Armies rely so much on past experiences to validate current practices that they are often regarded as inherently conservative organizations, resistant to meaningful change and innovation. Armed with doctrines and traditions developed over decades and even centuries to guide and sustain soldiers in combat, they have been understandably hesitant to adopt new, unproven methods of war without conducting extraordinarily time-consuming and detailed tests and reviews. Yet armies have often stood at the cutting edge of technological, organizational, and methodological change, for in the violent competition that marks their trade, survival has often gone to the smartest and most innovative force rather than to the largest or best armed one. Thus, however risky, innovation has over the ages, become the hallmark of successful military establishments. In the United States, the U.S. Army has a long history of innovation, from the exploits of the Lewis and Clark Expedition at the beginning of the nineteenth century to the medical and engineering advances associated with the construction of the Panama Canal begun at its end. But this particular collection of essays in A History of Innovation: U.S. Army Adaptation in War and Peace speaks to the purely military initiatives in weapons, tactics, organization, training, and other areas that directly impacted battlefield performance in the twentieth century. While many were successful, some were premature and others even failures, quickly abandoned or significantly modified after undergoing the test of combat. How Army leaders approached these innovations—how they sought to manage change—are stories well worth the telling since even those enterprises that proved problematic imparted their own lessons learned. This work then begins the important task of identifying those factors that encourage a culture of change and innovation—and those that militate against it. How much is due to institutional flexibility and how much to personal leadership are only some of the factors examined. By describing and analyzing the Army’s experiences in past innovations, these historical essays can assist today’s military leaders to become better thinkers and better innovators, making the past a servant of the future.
History, Military, United States,