Richard Burklund

Research title

Corpses in the Grass”: Strategic Culture and Combat Effectiveness in the Pacific War; A Case Study of the U.S. Seventh Infantry Division

Research summary

The purpose of this research project is to combine the American and Japanese strategic, operational, tactical, and human dimensions of the battle of Attu into an analytical narrative form. This study contains two principal elements: the first is an analytical narrative of the battle and the second is a comparison of the strategic cultures of Japan and the United States that serves as a backdrop to the battle. Strategic culture has been variously described as ‘a distinct and lasting set of beliefs and values’ about the use of military force.  These ‘habits of behavior’ are founded on some basic assumptions about potential enemies and how a nation can overcome these challenges.  The differences in human societies and cultures led to the development of definitive ideas, behaviors, approaches, and actions that each culture develops regarding the use of force.  This results in a culturally distinctive set of factors with respect to strategic culture that has been informed by that nation’s historical experience and collective memory of war as well as its geopolitical environment and its military professional ethos. In these clashes of cultures the belligerents approach conflict with confidence in their cultural supremacy and therefore in their military culture.  I intend to contest the theory that American ground forces in World War II had low combat effectiveness in comparison with their opponents. I will address the argument that the United States won World War II in general, and the war in the Pacific specifically, only through the sheer weight of firepower that they threw at the Japanese. Shortly after World War II and continuing for the next seven decades, a group of historians has trumpeted the tactical superiority of the Axis forces (particularly the German Wehrmacht) over the American army. Their contention, supported by quantitative analysis models, was that the Axis was much more competent and combat effective than its allied counterparts and that the Allies won only through the application of brute force.  These scholars have often expressed the idea that the American Army was only successful in combat because it could pit overwhelming numbers of men and weapons, and an unending stream of supplies against an exhausted enemy.  I propose to challenge this theory of Axis battlefield supremacy in a thesis exploring the performance of the Seventh U.S. Infantry Division in the Battle for Attu comparing Japanese and American leadership, discipline, unit cohesion, training, logistics, fire support, intelligence, and inter-service cooperation. The Imperial Japanese Army generally fought on the defense, a form of warfare considered by many to be stronger than the offense because the defender enjoys the advantages of fighting from prepared positions and fortifications on terrain well known to the defender. Their American opponents often found themselves attacking on unfamiliar terrain under conditions that they were not properly prepared for. Rather than accepting the premise that Allied industrial capacity and the sheer numerical superiority that it produced were the only reasons that they were able to prevail over qualitatively superior foes, I will assert that without well trained soldiers to operate them, a coherent doctrine for their employment, and talented leaders who could command the units that they were employed in, all of the immense weight of weapons and materiel produced by American industry would have been useless. Above all, the Americans demonstrated an indomitable will to win, which has been underestimated in previous studies.  Both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps believe that the will to fight is the single most important factor in war. It is the essential human factor in what is a quintessentially human endeavor. The will to fight helps determine how well a unit fights and whether it stays in the fight. Current theory on the power of will in international conflict postulates that if we can comprehend the deeply intuitive nature of volition, know its elements and apply its power then we can harness a capability greater than materiel superiority or overwhelming firepower to succeed in conflict.  Following Clausewitz’s definition that “War is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”  I will compare the nature and power of the respective Japanese and American motivations, capabilities, perseverance, determination, sacrifice, and passion to analyze their strategic cultures and combat effectiveness.


Additional information

I am retired U.S. Army officer and former senior Defense Intelligence Agency official, with extensive military operational experience which includes mission command, planning and executing combined and joint operations at the operational and tactical level, and joint special operations missions, training, and integration.
I have held a variety of command and staff positions in light infantry, military intelligence, and joint special operations forces. I served in combat operations in Panama during Operation Just Cause; with Task Force Dagger, the Joint Special Operations Task Force in combat in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, and at the Combined Forces Special Operations Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom. From 2005 to 2010, I was the Combined/Joint Task Force Commander and Senior Controller for a joint and coalition intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) task force which involved over 2000 personnel from all U.S. services and, the forces of Australia, Britain and Canada. I speak German, Spanish, and a little Japanese and have studied the martial arts and Ways of Japan for over 45 years. I hold black belt grades in judo and jujutsu. I am a graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder, Southern New Hampshire University, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and the U.S. Joint Forces Staff College.