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Logistics: Western Way Of War
Logistics and the Western Way of War
By Jeff L. Patton

A theme that has percolated through the ranks of military historians over the last two decades has been the idea there is a “Western Way of War” that has been responsible for the dominance of societies of Western (i.e. European heritage) culture that have created the preeminent effective military force on earth. Indeed, several historians have traced the superiority of western militaries from the past two and a half millenia.

One of the first historians to advance this theme was Geoffrey Parker of Cambridge University who wrote The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare: The Triumph of the West, in 1995. Parker lists five key attributes of western militaries that he believes have been constant since the fifth century BC. They are reliance on technological superiority, superior discipline and training, continuity of Western military tradition, competition among European states, and innovation have been responsible for the West’s hegemony over other cultures. Shortly thereafter, in 1997, Jared Diamond published a best seller titled Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Diamond advances his theory that Eurasian (including North African) societies have been predominant in the modern world largely due to environmental and geographical advantages over other societies. Probably the best know proponent of the superiority of the West in military affairs has been the historian and political commentator, Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson is the author of The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Ancient Greece published in 1989 and the best seller Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power published in 2001. In some countries the title was changed to the succint Why the West Has Won. To explain his viewpoint, Hanson has used the device of “Landmark Battles” to highlight traits of civic militarism, capitalism, discipline, heavy infantry, technology and free exchange of ideas, individualism, and criticism and self critique. To Hanson, these defining characteristics underscore the West’s superiority. We have seen that for the battles he has chosen, his traits do appear but to assume they have been uniform for the past 2500 years is difficult to accept. This paper proposes to show how another trait of the Western Way of War, logistics, has been a recurring theme of Western superiority in the field and has been constant through the ages.

Logistics is a fairly modern term. Its use to describe the system of supply, transport and distribution of goods and services to troops in the field dates back only to the beginning of the 20th century but the concept that an army must master logistics goes back to antiquity.

In the 5th century, Vegetius pointed out “The main and principal point in war is to secure plenty of provisions and to destroy the enemy by famine”[1] . Napoleon has been quoted as saying “An Army travels on its stomach” and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was famous for attributing his victories to getting to the battle “Fustest with the Mostest”. From Republican Rome to the current war in Iraq, a trademark of Western warfare has been logistical superiority over the enemy.

Emergence of Logistics as a War Winner in the West

Prior to the 1st Punic War (264-241BC), Carthage was the major naval power in the Mediterranean. Her sea going merchant fleet and naval galleys extended her economic sphere of influence throughout the central and western Mediterranean. Her enemy, Rome, by contrast, was an emerging land power with a very inferior navy. However, the Romans were quick learners and after capturing a Carthaginian trireme, proceeded to build hundreds of copies and were able to overwhelm a superior qualitative Carthaginian fleet by weight of numbers. Such was the state of affairs at the beginning of the Second Punic War (218-201BC). Hannibal proposed an invasion of Roman controlled Spain to sever the province from Rome then to invade Italy. With Rome the predominant sea power in the Mediterranean; Hannibal was forced into a long overland campaign through Spain, Gaul, the Alps, and Cisalpine Gaul prior to reaching Italy. His lack of sea transport greatly hindered his movement options, eliminated the element of surprise, and forced his army to live off the land rather than rely on reprovisioning his army from Carthage.

