RANGER AGAINST WAR: The New Centurians <

Friday, December 29, 2006

The New Centurians

"Only Fourteen Shooting Days Until Christmas,"
--sign on a USMC tank in the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir.

If television ads are correct, then ED (erectile dysfunction) is the new blight of the American male, much as Dutch Elm Disease and Citrus chancre hit the trees a while back. Victory, however, is as close as your nearest bottle of Viagra, Cialis or Levitra, drugs whose roots suggest vigor, skyward movement or levitation of the lagging member. The little blue pill will soon leave you hanging tough and hard. A panacea that comes with the caveat that you should first be healthy enough to have sex prior to taking the pill.

This would seem to imply that not getting it up might be an indicator that one is not healthy enough to have sex.
What happened to the old remedy--just buy a powerful, flashy hot sports car. This is an adequate response to ED that is time-tested.

Now, how does all this apply to Iraq and Afghanistan? Well, as with the ads, an important question is posed: Is America healthy enough to have a war, or are we simply over-compensating with flashy sports cars?

The ads further stress that having an erection for more than four hours is not normal, and in case of such a event, medical help should be sought.at once. Similarly, a war that lasts more than four years needs more than medical attention, as it's a danger to the entire nation.

Sex, power and combat go hand in hand. Driving, relentless combat wins wars, or at least, used to win wars.
We used to have Generals who participated in a hands-on way, if not on the front lines. They were soldiers, apart from the political establishment, charged with the business of conducting warfare, as decreed by their Commander in Chief. Yes, they were accountable, and had to dialog with their superiors, but their provenance was on the field of battle. That is where they excelled. They enjoyed a rapport with their men which produced results.

The little blue pill may raise the flag, but it is an ersatz happening. Better than nothing, but not quite spontaneous, either. I analogize the use of the pill to the use of present-day Generals like Pace and Powell. They look good, but both have nominal combat experience in their careers. Neither have any major combat decorations, mostly thanks-for-coming and I've-Been-There awards. What qualifies them to be Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), or to hold any other National Command Authority position? Pace and Powell have no stature compared to the Generals discussed later in this piece.

Powell lacked the depth or major combat background required of this level of leadership. He did not command Centcom or NATO before he moved to the JCS. Both Powell and Pace are talking points-type of Generals. The military now uses General Officers to brief the press. Needless to say, these Generals always appear clean, professional and spiffy, but can they really be called
soldiers? Maybe if they take their little pills.

In fact, Brigadier General Brooks at the inception of the Iraq mess was the briefing officer, and he was resplendent with his
Expert Infantry Badge proudly displayed in his chest. What a joke. No grenades here.

As a quick tour, let's look at the Generals who forewent the spit and polish required of current presentation, in favor of simply doing their duty as soldiers. General U.S. Grant never wore more than a private's coat, with his stars simply attached. He was often muddy and never carried a sabre, since it served no function at his level of command. He did not need to be propped up by a sabre to proclaim his Generalship.

Look at MacArthur on the Missouri in Tokyo Harbor signing the WWII Japanese surrender documents. The Japanese diplomats and military were fully arrayed and appeared magnificent, but they were losers. MacArthur and company were conspicuously down-dressed, wearing stripped down uniforms with no awards or decorations, but they were the winners.

MacArthur had the Medal of Honor and nine Silver Stars to his name, but he never wore these items as eye candy. This General didn't need ribbons. At Tokyo Harbor, MacArthur was simply a soldier. After that point he became a warrior-king, but he still retained his humility of uniform.

However, a new construct of what constituted a General was emerging about the same time. This was
the political-soldier--as embodied by Generals Eisenhower and Marshall. Both of these men were soldiers, but their power was based upon maneuvering within the political arena, affecting strategic combat operations of U.S. forces. Up to this point, Generals were soldiers first, politicians second. Now, the hardness of combat became of secondary importance, and even dispensable.

Many other Generals continued to remain apart from the political-soldier model, but they paid in terms of curtailed promotions.

In Korea, when U.S. forces were being relentlessly pushed back, General Matthew Ridgeway was assigned to reverse the trend. Ridgeway didn't use briefings and Power Points--his trademark was two Frag grenades attached to his combat harness at his chest. The message was clear: attack, using rifles, grenades and bayonets...
but this army is going to attack. Far more persuasive than any Power Point.

