William Lind explains one reason our military can’t win wars

Summary: We pour much of our national income into the military, yet it can’t win wars. Here William Lind looks at one reason why. We should listen to him. We might need our military someday.

No tears for losing at DoD.

Joint Chiefs of Staff - 20180406 - DoD Photo - 000406-A-3569D-002
Joint Chiefs of Staff – DoD Photo, 6 April 2000

The OO Loop Problem

By William S. Lind.
From Traditional Right • 9 December 2017.
Posted with his generous permission.

One of the more curious aspects of the current U.S. military is its institutionalization of failure.  We have lost four Fourth Generation conflicts: Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq (which is still very far from being a real state), and Afghanistan, where we are fighting but not winning.  In response, we keep doing more of the same, more perfecting of our ability to put firepower on targets.  If war could be reduced to that, we would be the greatest, military on earth.  But it can’t.

The custodians of failure are our generals and admirals.  The problem is not what they do but what they do not do.  They preside blandly over the status quo, terribly busy all the time but changing nothing.  They have half an OODA Loop.  They observe and orient – then observe again.  They make no decisions and take no actions, beyond those necessary to continue business as usual.  Their time is spent receiving contentless briefings and going to meetings where nothing is decided.  As one Marine three-star said to me, “If anyone tells you it’s fun being a general officer, it’s not.”

Editor’s note: Lawrence Sellin (Lt. Colonel, US Army Reserve) wrote a powerful account about the Army’s dysfunctional culture in “ISAF Joint Command – Power Points ‘R’ Us.” I can’t find it online; here is an article about it. He was relieved of duty and shipped back to the US. Here is his follow-up article.

No tears for losing at DoD.Despair at losing

How did we end up with this equivalent of the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev years?  As with so many of our military problems, it comes back to our personnel system, specifically to the kind of people we promote.

Years ago, one of my students, an Air Force officer, discovered something interesting while researching his dissertation.  He found that the Air Force academy made all its cadets take the Meyer-Briggs Personality Inventory, and, much later in their careers, the National War College did the same.  He looked at the ISTJs, who are the bureaucrats:  data-oriented, risk averse, people who never color outside the lines.  At the Air Force Academy, they were one personality type among many.  By the War College, they were completely dominant. Why?  Because one of their characteristics is that they only promote other ISTJs.

Ed’s note: ISTJ means Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judgment (Wikipedia). They are “life’s natural organizers.” It is one of sixteen personality types in the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). See the descriptions. ESTJs are “life’s natural administrators”, ENTJ are “life’s natural leaders”, and INTJ are “life’s independent thinkers.” The MBTI assessment was developed from psychiatrist Carl G. Jung’s book Psychological Types (1921).

The result is evident in our general officers’ OO Loop. ISTJs avoid making decisions and taking responsibility. By promoting only other ISTJs they ensure our armed services cannot reform themselves. All they can give us is more of the same, i.e., more of what has not worked.

Ed’s note: OO are the first two parts of the Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action loop developed by John Boyd (Colonel, USAF, dec.). See his presentation introducing the concept, “Patterns of Conflict,” and the Wikipedia entry.

The hard question is what to do about it.  Giving promotion boards instructions to promote non-ISTJs will do nothing.  They will nod, say “Thank you very much” and go on promoting other ISTJs.  They cannot do anything else.  To them, the whole creative side of war is “bullshit” and officers who are imaginative and take initiatives are threats to the culture of order ISTJs prize above all else.

Reform must come from outside.  I do not have all the answers for fixing this problem, but I do see a couple starting points.  First, we need Joe Stalin’s “urge to purge”.  We have far more general officers than we need.  Cut their number to about 10% of their current strength and use the opportunity to get rid of lots of ISTJs.  We might have to use the Meyer-Briggs test to identify them, although it is a very imperfect instrument (and ISTJs will try to game the test).

Ed. note: that’s an essential part of any reform. For more about why this is needed, see reports by POGO and Don Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired): The cost of too many generals: paying more to get a less effective military.

In the longer term, we need to make the ability to think, decide, and act militarily central to promotion (at present it counts for nothing).  The best way to do that, at least for combat units, was suggested years ago by Chris Bassford in his book The Spit-Shine Syndrome: Organizational Irrationality in the American Field Army. Every year, every unit goes up against a unit of similar strength in a free play exercise.  The winner gets, say, 50 promotions to divide up within itself, the loser gets five.  This would reward the characteristics we need in field-grade and, later, general officers: an eagerness to decide and act, what the old German army called Verantwortungsfreudigkeit, “joy in taking responsibility”.  It was the characteristic it looked for in officer promotions.

Ed. note: the Prussian, and later German, army promoted officers on the basis of knowledge and ability — as does the US military – plus requiring a strong will, a forceful character, and a joy in taking responsibility.