Armies that rely on foraging have to adapt their strategy to the variables of weather, terrain, season, and availability of food and fodder. Additionally, large armies are a hindrance due to their denuding of the landscape and creating a scorched earth environment for the trailing elements of their columns. The constant requirement to seek food and fodder dictates its direction of movement. A consequence of Hannibal’s reversion to foraging was the loss of many of his pack animals and all but one of his elephants crossing the Alps. Additionally, his force was weakened by detailing significant numbers of men away on foraging expeditions. The Romans were aware of these handicaps and used them to their advantage. The history of the Second Punic War reads like a history of Roman defeats: Trebbia, Lake Trasimeno, Cannae were all overwhelming Carthaginian victories, but, after each defeat the Romans could pull back behind their walled cities, lick their wounds, reconstitute their armies, and plan the next campaign. In contrast, Hannibal’s foraging army was like a shark. It had to keep moving to survive and could not perform a prolonged siege of Roman towns without starving itself. Since Hannibal had no logistical resupply from Carthage, he could not reprovision his troops nor bring heavy siege equipment to bear on recalcitrant Roman strong holds. While Roman mothers would scare unruly children with the threat “Hannibalus et Porta” (Hannibal is at the gates), the Romans knew Hannibal was unable to mount a siege and they enjoyed safe areas behind walls to reconstitute and fight another day.

The Roman army under the Republic (500-100BC) was composed of men who had the means to pay for their arms, armor and uniforms. While not much is known about their resupply system in the field, we can assume soldiers were responsible for their own food as there is little available literature of documentation of large scale foraging expeditions during this time. This all changed with the reforms of Marius around 100BC. To solve the problems of man power shortages, Marius opened the army to all Romans to include the Capite Censi, those people too poor to be counted in the census by wealth but only by head count. By taking in the poorest of Roman society in the ranks, the army shifted its loyalty from the Republic and Senate to their commanding general, who fed, clothed, armed, and paid them at his expense. Augustus changed that. He took financial control away from the Senate and exercised complete control of the Army through his legates. Along with Augustus’ reforms, the army changed from an army assembled only for a campaigning season to a permanent standing force. Legions were spread across the empire and billeted in permanent quarters. Simultaneously with the transition to a standing army was the evolution of the Roman army to the first army in history to break away from the necessity of living off the land for the primary source of its provisions.

From the 1st century BC to the end of the empire, the army was provisioned by a well thought out system of supply lines. There were three elements to Roman logistical support. First, a strategic base from which supplies were drawn (usually an entire province or Italy proper) provided the bulk foodstuffs such as grain plus heavy siege equipment and other necessary uniforms, armament, or foodstuffs (such as wine and olive oil) that was unavailable in the provinces. Next was an operational base 50 miles or so from the frontier or front where huge amount of supplies were transported by water and accumulated. Finally these supplies were drawn off and transported via pack animals and wagons to a tactical base in the vicinity of an individual legion.[2] The Romans were able to keep even distantly deployed legions well supplied. Recent excavations at the Roman legionary camp at Vindolanda along Hadrian’s Wall in northern England shows a surprising amount of clothing, food items, domestic utensils and even mail that was provided from Rome.[3] This three tier system allowed for adequate sustainment for forces in garrison but had to be modified when the army was on the march.

The major problem for logistics through the ages has been transportation. The Romans had a road system that was largely legionary built that was unmatched anywhere in the world for the next 1000 years. The roads not only mitigated the effects of weather on troops marching but allowed the transport of heavy wagons carrying supplies in all weather conditions. A Roman army on the move was accompanied by thousands of pack animals and wagons to transport food, fodder and military supplies. The Latin word for their baggage train was impedimenta from which we get impediment. The word is deceptive however. To the modern logistician, a Roman legion on the move was a slow moving mass of men and animal drawn carts intermixed in an apparent random fashion. In fact, the opposite was the case. The Roman legion on the march distributed its pack animals and baggage train in a highly organized fashion to each legionary subunit of cohort, century, and conburtinium. By having their pack animals readily accessible to each Roman unit, the process of retrieving their equipment when stopping for the night or deploying for battle was a relatively rapid affair. The Roman legion’s logistical support system was a major advantage. The army was freed from the constraints of foraging for the majority of their supplies and the resulting decrease in fighting strength as men were detailed to forage. It also freed Roman commanders to engage in sieges without the threat of starving their own troops and from the dictates of terrain and season on campaign. History records relatively few examples of tough disciplined well supplied troops succumbing to the less well supplied. The logistical advantage of the Romans gave them this decided advantage over their adversaries. In the case of Hannibal, Rome’s ability to interdict Hannibal’s re supply from Carthage was decisive in her ultimate victory. Against Gaul, Caesar was able to use scorched earth tactics to weaken his adversaries and conquer them. Against Britons, Germans, Dacians and other barbarians, Rome was able to campaign against them outside the normal campaigning season and thus use starvation as an effective weapon to subdue foreign tribes. The triumph of Roman arms over her enemies continued and her empire constantly expanded until the time of Hadrian.

