Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Program Name

Military History

Capstone Instructor

Dr. John Chappo


The following is a study of the United States military’s discarding of irregular warfare capabilities following he Vietnam War. At the expense of losing its hard-won counterinsurgency skills, the military rebuilt itself as a force only to be utilized in conventional conflicts. This paper will first examine how the American military struggled to implement counterinsurgency in Vietnam. Second, it will explore the military’s encounters with irregular warfare from 1975 to 2001. During this period, the military endeavored to avoid protracted irregular conflicts rather than maintain the skills to actually win them. Finally, this work will explore how the military’s neglect of irregular warfare competencies produced needless casualties and squandered precious time in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This study concludes that the American military consciously turned away from irregular warfare in an attempt to remake itself after the Vietnam War. Research has revealed that the military considered counterinsurgency outside of its “proper” missions. This work explores why the military chose this path and its adverse ramifications on irregular warfare capabilities. Furthermore, the military continued to neglect counterinsurgency despite shortcomings evident in irregular conflicts leading up to the Iraq War. The analysis of the post-Vietnam military’s dogged determination to avoid rather than prepare for protracted irregular warfare makes this a unique work that fills a historical gap.



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