real war with another state absent mobilization of public support, a clear conception of victory and how it is to be attained, and a willingness on the part of civilian authority to grant the military sufficient operational latitude to achieve declared military objectives.   The decision to enter major war with another state does indeed require obedience to maintaining the integrity of the Clausewitz’s trinity of the army, the state, and the people.  “Clausewitz’s greatest lesson for my profession,” observes Colin Powell, “was that the soldier, for all his patriotism, valor, and skill, forms just one leg in a triad.  Without all three legs engaged, the military, the government, and the people, the enterprise cannot stand.”63  Even former Secretary of Defense and key Vietnam policy-maker Robert McNamara himself now recognizes that a key to US defeat in Vietnam was the Johnson administration’s failure “to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion....of the pros and cons of a large-scale U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia before we initiated the action....America’s deepest military strength lies not in its military prowess but, rather, in the unity of its people.  We failed to maintain it.”64

But does this judgment apply to all uses of force?  Was it necessary to mobilize the nation for the Iranian hostage rescue mission?  The invasion of Grenada?   The punitive air strikes against Libya?  The dispatch of a carrier to the Taiwan Strait?  Do not military operations other than war, which have been the predominant use of US force since the Cold War’s demise, inherently require the utmost discrimination in using force, and therefore the closest political supervision?  What about the use of force as a tool of coercive diplomacy?  Can the use of force be credibly threatened if an adversary is convinced that US self-imposed restrictions make its use unlikely?  Is not the Weinberger-Powell doctrine the conventional military equivalent of the Massive Retaliation doctrine of the 1950s?  Does it not, as Eliot Cohen has argued, yield “a military posture that is prepared for all-or-nothing operations, likely to provide civilian leaders with only the harshest of military choices, or indeed none at all”?65

The relevance of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine in the post-Cold War world is questionable on three counts.  First, to the extent that the doctrine purports to be a warning against another Vietnam, it is almost certainly unnecessary.  The very experience of the Vietnam War remains the greatest obstacle to its repetition, and even if it weren’t, there are probably no more Vietnams lying in wait for the United States anywhere in the world.  The Cold War’s demise has stripped most of the non-industrial world of any strategic vitality to the United States, thereby eliminating a critical condition promoting major US use of force there.  More to the point, there is probably no non-industrial state or faction, now or in the foreseeable future, that could replicate the remarkable performance of Vietnamese communist forces in Indochina from 1945 to 1975.  Iranian Pasdaran, Nicaraguan Sandinistas, Lebanese militia, Iraqi Republican Guards, Somali “technicals,” and Bosnian Serb gunners may be vexing, even dangerous, but in skill, tenacity, and discipline they could not hold a candle to North Vietnamese army regulars and main force Viet Cong.  Additionally, it would be difficult for the United States to find a non-industrial client state as politically and militarily incompetent as it South Vietnamese client of the 1960s.

These judgments are not meant to encourage recklessness in approaching conflicts in the Third World: US intervention in Vietnam was a monumental and costly mistake, and subsequent US interventions in Lebanon and Somalia were clearly ill advised and mishandled.  But the confluence of allies, adversaries, perceived interests, and events in Indochina in the 1960s finds no analog anywhere in the world today.

Second, though the doctrine has become entrenched on Capitol Hill and across the Potomac at the Pentagon, post-Vietnam War and especially post-Cold War presidents have displayed a propensity to use force with little regard for the doctrine’s explicit cautions.  President Reagan made his disastrous decision to intervene in Lebanon’s civil war against the strong objections of Secretary of Defense Weinberger and the JCS; President Bush chose to go to war over Kuwait notwithstanding the grave reservations of JCS Chairman Powell; President Clinton launched an invasion of Haiti in the face of strong congressional opposition.  Whatever rhetorical obedience presidents have paid to the tenets of the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, they have not hesitated to exercise their authority as commander-in-chief to place US military forces in harm’s way.  They have used force on behalf of non-vital interests, in the absence of public and congressional support, and as a second, even first, rather than last resort.  

