Reducing Duplication and Overlap: The Process of Military Unification in the Second World War and After

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:20 AM
Room 401 (Colorado Convention Center)
Allyson Gates, Florida State University
The Second World War brought immense changes to the American military system. In Washington, D. C., the war spurred the unification of the military branches -- the Army, Navy, and, after 1947, the Air Force -- into one department, the Department of Defense, headed by the a civilian, cabinet-level Secretary of Defense. Since its creation in 1949, the Defense Secretary’s influence has increased immeasurably, although the original goals of unifying the branches and reducing duplication and overlap have yet to be solved satisfactorily, as evidenced by such articles as Walter Pincus’ 9 November 2015 “Senate Armed Services Committee tackles interservice rivalries--finally” in the Washington Post. To better understand how best to move forward in current discussions of reduction and joint deployments, it is important to grasp the origins of the movement in the shadow of the Second World War.

By late 1943, military and political strategists had already begun looking forward to the postwar period. Key military leaders including George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower, recognizing problems in interservice communications and the duplication resulting from this -- highlighted in the catastrophe at Pearl Harbor and the division of the Pacific theater between the Army and Navy -- decided to move toward a unified military leadership. Not all the services or their leaders agreed with this proposition, leading to years, and decades, of political squabbling. In the final year of the war, these issues caused increased divisions on the battlefronts of the Pacific theater. In the War’s aftermath, the squabbling became more politicized, leading to such protests as the Revolt of the Admirals. This paper will investigate political aspects of the first decade of military unification, arguing that the military services used Congress as the battleground for a publicly heated struggle for power.