Thursday, November 15, 2012

Arabian Knights

If you're down and confused 
And you don't remember who you're talking to 
Concentration slips away 
Because your baby is so far away 
--Love the One You're With, 
Crosby, Stills and Nash

Well, what am I supposed to do? 
You won't answer my calls,
 you change your number.
 I mean, I'm not gonna be ignored, Dan!   
--Fatal Attraction (1987)

Military leadership is not always about success:

  • The March of the 10,000
  • Thermopylae
  • Little Big Horn
  • The Confederates at Petersburg
  • The Lost Battalion of World War I
  • Wainwright at Corregidor
  • The U.S. Marines at the Chosin (with U.S. Army support ☺)
  • The U.S Special Forces at Lang Vei
  • Lt. Murphy in Afghanistan

We are taught that physical courage is the factor that makes us soldiers (err, New Age Warriors), but this only part of the equation. A recent discussion about Shackleton's fraught Antarctic expedition motivated this thinking.

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton led his crew with fierce loyalty after the loss of their ship (The Endurance).  He set up Camp Optimism in the most unhospiaible climate, and tirelessly motivated his crew to labor and to keep hope alive. Shackleton believed that character and temperament were as important as technical ability, and lived by the motto, "Optimism is true moral courage." 

While physical courage is the hallmark of soldiering, it is not the gold standard for leadership.  Moral courage is supreme, and it the U.S. Army seems weak in this area.  We accepted General MacArthur's vacating his command, leaving General Wainwright and his Army in the lurch.  Contrast this with the loyalty of Luftwaffe Group Commander Erich Hartmann who refused a direct order to avoid Soviet capture by flying to safety in the British sector, as it would have meant the abandonment of his men.

After capture and spending 10 1/2 years in a Soviet gulag, Hartmann said in a later interview, "I could not leave my men.  That would have been bad leadership."  He and many others like him show a moral strength which reaches beyond the physical.  Think of John McCain refusing an offer of early release by the North Vietnamese command -- that is moral courage.

Transition now to the lavish lifestyles of men like Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus -- the plush lodgings and planes in which they traveled were more befitting of the Arabian 1001 Nights.  Their sumptuous offices at CENTCOM and all the other HQs, the limousines, the private command airship companies and all the other bling that kits out the 0-8 through 0-10 caste are far-removed from the lifestyles of their predecessors.

Instead of leadership we now have commanders steeped in West Point Honor Codes, Infantry Creeds, Ranger Creeds and a plethora of feel-good buzz words that are as meaningless as a mouthful of grits.  Witness Petraeus's vaunted "12 Rules for Living": "The only thing better than a little com­petition is a lot of competition. Set chal­lenges for your subordinates to encourage them to excel." The rules are generally insipid pop platitudes not likely to give Tony Robbins a run for his money on the motivational talk circuit any time soon.

Contrast present leadership with that of Chesty Puller at the Chosin Reservoir retrograde.  He gave his Jeep to the weak and wounded and marched out as a simple Infantryman (despite heart problems). On Guadalcanal his Regimental Command Post was in the forward reaches of the battlefield within rifle shot of the enemy.  Compare this with the fights at Waygul and Wanat, when the senior commanders were physically absent.

Leadership has both physical and moral aspects.  None of the U.S. senior officers refused to preemptively invade Iraq; First Lieutenant Ehren Watada is the only junior officer to officially protest the Iraq War by attempting to resign his commission (he was Court-martialed and ultimately discharged from service.)  Did any of our leaders even murmer the word, "Aggressive War"?

It is possible that ethics professor Colonel Ted Westhusing gave protest via suicide during his Iraq posting six years ago.  The Los Angeles Times reported, "In emails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the US had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military" (General Petraeus's Link to a Troubling Suicide in Iraq: The Ted Westhusing Story). In his suicide note, he wrote, "I didn't volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves." 

If elective invasions, bombing, Predators and Reapers, secret prisons, torture, open-ended detention and more do not raise any hackles amongst the General Officer class, then a penile thrombosis is very little thing in comparison, which is not to say it is nothing.  It is just a logical outgrowth of a corrupt and entitled mindset.

Amidst moral cowardice on such a scale, how do we even discuss Petraeus's moral lapse?  We have divorced morality from the equation when we adopted elective warfare and assumed the mantle of warriorhood.  Petraeus did what warrior-kings do: he took an Amazon concubine.

