American Military History: From Colonials to Counterinsurgents
Gen. Wesley Clark, decorated Vietnam veteran and former NATO commander, analyzes America’s greatest battles—including his own.
Wesley K. Clark rose to the rank of four-star general during 38 years of military service. He graduated first in his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar to study at Oxford University, where he earned his M.A. in Economics.
As a young officer in Vietnam, Gen. Clark commanded an infantry company and suffered severe wounds in combat. He later commanded at the battalion, brigade, and division levels, including the famed 1st Cavalry Division. He was also Director for Strategic Plans and Policy on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, working with U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke to negotiate an end to the conflict in Bosnia.
Gen. Clark’s military career culminated as NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, during which he led combined forces to victory in Operation Allied Force, protecting Kosovo Albanians from ethnic cleansing. His awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Defense Distinguished Service Medal (five times), U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal (twice), Silver Star, Bronze Star (twice), and Purple Heart.
Since retiring from the Army, Gen. Clark has authored four books, including Winning Modern Wars, Waging Modern War, and A Time to Lead. He ran for U.S. President in the 2004 Democratic primary campaign, winning the Oklahoma primary before withdrawing.
01: America: Forged in War
Gen. Clark begins the course by plunging you into combat with a 25-year-old Army captain in Vietnam in 1970. He was that captain. He then turns back the clock to one of the formative conflicts in American military history, the French and Indian War of the mid 1700s, focusing on the experiences of a young colonial officer fighting for the British: Lt. Col. George Washington.
02: George Washington Takes Command
The French and Indian War helped unite Britain’s North American colonies. When the colonies began their struggle for independence, they chose their greatest war hero, George Washington, to lead the army. Analyze Washington’s brilliant defense of Boston and his disastrous defeat trying to hold New York City. Contrast British and American objectives in the Revolutionary War.
03: Redcoats Fall to the Continental Army
Pick up the story of the American Revolution with Washington’s army in dire straits and his command in question. He revived his reputation with the famous crossing of the Delaware River to defeat the British at the Battle of Trenton. Follow the next four years of the revolution, which saw Britain’s strategic advantage deteriorate, ending with their surrender at Yorktown in 1781.
04: Andrew Jackson and the War of 1812
Historians still debate why the United States chose to fight Britain in the War of 1812, which lasted until 1815. Survey America’s grievances and ambitions, which included conquest of Canada. Study the poor strategy, command, and training that led to a strategic stalemate. The exception is the one military genius who emerged from the war: Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans.
05: The Mexican-American War of 1846–1848
The continental U.S. reached its present span due to the Mexican-American War, which also served as a proving ground for future commanders on both sides of the Civil War. Explore the superb strategy and tactics of generals Zachary Taylor (later elected president) and Winfield Scott. Both showed what disciplined and bold maneuvers conducted by a professional army could accomplish.
06: Opening Volleys of the Civil War: 1861–1862
The Civil War set the pattern for warfare in the 20th and 21st centuries—in scale, consequences, and slaughter. Cover the political events leading up to the war, the strategy devised by the Union’s initial commanding general, Winfield Scott, the chaotic First Battle of Bull Run, and developments in the western theater, which saw the emergence of a remarkable leader, Ulysses S. Grant.
07: The Civil War’s Main Front: 1862
Trace the ebb and flow of battle in the eastern theater, as President Lincoln promoted and fired a succession of top commanders, including Gen. George McClellan. The South, too, faced instability in the top ranks, until Robert E. Lee emerged as the Rebel army’s preeminent leader, in concert with his chief lieutenant, Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson. Follow events through the bloody Battle of Antietam.
08: Vicksburg to Gettysburg: 1862–1863
In the summer of 1863, the Civil War reached a climax on two fronts. Study the brilliant generalship of Grant in isolating and defeating the Confederate force defending the Mississippi River fortress of Vicksburg, cutting the South in two. Then dissect Gen. George Meade’s tactics that halted Lee’s daring invasion of the North in a three-day battle in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
09: Chattanooga to Appomattox: 1863–1865
Gen. Clark narrates the dramatic endgame of the Civil War, in which Gen. William T. Sherman outmaneuvered Confederate forces in the west to take Atlanta, then marched to the sea; while Grant fought Lee across a broad swath of Virginia, finally cornering him at Appomattox, where Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. Review the murderous toll of this, the world’s first modern war.
10: The Spanish-American War of 1898
A generation after the Civil War, America fought a major war with Spain over its misrule of Spanish colonies, including Cuba and the Philippines. Investigate such famous battles as the naval action at Manila Bay and the Rough Riders’ assault up San Juan Heights. Also look at the insurgency that frustrated American peace efforts—a problem that resurfaced years later in Vietnam and the Middle East.