Presidents seem to regard the doctrine, as they do the War Powers Act itself, as both an intrusion upon presidential authority in national security policy and an enemy of flexibility in crises, especially crises calling for uses of force short of full-scale war.  In his 1985 book, No More Vietnams, Richard Nixon deplored the fact that “our ineptness in Vietnam [has] led many Americans to question the wisdom of using our power at all,” turning the United States “into a military giant and a diplomatic dwarf.”66  Nixon went on to warn that the “outstretched hand of diplomacy will have a very weak grip unless a President holds the scepter of credible military power in his other hand.”67  Former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger also opposes “the emerging belief that the United States must only fight popular, winnable wars.  The role of the United States in the world is such that it must be prepared for, be prepared to threaten, and even be prepared to fight those intermediate conflicts that are likely to fare poorly on television.”68  Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz has denounced the doctrine as “the Vietnam syndrome in spades, carried to an absurd level, and a complete abdication of the duties of leadership” because it excludes the use or threatened use of force in “situations where a discrete assertion of power is needed or appropriate for limited purposes.”  In his view, Weinberger believed that “our forces were to be constantly built up but not used: everything in our defense structure seemed geared exclusively to deter World War II against the Soviets; diplomacy was to solve all the other problems we faced around the world.”69 Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had the same complaint about Powell’s aversion to deploying US troops to Bosnia:  “What’s the point,” she asked Powell, “of having this superb military that you are always talking about if we can’t use it?”70  The late Secretary of Defense Les Aspin also condemned the Powell doctrine as “the ‘all-or-nothing’ school [which] says if you aren’t willing to put the pedal to the floor, don’t start the engine.”71

Which brings us to the third questionable aspect of the doctrine: its relevance to post-Cold War uses of force.  The Weinberger-Powell doctrine seems most relevant to precisely the kind of conflict — large-scale interstate warfare involving full and sustained national political and military engagement — that is receding as a serious threat to American security.  Any president contemplating a large war with another state would be foolish indeed to make war over trivial interests and in the absence of mobilized public and congressional support.  President Bush went to war in the Persian Gulf over a vital US interest and with broad popular support.  He opted for war only after it became obvious that economic sanctions against Iraq would not force Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and he conducted the war on behalf of clear and achievable political and military objectives.

But the Gulf War appears to be the exception that proves the rule.  While the era of large-scale interstate warfare — the collision of big conventional armies — may not be over for good (because it may be a function of impermanent American military domination of the international system72), the scope and incidence of such warfare declined dramatically since 1945.73  Indeed, Andrew Bacevich contends that “the changing character of modern war long ago turned the flank of conventional military practice, limiting its application to an ever-narrowing spectrum of contingencies.”74  In a post-Cold War world in which the United States faces no peer military competitor for the foreseeable future, the primary demands on American military power have been small wars and operations other than war in places peripheral to core US security interests.  Continued Pentagon preparation for major conventional warfare at the regional level reflects, not anticipation of the more likely, but rather preference for the familiar and a determination to preserve as much force structure as possible in the wake of the Soviet Union’s disappearance.  MOOTW abound, and even the employment of violence by the military is far more likely than not to be limited and brief — e.g., punitive air strikes of the kind directed against Libya in 1986 and against Bosnian Serb targets in 1995.  

The post-Cold War world, at least as it has unfolded so far, has not been marked by Clausewitzian clashes of nations, but instead by Jominian employment of limited force for limited ends.  Intrastate warfare has displaced interstate warfare as the principal source of violence.  “The core problem,” writes Leslie H. Gelb, “is wars of national debilitation, a steady run of uncivil civil wars sundering fragile but functioning nation-states and gnawing at the well-being of stable nations.”75

Strict adherence to the tenets of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine would preclude US use of force or threatened use of force in virtually all crises, including the Bosnias, Somalias, and Haitis of the world, other than those involving the kind of familiar large-scale regional wars for which the Pentagon continues to plan.  This goes a long way in explaining the doctrine’s popularity inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.  At the same time, it explains White House and State Department hostility to the doctrine.  Overwhelming force is an excessive response to most crises engaging US national security interests, and even grave threats to core interests provoke searches for non-war solutions.  Would the national interest in October 1962 have been better served by an overwhelming military assault on Cuba than by the naval quarantine option President Kennedy ultimately settled upon?  Indeed, how does one reach the conclusion that the 8,000,000 tons of bombs the United States dropped in Indochina during the Vietnam War was a display of underwhelming force?  And does not “a formula for going to war in which American casualties are minimized and protracted engagements are avoided...require...the massive use of American firepower and a speedy withdrawal from the scenes of destruction” that in turn encourages leaving behind unfinished and potentially critical political business?76  Was not Saddam Hussein’s political survival attributable in part to the emphasis in the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine on haste and minimizing casualties?77

Impressive military power and a demonstrated willingness to use it in circumstances short of all-out war and on behalf of less than vital interests, including those collectively known as imperial policing, constitute not only a critical mark of great power status but also the indispensable foundation of successful diplomacy.  War and force are not synonymous, and force without war is usually preferable to war itself.

