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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.

American Military History: From Colonials to Counterinsurgents is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 106.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Episode 15 used Vietnam not North Africa film Showing helicopters in North Africa in WW2 is a glaring error. I’m not critical of the course, but this is an error that would be easy to fix, as its just fill. At the 3 minute mark, ep 15.
Date published: 2023-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Discussion of U,S. Military History I a retired Army Colonel and taught ROTC 1978 - 1981. This course would be a great resource for the Senior ROTC military history class. I don't believe General Clark overdid his experience in the course.
Date published: 2023-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good overview! I have a lot of books on military history, but found new facts in GEN Clark's course. I would prefer it to be 36 rather than 24 lessons.
Date published: 2022-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well presented by an articulate presenter General Wesley Clark knows the topic as defined in the title. The lectures move smoothly from beginning to end. They are free of military jargon and allow for enjoyable listening.
Date published: 2022-08-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The presentation was well-researched with lots of interesting and appropriate visual aids (photos, graphs, etc.) GEN Clark's oral presentation was well-rehearsed and his delivery was good. His personal input about various things that happened to him was a bit much, though. If he would just stick to reciting and delivering history, it would have been more effective. Overall, though, I thought the presentation was highly effective and his style more than adequate.
Date published: 2022-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Detailed The course included explanatory drawings of battles, which gave me a great insight into the Civil War and how it was fought. The details of the conflicts in the 20th century were very well presented, including political and military actions.
Date published: 2022-01-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from History of General Wesley Instructor spends WAAAAY too much time talking about himself and too little about actual American history. Covers the bases, but often through a distorted partisan view. There are much better Great Courses on U.S. history to review.
Date published: 2021-07-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Did Not Meet My Expectations I respect General Wesley Clark on multiple levels: from his knowledge of the US military and its history of armed conflicts to his vast personal achievements as a general living these wars first hand. It is clear he knows the inner workings of the US military better than just about every man or woman alive today. However, as a Great Courses lecturer something was lacking. It was hard for me to put him up there with the typical elite presenters of which The Great Courses always seem to have an unending supply. While his knowledge and personal experience brings value to this course others could not, his presentation style wasn't able to fully pull me in and engage me. I had a hard time following his points at times and at others his "lessons" seemed too simplified. In both cases I wish he would've expounded more. His narrative of the conflicts at times just didn't resonate with me. There also were times when it seemed like he was rambling, talking fast, or a bit disorganized. I'm sure he is a tremendous leader but, unfortunately, his presentation style here could've been improved on. There were exceptions: Lectures 10 (US-Spanish War), 11-12 (World War II), 17 (Korean War), 20 (Grenada and Panama), and 23 (Afghanistan and Iraq) were keepers and I am happy to retain those in my library. Otherwise if you are familiar with the topics in the other lectures I'm not sure you will gain much here. Yes, this this is a course one would suspect would dedicate lots of time on tactical battle movements but I was still hoping this would be complemented with more info on strategic aims relating to the individual battles so more sense could be made out of what at times could sound like an endless string of battles: how did they fit in to the bigger picture of the war? What were the objectives? I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t much history on how the US military evolved over time from their formations to organizational units to their weaponry. There was some of discussion in this realm but not as much as one would think from the course's title. Lectures focused on each engagement in isolation without an analysis on how the military as an entity changed over the centuries. I was pleasantly surprised to find video clips of World War I battle action...I did not know those existed! Now for the real annoying aspects of this course: the sound effects! The placement of sounds randomly in the lectures as the lecturer was talking proved highly annoying and distracting. These included: 1- The re-enactment of battle sounds in earlier lectures like yells, shots fired, and clanging while the lecturer was talking. What value did this add? Who in quality control thought a bunch of modern men yelling and simulating cannon sounds would add atmosphere or put the listener in the action? Terrible decision. 2- When the location on a map wanted to be highlighted this weird sound went off: way too loud and piercing, sounding too much like an alarm clock which caused more alarm than learning enhancement. I can't tell you how many times I jumped a little and checked my phone to see if some alarm clock setting was going off until I (begrudgingly) got used to the sound. This wasn't a bad course. I've experienced quite a few of those through the years. But try as I might I can't stand behind calling this a great one either. There are many other military and US history courses in TGC catalog that do the trick better. To the average TGC listener it is hard for me to recommend the entire course (though I do think there is value in listening to lectures 10-12, 17, 20, and 23). However, my one caveat to that would be this: those who have a military background or have followed General Clark's career may find this course very interesting (especially considering he weaves in many of his personal experiences and stories into the narratives).
Date published: 2021-07-03
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Gen. Wesley Clark explores America's armed conflicts, from the French and Indian War in the mid 18th century to the Global War on Terrorism in the 21st, covering battles such as Gettysburg, D-Day, and Operation Desert Storm. You learn military history the military way-analyzing tactics, strategy, logistics, leadership, training, and other factors that go into winning battles and ultimately wars.


Wesley K. Clark

Perhaps no field of human endeavor sparks so much creativity as warfare.


United States Military Academy, West Point

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.

By This Professor

American Military History: From Colonials to Counterinsurgents
American Military History: From Colonials to Counterinsurgents


America: Forged in War

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.

30 min
George Washington Takes Command

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.

29 min
Redcoats Fall to the Continental Army

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.

28 min
Andrew Jackson and the War of 1812

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.

28 min
The Mexican-American War of 1846–1848

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.

28 min
Opening Volleys of the Civil War: 1861–1862

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.

30 min
The Civil War’s Main Front: 1862

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.

27 min
Vicksburg to Gettysburg: 1862–1863

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.

29 min
Chattanooga to Appomattox: 1863–1865

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.

29 min
The Spanish-American War of 1898

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.

29 min
American Expeditionary Forces: 1917–1918

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.

27 min
John J. Pershing, the Doughboys, and France

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.

27 min
From Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway

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.

29 min
War in North Africa and the South Pacific

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.

30 min
Air Power over Germany; Toward Japan by Sea

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.

29 min
From Normandy to Berlin and Tokyo

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.

29 min
Korea and the Cold 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.

30 min
The United States Enters Vietnam

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.

30 min
Elusive Victory in Southeast Asia

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....

29 min
American Forces in Grenada and Panama

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.

29 min
Knocking Iraq Out of Kuwait

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.

30 min
Balkan Wars: Bosnia and Kosovo

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.

29 min
Afghanistan, Iraq, and Terrorism

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.

29 min
Facing Wars Past and Future

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.

32 min