Restoring Order: The US Army Experience in Occupation Operations, 1865 – 1952

Abstract of my dissertation on US Army occupation operations:

This dissertation examines the influence of the US Army experience in military government and occupation missions on occupations conducted during and immediately after World War II. The study concludes that army occupation experiences between the end of the Civil War and World War II positively influenced the occupations that occurred during and after World War II. The study specifically examines occupation and government operations in the post-Civil War American South, Cuba, the Philippines, Mexico, post-World War I Germany, and the major occupations associated with World War II in Italy, Germany, and Japan. Though historians have examined individual occupations, none has studied the entirety of the American army‘s experience with these operations. This dissertation finds that significant elements of continuity exist between the occupations, so much so that by the World War II period it discerns a unique American way of conducting occupation operations. Army doctrine was one of the major facilitators of continuity. An additional and perhaps more important factor affecting the continuity between occupations was the army‘s institutional culture, which accepted occupation missions as both important and necessary. An institutional understanding of occupation operations developed over time as the army repeatedly performed the mission or similar nontraditional military tasks. Institutional culture ensured an understanding of the occupation mission passed informally from generation to generation of army officers through a complex network of formal and informal, professional and personal relationships. That network of relationships was so complete that the World War II generation of leaders including Generals Marshall, Eisenhower, Clay and MacArthur, and Secretary of War Stimson, all had direct personal ties to individuals who served in key positions in previous occupations in the Philippines, Cuba, Mexico, or the Rhineland. Doctrine and the cultural understanding of the occupation mission influenced the army to devote major resources and command attention to occupation operations during and after World War II. Robust resourcing and the focus of leaders were key to overcoming the inevitable shortfalls in policy and planning that occurred during the war. These efforts contributed significantly to the success of the military occupations of Japan and Germany after World War II.

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FM 3-07 and History

The new army stability manual, FM 3-07, Stability Operations, proposes using lines of effort to visualize the execution of stability operations tasks.  Specifically the manual states, “A line of effort links multiple tasks and missions to focus efforts toward establishing the conditions that define the desired end state. Lines of effort are essential in stability operations, where physical, positional references to an enemy or adversary are less relevant. In these operations, where the human dimension typically becomes the focus of the force, lines of effort often work best to link tasks, effects, conditions, and the end state. Lines of effort are essential to helping commanders visualize how military capabilities can support the other instruments of national power.”  The history of U.S. stability operations validates the concept as expressed in current doctrine.  It also offers some insights into the issues and importance of lines of efforts and stability operations in general.

For a presentation at the National Defense University entitled “Lessons of History:  U.S. Transitions in Cuba and the Philippines,” I took the history of two U.S. stability operations and superimposed that history on the LOOs as outlined in FM 3-07.  The results confirmed that, though they did not have a formal doctrine, the leaders of previous intensive stability operations, identified and executed critical tasks that align very closely with current doctrine.

Studying the history a little more closely revealed several important insights into stability operations:

1. The major influence on stability operations policy is domestic politics.  Congressional control of budgets and the ability of the Congress to enact legislation that constrains or sets policy is a major influence on operations.  Most importantly, the popular opinion of the American people, as expressed through their votes, has a strong influence on both the Congress and the Administration.

2. The American experience with stability operations includes both Civil and Military led operations.  There was no obvious difference between the two.  However, historically, the War Department (now DOD) was the lead agency and the civil administrator reported directly to the Secretary of War.  One clear aspect of the historical experience is that there was no ambiguity regarding who was in charge.

3. Insurgent resistance to the stability operation has an important effect.  This effect is not direct.  Historically, the U.S. military has demonstrated a capability to eliminate insurgency.  The important effect is on domestic public opinion.  Insurgency’s most important capability is to influence U.S. domestic politics (see 1. above).

4.  Economics and the economic LOO are extremely important.  It is the key to long-term stability and is more important and difficult to achieve than building the institutions of governance.  The latter are relatively simple to create but will fall apart if they are not supported by a sound economy.  Often, because of U.S. domestic politics, the focus of stability operations is on economic matters that relate to the U.S. economy and diminish the importance of economic issues that relate to the indigenous population.

5.  Cultural understanding is a key to assisting the indigenous population to achieve stability.  U.S. institutions will never be a perfect fit to another culture.  A deep understanding of culture is essential to making the critical decisions required for successful stability operations.  Governance, security, and economic issues all depend on identifying policies and techniques that will work within the context of the unique operational environment.  Leaders have to decide when to leave the culturally accepted method in place; when and how to adapt a unique foreign concept to the culture; and when and how to impose a completely foreign concept on the culture.  Making the right decision is the key to success along the LOOs and cultural understanding is the key to the right decision.

6.  Finally, stability operations are inherently difficult and complex.  Each of the LOOs is related to and dependant on the others for success.  They complement each other and set the conditions for each other’s success.  The amount of time forces are engaged in stability operations permits the tasks within the LOOs to develop.  As the individual tasks are accomplished, time permits their effects to mature and reinforce other tasks.  Rushing stability operations incurs the risk that systems and institutions built as part of the stability operations will erode for lack of support in an immature environment that lacks a cultural history that supports those institutions and systems.