This is not an argument for buying into every small war and potential MOOTW that comes along.  But it is an argument against elevating the importance of preserving the military’s well-being and reputation above that of the state itself.  The military’s first obligation is to protect the state; the state does not exist to protect the military.  A strategically reckless and politically maimed use of force in Vietnam does not justify potentially crippling national military timidity thirty years later.

To be sure, the Weinberger-Powell doctrine never commanded universal allegiance within the Pentagon; the Army was and remains its core constituency.  Moreover, the passage of Powell and of time itself, coupled with signs of growing appreciation of the doctrine’s limited relevance, may lead to its ultimate displacement by a use-of-force doctrine more appropriate to a world of small wars and MOOTW — if in fact this is the post-Cold War world in store for the United States.  Yet, it would be a mistake to underestimate the powerful influence the Vietnam War continues to exert on military and especially congressional opinion, where the tenets of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine have become dogma.  Strategically, the doctrine is a prescription for neo-isolationism, and as such appeals strongly to those on Capitol Hill who believe the Cold War’s demise relieves the United States of paying more than perfunctory political attention to the rest of the world.

V.  Does Reasoning by Historical Analogy Help or Hinder?

The examples of Munich and Vietnam reveal the limits of reasoning by historical analogy.  Notwithstanding Santayana’s famous dictum, historical events do not repeat themselves with an exactitude permitting accurate prediction of what will or will not happen if one chooses that or that course of action.  Human imperfection renders misjudgment a permanent and prominent feature of human endeavor.

History nonetheless can teach at the level of generality.  Munich constituted a legitimate lesson in how not to deal with powerful aggressor seeking regional or global domination.  Stopping Hitler in 1938 might indeed have averted World War II, and the subsequent US decision to contain rather than appease post-World War II Soviet expansion did indeed prevent Europe’s domination by Moscow and perhaps even forestalled a third world war.  Even so, the differences between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were probably critical (along with the presence of nuclear weapons after 1945) in explaining the absence of another world war.  Hitler was reckless and impatient, whereas the Soviet leadership (with Khrushchev in 1961-1962 being an exception) was cautious and unhurried.  But the differences between Hitler’s Germany of the 1930s and 1940s and Ho Chi Minh’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam of the 1960s were so profound as to make Munich an enemy of sound judgment by the United States on Vietnam.

The Vietnam analogy itself provides good instruction on the democratic political and professional military requirements the United States should attempt to meet when contemplating major and potentially sustained use of force against another state.  The Weinberger-Powell doctrine is wise counsel as far as it goes, and it was certainly a proper fit for the Gulf crisis of 1990-1991.  To be sure, adherence to that doctrine would have precluded US intervention in Vietnam on the grounds that no vital US interests were present, although the definitional elasticity of presidential declarations of vital US interests over the past half-century has robbed the term of any operationally useful meaning.  Yet the doctrine is not a helpful guide to using or threatening force in an international political landscape in which lesser intrastate violence is the dominant form of warfare.  The argument that the United States should stay out of all such small wars and military operations other than war, that it should keep its powder dry for only big conventional wars, may be emotionally appealing.  But it runs afoul of the reality that the United States is an imperial power with a vested interest in maintaining a certain level of stability in the international political system, and that stability maintenance requires, as it has of every other imperial power, occasional military intervention along the imperial periphery.  The uniqueness of the American empire as a voluntary association of market democracies does not alter the imperial obligations of the United States as the center of that empire.  Imperial states meddle in small wars for reasons ranging from deterrence of escalation to protection of friends and allies.

In any event, whatever the utility of reasoning by historical analogy as a tool of policy formulation and implementation, it is clear that policymakers invariably will continue to be influenced by past events and what they believe those events teach.


