American Military History: From Colonials to Counterinsurgents

Course No. 8706
General Wesley K. Clark, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe
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Course No. 8706
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  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. While the video version can be considered lightly illustrated, it includes illustrations, paintings, photographs, video footage, and map to cover the time period, events, and battles being described, as well as on-screen text, which may help reinforce material for visual learners.
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What Will You Learn?

  • Explore America's major conflicts going back to the colonial era.
  • Meet the notable commanders on both sides and investigate their strategies and tactics.
  • Hear Gen. Clark's insights into the principles of warfare and his personal experiences in war.

Course Overview

First in his class at West Point, Wesley Clark took enemy fire while leading an Army patrol during the Vietnam War and was evacuated from the battlefield on a stretcher. But his career did not end with a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. It was only the beginning of a lifelong campaign that culminated as Supreme Allied Commander Europe—and a surgical military victory in Kosovo.

A Rhodes Scholar and thinking man’s officer, Gen. Clark came to master all the tactics, strategy, and historical lore of the U.S. military, the world’s greatest fighting force. In American Military History: From Colonials to Counterinsurgents, he explores the full scope of the nation’s armed conflicts, from the French and Indian War in the mid-18th century to the Global War on Terrorism in the 21st, covering more than 200 years of American diplomacy and warfare. These 24 absorbing half-hour lectures chart the remarkable growth of the United States into the most powerful nation on Earth, thanks in large part to its talent for rising to the occasion when called to war.

He retraces the footsteps of some of his most storied predecessors in uniform—men such as Winfield Scott, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, Creighton Abrams, Norman Schwartzkopf, and others—through tragedy and triumph; on the road to war, and the winding path to peace.

And Gen. Clark culls important lessons—along with his own wisdom—from history-changing conflicts that nations and their leaders have found so easy to start and so difficult to conclude. In just one of many examples, he reveals the importance of learning from experience through the story of one of the nation’s founding fathers, George Washington, who nearly lost the Revolutionary War before learning how to win it.

The United States won its independence by defeating the British Empire, settled the issue of slavery by fighting the Civil War, and became a superpower by emerging victorious from World War II. Military campaigns have played a crucial role in defining the United States and its place in the world. America may not have won all its wars, but its military history provides a powerful lesson in the causes that motivate its leaders and citizens. And the study of that history underscores the qualities that it takes to prevail on the battlefield, including experienced officers, trained and disciplined soldiers, equipment, logistics, and, above all, a strategic vision.

Paths to Victory

In American Military History, you study warfare the way it’s taught at the United States Military Academy, where Clark was first in his class. Every war, every campaign, every battle is a veritable textbook on possible paths to victory or defeat, among them:

  • Surprise: The time to strike is when an opposing force is separated, distracted, and disorganized due to crossing an obstacle such as a river. This is exactly what happened to British Gen. Edward Braddock’s troops while fording the Monongahela River during the French and Indian War—a lesson not lost on his young aide-de-camp, Lt. Col. George Washington.
  • Strategy: The Union’s rapid conquest of Fort Donelson during the Civil War showed poor strategy by the Confederates, who lacked a coherent picture of the theater of operations, and it demonstrated superb strategic thinking by the Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant. More than any other general at the time, Grant saw the big picture of the war and how to win it—which he did.
  • Simplicity: “In war, there are two kinds of plans,” says Gen. Clark, “those that might work and those that won’t work. You want to pick a plan that might work and then make it work.” In the Battle of Midway during World War II, the Japanese navy had ambitious, multiple objectives, split its forces, and then was ambushed by the U.S. fleet, suffering a crushing defeat.
  • Speed: The U.S. armed forces took rapid assault to a new level in the operation to restore order to Panama in 1989–1990, pursuing multiple simultaneous attacks. One aim was to finish the fight before outside pressure could hamper the operation’s successful conclusion. Speed and overwhelming force have become hallmarks of U.S. military doctrine.
  • Clarity: Officers are taught from their earliest training to avoid giving ambiguous orders. In the Spanish-American War, President William McKinley’s directive to “reduce Spanish power” and introduce “order and security” in the Philippines, without specifying how, threw a political problem into the laps of the commanders on the scene, with unfortunate results.
  • Creativity: In the last lecture, Gen. Clark speculates that “no field of human endeavor sparks as much creativity as warfare.” This is evident in any protracted conflict, which sees new tactics followed by counter-tactics, novel technologies and weapons followed by countermeasures. The watchword among Clark’s fellow officers was, “The enemy has a vote on what works.”

