Sea Power


The American Way of Postwar

Edited by Jason W. Warren

NYU Press, New York, 2016, 336 pages

Book Review published on: June 23, 2017

As the name of the book may imply, Drawdown: The American Way of Postwar is a comprehensive meditation on the structure of the U.S. military throughout its history. Edited by Jason W. Warren, a U.S. Army major and a U.S. Army War College assistant professor, this book is a collection of thirteen essays that cover postconflict periods in the United States from the colonial period to the present. The essay contributors are all well-established names in military scholarship and the book also includes a foreword by Peter Mansoor.

The book is arranged in chronological order, starting with two essays discussing the military in seventeenth-century New England and ending with essays discussing the post-Cold War drawdown. While the goal of the book is to examine strategic implications for the military, the majority of the writers focus primarily on the effect of drawdowns on the capability of the U.S. Army. The essays are all of relatively equal length and can be read individually, independent of the overall context of the novel.

While it would be difficult to adequately cover the diverse content of all the essays in a short book review, the authors all generally focus on the historical background and subsequent implications of military drawdowns following major conflicts. In this way, it feels more like you are reading a work of history rather than a book about policy. The diversity of the content also offers the reader a comprehensive picture of military drawdowns from both a historical and an organizational perspective.

The overall theme of the book centers on the idea of “liberty dilemma.” The liberty dilemma is the idea that the need for a strong military is often contrary to Americans’ pursuit of individual liberties. The authors argue that a deeply rooted cultural fear of the threat of a large standing military has often negatively impacted readiness in postwar periods in the United States. Although the tone of the book is overall optimistic, the reader is left with the distinct perception that the U.S. military has often been unprepared to fight the Nation’s wars. The authors are also able to offer suggestions for effective post war military personnel policies. One of the primary lessons of this book is that the best way to build an adaptive military in times of a drawdown is to focus on building a well-educated officer corps.

Drawdown is a great read for anyone interested in military history or organizational and personnel policy. Many of the historical lessons are still pertinent for anyone in the military. While this book was written while the military was still undergoing a drawdown, the topic is also just as relevant. If there is one thing the authors are able to demonstrate, it is the cyclical and ultimately inevitable nature of military drawdowns. How we prepare in the interwar periods is still a matter of choice.

Book Review written by: Capt. Drew Shepler, U.S. Army, Belgrade, Serbia