1. By non-mandatory is meant use of force unobligated by treaty commitments or other binding declarations. The United States is obligated to defend its NATO allies from external attacks, but it was free to intervene in or stay out of Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia.

2. Norman Podhoretz, Why We Were in Vietnam (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), p. 12.

3. For the definitive account of the Munich Conference, see Telford Taylor, Munich: The Price of Peace (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1979).

4. Ibid., pp. 216-218, 234-235, and 648-650.

5. Ibid., p. 884.

6. For a detailed assessment of the European military balance at the time of Munich, see Williamson Murray, The Change in the European Balance of Power, 1938-1939, The Path to Ruin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 217-263.

7. See Liddell Hart, The German Generals Talk (New York: Quill, 1979), pp. 31-34; and Walter Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985), pp. 304-339; and Taylor, op. cit., pp. 681-731.

8. In both world wars Germany simultaneously displayed brilliance at the operational level of war and incompetence at the grand strategic.  Stunning campaigns could not redeem a grand strategy that made enemies of Russia, the British Empire, and the United States, whose collective standing and latent military power greatly exceeded that of Germany and her weak allies.  See the author’s “Operational Brilliance, Strategic Incompetence: The Military Reformers and the German Model,” Parameters (Autumn 1986).

9.See, for example, George C. Herring, America’s Longest War, The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, Third Edition.  (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996).

10. See, for example, U.S. G. Sharp, Strategy for Defeat, Vietnam in Retrospect (San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1978).

11. See, for example, Harry G. Summers, Jr., On Strategy, A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982).

12. H.R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty, Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam (New York: Harper Collins, 1997).

13. See author’s The Wrong War, Why We Lost in Vietnam (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998).

14. Caspar Weinberger, Fighting for Peace: Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon (New York: Warner Books, 1990), p. 8.

15. See “The Uses of Military Power,” speech before the National Press Club, Washington, D.C., November 28, 1984, reprinted in ibid., pp. 429-445.

16. Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico, My American Journey (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 148.  Powell is especially critical of the inequities of the Vietnam War-era Selective Service System, the Johnson White House’s blindness to Vietnamese communism’s nationalist roots and appeal, Johnson’s refusal to mobilize the reserves, and the bureaucratic cowardice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  “Our senior officers knew the war was going badly.  Yet they bowed to group-think pressure and kept up the pretenses, the phony measure of body counts, the comforting illusion of secure hamlets, the inflated progress reports.  As a corporate entity, the military failed to talk straight to its political superiors or to itself.  The top leadership never went to the Secretary of Defense or the President and said, ‘This war is unwinnable the way we are fighting it’.”  See pp. 144-149. See also Charles Lane, “A Soldier’s Story,” New Republic, October 16, 1995, pp. 20-21.

17. Ibid., p. 149.

18. See “Deciding When and How to Employ U.S. Forces,” A  National Security of Engagement and Enlargement. The White House (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, February 1996), pp. 18-19.

19. Ibid., p. 18.

20. Ibid., p. 19.

21. If Munich suggested the imperative of responding early and decisively to aggression, World War II became the great referent experience for US military planners contemplating war with the Soviet Union which, it was presumed, would be global in scope though centered in Europe, as was World War II, and would entail, as did World War II, massive and sustained conventional military operations on land, sea, and air.  World War II also constituted, until the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the last major display of Soviet fighting power and was known to exert a tremendous influence on Soviet thinking about future war.

22. Quoted in E.J. Kahn, Jr., The China Hands, America’s Foreign Service Officers and What Befell Them (New York: Viking Press, 1972), p. 23.

23. Quoted in Leslie H. Gelb with Richard K. Betts, The Irony of Vietnam, The System Worked (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1979), p. 42.

24. Harry S. Truman, Memoirs, Vol. 2, Years of Trial and Hope, 1946-1952 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1956), p. 335.

25. Reprinted in The Pentagon Papers, The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking in Vietnam, The Senator Gravel Edition (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), Vol. I, pp. 588-589.

