Journal article Open Access

Military Influence And the Post-Vietnam Use of Force

Petraeus, D. H.

The caricature of America's military leaders as cigar-chomping, table-pounding warmongers reflects a common assumption that during crises, the military, in Pavlovian fashion, urge the use of arms. Such stereotypes, however, have seldom held true; they are particularly unsupported by the evidence in the post-Vietnam era. An examination of the cases since 1973 in which the use of force was considered reveals that the military's voice in presidential counsels of war has been neither the most bellicose nor the most commanding. On the other hand, America's senior soldiers have not been doves in uniform or of insignificant influence. The military frequently have influenced intervention decisions-even when they have sought to avoid the issue of whether force should be used. And when the discussion has turned to consideration of how to use force in a particular situation, senior military leaders have exerted considerable influence.
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