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The Army Is a Juggernaut, Not a Light Brigade

August 27, 1989|HARRY G. SUMMERS JR. | Col. Harry Summers Jr. formerly held the Douglas MacArthur Chair at the Army War College

Why an Army? What does the Army do better than anyone else? For Michael P. W. Stone, the new secretary of the Army, those are fundamental questions, for they will determine how the Army of the 1990s will be manned, organized, trained and equipped.

The missions of the Navy and the Air Force are easily understood. The Navy sails and the Air Force flies. While they have their own internal squabbles--among the surface Navy, the "Airedales" and the submariners, for example; or among the fighter pilots, the bomber pilots, the transport pilots and, increasingly, the silo sitters of our missile forces--the question of "Why a Navy?" or "Why an Air Force?" seldoms arises. The answers are self-evident.

And that's generally true for the Marine Corps as well, now that the drift toward "heavying-up" has been reversed and the Marines once again have committed themselves to being the nation's expeditionary force, a role for which they are particularly well suited.

At one time the Army was the nation's senior service (as the Royal Navy is Great Britain's senior service), and everything else existed to bolster and support its mission: control of land. As the Navy War College put it in 1942, man does not live on the sea or in the air. He lives on land. Therefore control of land is war's ultimate aim.

But with the beginning of the Atomic Age the need for armies seemingly vanished. Wars would henceforth be fought with nuclear weapons and would be over within minutes before armies could even be mobilized. The coup de grace was administered by none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Army's greatest hero, when he announced his budget-driven strategy of "massive retaliation," in which almost total reliance for America's defenses was placed on nuclear weapons.

Subsequent world events proved this strategy (and the follow-on nuclear-based flexible response strategy) nonsensical. The Arab-Israeli wars, the Vietnam War, the Sino-Vietnamese war, the Falklands War, the war between Iran and Iraq and all the others were fought with ground forces and with conventional, not nuclear, weapons.

Given this record, you would think the Army would have regained its preeminent position, but that has not been the case. The Army has yet to regain its soul and still struggles to define its national defense role. The latest straw it has grasped is the light division concept, where combat power and sustainability have been sacrificed for rapid movement to world crisis areas.

But that's not what the Army does best. The Marines, with units already afloat with the fleet, are much better trained, equipped and deployed for such contingencies. And they have the not inconsiderable added advantage of being seen by the American people and by potential adversaries as a temporary expedient. "Send in the Marines" carries an entirely different political-military message than does commitment of the Army.

A clue to what the Army does best was laid out in "Dispatches," Michael Herr's outstanding book on the Vietnam War. Describing the Army's 1st Cavalry Division relief of the besieged Marines at Khe Sanh, he tells how the division moved forward. Slowly, ponderously, it advanced, emplacing its artillery and laying out fields of fire at each step. As one step followed the other, it was like the juggernaut: not very glamorous, not very exciting, but an absolutely inexorable force that could not be stopped.

Instead of competing with the Marine Corps by forming light divisions, the Army ought to have put its attention and its resources into its heavy forces--the mechanized and armored divisions that the Army alone possesses. The average armored or mechanized division's 300 Abrams tanks, 300 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and the self-propelled 155-millimeter howitzers and multiple launch rocket systems of its division artillery provide an awesome array of combat power capable of standing toe-to-toe and slugging it out with any enemy force in the world.

"But they're not useful in low-intensity conflict," critics complain. That may be, but do we really need more divisions for "low-intensity" conflict? When what that requires cannot be met by the Marines' three-division expeditionary force, or by the Army's Ranger Regiment, or its Special Forces units or super-secret anti-terrorist forces, it should be obvious that the conflict is no longer "low-intensity."

And when that happens, when it gets too tough for everyone else to handle, that's the time to call on the juggernaut, otherwise known as the United States Army. Defeating the enemy's land forces in order to break his will to resist used to be what the U.S. Army was all about. It's time it once again concentrated its resources and attention on that fundamental task.

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