--Jim and Lisa

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar] 


  1. Jim -

    Thanks for pushing Chesty. High praise from an Army guy like you. He has taken his literary lumps from some of your tribe. And unfortunately from some of his own staff officers also. They never liked the command post being so close to the action. Although the troops and his junior commanders respected him for it. In the field he was said to have boasted that the map in his pocket was "my CP". He was a great combat man and outstanding in peacetime at training combat units.

    It was also told that in Korea at YongDungPo, Generals MacArthur, Almond, O.P. Smith and a bevy of reporters found out the hard way about Chesty's forward command posts. They went looking for his regimental CP and drove into an area in the midst of being cleared of snipers and they beat a hasty retreat.

    Regrettably some thought he was a tad bit too unpolished to make Commandant. Or maybe it was that he was never afraid of speaking his mind and to h#ll with the consequences. Or maybe it was that he had high blood pressure and came down with a stroke in the mid fifties. Or maybe it was judgement. His division commander in Korea was always uneasy about his tendency to get all his battalions in the fight and not hold out a regimental reserve, so he often put a division hold on one of Chesty's battalions.

    As for Petraeus and his Amazon concubine, I have to wonder who was the submissive one in that relationship.

  2. Per the Amazon, mike, you get one guess ...

  3. The thing is none of us should be surprised by this turn of events.

    I certainly am not.

    Mr. Petraeus is a man who is burdened with a history of bad judgements...and the fact that he compounds his errors with the hubris of "experience" says to me the man is a bad decision looking for a problem to make worse than it originally started out from.

    So...yeah, he's terribad, and has left a trail of bad decisions throughout his military career, of which he couldn't have retired soon enough, and now his political career, thankfully, has come to ignoble end.

    Good riddance, I say.

    But, the shit has already hit the fan, and now I'm wondering if there is a systemic problem with the Army senior command that seems to either produce clones of Petraeus, or incubates and protects the nascent neer-do-wells so that they can fully become incompetent drones masquerading as military leaders...and that...that is something we should be really focusing on...changing the culture of the senior US Army Officer corps back to a competent cadre of leaders, not "warriors" but soldiers who have the character to KNOW how to be an senior officer, and not...whatever they think they currently are...perfumed princes?

  4. My two cents (I originally wrote this on RAW, but thought it was relevant here as well), I never saw the Army do anything that would potentially harm the existence of the Army.

    While a singularly bad LT or LTC can be bad for a unit, they won't destroy the Army. A singularly messianic and independent officer might do just that.

    You all are making the assumption that the Army wants 'good' Generals. It doesn't. It wants Generals that will safeguard the Army, that goal rarely makes room for brilliance.

    To put it another way, turd officers produce more turd officers. Good officer produce both turd and good officers. Turds like hanging with other turds because they seem less turd like, so they expel the good ones as they feel capable. The whole organization shortly becomes shitty.

    I doubt, though, that it really is a new phenomenon; just, perhaps, the whole process has become far more legitimized by the bureaucracy of the Army than previously.

    I read Xenophon's The Ten Thousand while in the Army; it's full of bitching soldiers and incompetent officers. Seriously, there's nothing quite so comforting and depressing as reading about some poor ancient sap complaining about idiots that led him into some cold God-forsaken valley while currently being in a cold God-forsaken valley because of idiots. Shit sometimes gets too real. This is a case of that.

    Very insightful post, btw. Thanks.

    PF Khans

  5. PFK-

    We are witnessing the demon seed of Donald Rumsnamara. While Rummy famously said, "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want", he was in no way happy with the population of serving generals and admirals he assumed leadership(?) over, and took effective steps to only have the "generals he wanted".

    Two or three times, he attempted to get legislation to make ALL flag officer appointments direct political appointments (not just 3 and 4 star), to serve at the selection and pleasure of the Administration, with tenure ending when the Administration ends. "No President should have to deal with senior generals he didn't select", was his openly stated rationale. In a rare spate of wisdom, Congress chose to ignore his desires on this matter.

    Thus, 1 and 2 star selections remained the purview of military selection boards, constituted under law and regulation and only 3 and 4 star nominations remain at the Defense Secretary's discretion. But Rummy had to let incumbents serve out their terms, lacking relief for a disciplinary reason. So, for example, he had one good acquaintance of mine accused of this and that, initiated a long, long investigation that found the accusations baseless, but since another general of Rummy's choosing had been "sitting in" for my friend, suggested that it would be silly for my friend to return to his posting, as his term would expire in 6 months or so. Meanwhile, via the "sit in" general, the aircraft development program Rummy opposed was scrapped.

