Throughout U.S. history, the American military services have had an unfortunate penchant for not being ready for the next war. Part of the problem has had to do with factors beyond their control: the American policy has been notoriously slow to respond to the challenges posed by dangerous enemies. On the other hand, American military institutions have been surprisingly optimistic in weighing their preparedness as they embarked on the nation's wars. The first battles involving American military forces hardly give reason for optimism. The initial defeats in the War of 1812, Bull Run, Belleau Woods, Savo Island, Kasserine Pass, Task Force Smith, and Landing Zone Albany hardly suggest unalloyed success by America's military in preparing for the next war. Admittedly, in each of its major wars the United States did enjoy the luxury of time to repair the deficiencies that showed up so glaringly in the country's first battles. Unfortunately, in the 21st century the United States may not have that luxury of time. Whatever approaches the American military take to innovation, war will occur. And it will provide a harsh audit. Almost certainly the next war will take the United States by surprise. U.S. military institutions may well have prepared for some other form of warfare, in some other location. To paraphrase Omar Bradley: it may well be the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But there it will be, and the American military will have to fight that conflict on its terms rather than their own. Unfortunately, military history is replete with examples of military institutions that have refused to adapt to the real conditions of war, but rather have attempted to impose their own paradigm--no matter how irrelevant or ill-suited to the actual conditions.
If we cannot predict where the next war will occur or what form it will take, there are some things for which the American military can prepare as they enter the next millennium. Obviously, the services have to prepare the physical condition and training of soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen. But equally important, they must prepare the minds of the next generation of military leaders to handle the challenges of the battlefield. And that mental preparation will be more important than all the technological wizardry U.S. forces can bring to bear in combat. Most important in that intellectual preparation must be a recognition of what will not change: the fundamental nature of war, the fact that fog, friction, ambiguity, and uncertainty will dominate the battlefields of the future just as they have those of the past.