American Way of War/New England Way of War - Enduring Legacies of the Puritan Militia in the American Military Construct
CitationHencke, David. 2018. American Way of War/New England Way of War - Enduring Legacies of the Puritan Militia in the American Military Construct. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractLong since Jonathan Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” address to the Puritan colonists departing for the Massachusetts Bay Colony many Americans remain adamant in their conviction that the United States has a pre-ordained purpose to fulfill in the global community. While struggling at times to define the sense of identity that drives them, particularly so in the early decades of the twenty-first century, Americans have found a sense of continuity and tradition in their armed forces. It is striking to note that today’s American military leaders believe that certain virtues in the American legacy are an effective weapon in the effort to counter radical ideologies and defeat those who are oppositional to and pose a threat to the basic values of the American Way (democracy, rule of law, religious freedoms, industriousness and a potent sense of public virtue). This declaration in ensconced in recent Army doctrine implies that the United States has a definable past and enduring identity that has a tangible effect on the manner in which America applies its combat power to achieve national objectives.
Of all of Britain’s North American colonies, those with the most clearly developed sense of identity were the residents of New England. For many years, the only military force Americans knew was the Old English militia system. Indeed, until the advent of the Puritan New Model Army, even Britain itself had no professional standing army (which Parliament insisted was a sign of Crown oppression). Consequently, much of America’s earliest sense of self-identity was rooted in the faith practices and belief systems of the earliest Separatist and Puritan founders of both the Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay colonies. It was a consequence of these belief systems that led directly to the American Revolution and the establishment of independent United States. While Puritanism encompassed a number of distinct theological and sociological beliefs and practices, prima facie, warfighting was not one of their hallmark characteristics. Indeed, the result of early modern Protestant enlightenment thought, theirs was a contemplative, community driven movement with ministers who were thoroughly educated in the best scholarly institutions of the day (as indicated by the early establishment of several Puritan institutions of higher learning including Harvard, Princeton and Yale universities). However, their emphasis on certain biblical themes, including those which identified all believers as “warriors,” combined with their new- world experience served as the catalyst for what was to become an essential part of the American way of war.
Just as prominent historians have highlighted certain enduring cultural and material links with America’s British colonial past, so too can the hallmark characteristics of Puritanism be found in America’s national institutions, perhaps most evident in the customs and traditions of America’s senior service, the United States Army. As a relatively “new” entity among the nations of the world with few long-standing traditional institutions, many Americans may find a particularly sense of identity in the Army and their military forces in general. The unique circumstances of the founding and on-going service of the one-time Massachusetts Bay Colony Militia - now the “Massachusetts Army and Air National Guard” - serve as a national touchstone for the American military identity.
Certain elements of the mindset of their founders, apparent in the literal and spiritual descendants of the Puritans, have endured in the national psyche and are evident in the way Americans view the world and apply their military power today. To be certain, most substantial world military organizations also find their identity in a historical context. However, because the United States is uniquely influenced by its Puritan past, so too is its military. While America has been influenced and strengthened by many great faith traditions (and healthy skepticism as well), the positive contributions of its Puritan past give it a distinct world outlook of which Americans of all backgrounds partake in some degree. Some contemporary sociologists and historians tend to disregard or denigrate the nature of its national origins and founding; regardless, America today is yet closely aligned with and shares many of the same global purposes and threats as her parent nation, Great Britain. Strategists and policy makers debate the degree to which the US military should be employed as either a warfighting combat force or as a tool for nation building and dissemination of the ideology known as the American Way. Regardless of perspective, the critical elements of the Puritan mindset have persisted and have combined to create an “American Way/New England Way” of warfare that significantly contributes to the unique place in the world that America maintains.
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