General Dean of the 24th Infantry Division was captured in Seoul while attempting personally to kill enemy tanks. Howling Mad Smith, Chesty Puller, Walker--these were the Generals leading our combat troops. Puller, with a bad heart, walked out of the Chosen perimeter after giving his Jeep to the wounded. This was in temperatures of minus 30 to 40 degrees.

All these Generals were dirty, plain-spoken and effective. They were doing what Generals were paid to do,which was to lead by example. As an aside, Puller had five Navy Crosses and U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross, so his actions were consistent throughout his military life, as were those of the others mentioned. These Generals were leading by example. They were healthy enough without mother's little helpers.

Puller never became Commandant of the USMC because he lacked political savvy. He was a combat leader, not a corporate executive. But the die was cast, and top positions were now reserved for that new animal, the political general.

Much is said about the need for more soldiers in the Army, but there seems no shortage of Generals. When the Army shrinks, do General Officer slots get cut? The Army now has nine 4-Star Generals on board. Why so many when the Army is so small? This doesn't take into account the 2- and 3-Stars. The Gitmo penitentiary has a General Officer commanding the facility, which houses 500 prisoners. A good sergeant could do that job. Remember Abu Ghraib, which was commanded by Brigadier General Janis Karpinski. Heck of a job there.

I believe the Army has lost its ability to function at the General Officer level. Generals are now managers wearing meaningless awards and looking good.

As always, the soldiers carry the burden for leadership that depends on little blue pills and Power Points. All show and no go. Present day Generals are technically and tactically proficient, but they go limp when dealing with political issues. Keep the Generals in the Army. When they go limp, make them Secretaries of State a la Marshall, Haig and Powell. But don't make them politicians or statesman while they're wearing a uniform. Keep the grenades on their chest, and they won't need little pills.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again you have hit the nail on the head! I would only add that a similar analysis could also be directed to our admirals!

P.S. Found this summary of U.S. policy on torture here: www.japanfocus.org/products/topdf/2291

(Too ignorant of internet SOP to post direct link.) GSJ

Friday, December 29, 2006 at 9:38:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

Thanks, GSJ. (We've unfortunately run out of complimentary samples for our loyal readers.)

You could well be right re. the admirals. I don't write about AF or Navy as I don't have knowledge in those areas. And I'm thankful of this.

Saturday, December 30, 2006 at 11:25:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

GSJ: A follow-on--I just read the informative link you provided. It's now a really state of affairs for America, and I am ashamed for my country.

I'm embarrassed doubly so, first on the moral front, and that we use such techniques when there is no evidence that any effective intelligence is actually secured.

Can you imagine 20 years from now when these perpetrators talk about their wartime service?

Happy New Year, though it's hard to say it at the moment.

Saturday, December 30, 2006 at 11:53:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stumbled across a relevant commentary (medals) at www.g2mil.com/awards.htm

Monday, January 1, 2007 at 12:28:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting argument - cuts to the heart of the problem of US foreign policy and national security strategy. It seems to me that the real problem has been this absorption of what had been a relatively separate military establishment prior to World War II directly into the upper reaches of the ruling class in the United States. While there have always been 'political generals' - Grant became president after all, the now seamless transition between high rank in the armed forces and top slots in corporate America, think tanks, and other areas of government is, I think, relatively unprecedented in our history.

Before the Cold War the standing military forces were too small and too unstable to consistently create large numbers of people who could use military service to propel them into the upper reaches of US society. Even then, their experience in a much smaller, culturally subservient branch of government meant they could not colonize the rest of the government with 'military' attitudes and preferences.

The Cold War changed all that. Huge resources necessitated by the requirement for a massive, permanent standing military force that cooperated as never before with both industry and other branches of government in a sense provided a platform for the establshment of the 'corporate officer' of the type described in the post. One could argue that the Cold War effectively created a service-nobility, Prussian 'Junker' officer class in America. It is generally politically and socially conservative, tied to the state by military service, predisposed to a hawkish foreign policy, and dependent upon the state and military service for profitable, 'insider' employment after their term of service is complete. How much difference is there between the Moltkes and the Paces and the Powells?

Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 10:48:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Nick said...

