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After the Trenches: The Transformation of U.S. Army Doctrine, 1918-1939.

After the Trenches: The Transformation of U.S. Army Doctrine, 1918-1939. By William O. Odom. Texas A&M University Press, 1999. 82 Pages.

If you think the U.S. Army is in less than good shape today, read this book. If he does nothing else, William O. Odom, the author and active Army officer, clearly points out that conditions could be a lot worse.

No one in his right mind, of course, wants to take the Army back to the situation it was in during the 1920s and 1930s. To give you just a little idea of what it was like to serve in that Army, consider the following, which was written by George C. Marshall about a personal experience:

During this period I commanded a post which had for its garrison a battalion of infantry, the basic fighting unit of every army. It was a battalion only in name, for it could muster barely 200 men in ranks when every available man, including cooks, clerks and kitchen police, [was] present for the little field training that could be accomplished with available funds. The normal strength of a battalion in most armies of the world varies from 800 to 1,000 men.

Odom begins his discussion of the development of doctrine by outlining the major provisions of the National Defense Act of 1920 and its requirements. That act, by the way, gave us the basic military organization we have today: a relatively small but combat-ready Regular Army with a variety of missions. The chief mission was to train the two major civilian components: the National Guard and the Organized Reserves. The Regular Army's other missions were to garrison our overseas possessions and to be ready for immediate employment as required. Part of the latter mission involved manning our coastal defenses.

With this act in hand, the Army's leaders began preparing doctrine to guide the force in the coming years. Odom discusses doctrine in general, why it is necessary, and how it should be developed. He stresses the fact that "most large armies publish a basic capstone manual that describes how the force will fight." Then, they generally prepare supporting manuals that emphasize the major points found in the capstone volume.

In this book, Odom is concerned with how the Army's leaders prepared two capstone doctrinal volumes--Field Service Regulation 1923 (FSR 1923) and FSR 1939. Why FSRs? The Army's first true doctrinal manual, as we know that term today, was published in 1905 as FSR 1905. But since doctrine is ever-changing (too often, perhaps, only to satisfy the whims of an influential flag officer), capstone manuals usually do not last long. FSR 1905 lasted only three years; its successor, FSR 1908, for the same length of time. And so on until FSR 1923 appeared; this one remained as the Army's capstone doctrinal manual for 16 years, until FSR 1939 appeared, although the latter came out in tentative form because of much in-house fighting over its contents.

The thought behind the writing of FSR 1923 constitutes the first half of this book, and the preparation and writing of FSR 1939, the second half. Odom believes FSR 1923 was a superior work while FSR 1939 was not, and dissects each one in detail.

Did the Army, as a whole, feel the effects of these publications? I don't believe either reached far down the chain, probably stopping at the various service schools. Odom does not make this point clear. But I cannot believe that Marshall, with his understrength and underfunded battalion on a post he probably had difficulty maintaining properly, was overly concerned with implementing either FSR or resulting manuals, since few of the latter were ever published and those that were had limited distribution.

Unfortunately, the Army was in such poor condition during those decades, with 1934 being the low point, that it could do little to implement the FSRs, particularly FSR 1923. The service schools did their best to teach the new doctrine, but even they were limited by a lack of funds. Still, Odom thinks, and I agree, that the service schools were among the few bright spots during those generally dark years. He holds up the Infantry School when Marshall was its assistant commandant as representing "the school system at its best." Unfortunately, while he mentions the School's publication infantry in Battle, a project begun by Marshall but completed after he had gone on to another assignment, he does not mention the Mailing List (now Infantry), the School's own periodical, which went through several iterations but always tried to give infantrymen in the field useful material.

I believe Odom could also have recognized some of the far-thinking activities of units in the field. The 2d Infantry Division, in the San Antonio area, was conducting actual airborne operations, although on a small scale, as early as 1927. And in Panama, in 1931, a battery of field artillery was moved by air from one side of the zone to the other. Odom does recognize that the War Department did not consider airborne operations of much importance, even after studying such operations being conducted by the Soviets and Germans. Perhaps he was wise to omit our own efforts, particularly since they were probably conducted without War Department approval.

None of this criticism detracts in any way from my good feelings about Odom's efforts. I believe, as he does, that "The Army's experience with doctrine development during the interwar years offers useful insights for today's leaders as they face the challenge of modernizing organization and doctrine in peacetime."
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Garland, Albert N.
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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