Upon Emperor Trajan’s death in 117 AD, Hadrian inherited an empire that had expanded to its maximum geographic extent. From Scotland to Mesopotamia, and from Romania through Egypt, North Africa through Spain and Portugal, Rome reigned supreme. Rome had expanded due to the power of her legions; now, however, Hadrian realized that Rome could not expand any further. It had finally reached a point where her three-tier logistical support structure could not stretch any farther. Her empire had run into natural boundaries of desert, ocean, or lack of navigable waterways. She could not support her legions any further afield and instead built Hadrian’s Wall, pulled back to the Rhine, Danube, and Slava Rivers in Europe and stayed north of the Sahara Desert. The cause of her subsequent decline and fall to barbarian tribes is beyond the scope of this paper, but one contributing factor was the fall in revenue and subsequent decrease in her ability to support her troops in the field.

The West’s Expansion of Influence

The West’s expansion outside the borders of Europe was fueled by the increase in capital, trade, and scientific reawaking of the Renaissance. While galleys and small sailing vessels had plied trade routes in the Mediterranean for centuries, they were inadequate for long-range, open-ocean voyages. The appearance of the carrack in the middle of the 15th century changed that. The Spanish/Portuguese carrack was a three or four-masted sailing ship with a high castle in the stern and a broad beam that was capable of hauling crew and provisions for lengthy sea voyages and return profitable amounts of cargo. Due to her broad beam, the carrack was also a stable gun platform that enabled European traders and explorers to bring heavy guns with them on their voyages and provide more than adequate self-protection capability against smaller native vessels. Magellan’s and Columbus’s fleet were composed of carracks.[4]

This new naval technology, designed for trade, was also integral to the spread of the West’s influence in Asia and the Americas. European powers had the load carrying capability to transport not only men and food for a long voyage and had excess capacity to haul the latest in European technology to foreign shores, as well as livestock and horses. Against the Aztecs, Mayas, Totonacs, Tlaxcalans, Otomis, and Chohulas, the combination of armor, firearms, and mounted cavalry proved to be an irresistible force. Cortez’s expedition against the Indians of Mexico showcased the superiority of Western arms and logistics over the native population. Cortez’s key victory at Tenochtitlan in 1521 was made possible by receiving reinforcements and replacements for his losses of men, horses, and material from Vera Cruz and constructing 13 brigantines on Lake Texcoco. Each brigantine held 25 men plus artillery and horses.  With them, Cortez was able to cut off the resupply of food and water to Tenochtitlan while adequately re provisioning his troops.[5] The Aztecs had no answer to Spanish firepower -- firepower that could be replenished seemingly indefinitely from supply trains of porters and a few pack animals from Vera Cruz. While Cortez’s success against the Indians of Mexico was the most dramatic evidence of the superiority of the West over native populations, similar encounters occurred in other parts of the Americas and Asia. The West’s ability to transport men, equipment, and war-making technology over oceanic distances brought the advantages of European scientific discovery and centuries of war-fighting experience to cultures unable to conceive, much less be able to counter, the West’s military superiority.

