Abstract: Management Education in the Cold War U.S. Military

A.J. Murphy


Under pressure to cut costs after the Korean War, leaders in the U.S. Department of Defense recruited managers from private industry to help them run the Cold War national security state. As a logistics officer later recalled, the end of the Korean War marked the beginning of a new, business-minded era in the Army where leaders were told to stop thinking in tons of bombs and start thinking in terms of dollars. This paper shows how management became an area of focused intervention in the military around 1950 by outlining a sudden proliferation in management education, professionalization, and research. Through the stories of the Army Management School, first-line supervisor training programs, and military partnerships with civilian MBA programs, I explain how managerial skills became an essential part of what a military officer was supposed to know. Policy on management education in the military often precipitated debates about the appropriateness of invoking business management expertise in the armed forces and whether it contradicted military concepts of command and leadership. After the Vietnam War many military leaders expressed suspicion about “managerialism,” but by this time management techniques and concepts had become a firmly embedded part of the education of military officers and civilian supervisors.