26. Reprinted in ibid., Vol. 1, p. 592.

27. Excerpted in Robert J. MacMahon, (editor), Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War. Second Edition (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1995), pp. 121-122.  In the end, the Eisenhower administration refrained from military intervention in Indochina.  There was no public, congressional, or allied support for intervention (the unpopular Korean War had ended only the year before).  Moreover, Eisenhower, as a war hero and a Republican president, did not bear the “soft-on-communism” domestic political albatross that his Democratic successors did.  Additionally, the political settlement of the French-Indochina War confined communist rule in Indochina to just the northern half of Vietnam, leaving its southern half (and Laos and Cambodia) open, at least in principle, to the establishment viable non-communist regimes.  In South Vietnam, the United States sponsored the establishment of an anti-communist political order in the form of Ngo Dinh Diem’s Republic of Vietnam.

28. See Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Kennedys, An American Drama (New York: Summit Books, 1984), pp. 104-107.

29. Quoted in Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam (New York: Oxford University Press,1973), p. 12.

30. Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1965), p. 703.

31. Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes, Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 3.

32. Doris Kearns, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), p. 252.

33. Quoted in Michael Beschloss, ed., Taking Charge, The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), p. 248.

34. Dean Rusk with Richard Rusk and Daniel S. Papp, As I Saw It (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1990), p. 404.

35. Eric F. Goldman, The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969), pp. 330-331.

36. Beschloss, op. cit., p. 250.

37. See Richard K. Betts, Soldiers, Statesmen, and Cold War Crises (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977), especially pp. 215-221.

38. See ibid., pp. 16-22.

39. See Trumbull Higgins, The Perfect Failure, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and the CIA  at the Bay of Pigs (New York: W.W.  Norton and Company, 1987); Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days, John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1965), pp. 238-242; Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation, The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1967), pp. 33; and Sorensen, op. cit., pp. 299, 307.

40. See Richard Reeves, President Kennedy, Profile of Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), pp. 111-112; Hilsman, op. cit., pp. 146-149; and Sorensen, ibid., pp. 644-646.

41. Quoted in Michael Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963 (New York: Harper Collins,1991), pp. 543-544.  See also May and Zelikow, op. cit., pp. 78, 119, 173-174, 472, and 519.

42. Theodore C. Sorensen, “The Leader Who Led,” New York Times, October 18, 1997.

43. Rusk, op. cit., p. 497.

44. The policy sought to preserve as much active-duty force as possible in a time of defense budgetary contraction and to restore the reputation of the reserve components (which had become havens for draft-dodgers).  See James Kitfield, Prodigal Soldiers, How the Generation of Officers Born of Vietnam Revolutionized the American Style of War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), pp. 146-151.

45. Ibid., p. 151.

46. Robert H. Scales, Jr., Certain Victory, The US Army in the Gulf War (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Staff, United States Army, 1993), p. 18.  Emphasis added.

47. Quoted in Charles W. Kegley, Jr., and Eugene R. Wittkopf, American Foreign Policy, Pattern and Process.  Third Edition.  (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987), p. 426.

48. Harry Summers, Jr., The New World Strategy, A Military Policy for America’s Future (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), p. 132.

49. See John Mueller, Public Opinion in the Gulf War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 41, 51.

50. Ibid., p. 45.

51. Quoted in Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson, The Imperial Temptation, The New World Order and America’s Purpose (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1992), p. 152.

52. Arnold R. Isaacs, Vietnam Shadows, The War, Its Ghosts, and Its Legacy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 76.

53. See Bob Woodward, The Commanders (New York: Simon and Schuster,1991), pp. 60-61; and Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, “Beltway Warrior,” New York Times Magazine, August 27, 1995, p. 42.

54. Charles Lane, “A Soldier’s Story,” New Republic, October 16, 1995, p. 21.

55. See Don Snider, “U.S. Civil-Military Relations and Operations other Than War,” Civil-Military Relations and the Not-Quite Wars of the Present and Future (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, Army Way College, October 30, 1996), pp. 1-14.

56. Alvin H. Bernstein, “The Truth About Peacekeeping,” Weekly Standard, September 22, 1997, p. 25.

57. For a detailed record of the entire Senate debate on Bosnia, see the Congressional Record - Senate, December 12-13, 1995, pp. S18397-S18553.  To be sure, the Clinton White House did not fulfill its agreement to withdraw US forces after one year, but it has promoted the provision of substantial arms and training to Bosnian government forces.

58. See, for example, Richard H. Kohn, “Out of Control: The Crisis in Civil-Military Relations,”  National Interest (Spring, 1994), pp. 3-17; and Edward N. Luttwak, “Washington’s Biggest Scandal,” Commentary (May 1994), pp. 29-33.

