Why the U.S. Military Forgets What It Learns in War

Wars are expensive and relatively rare, and so states have strong incentives to learn from war and improve their military performance over time. And yet, even in highly capable great power militaries, the lessons of previous wars are routinely lost. Why do militaries forget what they learn in war? Examining evidence from three cases across the American experiences in Vietnam and Iraq, this project explores the role of in organizational survival in post-war learning. By destroying the specific sub-organizations which learn in war (such as joint task forces and ad hoc units), the demobilization and post-war retooling process damages organizational memory and explains why some lessons are maintained but not others.

Dr Jonathan Askonas is an Assistant Professor of Politics at the Catholic University of America, and a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship. He works on the connections between political economy, technology, and national security. He has a BS in International Politics from Georgetown University and a MPhil and DPhil in International Relations from Oxford. He has worked at the Council on Foreign Relations, US Embassy in Moscow, and the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin, and his writing has appeared in War on the Rocks, Texas National Security Review, The Strategy Bridge, the Russian Analytical Digest, and Joint Forces Quarterly. In addition to a completed manuscript on post-war military forgetting, he writing a history of the Asymmetric Warfare Group for the U.S. Army.