RANGER AGAINST WAR: Arabian Knights <

Wednesday, November 14, 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

Labels: , , , , ,


Anonymous Deryle said...

Well spoke y'all..
Tony Robbins and Petraus in the same sentence is really good.

Snake oil sellers, both , eh?

Come to that , has it?

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 9:14:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

I guess my question would be - is there something (and my thought is, yes, there must be) fundamentally, significantly, fatally flawed in the way we raise men up to be senior officers that seems to have produced this generation of hollow men?

I can't remember the last time I served under a truly fierce, upright, independent-thinking senior officer. I knew some decent guys, sure, but real leaders of the Puller and Hartmann variety?

Most of the terrific lieutenants and captains I served under - and there were more than a few - never made the cut for major. The handful of hardcharging (and intelligent - I knew more than one that was EITHER hardcharging or intelligent but few who combined them...) majors and light colonels I worked for never made the flight up to full bull.

And generals? I never worked for one I truly respected other than Jumpin' Jim Lindsay, my very first 82nd Division commander. And he topped out at three stars.

We seem unable to find, and having found, promote, men with the tough old virtues that made some guys great leaders of soldiers.

And I'm not sure why.

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 11:33:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Blakenaror said...

The post and comments are spot on but the trend has been going on for years. The military weeds out any real leaders by the 0-5 level with the occasional outlier who makes it to 0-6. By "real leaders" I mean someone who can think independently and has the courage to act on something other than pure self interest. I was in the Navy and I agree with FDChief, finding an honorable man who wore stars was indeed rare.

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 1:10:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

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...

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 4:22:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous PF Khans said...

My two cents, 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

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 6:55:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Brooklyn Red Leg said...

Its only going to continue to get worse. I know I'm in the minority since I never served (only studied Military History under damned fine professors that were Vietnam vets), but one need only look no further than The Warrior Ethos vs. The Soldier's Creed to see the writing on the wall. The latter at least attempted to pay lip service to the Augustinian theory of Just War, while the latter reads more like an oath to an Empire cloaking itself in righteousness. Can we expect the next iteration of The Warrior Ethos to be any less jingoistic? Can we expect the officers of the future to be any less self-serving?

BTW, I would recommend Mass Casualties: A Young Medic's True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq to anyone that hasn't read it (there are, or at least were, copies of said book at local $1 Stores in the Tampa area). It directly touches on this very subject of officers and incompetence.

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 7:35:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Brooklyn Red Leg said...

BTW, I dug up a .pdf (Military Review, January 1989) and figured I would share with those that are interested. I would direct you to the article entitled: "Preparing for the Past" by Cecil B. Currey (US Army Reserve, Retired). It begins on p. 8 of the .pdf. I think, in many cases, its very pertinent to the problems facing the US military today.


Friday, November 16, 2012 at 4:23:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

Thanks BRL -- many articles in that issue on VN were of interest.

Friday, November 16, 2012 at 2:14:00 PM GMT-5  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home