I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with politcally oriented military leadership, either as senior generals or civilians. I think the problem is getting the military to quickly change from a stable, careful, peacetime beauracracy to an adaptive, aggressive wartime force.

Political generals have been around throughout history. Without being able to cite specific examples, other types of generals with more political sway than military skill might include Roman politicians trying to get a cushy job as consul, French princes getting to take daddy's army for a spin, or English lords raising an army to conquer a lucrative province or two in India.

The percentage of senior generals who are combat hardened is partly going to depend on the amount and intensity of warfare that the military was engaged in ten or twenty years ago, or however long it takes generals to get promoted.

I don't think the powerpoint army is evidence of any moral degradation in US society or a sign that we have lost the heroic spirit of the other generals you describe. Because the Cold War was a mostly political and economic conflict between the U.S. and the Soviets, the successful generals were those that knew how to say the right things on TV and procure pricey new weapons. There also just weren't as many opportunities to demonstrate their ability in combat as there were for the generation that fought in WWII. It wasn't very heroic leadership, but a politically and economically savvy military was part of the reason that the US won against the Soviets. Failure of that politically savvy and entrenched military to adapt to new circumstances will also be part of the reason that we've done badly in Iraq.

It will be interesting to see what sort of leaders emerge from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There will definitely be more opportunities for future generals to gain combat experience, but if we stay in conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, then successful officers will also have to be skilled in diplomacy and public relations (not the same as internal political manoeuvering) especially given worldwide access to cell phones, sattelite TV and the internet.



skepticist at gmail dot com

Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 11:30:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Excellent commentary, and thanks for your input.

It seems that George Washington would be a better example of a political general than would Grant. Grant transitioned into politics after he hung up his sword, leaving the world of the military general behind.

Washington intertwined the two aspects to perfection. He truly understood civilian-military considerations to successfully complete his mission. Both are yardsticks of measuring military competence.

The analysis you present is respectable. However, the difference between Moltkes and the two P's is considerable, by my reckoning. Moltke operated within realistic parameters of what was achieveable with the available assets.

But I acknowledge the validity of your observations. Regards.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 7:10:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Did the U.S. really defeat the Soviets?

It appears evident that the Afghanistan adventure did more to contribute to their demise than did U.S. efforts. Afghanistan is a graveyard that should be carefully avoided.

Successful officers are not always the ones that are promoted. When wars end, the reductions in force always eliminate the combat-experienced over the "golden boys". It will be interesting to see who gets RIF'd.

Please bear in mind that 54% of the Army's combat assets are in the reserve forces, and this bears upon future leadership potential in a significant manner.

Hopefully, the future will see more military types in Congress, which would add a much-needed realism factor to military matters. In fact, this would be a real bonus in all top government posts affecting decisions on military options.

The military cannot solve problems or win wars without achievable objectives. My criticism is that this fact is lost upon current DoD leadership.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 7:40:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Nick said...

Thanks for your reply.

I guess I'm confusing three kinds of politics:

1) politics within the military;
2) politics between the military and the rest of the government; and
3) politics between the military and civilians it encounters during operations.

Is the problem you are describing that the high level officers who end up planning wars and advising presidents are those who have proved most successful at internal military politics instead of those who would make the military most successful?

Would you say that had current military leadership had better military judgement and less political interest then they would have presented a more realistic evaluation of the prospects for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, demanded well defined achievable objectives, designed better strategies, and conducted military operations in those countries more effectively?

I didn't mean to say that the US was directly responsible for the collapse of the USSR, just that the US "won" by not collapsing first.

Can you explain the signifigance to future leadership potential of the Army having 54% of its combat assets in the reserve?

Also, I would guess that in some cases not-getting-it-up would actual encourage military agression as an alternative expression of other urges. It's said that Napoleon was always trying to compensate for his height, so maybe some other historical tough guys were compensating for other things.

Thanks again.

Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 10:26:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Your letter was a wonderful outline of my thinking, and I appreciate its cogency. I will probably address your thoughts in a future posting, if you don't mind.

As for item #4, of course I was speaking metaphorically re. their lack of medals or performance on the field. I do not know their potential potency, but used the pill as symbolic of their need to enhance limp performance.

No one discusses Schwartzkopf's lack of DCS status or NATO command, and he led the most successful military campaign of recent times.

Thanks for the thoughtful letter,


Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 4:59:00 PM GMT-5  

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