    Lacking the desired legislation, Rummy set out to drive off and/or all marginalize (GEN Shinseki, for example) who didn't tickle his fancy. Unlike his legislative proposal, however, this was not about to happen as rapidly as he would have wished. However, as more and more 3 and 4 star billets were being filled by Rummy groupies, more and more 1 and 2 star selections were going to people of similar cloth. This filling of 1 & 2 star billets was aided by a doubling in the rate of incumbent generals “voluntarily” retiring before reaching statutory requirements. The Army Times wrote a couple of OpEds on this phenomenon. By perverting the top two ranks, Rummy was able to slowing influence the gene pool of the two lower flag ranks. And, the flag officer gene pool selects the Colonels.

    Were the 3 & 4 star ranks "pristine" before Rummy. Of course not. However, Rummy was the first to openly state that the flag ranks should be, by law, political appointees, and failing to get such law, he did the next best thing - culling and rebreeding the herd with a vengence.

    I would also mention that Rumsnamara's proposed legislation also would have made every officer position on the Joint and DOD staff (even a Lieutenant) subject to SecDec vetting and approval, rather than the services simply supplying properly qualified officers (below the rank of 1 star) for identified vacancies. This would effective serve as a way to perform an “amniosynthesis” on otherwise highly qualified junior and mid-grade officers to abort their careers while still in gestation. Another grandiose idea Congress shot down.

    Thus, today's flag officers are less the product of the military meritocracy than they are politics, even if only tangentially. Six years of careful selective breeding by this mutt.

  6. Moving to something more current, there are some among the IDF showing some moral courage in the face overwhelming opposition

    There was similar moral outrage during the 2008 Operation Cast led incursion into Gaza that killed nearly 1,200 Palestinians.
    “My government is now involved in war crimes. It’s not just a war crime against the Palestinians, it’s a crime against the Israeli people. People from all backgrounds and all parts of Israeli society are completely ashamed and against this crazy assault. As Jewish people we understand that you cannot kill the desire of people to be free,” said Yonaton Shapira, a former captain in the Israeli air force, during a 2009 BBC interview.
    Shapira continued, saying, “I want to call on the international community, the Jewish community and everyone listening to me now. Please join our force to stop this massive killing — for the sake of Israel, for the sake of Palestine and for the sake of the world.”
    Shapira, like many former soldiers, is beginning to speak out against operations in the occupied territories both as moral and security imperative.


  7. Al,

    For all of Rumsfeld's faults, I can't exactly endorse the former or present system of flag officer selection (or 0-6 for that matter). It's a complete mess. Look at all the wonderful officers who made General in the 1990's. Rumsfeld's attempt "reforms" were a mere speedbump for a system that promotes officers to senior ranks who underperform. I don't want Rumsfeld's political selections, but I also want senior officers to be held accountable.

    Additionally, our armed forces are over-officered and we have probably twice the number of flag officers we actually need.

  8. Like PFK, I posted this over at RAW:

    I wonder if a big part of this is not having faced a peer enemy since 1972, and a peer-enemy-who-could-actually-give-us-something-more-than-a-tactical-whipping since 1945?

    I REALLY need to take a peek into Rick's "The Generals" to see if the little weasel has any insights, but I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the things he'll harp on is the lack of reliefs among colonels and above since 1953.

    And my guess would be that the main reason is that the bottom line is that since Korea a fucked-up O-6 or higher really can't "fuck up" all that much. Lloyd Fredendall could have lost all of II Corps at Kasserine, and MacArthur (or at least his intel guys with Mac being the responsible commander) damn near lost X Corps in the winter of 50/51.

    But, really, how bad could Fred Franks have hurt the U.S. Army at Tora Bora? Or Sanchez in Baghdad? Or Pete Pace in D.C.?

    The consequences for failure just aren't there, so I can see how the other star warriors hesitate to use the use of the Big Hammer of relief for cause and fuck over one of their buddies' careers.

    And for all that failure got some commanders relieved in the Big War there are some pretty egregious examples of guys who were kept on while it was pretty obvious that they were killing GIs. The guy that jumps to my mind is Mark Clark, commander of Fifth Army and later overall commander in Italy. My father's brother served in the 15th Air Force and developed a hatred for Clark and what he perceived as his "butcher's tactics" that has lasted to this day. He will still tell you about how Clark wanted to drive into Rome like Caesar so bad that he let the Germans escape and organize the defense of north Italy; every GI that died trying to break the Gothic Line was murdered by Clark - that's his story...

    Anyway, I agree that the "system" is broken. But how to fix it? I got no idea...

  9. Chief,
    the system is broken.yep.
    let's start with revamping the requirements and selection criteria for service academies and spec ops.
    yep DP was a hot dog Ranger but he was lacking in other arenas.