These reforms would not be enough in themselves. Our armed services need to look deep within and identify other ways to promote warfighters instead of bureaucrats. Of course, they will not do so under their present leadership. To them, all this is a threat, not a promise. Nor can I see a force for serious military reform either in the current Administration or in Congress.

So we will probably continue on with half an OODA Loop until the whole system collapses. That is coming, and it may be closer than our ISTJ generals and admirals think.


Editor’s comment

Discussions about military reform tend to be of two types (I am exaggerating for emphasis). First, a laundry list of recommendations to be implemented with I am King, or by a Winged Savior (i.e., given without recommendations to make them happen). Second, change the personnel system – especially training and promotion (e.g., see Don Vandergriff’s works below) – a very slow, effective, but difficult to implement process.

Lind gives us a third perspective on the problem. His description of the problem explains most of the symptoms (e.g., by the officers in the posts listed below, by the junior Marine officers who wrote The Attritionist Letters). And he gives a relatively simple methodology to break the military free from behaviors that most of its people hate. While not a magic bullet (psychological tests are in their infancy), this might improve conditions so that other reforms become possible. The result might be positive feedback cycles of reform.

William Lind

About the author

William S. Lind’s director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. He has a Master’s Degree in History from Princeton University in 1971. He worked as a legislative aide for armed services for Senator Robert Taft, Jr., of Ohio from 1973 to 1976 and held a similar position with Senator Gary Hart of Colorado from 1977 to 1986. See his bio at Wikipedia

Mr. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook (1985), co-author with Gary Hart of America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform (1986), and co-author with William H. Marshner of Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda (1987).

He’s perhaps best known for his articles about the long war, now published as On War: The Collected Columns of William S. Lind 2003-2009. See his other articles about a broad range of subjects…

  1. Posts at TraditionalRight.
  2. His articles about geopolitics at The American Conservative.
  3. His articles about transportation at The American Conservative.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about ways to reform our military, about our incompetent senior generals, and especially these…

  1. The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders.
  2. Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military leadership — by GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired).
  3. Do we need so many and such well-paid generals and admirals? — by Richard A Pawloski (Captain, USMC, retired).
  4. Why the Pentagon would rather hire a jihadist like bin Laden than reformer Donald Vandergriff.
  5. How officers adapt to life in the Pentagon: they choose the blue pill.
  6. Why does the military continue to grow? Because the tail wags the dog. — by Danny Hundley (Colonel, USMC, retired).
  7. Overhauling The Officer Corps. — by David Evans (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired).
  8. William Lind looks at our generals, sees “rank incompetence”.
  9. How did the US Army’s leadership problem grow so bad? — by Don Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired).
  10. Reforming the US Army: can be done, must be done.
  11. Officers can reform our military and make America stronger! – Only the will to do so is lacking.
  12. Admiral Rickover’s gift to us: showing that we can reform America’s military.
  13. A Captain describes our broken military & how to fix it.
  14. We can win our wars. One of our warriors explains how.

Two of the best books about the challenges of reforming our army

See these books by Donald Vandergriff, one of the leading military reformers of our time. Also see posts about his work.

Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War.

Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions.

Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War
Available at Amazon.
Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow's Centurions
Available at Amazon.

44 thoughts on “William Lind explains one reason our military can’t win wars”

  1. The part I find least plausible in this is a headcount reduction in the military. That sounds like you’d be reducing military spending, and only by hurling borrowed money into the furnace can we operate the Freedom Field that keeps the terries away.

    I do think the phenomenon is real (even if I would question how Lind casts it so strongly in MB terms). I don’t think it’s limited to the military either. Most of our large businesses and certainly our government are run the same way. There is, of course, value to making sure everyone is on the same page and working in tandem — I myself work a job where if it wasn’t for the monthly meeting I’d see about two other staff members, ever — but at a certain point it’s an excuse to not make a call.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “The part I find least plausible in this is a headcount reduction in the military.”

      That’s a well-written paragraph. Unfortunately, I don’t understand what you’re saying. That’s probably me, since figurative language (and humor) often goes over my head.

      “. I don’t think it’s limited to the military either. Most of our large businesses and certainly our government are run the same way.”

      That’s a powerful insight! It that hadn’t occurred to me, but is obvious now that you’ve pointed it out.

    2. Re: the first, I was restating the implicit thesis in a lot of our reasoning that we need to spend a lot of money to Be Safe and Free from Terrorism – a LOT of money – more than literally everyone else combined, and spending (say) 2/3rds of a trillion dollars is disgusting, horrifying, insulting, no-good, very-bad weakness and fecklessness, while spending (say) 7/10ths of a trillion dollars is a heroic triumph for freedom and goodness and Republican apple pie.

      “Terries” here is “terrorists” – a reference to this comedy sketch which I made without thinking too much about it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiWIOKKuyGE

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        The various national strategy documents,
        Ike the one recently issued, are clear that most spending is directed at fighting peer threats. China and Russia and Iran, esp. we are prepared for a repeat of WW2 or to wage WW3.