11: American Expeditionary Forces: 1917–1918
Survey World War I, which drastically upped the material and human cost of war. Study the causes of the conflict, the rival alliances, and the failure of Germany’s opening gambit, leading to ruinous trench warfare. Then trace America’s belated entry into the war and its unprecedented mobilization. Learn how Gen. John J. Pershing was chosen to command the American Expeditionary Force.
12: John J. Pershing, the Doughboys, and France
America joined the fight against Germany at the height of the enemy’s last make-or-break offensive. U.S. commanders faced a steep learning curve, initially using tactics that were unsuited to the new style of mechanized warfare. Discover the hard-won lessons that allowed the Yanks—affectionately known as doughboys—to break the stalemate, driving Germany to accept an armistice on November 11, 1918.
13: From Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway
Two decades after World War I, Germany was ready to fight again, supported by Japan and Italy. Focus on America’s preparations for war and its reaction to Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, followed by Germany’s declaration of war against the U.S. See how the U.S. Navy halted Japanese expansion in the Pacific, fighting crucial battles in the Coral Sea and off Midway Island.
14: War in North Africa and the South Pacific
Consider U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s strategic dilemma in simultaneously fighting Germany and Japan. Weigh the competing views of Army Chief of Staff George Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations Ernest King, along with the views of Allied leaders Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Learn why the North Africa campaign was so vital, and spotlight continuing actions in the South Pacific.
15: Air Power over Germany; Toward Japan by Sea
Air power achieved strategic importance in World War II. Compare American and British bombing strategies against Germany. Also follow the Allied land offensive from North Africa to Sicily to the Italian peninsula. Then cover America’s island-hopping campaign in the Pacific and the momentous Battle of the Philippine Sea, which defeated Japan’s attempted naval comeback, crippling its carrier force.
16: From Normandy to Berlin and Tokyo
Go ashore on D-Day with the largest amphibious operation in history, tracking the Allied invasion through its breakout from the beachhead and reversals such as the Battle of the Bulge. After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, follow Pacific troops to the brink of a planned invasion of Japan. Then examine the B-29 bombing campaign, which culminated in the dropping of two atomic bombs, ending the war.
17: Korea and the Cold War
The U.S. emerged from World War II as the most powerful nation on Earth. That status was challenged by the Soviet Union, which pushed the spread of its communist ideology. The two rival systems clashed in Korea in a war that was vicious and inconclusive. Focus on America’s part in this opening shot of the Cold War and the controversial role of the U.S. commander in Korea, Douglas MacArthur.
18: The United States Enters Vietnam
Gen. Clark introduces the war that was his own baptism of fire, Vietnam, where he served as a young officer after graduating from West Point. In this lecture, he covers the background of the war, charting how America was drawn deeper and deeper into the conflict, and discusses Gen. William Westmoreland’s initial American strategy, which proved ineffective for dealing with an insurgency.
19: Elusive Victory in Southeast Asia
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the new approach to winning the war in Vietnam, instituted after Gen. Creighton Abrams took over in 1968. This was the war fought by your lecturer during his tour of duty. Gen. Clark describes in vivid detail the firefight that abruptly ended that tour, and he gives a sober evaluation of how the disastrous end of the war might have been averted....
20: American Forces in Grenada and Panama
Explore the American military’s struggle to overcome the loss of confidence known as “Vietnam syndrome,” which was especially worrisome due to the Soviet military buildup at the time. Highlight two operations that demonstrated renewed vitality: the U.S. invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989–1990. Both restored democratic rule amid worsening political turmoil.
21: Knocking Iraq Out of Kuwait
Continue your study of America’s rebuild of its war-fighting capability in the 1980s. Then see how this expertise was put to use in 1991 to eject Iraq from Kuwait, which it had invaded the previous year. With Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf in command, U.S. and coalition forces executed a classic envelopment of the Iraqi army, in the process fighting the largest armored engagement in military history.
22: Balkan Wars: Bosnia and Kosovo
Now hear directly from the commander of a major military operation. Gen. Clark himself was head of NATO forces during the Kosovo War of 1998–1999, directing a 78-day bombing offensive that defeated an attempted Yugoslav takeover of newly independent Kosovo. In a conflict rife with ethnic and international tensions, Gen. Clark applied strategic lessons you’ve learned in the course.
23: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Terrorism
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 sparked a U.S. military response like no other, combining overwhelming air power against the terrorist regime in Afghanistan, along with special forces and allied units on the ground. Also chart the 2003 invasion of Iraq, another success in regime change. Unfortunately, initial victory in both cases evolved into a no-win struggle with insurgents.
24: Facing Wars Past and Future
Probe why U.S. troops faced endless low-level warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq. For perspective, review the lessons of American military history, from the young nation’s own guerilla movement during the Revolution to today’s era of push-button war. Then look ahead at America’s challenge for staying preeminent in military technology. Gen. Clark closes with lessons from his lifetime of service.