A step to getting an effective military. We might need it soon.

Summary:  This post about the decayed state of the US military and its prospects for reform brings us full circle, describing the problem and a step on the path of reform. Although losing wars has not damaged America yet, let’s not tempt fate by delaying repair to our lavishly funded and massive forces. We can have the world’s finest military force (pretending that we do makes it less likely). The necessary changes are within our reach. See the posts at the end for links to previous chapters and more information.  (2nd of 2 posts today.)

“People are policy.”
— Old wisdom about organizations.

3D-Broken Cube
The strongest structure can be changed by forces within it.


Chapter 2 in this series described the dilemma of the US military after Vietnam, facing a world of foes using 4GW tactics that often defeat modern armies. Fred Reed explains:

{DoD is} ready for wars past and future, but not present. {T}he current military, an advanced version of the WWII force, is ready should the Imperial Japanese Navy return. It also has phenomenally advanced weaponry in the pipeline to take on a space-age enemy, perhaps from Mars, should one appear. It is only the present for which the US is not prepared.

The Pentagon leadership could have rebuilt from the ground up, as the German army did after defeats in 1806 and 1918. Instead they had two insights of the scale and kind that changes the destiny of nations.

First, our 4GW foes were not existential threats, although they could be exaggerated as such to keep the Homeland docile and the funding lavishly flowing. We could suffer defeats without serious consequences, as we did in Vietnam (the “domino theory was, as many predicted, bogus).

Second, profits come from preparing for the another WWII, or WWIII (no worries what happens after that). The odds of such wars are low, since leaders of nuclear powers have carefully avoided confrontations since the Cuban Missile Crisis (realizing that “it’s good to be King” and bad to die in a mushroom cloud). Therefore weapons need not work well or get built in useful numbers. This process of paying more for less reached an apotheosis with the F-35: costly beyond reason yet of minimal functionality. To top this the next generation of generals must build the BattleStar Galactica (forever earthbound, always awaiting the next software upgrade).


System Failure

Forty years of decisions exploiting these insights plus roughly half the defense spending on Earth (broadly defined) has created today’s US military: awesome but incapable of defeating poorly funded and almost untrained insurgents.

Meanwhile our foes gain experience in battle and — unlike us — evolve and improve. No technology can overcome a slower rate of learning.  Training, especially of officers, is a core capacity of an effective military. That our foes do it better is one reason they win more often.

Nowadays the medium and senior personnel of all modern armed forces undergo extensive school education. Nevertheless, even in today’s technological world the view that war is the best teacher of war still holds much truth. … Over the last 40 years in particular, professional militaries have suffered any number of defeats at the hands of guerrillas and other practitioners of low-intensity conflict — who do not in the ordinary course of things undergo staff- and war-college training but have instead the authentic daily experience of combat.

— Martin van Creveld’s Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance (1990).

Donald Vandergriff

The path to military reform


That brings us to Donald Vandergriff, one of America’s small corps of military reformers. Don realized that one of the system’s few vulnerabilities to change is the training of junior officers, improving their ability to adapt and win in the small-scale conflicts the compose our 4th generation wars. See the links below to learn how he does this.

He has made strong if only incremental progress. That is an accomplishment vs. the overall paralysis of the reform movement since 9/11. The few signs of progress (e.g., movement away from the individual replacement system) are offset by retreats (e.g., the military’s obsession with failed COIN tactics, the USMC’s loss of interest in 4GW).

Hence the value of injecting people like Vandergriff into key Pentagon offices. GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired) gives a summary of Don’s career:

Vandergriff battles to improve DoD’s leadership and decision making. He challenges its senior leadership in order to bring meaningful change and accountability to DOD. Like others with his experience, he sees that DOD’s senior leadership (both uniforms and suits) today appears most concerned with their perks and the revolving door opportunities created by boosting profits for defense contractors.They lack the moral courage to serve the people they lead.

Vandergriff offers creative and rational personnel and leadership solutions that enhance national security. He gives top priority to DoD’s people, ideas, operational creativity, and lastly hardware. Without more people like him in the Pentagon our national security will continue to be at great peril.

Other posts in this series

For More Information

Highly recommended:  to understand the condition of our military see The Attritionist Letters.

See all posts about the US military’s officer corps and training of its officers. Also see all the posts about the work of Donald Vandergriff and by Vandergriff.

Some of the posts about our officer corps:

  1. The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders, 27 May 2008.
  2. The moral courage of our senior generals, or their lack of it, 3 July 2008.
  3. About military leaders in the 21st century: “Theirs Is to Reason Why”, 1 July 2010.
  4. Generals read “Ender’s Game” and see their vision of the future Marine Corps, 7 September 2010.
  5. Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military leadership, 2 May 2011.
  6. Do we need so many and such well-paid generals and admirals?, 9 September 2012.
  7. How bad is our bloat of generals? How does it compare with other armies?, 10 September 2012 — This goes to the heart of the problem.

Some of the posts about the training of our officers:

  1. A discussion about advanced education of military personnel, 10 January 2010.
  2. Preface to Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions, 16 July 2010.
  3. Training of officers, a key step for the forging of an effective military force, 17 July 2010.
  4. Building a new generation of visionary leaders for the US military, 30 September 2010.
  5. Don Vandergriff strikes sparks that might help reforge the US Army, 15 June 2014.



4 thoughts on “A step to getting an effective military. We might need it soon.”

  1. Given that those “small-scale conflicts the compose our 4th generation wars” all take place in far away countries which the USA has been repeatedly advised not to meddle with in the first place, why exactly do you say that “we might need [an effective military] soon”?

    1. Guest,

      Because we have killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people, and convinced millions that we are an enemy –perhaps the enemy — of Islam.

      Certainly tens of millions of Americans hate and fear Islam.

      It might be too late to prevent a cycle of violence leading to large-scale 4GW.

    2. “It might be too late to prevent a cycle of violence leading to large-scale 4GW.”

      Overseas, possibly, but within the USA? And soon, as you surmise?

      1. guest,

        Strikes against the US would not surprise me — I’m surprised there haven’t been any (just low-level activity by locals without support — plus the many created and supported by FBI). We’ll respond by sending troops, which will become enmeshed in wars — again. There are a thousand and one ways this can play out. Mostly bad.

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