Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II
Command Culture examines the different paths the United States Army and the German Armed Forces traveled to select, educate, and promote their officers in the crucial time before World War II. While previous scholarship explores either the officer corps of the German army or their American counterparts, and rarely touches on a comparison in depth, Jorg Muth has done extensive studies on both armies and societies.
In contrast to previous studies, Command Culture is less concerned with the number of years officers stayed at schools or the hours they were taught in a certain discipline. Rather, Muth explores teaching philosophies at the respective military schools and academies in Germany and the United States, the selection of the faculty and the officer students, and what the respective armies thought an officer ought to be and how he was supposed to command.
Muth demonstrates that the military education system in Germany represented an organized effort where each school and examination provided the stepping stone for the next. In the United States there existed no communication about teaching contents or didactical matters among the various schools and academies, and they existed in a self chosen insular environment. American officers who finally made their way through an erratic selection process and past West Point to the important Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, found themselves usually deeply disappointed, because they were faced again with a rather below average faculty who forced them after every exercise to accept the approved school solution. This narrow-minded approach to the teaching of officers would have severe repercussions for the U.S. Army’s command culture in World War II and explains much about the conduct of war on the American side.
Muth explores the paradox that in Germany officers came from a closed authoritarian society but received an extremely open minded military education, whereas their counterparts in the United States came from one of the most democratic societies but received an outdated military education that harnessed their minds and limited their initiative. On the other hand, because the youngest German officer candidate learned that in war everything is possible and feasible, he accepted the new doctrine of a war of extermination easily and helped to execute it from 1939 to 1945. For the American officers, raised in a democracy, certain boundaries could never be crossed.
This work for the first time clearly explains the lack of audacity of many high ranking American officers during World War II, as well as the reason why so many German officers became perpetrators or accomplices of war crimes and atrocities or remained bystanders without speaking up. Those American officers who became outstanding leaders in World War II did so not so much because of their military education, but despite it. While the U.S. Army did revise major aspects of its officer education program, many of its shortcomings are cultural and historical and still have an impact on the conduct of the War against Terror.
About the Author
Jorg Muth received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Utah. He is the author of Flucht aus dem militarischen Alltag: Ursachen und individuelle Auspragung der Desertion in der Armee Friedrichs des GroBen, a cultural and social study of desertion in the Prussian army during the era of Frederick the Great. Based on previously unpublished sources, the study revised the historiography of the Old Prussian Army.
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