Category Archives: Our Military

About the operation of our military. It’s strengths and weaknesses.

News about the battle for women’s equality in our armed forces

Summary: The military has become one of America’s petri dishes for social policy experiments, and the integration of women into the front line fighting forces has introduced stresses far greater than anything they’ve experienced before (the faux revolution from letting people out of the closet has produced a false sense of confidence in the outcome of this far greater change). Here we briefly review the state of the action today.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

GI Jane

 

The tides of change have hit the US military as it adapts to equal roles for women, with massive effects that we as yet can only dimly see.

One result has been to start a slow-mo purge in the officers corps. “At least 30% of military commanders fired over the past 8 years lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses, including harassment, adultery, and improper relationships” (per AP). The scalps include those of senior officers. They might look with envy at Congressmen whose office policies (illegally) protect them at against charges of improper behavior (it’s as delicately written an article as any in a Victorian era newspaper).

War is perhaps the most complex and demanding of social activities, made more so by its rapid rate of evolution during the past 150 years. Adding women to the formula makes it far more complex. What gets dropped to make mindspace for these new concerns? What would Clausewitz or Patton make of this: “Lawmakers want clearer Army breastfeeding rules“?  Or this tidbit about women warriors from AP’s “Pentagon grapples with retaliation in sex assault cases“…

“… often victims believe they are being retaliated against if peers no longer invite them to parties or if they are disciplined for illegal drug or alcohol use in connection with the assault.”

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Does America have the best military in the world?

Summary: As we begin yet another cycle of wars, we owe it to ourselves and even more to our soldiers to ask why the best soldiers in the world keep losing? Here is one answer, stark and contrarian.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

FM Laws #1: all discussions of 4GW, the wars we actually fight, get derailed into discussions about hardware for theoretical conventional wars. More fun! Less scary!

The Atlantic cover: Jan-Feb 2015

Contents

  1. Fallows describes the problem.
  2. Are we the cause?
  3. Rephrasing the problem.
  4. Another example.
  5. Other post in this series.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Fallows describes the problem

I consider James Fallows to be one of the most perceptive journalists of our day. So when the Jan/Feb copy of The Atlantic arrived with his article on the cover, I eagerly turned to it. The provocative title, “The Tragedy of the American Military“ predisposed me to like it, as I’ve written much about this during the past decade.  Much of it presented — brilliantly, as usual, the critique developed by the military reform community during the past 20 years (with nil effect on the Pentagon). Here’s the core problem, shown in this excerpt…

Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. … Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion … Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned.

(2)  Are we the cause — the reason why America can’t win these wars?

So what causes this inability to win wars in the 6 decades since Korea? Fallows gives a compelling analysis of the problem (with which I agree) then blames the American public.

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Why are we militarizing American society?

Summary:  Previous posts in this series showed how America has militarized. Today we ask “why”? The answer is superficially obvious, but the deeper reasons are mysterious. This is the conclusion to a series about the militarization of America.    {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Purgamenta hujus mundi sunt tria: pcatis, bellum, et frateria.”
-— This world is purified in three ways: by plague, by war, by monastic seclusion (proverb).

The new Statue of Liberty

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Contents

  1. Why are we militarizing?
  2. Cui Bono?
  3. Is America militarizing?
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For More Information.

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(1) Why are we militarizing American society?

“War is one of the great agencies by which human progress is effected.”

— Opening of “The Benefits of War” by Stephen Luce (Rear Admiral, US Navy), North American Review, 1 December 1891. He founded the Naval War College and was its first president.

The previous posts in this series described some aspects of the militarization of American society, from our geopolitics to our entertainment. Now for the big question: why? Few people agree with Admiral Luce’s enthusiasm for war, mostly burned out of western culture by the horrors of WWI and WWII.

We know why people of the Military Industrial Complex support the militarization of society; as Ike warned us in 1961. But why have we responded so enthusiastically to this militarization? Previous generations of Americans mocked militarized states like Prussia, all those marching soldiers in their fancy uniforms while instead we built a great nation.