Despite the West’s technological superiority over their adversaries, significant logistical problems had to be overcome to make colonization of the New World and the Indies possible. The first two problems were reliable maps and more seaworthy ships. The development of the more sea worthy galleon in the 16th century made sea travel faster, and more survivable. The result was there was less risk involved in funding trading expeditions and a greater chance of turning a profit, which led to more exploration and more maps being produced from the explorers. During the Age of Exploration and colonization, sea travel still remained a somewhat inexact mode of transportation fraught with danger. It was not until the problems of longitude measurement and scurvy prevention were solved in the 18th century that unrestricted, reliable transoceanic global trade became commonplace.

Colonialism Triumphant

A unique attribute of Western culture is colonialism. It was the West’s colonization of the East and not vice versa that was made possible by the West’s pre eminence in sea travel. The West’s mastery of the sea and ability to bring its superior military technology to bear on its adversaries made possible the fact that by 1650, European powers achieved mastery of South, Central, and Northeastern America, Siberia, portions of coastal Sub Saharan Africa and much of the Philippines. By 1800, Western powers controlled 35% of the world’s land area and by 1914, controlled 85 percent.[6] The singular reason for this dominance was the West’s logistical ability to mobilize, transport, and bring economic and -- more importantly, -- military power to bear via the sea. This ship-based superiority over Asians, Africans, Native Americans, and Native Australasians comprised not only marine technology, knowledge and skills of the sailors but also the economic and political will to use it. During the age of exploration and colonization, the European maritime cultures of France, England, Holland, Spain and Portugal proved overwhelming to indigenous native cultures. This superiority, at its most fundamental level, was the West’s mastery of a logistical system of virtually unlimited oceanic range. The mastery of the first long-range bulk transport system powered by other than human or animal muscles was uniquely Western. It evolved into a system of regular, repeatable schedules at a per ton and per person costs cheaper than any other form of transport. A case can be made that there was a Sea Transport Revolution that allowed Europe to break free of its geographic confines and spread its influence throughout the known world.[7] The evidence of this logistical superiority is abundant. The establishment of a Portuguese trading empire in India under Vasco de Gama and Affonso d’Albuquerque in the beginning of the 16th century was made possible by the ships and cannon of the Portuguese. Besides outgunning the native warlords, the Portuguese offered a cheaper and more reliable transport of Eastern goods, mainly spices, to eager buyers in Europe than could Arab overland traders. It allowed the Portuguese to establish country trader networks that out-competed the Arabs. At the same time the Portuguese were establishing a trading network in South Asia, the Spanish were opening up sea lanes of communication with their fledgling empire in the West Indies. Initially outnumbered by the native inhabitants, the Spanish soon established a model for colonization in the New World by constantly resupplying and expanding their outposts with more men and women. They soon outnumbered the natives at their ports and forced the Native Americans into the interior. Like ripples in a pond from the drop of a stone, the Spanish and later English and French established a toehold in the New World and expanded it. While the Spanish forced their way upon the natives by force of arms, the English colonization was much more about immigration than fighting. While the Powhatans, Pequots, Narragansetts and others violently resisted the expansion of White settlements, it was the constant onslaught of more and more English colonists who turned the tide against the Indians. Instead of driving out the invaders, the Indians found themselves driven out, usually to the west. Perhaps the best example of the overwhelming dominance of the West’s logistical superiority came from a Mississippi Indian whose tribe was chasing the last of De Soto’s defeated gold seeking conquistadors out of their country in 1542. The warrior was quoted as yelling after the Spanish “If we possessed such large canoes as yours….we would follow you to your land and conquer it, for we too are men like yourselves.”[8] Unfortunately for the Mississippi warrior, non-Western nations would not master the art of long distance seafaring until the advent of steam power and never master the science of long range logistical support to their forces abroad.