War from the Inside

While any survey of American history covers its wars, this course looks at war from the inside, through the eyes of a soldier who has studied it, lived it, taught it. Among the personal experiences that Gen. Clark relates as he guides you through three centuries of conflict are:

  • Fighting insurgents: In 1969–1970, Clark was an army captain in Vietnam during Gen. Creighton Abrams’ implementation of a new strategy to defeat North Vietnamese guerillas. Before he was wounded in action, Capt. Clark saw firsthand the promise of this new approach, which was later abandoned in the politically driven drawdown of American troops.
  • Words to live by: In 1976, Clark was a White House Fellow having dinner with Israeli Prime Minister and former Gen. Yitzhak Rabin. He asked Rabin the most important advice he had for a young officer. “Persistence is what wins,” came the answer, and Rabin related a critical battle he fought where persistence won the day when all seemed lost.
  • Wars are hard to stop: Once bloodshed starts, wars have a terrible momentum. While negotiating the Bosnia Peace Agreement in 1995, U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke insisted, “The most important thing is to stop the killing.” Gen. Clark was the military leader working with Holbrooke’s diplomacy and later commanded NATO forces charged with curbing ethnic cleansing in the region.

Gen. Clark shows how these lessons resonate with past conflicts: with the insurgency that American troops faced in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War; with Gen. Zachary Taylor’s tenacious defense against an overwhelming assault at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican-American War; and with “the shot heard ‘round the world,” which drew the first blood in the American Revolution. “Forces can maneuver, they can deploy, they can threaten, and feint,” says Gen. Clark. “But once the killing starts, passions are aroused, and the stakes expand.”

Available in both video and audio formats, American Military History is especially rewarding in its video version, which has extensive historical engravings, photographs, film clips, and maps, including animated diagrams showing the tactical moves during famous battles. The scores of examples include:

  • Andrew Jackson’s defense of New Orleans
  • Winfield Scott’s Mexico City campaign
  • Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Vicksburg
  • George S. Patton’s counterattack during the Battle of the Bulge
  • Douglas MacArthur’s surprise landing at Inchon
  • Norman Schwarzkopf’s Operation Desert Storm

Those who choose the audio format can consult the plentiful maps and other graphics printed in the accompanying course guidebook.

Hallowed Traditions

Throughout American Military History, you witness large conflicts, small wars of necessity, and wars of choice, actions on America’s shores and far away—on land, sea, and in the air. You learn that certain traditions trace to the country’s earliest years. Among these are the citizen soldier and the principle of civilian control, established by George Washington. Another is a professional officer corps, trained at military academies open to all on a merit basis. When Wesley Clark arrived at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1962, his entering class received an address by retired Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who extolled the three hallowed words in the academy’s motto—Duty, Honor, Country—and reminded the future warriors, “There is no substitute for victory.”

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24 lectures
 |  Average 28 minutes each
  • 1
    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. x
  • 2
    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. x
  • 3
    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. x
  • 4
    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. x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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. x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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. x
  • 9
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x

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Your professor

Wesley K. Clark

About Your Professor

Wesley K. Clark, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe
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,...
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Reviews