So I asked one of the brightest people I know, Steve Randy Waldman (he writes at Interfluidity). He replied that for 120 years foreign wars have been good for America (as a whole, with the sacrifice of only a small fraction of our people). From 1846 – 1966 — from war against Mexico to the turning point in Vietnam — wars destroyed our rivals and stimulated our economy (e.g., the stimulus of debt-fueled WWII spending decisively ended the Great Depression), often bringing us new territory.

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The neocons captured the Star Trek universe, as they’ve captured America

Summary:  This post looks at the evolution of the Star Trek “universe” from 1964 through today, using it as a mirror to help us see how we’ve changed. It gives us a clear picture, but one we might not want to see. This is the second in this series about the militarization of American society; see the conclusion tomorrow.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

GARTH: “You, Captain, are second only to me as the finest military commander in the galaxy.”
KIRK: “That’s very flattering. I am primarily an explorer now, Captain Garth.”

— From “Whom the Gods Destroy”, first aired January 1969. It was a different America.

Spock: vulcan peace sign

Contents

  1. Evolution of the Star Trek universe.
  2. The evolution of Star Trek is America’s.
  3. Other posts in this series.
  4. For More Information.

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(1) Evolution of the Star Trek universe

One often-mentioned aspect of the great Star Trek saga, first conceived in 1964 and still running, is that it provides a mirror showing the evolution of American society. The longest trend is its gradual militarization. Roddenberry pitched it as a “Wagon Train” to the stars, explorers moving though a new universe of wonders. The Enterprise met new peoples, sometimes hostile, sometimes friends, sometimes incomprehensible.

Mostly episodes in the original Trek featured exploration, commerce, and diplomacy. These took place during a cold war with the Klingons and Romulans, with some conflicts and even battles (echoing the geopolitics of the 1960s). There were shows about frontier clashes (“Balance of Terror”, “Arena”, ), proxy wars (“A Private Little War”), cold war gamesmanship (“The Enterprise Incident”, “Journey to Babel”), fighting off invaders (“By Any Other Name”), and an outbreak of total war (“Errand of Mercy”).

But these were more than offset by the explicitly anti-war tone of the series (“The Doomsday Machine”, “Day of the Dove”, “Spectre of the Gun”, “The Corbomite Maneuver”, “A Taste of Armageddon”, and the twist endings to “Errand of Mercy” and “Arena”).

The series slowly grew darker, generation by generation, as the Star Trek universe shifted from Roddenberry’s original vision to that of today’s neocons. Deep Space 9 was a war story. Voyager journeyed though a realm of high tech races that resembled the Balkans. I consider this among the darkest of scenarios, where sentient species develop god-like powers without intellectual, moral, or spiritual growth.

The last series, “Enterprise” wars are ever-present: between Andorians and Vulcans, an invasion by the Sphere Builders (in which millions on Earth were killed, and the planet itself escaped destruction by seconds), and a temporal cold war (which briefly turned hot and almost destroyed our time line).

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Review of “Kill Chain: Rise of the High-tech Assassins”

Summary:  Today we have a review of an important book about America’s post-9/11 policy of mass assassination. We’ve adopted a tactic that both history and theory suggests will fail, and which has repeatedly failed since 9/11. Books like this explain what we’re doing wrong, but only political action by us together will reverse our mad geopolitical policies.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Assassination is the perquisite of kings.”
— attributed to Umberto I of Italy.

Kill Chain

Review of Andrew Cockburn’s
Kill Chain:
The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins

Reviewed by Chuck Spinney.
Posted at his website The Blaster.
Posted here with his generous permission.

Caveat emptor: the author of this book is a friend of 35 years, so I am biased, proudly so in this case.  While I know what Cockburn can do, I must admit I was literally blown away by this book. And I am no stranger to this subject, having worked as an engineer-analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon for 25 years.

