We Need More General Wedemeyers





Mr. McLaughlin received his PhD in history from Drew University in 2008. His dissertation focused on General Albert C. Wedemeyer.

General Albert C. Wedemeyer died in 1992 at the age of 92.  In the obituary of the New York Times on December 18, noted military historian John Keegan labeled Wedemeyer "one of the most intellectual and farsighted military minds America has ever produced."  He praised Wedemeyer for his efforts as chief strategist in formulating an overall war plan for the United States shortly before its entry into World War II, as well as his major role in planning the Normandy invasion.  Wedemeyer, however, is still best remembered as having replaced General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell in the China-Burma-India Theater in 1944 after Stilwell was recalled by President Roosevelt.

It was Wedemeyer's fate to have his efforts as a major strategist of the war overshadowed by such luminaries as Generals Marshall, Eisenhower and Stilwell.  But Keegan was correct.  Wedemeyer's greatest contribution to the war effort was as a strategist.  After attending the Fort Leavenworth Command and General Staff School and graduating first in his class, Wedemeyer was selected to attend, as an exchange student, the prestigious Kriegsakademie, the German equivalent.  He was educated in advanced German weapons and tactics while in Berlin during the critical years 1937-1938, especially the new concept of blitzkrieg, soon to be used so successfully by the Germans during the early years of the war.  Upon his return, his report on his experience so impressed General George Marshall, shortly to be the new Chief of Staff, that, despite his lowly rank of major, Wedemeyer was placed in charge of a select committee in early 1941, all other members of which held substantially higher rank, and given the responsibility to draw up plans for the mobilization of America for the expected war and formulate battle plans for the defeat of our potential enemies.  This included a cross channel invasion of France, which at that time was anticipated to occur in the summer of 1943.

In a penetrating essay published in December 2009 in Parameters, Charles P. Moore asserted that "...American strategic competence reached its apex between the victory in World War II, and the implementation of NSC 68 (a National Security Council document written in 1950 which advocated ways of countering communism and governed our actions during the Cold War).  Moore notes that "somewhere between the death of Joseph Stalin and the rise of an era of limited war, the United States lost its strategic way."

It was the "clarity" of the Cold War that made strategic planning so useful.  However, the complexities of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have changed the landscape for strategic thinking.  The diverse challenges presented by computer hackers, terrorists, suicide bombers, both male as well as female, germ and chemical contamination warfare, seemingly render the old style long term strategic planning obsolete.  Moore disagrees with this negative assessment of strategic planning and Wedemeyer would have concurred.  It calls for a different approach.  Wedemeyer's definition of strategy was simple:

The art and science of developing and employing all the political, economic, and psychological resources of a nation together with its armed forces in the ongoing struggle to insure the security and well-being of the people.

That definition of "strategy" is as useful today as it was when Wedemeyer first articulated it over 65 years ago.  Wedemeyer, aware of the inadequacy of national policy making to meet the threats of an increasing and turbulent world, wrote in 1983 an article entitled "Memorandum on A National Strategy Council."  He recommended the creation of a small permanent "National Strategy Council" consisting of eleven experts who would "...devote their full time and talents to studying and formulating recommendations concerning national strategy in its broadest aspects."  They would function, essentially, in an advisory capacity, comparable to the Federal Reserve Board.  The members would have access to all sources of official and unofficial information and strategic intelligence, and possess the experience, expertise, and time required to evaluate basic policy in the foreign and domestic fields.  Wedemeyer concluded his essay saying:  "Never in my career have I written in greater concern for the future of our country, or with greater conviction of the need for reforms of the sort I have herein tried to describe."

While recognizing Wedemeyer's talents and his understanding of need for global strategic thinking, Moore does not subscribe to this recommendation, doubtlessly mindful of the political minefield that any suggestion of a creation of any kind of a national committee on strategy would create.  Instead he points to the successful efforts that have recently helped to reverse the trend toward erosion of American's strategic competence.  These efforts, as he said have largely "gone unnoticed and will likely remain underappreciated for years to come "...but envision the return of the Army strategist.

As a result of this new initiative, there are presently approximately four hundred military strategists serving in the grades of captain to colonel, occupying key positions on the National Security Council, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Department of Defense.  The new strategists are culled from the best and brightest minds, and receive the best and broadest education possible.  A good deal of credit for this new initiative is due to the efforts of Paul Wolfowitz who assembled a team of scholars immediately after 9/11 to develop a strategy to identify the underlying problematic conditions that allowed the attacks to occur and to develop a strategy to prevent others.  The effort has expanded to include courses in the service academies and at other prestigious private schools in order to create a cadre of well trained specialists who will devote their life work to strategy.  The new strategists face problems unique to twenty-first century warfare.  They must learn how to anticipate threats that their predecessors would not have imagined, and regretfully, to date, have been largely misunderstood.  When the planes hit the World Trade Towers we installed screening to detect weapons, insulated the pilots from hijackers breaking into their cabin, and allocated countless millions of dollars to screen passengers and create a "terrorist no fly list"; when the infamous "Shoe-Bomber" tried to blow up his plane, we required passengers to remove shoes for inspection; when the "underwear bomber" unsuccessfully tried to set off his concealed explosives we again expended fortunes on more sophisticated x-ray machines.

These effects are reactive instead of a proactive; not the way Wedemeyer would have approached the problem.  He most probably would have anticipated that these new terrorists are not likely to repeat the same procedure in the next attack, and instead would come up with new and novel ways to harm us.  And that is exactly what they have done. Our new strategists are being taught to be anticipatory.  Hopefully, there are a number of nascent Wedemeyers among them who will be up to the task.


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