American Military History: From Colonials to Counterinsurgents is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 49.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good survey course I agree with many of the prior reviews - this is a survey course taught by a non-academic lecturer. General Clark is neither a professional historian nor a college professor, but a career Army officer, now retired. His delivery of the material, overall, is good enough, but not great. General Clark does, at times, offer too many personal vignettes, but as a career Army officer with 35 years military service and experience, it is hard to fault him and his presentation. General Clark, then a captain, was seriously wounded in Vietnam and he did suffer permanent injuries. He could have accepted military retirement due to his extensive combat injuries, but choose not to do so. General Clark had a near stellar career as an Army officer; he was universally regarded as one of the smartest officers to ever wear the uniform. In reforming the National Training Center and preparing armor-mechanized infantry forces for deployment to Kuwait and then into the first Gulf War, he was superb. As a military officer, he was great; as a military-diplomat, he was so-so. As General Clark ruefully remarks, he sometimes failed to understand or see the intrigue and the duplicity that surrounded the Clinton White House in the run-up to the Kosovo campaign. Despite his best efforts, Clark simply didn't "gee-haw" with the Clinton team. He was pushed into early retirement (one year ahead of schedule) by Clinton's Sec Def, William Cohen. At any rate, the overall presentation is very worthwhile at the introductory level. It is not intended to be an advanced level course, but a survey course. The use of visuals and graphics is very good. I found the course to be an interesting review of my prior military history studies.
Date published: 2018-11-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Expected More Given the expertise of the "professor", I expected some deeper insights or broad themes to be developed. This is really a superficial overview of American military operations. If you are a military history buff this is not for you. This is for someone wanting basic knowledge.
Date published: 2018-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Military History This is a very well researched nd presented series. It was presented in detail so the viewer understood the history of the conflicts covered without an abundance of unnecessary filler. Having Gen Clark as the presenter was very good s he is very knowledgeable about this area of study. I am very happy that I bought this course and highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in military history.
Date published: 2018-10-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well done Interesting, but could use more illustrations. Covers a great deal of information.
Date published: 2018-10-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A decent history lesson This course is a fairly good overview of American military history but I was expecting more from General Wesley Clark. I thought that there would be more insights from a man with such great experience in the military. I am a very amateur historian and I didn't really learn much new about American military history other than the names of various lesser known commanders. Perhaps I was expecting too much.
Date published: 2018-08-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from TOO MANY BATTLES, TOO LITTLE GEOPOLITICS There is a good review by “Engineerin VA” that says much of what I want to say about this course, so I won’t repeat his comments here. This course was a disappointment for two main reasons. One is that General Clark is a poor lecturer and difficult to listen to. I thought I had heard the worst Teaching Company lecturer when I recently finished Douglas Linder’s course on great trials of history, but Wesley Clark is equally bad. He sounds like he is reading the lectures and that he hasn’t even practiced them beforehand. The delivery is stilted and irregular with frequent misplaced emphasis. I had come to expect polished and fluid speakers from The Teaching Company, and for years that was what it delivered. I get the sense that newer courses such as Linder’s and Clark’s were produced for the unusual and interesting nature of their topics and the narrow expertise of the teachers but with little regard for the teachers’ skill as speakers. The other reason for my disappointment was that most of the lectures were simply a rehash of battles with little or no discussion of the big picture. It was not until the discussion of the Korean War that he began to sketch out the big geopolitical issues involved. I found that much more interesting than troop movements, which consumed almost every moment up to that point. The discussion of Vietnam left me puzzled. At the end of his second lecture on the war, one would think we had won it. At the beginning of the next lecture he briefly informs us that it was the politicians who abandoned the South Vietnamese to their fate. His lectures are sprinkled with little irrelevant anecdotes about his own military service. General Clark is a respected military leader, and perhaps he is entitled to a little bragging, but the stories have nothing to do with the topic at hand. He mentions that one of the first engagements of WWI was at Mons, Belgium, “near the same chateau I would occupy 80 years later as Supreme Allied Commander.” The discussion of Vietnam includes the activities of his small unit when he was a captain, but this had no relevance to the big picture. And I have no idea what he was trying to convey in discussing the theories about the Angel of Mons slowing a German advance. He does remind us that he launched a very short-lived campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. These little asides sound like something a candidate would sprinkle into his campaign speeches to humanize him and remind us of his sterling military service. In this course they seem out of place. If you want to learn in depth about the American Revolution or the Civil War, go to the courses by Allan Guelzo and Gary Gallagher on those subjects. They provide much more detail, and they are far better lecturers.
Date published: 2018-08-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice history of US miltary The narrator is General Wes Clark. I really liked his story telling style. He makes the information interesting and easy to listen to. I learned a number of things I previously did not know about our military's history.
Date published: 2018-08-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing This is an important subject for me, as is political science. The two go hand in hand in history. Clark is a great source of information, but in my opinion he required a co-author here. Someone who could add more structure.
Date published: 2018-07-05
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