Shock and Awe

From Academic Kids

According to its original theorists, Shock and Awe renders an adversary unwilling to resist through overwhelming displays of power. Frequent comparisons are made by these theorists to the effect of the .
According to its original theorists, Shock and Awe renders an adversary unwilling to resist through overwhelming displays of power. Frequent comparisons are made by these theorists to the effect of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Shock and Awe is a military doctrine which advocates attempting to destroy an adversary's will to fight through spectacular displays of power. Its authors label it a subset of Rapid Dominance, a concept of defeating an adversary by swift action against all aspects of their ability to resist, rather than strictly military forces. It is a product of the National Defense University of the United States, and has been notably applied in this country's 2003 invasion of Iraq.


Doctrine of Rapid Dominance

Rapid Dominance is defined by its authors, Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade, as attempting "to affect the will, perception, and understanding of the adversary to fit or respond to our strategic policy ends through imposing a regime of Shock and Awe."Template:Ref Further, Rapid Dominance will "impose this overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on . . . [to] seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary?s perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance at the tactical and strategic levels."Template:Ref

Introduced in a report to the United States' National Defense University in 1996, Ullman and Wade describe it as an attempt to develop a post-Cold War military doctrine for the United States. Rapid Dominance and Shock and Awe, they write, may become a "revolutionary change" as the United States military is reduced in size and information technology is increasingly integrated into warfighting.Template:Ref Subsequent United States military authors have written that Rapid Dominance capitalizes on "superior technology, precision engagement, and information dominance" which they attribute to the United States.Template:Ref

Ullman and Wade identify four vital characteristics of Rapid Dominance: "near total or absolute knowledge and understanding of self, adversary, and environment; rapidity and timeliness in application; operational brilliance in execution; and (near) total control and signature management of the entire operational environment."Template:Ref

Shock and Awe is most consistently used by Ullman and Wade as the effect which Rapid Dominance seeks to impose upon an adversary. It is the state of helplessness and lack of will sought. It can be induced, they write, by direct force applied to command and control centers, selective denial of information and dissemination of disinformation, overwhelming combat force, and rapidity of action. The development of precision guided munitions is one enabling technology for the doctrine of Rapid Dominance.

Ullman and Wade identified a number of previous events or lines of military thought which they claim relied upon inflicting shock and awe. Most cited by Ullman during the Iraq War is the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ullman and Wade hold it as a case in which "nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction" caused complete shock and capitulation.Template:Ref Rapid Dominance should seek to impose a similar though non-nuclear effect upon an adversary's psychology, they write. Concepts which they term "Overwhelming Force" and "Massive Bombardment" are noted as apparently similar to Rapid Dominance, however they argue such approaches are not time-sensitive or suitable to small forces. Ullman and Wade write that Blitzkrieg employed their concepts of brilliance, rapidity, and dominance.

Differences from AirLand Battle

Rapid Dominance differs substantially from the previous United States doctrine of AirLand Battle. Principally used in the 1991 Gulf War, AirLand Battle was introduced as the overarching doctrine of the United States Army in 1982. It is a force-on-force attrition-based method of war which advocates the destruction of its adversary's military forces. To this end, U.S. forces would concentrate all ground and air fires against an enemy's military command, logistics, and main force units throughout their depth to achieve favorable attrition.Template:Ref In contrast to AirLand Battle, Rapid Dominance targets the will of the adversary's entire society; whereas AirLand Battle identified an adversary's centers of gravity as their military concentrations, Rapid Dominance sees it as the adversary's psychological will to fight.

In the United States Army's Field Manual 1 of 2001, the concepts of Shock and Awe are visible. "The goal of future Army operations will be to simultaneously attack critical targets throughout the area of operations by rapid maneuver and precision fires to break the adversary's will and compel him to surrender," it reads.Template:Ref

This lightning-fast, highly efficient type of war, where hundreds of targets are destroyed in the first minutes, is based on a new doctrine: Network-centric warfare. Using technological advancements brought by the Digital Revolution, revolutionary capabilities are possible, which the commanders in the 1991 Iraq War could only dream of.

Shock and Awe vs. Terrorism

American supporters of Shock and Awe claim that unlike Terrorism, Shock and Awe does not deliberately target civilians although civilians could be killed. Critics however, point to the difficulty in reducing civilian casualties while bombing locations with high civilian population density.


Shock and Awe met significant criticism from both military and civilian sectors. United States theorists had criticized its assumptions of total information awareness, unmatched technology, and assumptions of symmetric warfare.

In coverage by the mass media prior to the United States' invasion of Iraq, "Shock and Awe" was often used to mean an indiscriminate "Doomsday" or terror aerial bombardment.Template:Ref Critics of the war compared the plans of the United States to the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War,Template:Ref and termed such plans as savagery.Template:Ref The United States armed forces had said that targets, munitions and attack times were chosen to minimize civilian casualties.Template:Ref

Shock and awe style warfare also seems to be less effective against an extended insurgency than it is against an enemy's military.

