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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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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Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 304-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 304-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos and illustrations
  • Suggested reading
  • Questions to consider

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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 4.1 out of 5 by 71.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Excellent survey course by an American hero. Great use of media to supplement lectures.
Date published: 2019-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from SHOWS THAT HISTORY REPEATS I am retired U.S. Navy, and was in some of these actions. This course shows that history repeats itself, and that our government (civilian leaders, advisers, and experts) never learns from its past mistakes when deploying the military to solve a problem without giving the military a clear idea as to what the government thinks it whats done. This includes what they want done once the fighting stops because we are not there for nation building/rebuilding, police work, social stability, or to make people accept democracy. As usual, our leaders don't have a real clear picture of these "liberated people" as to what makes them the way they are and what drives their society, especially when it come to dealing with tribal and religious values. Looking back at the actions covered we see that some of our problems come from political and military rivalries, personal rivalries, and inter-service rivalries. We can also see that the government may have "the big picture" on an event, may want a decisive outcome on the event, but either do not give the military a clear picture of what they want, or are worrying about what the world body and media will think about their actions. This usually leads to the military being saddled with obscene "rules of engagement" that put real military people, not "boots on the ground", in danger. The best chapter in this course is Chapter 24 - Facing Wars Past and Future. Basically, if you want us to fight, let us fight; if you want us to win, tell us clearly what the goal is; and if you want nation building and social change, you need to understand what the man or woman in the street needs to rebuild their life. Nation building and social change are things the government needs to do, not the military. And finally, DIPLOMACY IS A MUST and the military show never be used just because its there and we got bored with talking.
Date published: 2019-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unique and Interesting! More than a military scholar, General Clark has combat experience and working knowledge of military operations, which made this course so unique and so interesting. To see him as a normal faculty like many others in many universities seems to force him to lie in the Procrustean bed, which might be unfair to him. I wish Teaching Company could produce more courses like this one by a great figure outside of the regular academic world.
Date published: 2019-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rally the flag General Clark presents military in a thorough fact based manner with detailed graphics and in depth dialogue.
Date published: 2019-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and Compelling I am not a fan of military history but I felt I needed this course to complement my knowledge of American history. I am glad I selected it as General Clark does a great job of walking us through the nation's military conflicts and the political circumstances that led to them. Excellent video presentation and graphics.
Date published: 2019-05-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I was disappointed in the lack of analysis. It seemed to be a simple recitation of what took place without an explanation of tactics, reasons that made the battle successful or unsuccessful, what were the situational limitations that affected outcomes, etc., etc.
Date published: 2019-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a great overview of the topic. I hesitated to order this but am very glad that i did. It is a great overview of the topic without bogging down in details. Highly reccommend if you like US history, particularly military history. General Clark not only talks the talk, he has walked the walk. I was particularly glad to hear his comments on Gulf War 2. I have often thought that very little thought if any was given to the the peace. A great deal of thought on how to win. But what about later. We allowed the Iraqi infrastructure to fall a part. A very bad move time has shown. As far as other wars he gave a view in someplaces that i have never heard before. Educational indeed.
Date published: 2019-04-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Glosses over a lot of history. Instructor breezes through the subject matter and rarely delves deeply into the subject. You have a feeling he is in a hurry to finish each lesson without having to take the time to fully explore the subject matter. Kind of leaves you wanting more.
Date published: 2019-04-17
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