America's All Volunteer Army after Vietnam to the Present Day
- LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2021
- LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0101
- LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2021
- LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0101
As distance in time grows between an event and the present, students, scholars, historians, researchers, and journalists can examine such events in the larger context of history and with greater access to primary sources. This access allows scholars to write a new narrative or even the initial narrative of a specific historical period, which is the case of the increasing number of resources that emerged between the end of the Vietnam War, the demise of the draftee army, and the early months of Joseph R. Biden’s presidential administration. However, individuals will note the large number of books published by official historians working for the US Army, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Center of Military History. These official histories are imperative to telling the entire story of an operation or Army reform and transformation because they present an institutional perspective constructed on firm foundations of primary sources, after-action reports, and interviews. Many journalist and first-person accounts provide balance to the official narratives and also give a more “human” sense to war, conflict, and society without necessarily a focus on the military jargon and policy. Researchers should also be aware of the challenges in discussing the US Army in isolation. The passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (Public Law 99–433) required close cooperation among all services, causing historians to find it almost impossible to write of the US Army in the post–Cold War era, without regard to the US Marines, US Navy, US Air Force, US Coast Guard, and other governmental agencies. In the late 20th century and into the 21st century, the US Army increasingly worked as part of a coalition of military organizations from other nations. Therefore, while the focus of this article is the US Army, researchers should be alert to the inclusion of resources that address the broader military, political, and global environment. Finally, the post-Vietnam army gave way to the beginning of and continual evolution of the professional US Army. Its organization and culture are fundamentally different from that of the conscription military, and students should be aware of these differences and recognize the transformational process that continues to take place into the 21st century.
General Overviews and Context
As the amount of literature and academic studies on Vietnam continues to increase, the post-Vietnam and especially the post–Cold War eras are gaining more traction in historical analysis as scholars are constructing the narrative of those periods and events that carry into the 21st century. Patterson 2007 is the best scholarly treatment of this era, while one of the most recent and complete general history of the US Army is Stewart 2010. Brown 2011 examines the US Army’s transformation after the Cold War and into the 21st century from the perspective of the service’s senior leadership. Lewis 2018 is a comprehensive study of the US military bringing the analysis from World War II through the war against ISIS. Bacevich 2016 challenges some official histories by examining the long history of US involvement in the Middle East and comprehensively examines the interventions during this period. Bailey and Immerman 2015 provides a wealth of early scholarship on the post 9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. An ever-growing asset for researchers are the digital capabilities available to access and review books and documents via the Internet. The US Army Center of Military History located at Fort McNair, Virginia, publishes official histories and holds many documents not yet retired to the National Archives and Records Administration. The US Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is the army’s primary document repository and public education facility. The library at the US Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, supports the entire service’s professional scholarly information requirements (Combined Arms Research Library). These repositories include digital access to a wide array of resources and documents.
Bacevich, Andrew J. America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. New York: Random House, 2016.
A critic of American intervention in the Middle East, Bacevich examines the US involvement in numerous conflicts in the Middle East over the last forty years. This book provides a comprehensive critical study of this time and includes sections on US operations in the Balkans, North Africa, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf. There is no bibliography, but it includes helpful detailed notes and maps.
Bailey, Beth, and Richard H. Immerman, eds. Understanding the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New York: New York University Press, 2015.
A collection of essays, this book is one of the first scholarly works to address America’s post 9–11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bailey and Immerman provide excellent background on the origins, strategies, combat, and legacies of the conflicts. For anyone studying this period the book’s glossary, timeline, and list of notable people add additional context to the entire narrative.
Brown, John Sloan. Kevlar Legions: The Transformation of the US Army, 1989–2005. Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2011.
As a former chief of military history, Brown had access to a wide range of personalities, records, and documents not available to most authors. Brown explains how 1989 and the end of the Cold War was the beginning of the Army’s most recent transformation. It contains a comprehensive list of abbreviations and an excellent bibliography.
Combined Arms Research Library (CARL). Fort Leavenworth, KS.
This organization’s website has an impressive array of digital archives, including publications from the Combat Studies Institute, old military manuals, and master’s theses and monographs from both the Command and General Staff School and the School of Advanced Military Studies. Researchers are able to create a WorldCat account to save searches and items for later use.
Lewis, Adrian R. The American Culture of War: The History of US Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. 3d ed. New York: Routledge, 2018.
A comprehensive survey of the American military from WWII through Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war against ISIS. The book contains a select bibliography, excellent notes, and is an essential resource for those studying U.S. military history.
Patterson, James T. Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush vs Gore. Oxford History of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Written by the preeminent scholar of the period, this last volume in the series, provides a readable narrative from President Richard Nixon’s resignation through the election of George W. Bush. The bibliography is topically organized and is a great resource for early stages of research.
Stewart, Richard W., ed. American Military History. Vol. 2, The United States Army in a Global Era, 1917–2008. 2d ed. Army Historical Series. Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2010.
The US Army’s official history’s second volume focuses on the Army’s involvement in conflicts around the world throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, including military and peace operations, humanitarian assistance, and nation-building. Written at the undergraduate level, the book includes maps, pictures of prominent personalities and events, and recommended readings. Chapters 12–14 cover the post-Vietnam period and ends in 2008 with the Global War on Terror.
US Army Center of Military History (CMH). Washington, DC.
The center’s website allows for digital retrieval of most of its publications and other documents, including interviews, chronologies, and staff ride information. Researchers can also access to Army History Magazine dating back to 1983.
US Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC). Carlisle, PA.
AHEC holds a wide range of resources, including private papers, audio-visual resources, interviews, manuscripts, and newspaper clippings. Lectures hosted by AHEC are available online for anyone to listen to. Finding aids for both traditional holdings and the constantly expanding digital archive collections are excellent resources.
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