59. For a detailed examination of Kim Il Sung’s political origins and North Korea’s role as a Soviet surrogate from 1945 to 1950, see Sergei N. Goncharoc, John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners, Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), pp. 130-167.

60. Powell, op. cit., p. 149.

61. The Vietnam War made inevitable the Hanoi-sponsored communization of Laos, a remote and militarily weak kingdom.  Control of the Laotian panhandle was essential to Hanoi’s prosecution of the war in South Vietnam, and the Kennedy administration’s agreement to the formal neutralization of Laos precluded the introduction of US ground forces while leaving communist forces in place.  As for Cambodia, the takeover of the country by the China-friendly Khmer Rouge provoked Hanoi to invade Cambodia for fear having a hostile Chinese client state established along its southern borders.

62. Haass, op. cit., pp. 49-65.

63. Powell, op. cit., p. 208.

64. Robert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMark, In Retrospect, The Tragedy and lessons of Vietnam (New York: Random House, 1995), pp. 322-323.

65. Eliot A. Cohen, “Playing Powell Politics, The General’s Zest for Power,” Foreign Affairs ((November/December 1995), p. 108.

66. Richard Nixon, No More Vietnams (New York: Avon Books, 1985), p. 13.

67. Ibid., p. 226.

68. Quoted in Isaacs, op. cit., pp. 72-73.

69. George P. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, My Years as Secretary of State (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993), pp. 646, 650.

70. Powell, op. cit., p. 576.

71. Quoted in Haass, op. cit., p. 185.

72. See Eliot A. Cohen, “Military Power and International Order, Is Force Finished?”, Chester A. Crocker and Fen Osler Hampson with Pamela Aall, eds., Managing Global Chaos, Sources of and Responses to International Conflict (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996), pp. 223-236.

73. During the past decade there has arisen a cottage industry dedicated to probing the causes of large-scale interstate warfare’s decline.  Among the causes believed to be responsible are the spread of democracy, growing international economic interdependence, the presence of nuclear weapons, the disappearance of most Cold War military confrontations, declining national defense budgets and abandonment of conscription, and demonstrated unassailable Western conventional military superiority over non-industrial adversaries.

74. Andrew J. Bacevich, “The Limits of Orthodoxy: The Use of Force After the Cold War,” The United States and the Use of Force in the Post-Cold War Era.  A Report by the Aspen Strategy Group.  (Queenstown, MD: Aspen Institute, 1995), p. 185.

75. Leslie H. Gelb, “Quelling the Teacup Wars, The New World’s Constant Challenge,” Foreign Affairs (November/December 1994), p. 5.

76. Tucker and Hendrickson, op. cit., p. 162.

77. See Mueller, op. cit., pp. 287-289, for a discussion of the relationship of casualty aversion and President Bush’s decision to halt the war.

Center for Strategy and Technology

The Center for Strategy and Technology was established at the Air War College in 1996.  Its purpose is to engage in long-term strategic thinking about technology and its implications for U.S. national security.

The Center focuses on education, research, and publications that support the integration of technology into national strategy and policy.  Its charter is to support faculty and student research, publish research through books, articles, and occasional papers, fund a regular program of guest speakers, host conferences and symposia on these issues, and engage in collaborative research with U.S. and international academic institutions.  As an outside funded activity, the Center enjoys the support of institutions in the strategic, scientific, and technological worlds.

An essential part of this program is to establish relationships with organizations in the Air Force as well as other Defense of Department agencies, and identify potential topics for research projects.  Research conducted under the auspices of the Center is published as Occasional Papers and disseminated to senior military and political officials, think tanks, educational institutions, and other interested parties.  Through these publications, the Center hopes to promote the integration of technology and strategy in support of U.S. national security objectives.

For further information on the Center on Strategy and Technology, please contact:

William C. Martel, Director
Air War College

325 Chennault Circle

Maxwell AFB

Montgomery, AL 36112

(334) 953-2384 (DSN 493-2384)


Titles in the Occasional Papers Series


Reachback Operations for Air Campaign Planning and Execution

Scott M. Britten, September 1997


Lasers in Space: Technological Options for Enhancing US Military Capabilities

Mark E. Rogers, November 1997


Non-Lethal Technologies: Implications for Military Strategy

Joseph Siniscalchi, March 1998