U.S.-Iraq War

  image showing effects of Coalition  in ,  .
NASA Landsat 7 image showing effects of Coalition bombing in Baghdad, 2 April 2003.

Prior to the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003, officials in the United States armed forces described their plan as employing Shock and Awe.Template:Ref During the war, Harlan K. Ullman, principal author of Shock and Awe, said the United States' did not execute a Shock and Awe campaign.Template:Ref

Limited bombing began on 19 March 2003 as United States forces unsuccessfully attempted to kill Saddam Hussein. Attacks continued against a small number of targets until 21 March, when at 1700UTC the main bombing campaign of the Coalition began. Its forces launched approximately 1700 air sorties (504 using cruise missiles).Template:Ref Coalition ground forces had begun a "running start" offensive towards Baghdad on the previous day, attempting to strike quickly. Coalition ground forces seized Baghdad on 5 April, and the United States declared victory on 14 April.

Whether or to what extent the United States fought a campaign of Shock and Awe is unclear by contradictory post-war assessments. Within two weeks of the United States' victory declaration, on 27 April, The Washington Post newspaper published an interview with Iraqi military personnel detailing demoralization and lack of command.Template:Ref According to the soldiers, Coalition bombing was surprisingly widespread and had a severely demoralising effect. When United States tanks passed through the Iraqi military's Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard units outside Baghdad to Saddam's presidential palaces, it caused a shock to troops inside Baghdad. Iraqi soldiers said there was no organization intact by the time the United States entered Baghdad, and that resistance crumbled under the presumption that "it wasn't a war, it was suicide."

In contrast, in an October 2003 presentation to the United States House Committee on Armed Services, staff of the United States Army War College did not attribute their performance to Rapid Dominance. Rather, they cited technological superiority and "Iraqi ineptitude."Template:Ref The speed of the Coalition's actions ("rapidity"), they said, did not affect Iraqi morale. Further, they said that Iraqi armed forces ceased resistance only after direct force-on-force combat within cities.

Later, another theory was proposed that Saddam Hussein may have set up conditions for a long guerrilla insurgency.

Popular culture

Following the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003, the term "shock and awe" has been used for commercial purposes. The United States Patent and Trademark Office received at least 29 applications using "Shock and Awe."Template:Ref The first came from a fireworks company on the day the United States started bombing Baghdad. Manufacturers of video games Midway Games and Sony have attempted to use "shock and awe" in titles, but met criticism. Miscellaneous uses of the term include golf equipment, an insecticide, a horse, and a Day of Defeat clan.

See also

Aestheticization as propaganda


  1. Template:NoteHarlan K. Ullmann and James P. Wade, Shock And Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance (<cite> (National Defense University, 1996), XXIV.
  2. Template:NoteUllmann and Wade, <cite>Shock and Awe, XXV.
  3. Template:NoteUllmann and Wade, Shock and Awe, Prologue.
  4. Template:NoteDavid J. Gibson, Shock and Awe: A Sufficient Condition for Victory? ( (Newport: United States Naval War College, 2001), 17.
  5. Template:NoteUllmann and Wade, Shock and Awe, XII.
  6. Template:NoteUllmann and Wade, Shock and Awe, 23.
  7. Template:NoteField Manual 100-5 'Operations' (United States Army, 1982).
  8. Template:NoteField Manual 1 'The Army' (United States Army, 2001), The Characteristics of Future Operations.
  9. Template:NoteOliver Burkeman, "Shock tactics (,2763,921286,00.html)", The Guardian, 25 March 2003.
  10. Template:NoteGar Smith, "Shock and Awe: Guernica Revisited (", Alternet, 27 January 2003.
  11. Template:NoteHenry Michaels, "US plans 'shock and awe' blitzkrieg in Iraq (", World Socialist Web Site, 30 January 2003.
  12. Template:Note"The Blitz Over Baghdad (", The New York Times, 22 March 2003.
  13. Template:Note"Iraq Faces Massive U.S. Missile Barrage (" (CBS News, 24 January 2003.
  14. Template:NotePaul Sperry, "No shock, no awe: It never happened (", World Net Daily, 3 April 2003.
  15. Template:Note"Operation Iraqi Freedom - By the Numbers (", USCENTAF, 30 April 2003, 15.
  16. Template:NoteWilliam Branigin, "A Brief, Bitter War for Iraq's Military Officers (", Washington Post, 27 October 2003.
  17. Template:Note"Iraq and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy (", presentation by the United States Army War College to United States House Committee on Armed Services, 21 October 2003.
  18. Template:NoteRobert Longley, "Patent Office Suffers 'Shock and Awe' Attack (",, 27 October 2003.
  19. Template:NoteJason Athenety, "[1] ("

Further reading

External links


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