The British experience supporting 65,000 troops 3,000 miles from home during the American Revolution underlines the sophistication of Western logistical operations during the time of colonization. Each of the British army’s 4,000 odd horses needed up to 20 pounds of hay and nine of oats each day, each man a pound of beef, some peas, and rum, also daily—all told for the war, millions of pounds of bread, butter, oatmeal, hundreds of thousands of gallons of vinegar and rum, not to mention every belt buckle, candle, blanket, musket ball, powder, cannon, strap, button, pair of trousers and saddles—all carried to America in little ships of 220 tons in bad weather and through a gauntlet of American cruisers.[9] The British war ministry initially planned for the British army to forage for food, fodder, firewood and other provisions, but after the Trenton defeat and the virtual abandonment of New Jersey, British forces retreated to well-defended posts and depended upon the transatlantic lifeline to supply their basic needs. None-the-less, there appears to be no campaign launched by the British that was restricted by logistical constraints. General Howe attacked New York, for example, with a huge, well-equipped force that was re supplied by sea. For all the myriad reasons the British lost the fight to retain their colonies in America, logistical failure was not one of them.

Logistical Superiority in the Modern Age

While the British were able to adequately supply their army 3,000 miles distant in the 18th century, the problems of logistical support multiplied with the advent of industrial age warfare. Modern armies consisting of machine-driven, rapid-fire, and oil-fed high-tech weapons needed a corresponding increase in logistical support.

The Japanese, after the Meiji restoration in the 1860’s, embarked on a crash military industrial transformation of their society and military to emulate the West. Their crushing victory over the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905 put them on an equal status with Western powers as a first rate military. However skilled her generals may have been and valiant her soldiers were and technologically equal to the West her weapons might have been, she did not develop a Western style logistical capability, and it proved to be her undoing in the Second World War.

Japan of the 1930s was an emerging industrial and established military power in Asia. Her economy was almost totally dependent upon raw materials from abroad. Her oil came from the Dutch East Indies, her iron and other metals from China and Southeast Asia, her rubber and tin from Malaya and scrap iron from the United States. To feed her economy and sustain her military in the field, Japan had to secure her sea lines of communication and be able to re supply her far flung conquests. She did neither. One of the great mistakes of the war for Japan was the failure to anticipate and provide anti submarine resources to blunt the US Navy’s submarine campaign against her merchant marine. The US Navy strategy was commerce warfare against Japan. Japan was very vulnerable to this type of warfare as her merchant fleet and shipbuilding capacity was small and sensitive to even minor losses. Japan began the war with 6 million tons of merchant shipping and added another 4 million tons through capture and new construction throughout the war.[10] It was estimated that Japan needed, at a minimum, 5 million tons of shipping. By the beginning of 1945, the US submarine campaign had sunk 7.5 million tons of Japanese merchant shipping and starved her economy. Japan relied on overseas sources for 90 per cent of her oil, and by concentrating on sinking tankers, the United States shut off this tap. After April of 1945, no oil entered Japan and her economy collapsed. While the atomic bombings and the strategic firebombing of Japanese cities and industry have received the lion’s share of credit for ending the war with Japan, the truth is that she failed to protect her logistical lifeline and her collapsing economy and subsequent inability to carry on the fight doomed her.