What makes Cockburn’s book so powerful, in my opinion, is not only his sourcing and detail (which are amazing), but the fact that he has written a book that is at once overwhelming in terms of information, yet so well written, it is accessible to the general reader.  It is a page turner.  He dissects the rise of drone warfare and examines its conduct in fascinating detail from the point of view of the targeteers in the CIA and the White House, to the controllers in front of video screens, and to the effects on the victims at the receiving end.

In so doing, he shows how the ideology of drone warfare is really old wine in a new bottle: it is a natural evolution of three interconnected mindsets:

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Victory through airpower! We always believe the promise, despite the past.

Summary: We gear up for another round of wars, repeating the same methods that failed repeatedly since WWII, with pregame performances more predictable than a Superbowl’s halftime festival. Today we look at the grand claims of certain easy victory through airpower. Like Charlie Brown listening to Lucy, each time we believe — ignoring past disappointments.

“There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders.”

— Curtis LeMay, interviewed by Michael Sherry after WWII, in his book The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon, Yale University Press (1989).

Victory Thru Airpower

Today’s propaganda: “How America’s Drones Can Defeat ISIS“, Arthur Herman (senior fellow at Hudson Institute, created as cheerleaders to the USAF ), Defense One, 15 March 2015. None dare call it warmongering, although that’s what it is. The money paragraph:

“Fortunately, Carter will have at hand the perfect tool for delivering a series of mortal blows against ISIS without putting a single American soldier on the ground: America’s fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAV’s.”

These performances before our wars are as predictable as a waltz. Each round of air power advocacy makes bold predictions of easy certain victory buttressed by grandiose but false claims about previous air wars.

Something similar happened more recently, almost by accident, in Kosovo in 1999, when persistent NATO air strikes so cleared away Serbian resistance that Kosovar militias were able to come down from surrounding hills and retake lost ground.

If we lift our habitual fog of amnesia to remember that war, even RAND, loyal servant of the USAF that created it), added a realistic note amidst its ritualistic accolades about the awesome Kosovo air war:

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Reforming the US Army: can be done, must be done.

{Military reform} is not attacking the people in the Army, many of which sacrifice so much so many times. It is not the people, the vast majority which really adhere to the values of the services; it is the systems that manage them that are so bad and out of date. A lot of people succeed with selfless service despite the personnel system.

— From “Leading the Human Dimension Out of a Legacy of Failure” by G.I. Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired) and Donald Vandergriff, chapter 3 of America’s Defense Meltdown (2008).

Summary:  Yesterday’s post explained how the US Army’s leadership problem grow so bad. Today Don Vandergriff gives the good news, discussing reforms under way today — and more powerful reforms for the future. He concludes by asking why not take these steps now, rather than waiting until after a serious defeat.

Army Strong

What’s being done today?

We see what we call “beer can personnel management”: The operant idea is to reach into the stack (i.e. human resources) of cold beer sitting in the refrigerator, grab one, slam it down, crumple up the beer can (i.e. the individual), toss it out, and reach for another. The cycle is repeated over and over taking an irreparable toll on individuals, the personnel systems and operations.  {op. cit.}

The army has several experiments with reforms under way. But it’s only slow progress.

Even as late as 2011, Scott Halter (Lt. Colonel, Army), a successful Aviation Battalion Commander who practices Mission Command and Outcomes Based Training and Education (OBTE; details here), wrote “What is an Army but Soldiers: A Critical Assessment of the Army’s Human Capital Management System” (Military Review, Jan-Feb 2012) describing recommendations of the Secretary of the Army’s Human Dimension Task Force to reform the Army’s personnel system. Results of their work? Nothing!”

One promising tool is 360 degree assessments (aka multi source feedback). Used by the Wehrmacht in WWII, they’re based on work going back to the T-groups devised in 1914. Today the Army experiments with this on a small scale. Too many senior officers fear that the fastest “water walkers” would get exposed by it. I know guys that I commanded companies beside who were hated by their senior NCOs and Lieutenants, but did well — some making it through brigade command to general. Great politicians, but their soldiers knew the truth.

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