Five Biggest Disasters in American Military History [The National Interest e-magazine]

The United States may well have erred politically in engaging in the War of 1812, World War I, the Vietnam War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, but here [The National Interest writer Robert Farley] consider[s] how specific failures worsened America’s military and strategic position.

  1. The War of 1812: the invasion of Canada. American forces lacked sufficient intelligence on British force structure and troop movements before launching a costly excursion into Canadian territory in a campaign that lacked synergistic support of multiple forces and adequate logistics trail to complete the invasion. This failure is why Canada is not a part of the United States, and ultimately is why Canada continues to beat America in ice hockey. Key failures: lack of inter-service cooperation/ teamwork and logistics.
  2. The American Civil War: Battle of Antietam. September 17, 1862 was the bloodiest day of battle ever in the Americas. Combined, the two sides lost 22,000 soldiers in one day of bloody battle. Despite Union General McClellan having intercepted Confederate General Lee’s plans, he failed to seize the advantage, failed to gain better intelligence on adversary force size, and failed to maintain command, control, and communications of multiple forces under his command. Moreover, he failed at target selection and prioritization of the important tasks needed to accomplish the main goal of crippling the Confederate forces. He did succeed in pushing the Army of Northern Virginia out of Maryland, which gave President Lincoln an opportunity to leverage the pyrrhic victory into an opportune time to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Key failures: lack of communication and teamwork.
  3. World War II: Operation Paukenschlag (Drumbeat). In the second Battle of the Atlantic in 1942, the German navy beat the American forces like a drum by taking advantage of inter-service parochialism and lack of cooperation between the U.S. War Department and Department of the Navy. Air commanders in the Navy and U.S. Army Air Forces failed to cooperate, or even supply adequate cover for military and commercial ships, leaving vessels in the Atlantic vulnerable to easy attacks with little risk to the Germans. The U.S. lost 609 ships to the Germans’ 22 in this eight-month campaign, and one quarter of all the commercial shipping lost in the four years of U.S. involvement in the war. The Navy and Army Air Force were also rather stubborn in learning how to conduct anti-submarine warfare from the British. Key failures: lack of cooperation and stubbornness.
  4. Korean War: United Nations Offensive into North Korea. In the summer of 1950, the U.N. forces attempted to leverage successes in the defense of Pusan and the invasion of Inchon by going into North Korea to shatter the People’s Liberation Army forces in their own backyard by using two major forces coming from Inchon and Pusan and getting air support from Marines and Air Force out of the few usable air bases in Korea and the closest bases in Japan. In this particular campaign, it appears that the Americans figured out how the different services could work together, with the Marines providing air cover for the Army out of Inchon and the Air Force providing air cover for American and British army forces out of Pusan. The mistake may have been ignoring signs that the Chinese would intervene if any forces other than R.O.K. military came north of the 38th parallel. The U.N. forces also had difficulties tracking the Chinese forces as they disappeared into the mountains, and distinguishing North Korean soldiers dressed as refugees as they slipped through refugee checkpoints. Key failures: underestimating the adversary “red lines”, inability to mutually support multiple forces and overextension of forces, inability to distinguish friend from foe.
  5. Iraq War: Disbanding the Iraqi Army. No 20/20 hindsight is needed to recognize that it was Saddam Hussein’s loyalists that were the enemy in 2003, not the Iraqi Army. One bad decision probably cascaded into a decade of war in Iraq where Americans could not discern loyalists from disgruntled soldiers. Fast forward a decade from this decision and think of which army would have been best poised to fight the Goatfucker Army of the Levant (GoAL), also known as ISIS/ISIL. Key failures: inability to distinguish friend from foe, failure to understand the environment.

Sources:

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