Report from Thomas Furse, 2022 Rosamund Davies Research Travel Fellowship winner

Thomas Furse, 2022 Rosamund Davies Research Travel Fellowship winner, reports back from his trip to the National Archives at College Park in Washington DC where he explored the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command in the 1980s.

Donn Starry’s debriefing report from Cambodia

I made the pilgrimage to the National Archives at College Park in the humid heat of Washington DC to read the papers of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) in the 1980s, which is the basis of my doctoral research. In this decade, a small group of army officers, Donn Starry, Huba Wass de Czege, L.D. Holder, Glenn K. Otis, Mike Malone, Bill Richardson, Don Morelli, and several others rewrote the conceptual framework of how the US would use military power around the world. Their key contribution was the AirLand Battle doctrine in which any future war against the Soviet Union (and anyone else) would be short and lethal where army units move in fast and synchronized manoeuvres—the army would fight no more Vietnams.

AirLand Battle Doctrine pamphlet

Military doctrine is grey literature. On the surface, it is quite dull in its technocratic language. Sometimes it has bizarre amounts of detail, too. Surely, soldiers aren’t pulling out these fat manuals to know the correct method of loading petrol cans onto a truck? So why do they exist? They serve the purpose of teaching and ensuring that officers, in particular, are thinking in similar ways about problems. They are problem-solving documents that express the institution’s intellectual and strategic climate of opinion. As a collective trove, these big documents and thin pamphlets give us an in-depth portrait of how the US Army reformed itself after the Vietnam War, the end of the draft, and the general legitimacy crisis of the 1970s. It became a professional force.      

Intelligence Operations Warfare Doctrine manual

Much of the papers here have not been digitalized, so reading their strategic documents and the more banal papers they signed off gave me a slice of what they were doing at the bureaucratic level and their conceptual thinking. The AirLand Battle Doctrine, otherwise known as FM 100-5, is connected to a series of pamphlets (around 40 pages long) covering low-intensity conflict, legal and health services, ammunition support, and the ‘reconstitution of the battlefield.’ I got a sense of how these officers thought; I read Starry’s 1970 debriefing report from his time in Vietnam when he commanded the 11th Armored Calvary during the Cambodian Incursion. He wanted more vetting of officers for pacifism and more dynamic training for quick attacks. I read documents on the Productivity Capital Investment Program, which, I argue in one of my chapters, reshaped how the Army organized its funding, workflow, and production efficiency along lines similar to the management theory of the 1980s. This group of officers were interested in and connected to ideas in the civilian world. My doctoral research aims to recast them as intellectuals who contributed to American power. They were not just macho men bored with desk jobs on army bases in Kansas and Virginia. I haven’t yet finished going through all my documents, but seeing all of them laid out gave me a better picture of how this ‘non-intellectual’ institution thought.

Thomas Furse is a PhD student at City, University of London. His thesis is titled ”From the Hollow Force to the Behemoth: The US Army’s Strategic Thought from 1970-1988”.