Another non-Western Army that had the trappings of Western technology and organization but failed in logistics was the Red Army after World War II. During the Cold War, the Russian army and its associated Warsaw Pact allies presented an awesome picture of a military juggernaut poised to overrun Europe. The truth was far different. One of the Soviet’s major shortfalls in the immediate post war years was shortage of transport. Horse-drawn transport was not phased out of the Soviet army until 1955 and continued to be utilized in the reserves and Warsaw Pact for some time. In addition to the poor state of Soviet transport equipment, the conditions of the roads and railways in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe would certainly have hindered the logistical re supply of a mechanized force invading Western Europe.[11] Another hindrance to logistical support of its armies was the rail system in Russia. Russian rail gauge is five feet wide from rail to rail. That of Eastern European countries is a standard four feet six inches. Thus, troops and supplies traveling from Russia through the East would have to transfer themselves and all their equipment at border marshaling yards, themselves easy targets. Finally, the organic structure of Soviet divisions emphasized a large “tooth to tail” ratio which neglected logistics. A standard NATO division had 1,500 men just to handle communications compared to 500 in a Soviet division. Additionally, the Soviets devoted fewer men to such routine tasks as handling ammunition and supplies. These limitations caused one NATO observer to note: “A Red Army commander is likely not to have sufficient ammunition at the right place at the right time in a rapidly moving, fluid situation. When personnel losses occur, weapons move more slowly, fire control bogs down, ammunition fails to arrive, the Russian commander seeks to overcome this through demands for superhuman exertion, but his men are not superhuman. Ultimately, a division engaged for long in serious fighting must be withdrawn from the line, refilled, perhaps retrained, and restored to combat.”[12] Even late in the Cold War, the Soviets had not grasped the concept of proper logistical support to a modern army. Col Jan Sabo, an SA-6 surface-to-air missile regiment commander in the former Czechoslovakian Air Force, told the author that as late as the mid-1980s, the Warsaw Pact armies had “Pioneer” battalions assigned to each division. The purpose of the Pioneer battalions was to forage for food and fuel after penetration of NATO defenses. The Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces were so heavily focused on the offensive that they neglected the support elements of a modern army. Col Sabo said that it was not until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War that he realized that the Warsaw Pact had no concept of modern logistics. “It was as if we were an adjunct of Napoleon’s army.”[13] While the Soviet Union presented a formidable appearance of a highly mobile, armored machine poised to overrun Western Europe, its inattention to logistical sustainment would have made that outcome highly problematic.

While logistical superiority appears to be a defining characteristic of the Western Way of War, there are exceptions. The French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 are a case in point. The French had chosen an outpost at the bottom of a valley to station a garrison in 1952. Following attacks by the Viet Minh, the small garrison fled and in order to restore the honneur del’armee, the French reoccupied the outpost with 16,000 troops. The Viet Minh encircled the garrison which then had to rely on resupply solely by air. Unfortunately, the C-47s of the French Air Force did not have the payload capacity to adequately sustain the troops and, following attacks on the airfield at Dien Bien Phu, the French were forced to airdrop supplies, much of which fell into Viet Minh hands. General Vo Nguyen Giap of the Viet Minh understood the vulnerabilities of the French logistical system and ordered guerilla attacks on French air bases. He ordered his troops to ignore the fighters and bombers on the airfields and concentrate their attacks on the C-47s.[14] The end result was Western troops were starved and shelled into submission by a non-Western commander who understood the role of logistics better than they.

No other country in the world has the logistical capability of the United States. The United States sits alone as the sole country in the world that can project and sustain forces on a global basis. This was made evident during the lead up and execution of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm from August 1990 to March 1991. The United States, in response to the Cold War threat of a no-notice attack by the Warsaw Pact against NATO, had pre-positioned equipment for four armored/mechanized infantry divisions in Europe under the acronym POMCUS (Provisioning of Material Configured in Unit Sets). The plan was to fly in the troops via civilian charter and military airlift to marry up with stored equipment on a short notice basis to counter a Soviet invasion of Europe. Additionally, after the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, the United States developed the maritime pre-positioning force consisting of 16 privately-owned and Department of Defense operated ships in the Indian and Pacific Oceans that carry enough equipment to outfit a Marine Air Ground Task force of 17,000 men. Like POMCUS, the idea is to rapidly deploy troops to marry up with their equipment to rapidly respond to crisis anywhere in the world particularly, the Middle East. This innovative strategy, to pre-position assets and move troops to man the equipment, is revolutionary. It enabled the United States to put one division on the ground in Saudi Arabia within three weeks of notification.  Using maritime pre-positioned assets and the POMCUS reserves in Europe, as well as redeploying the 7th Corps from Germany, allowed the United States to position half a million men and some 4,000 tanks on the sands of Saudi Arabia by January 1991.

In contrast with the US capability to move men and material almost at will across the globe, non-Western forces cannot compete. It is logistics that give non-Western (third world) forces their most insurmountable problems. Many of the wars that have not occurred, such as the Egyptian invasion of Libya in the 1970s, have been stymied by difficulties of supply and maintenance. Non-Western armies have an acute shortage of the kind of leaders with managerial expertise to oversee their logistical support. Typically, high-quality leaders are siphoned off to man the more prestigious combat arms while the less-gifted or less-politically connected are fobbed off on support functions. Third World armies typically operate in environments where the local infrastructure of roads and railroads are lacking or in poor repair. This hampers the ability of the logistician to transport supplies to his troops. Additionally, Third World armies tend to have more severe maintenance difficulties. This stems from the fact that they tend to depend upon external suppliers for spare parts and inadequate organizational depth to support complex supply and maintenance systems. The recent experience of wars between non-Western powers show that Superpower intervention in logistical support often dictates the outcome of the conflict. Examples include the US resupply of Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Soviet resupply in the Somali-Ethiopian War and the US support to the Mujahadin in Afghanistan. In the India-Pakistan war of 1971, the Indians could more liberally use their air force because they had an indigenous aircraft production capability to replace losses whereas the Pakistanis were subjected to an arms embargo by the UN and had no outside logistical support to their air force. The end result was the Indian air force was able to establish air superiority and ensure a favorable outcome on the ground.

The West not only enjoys logistical superiority over Third World adversaries but also can effectively deny logistical support to these enemies. Most non-Western adversaries have limited air forces and those air forces they do have are often dependent upon outside technical support, which can vanish with the outbreak of hostilities. The end result is the United States and its Allies have enjoyed air superiority over the battlefield while at the same time have been able to pummel their adversaries' fighting forces and their resupply from the air at will. The overwhelming advantage the Allied coalition forces had over Iraqi forces in Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom was in large part due to the interdiction of supplies of food and fuel to forward-deployed Iraqi units, which immobilized them. The round the clock air interdiction campaign against railroads in North Korea supporting Communist forces in the Korean War eventually sapped the Chinese and North Korean armies of food and material. It was only in Vietnam, where the United States, under political constraints, expended its interdiction efforts on widely dispersed, easily repaired jungle road networks that its counter logistics strategy failed. Had the United States interdicted railroads coming from China to Vietnam and bombed port facilities, the ability of Gen Giap to carry on a prolonged military campaign in the south would have been in doubt.


There does appear to be a “Western Way of War.” Hanson and Davis, among others, have attempted to pinpoint unique characteristics of Western technology, culture, governmental institutions, behavior, and values of Western countries that have enabled them to exert hegemony over their non-Western adversaries through the centuries. A case can be made for each of these unique characteristics contributing to the West’s military dominance. However, at its most fundamental level, it is the West’s ability to project its power over long distances and sustain their forces once they arrive that has allowed the West to bring all the other “Western Way of War” characteristics to the enemy. Without a mastery of logistics, honed over 2,000 years of experience, the West could not have become the most powerful, preeminent military and cultural force in the world today. From the Punic Wars to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the West has shown time and again that its mastery of the logistical art and its denial of adequate logistical support to its enemies have been keys to its victories.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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© 2024 Jeff L. Patton

Published online: 07/23/2013.

Written by Jeff L. Patton. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Jeff Patton at:

About the author:
Mr. Patton graduated Texas A&M University in 1974 and was commissioned in the USAF. He holds a Master's Degree in Military History from Norwich University, 2008. While in the USAF, he flew the F-4 Phantom, OV-10 Bronco, and for the last 20 years of service, he flew the F-15 -- including combat in Desert Storm. He retired from active duty after 30 years of service as a Colonel. His last assignment was the Air Attache to the Republic of Italy. Currently, he is a civil service employee working as a civilian flight simulator instructor in the F-15 supporting the Air Force's Air Battle Manager training course at Tyndall AFB, FL.

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