        Very little is spent on how to fight the wars we actually fight.

  2. I would delight in being a bug under a “round table” rug at which sat William S. Lind, Larry Kummer, and Ray Starman of http://usdefensewatch.com/about/ Consider also the chance of bringing on the Joint Chiefs and other ISTJs and then resurrect our dear departed Professor Hugh Nibley for this tet-a-tet.

    Watch the sparks fly!

    Nibley delivered a BYU commencement address that shocked the shit out of everybody including most assuredly the stodgy Mormon Church Leaders behind him on the podium. Contextual references to doctrine and Nibley’s most amusing introduction were eliminated in order to focus on Leadership vs. Management. The following thoughts were plumbed out of the whole of Nibley’s delivery. I repeat them here in order to justify and explain my pining to be that bug under the foregoing rug ….


    What took place in the Greco-Roman as in the Christian world was that fatal shift from leadership to management that marks the decline and fall of civilizations.

    At the present time, Captain Grace Hopper, that grand old lady of the Navy, is calling our attention to the contrasting and conflicting natures of management and leadership. No one, she says, ever managed men into battle. She wants more emphasis in teaching leadership. But leadership can no more be taught than creativity or how to be a genius. The Generalstab tried desperately for a hundred years to train up a generation of leaders for the German army, but it never worked, because the men who delighted their superiors, i.e., the managers, got the high commands, while the men who delighted the lower ranks, i.e., the leaders, got reprimands. Leaders are movers and shakers, original, inventive, unpredictable, imaginative, full of surprises that discomfit the enemy in war and the main office in peace. For managers are safe, conservative, predictable, conforming organization men and team players, dedicated to the establishment.

    The leader, for example, has a passion for equality. We think of great generals from David and Alexander on down, sharing their beans or maza with their men, calling them by their first names, marching along with them in the heat, sleeping on the ground, and first over the wall. A famous ode by a long-suffering Greek soldier, Archilochus, reminds us that the men in the ranks are not fooled for an instant by the executive type who thinks he is a leader.

    For the manager, on the other hand, the idea of equality is repugnant and indeed counterproductive. Where promotion, perks, privilege, and power are the name of the game, awe and reverence for rank is everything, the inspiration and motivation of all good men. Where would management be without the inflexible paper processing, dress standards, attention to proper social, political, and religious affiliation, vigilant watch over habits and attitudes, and so forth, that gratify the stockholders and satisfy security?

    “If you love me,” said the Greatest of all leaders, “you will keep my commandments.” “If you know what is good for me,” says the manager, “you will keep my commandments, and not make waves.” That is why the rise of management always marks the decline of culture. If the management does not go for Bach, very well, there will be no Bach in the meeting; if management favors vile, sentimental doggerel verse extolling the qualities that make for success, young people everywhere will be spouting long trade-journal jingles from the stand; if the management’s taste in art is what will sell—trite, insipid, folksy kitsch—that is what we will get; if management finds maudlin, saccharine commercials appealing, that is what the public will get; if management must reflect the corporate image in tasteless, trendy new buildings, down come the fine old pioneer monuments.

    To Parkinson’s Law, which shows how management gobbles up everything else, he added what he calls the “Law of Injelitance”: Managers do not promote individuals whose competence might threaten their own position; and so as the power of management spreads ever wider, the quality deteriorates, if that is possible. In short, while management shuns equality, it feeds on mediocrity.

    On the other hand, leadership is an escape from mediocrity. All the great deposits of art, science, and literature from the past on which all civilization is nourished come to us from a mere handful of leaders. For the qualities of leadership are the same in all fields, the leader being simply the one who sets the highest example; and to do that and open the way to greater light and knowledge, the leader must break the mold. “A ship in port is safe,” says Captain Hopper, speaking of management; “but that is not what ships were built for,” she adds, calling for leadership. True leaders are inspiring because they are inspired, caught up in a higher purpose, devoid of personal ambition, idealistic, and incorruptible.

    There is necessarily some of the manager in every leader as there should be some of the leader in every manager. Speaking in the temple to the temple management, the scribes and Pharisees all in their official robes, the Lord chided them for one-sidedness: They kept careful accounts of the most trivial sums brought into the temple, but in their dealings they neglected fair play, compassion, and good faith, which happen to be the prime qualities of leadership. The Lord insisted that both states of mind are necessary, and that is important: “This ye must do [speaking of the bookkeeping] but not neglect the other.” But it is “the blind leading the blind,” he continues, who reverse priorities, who “choke on a gnat and gulp down a camel” (see Matthew 23:23ff). So vast is the discrepancy between management and leadership that only a blind man would get them backwards. Yet that is what we do. In that same chapter of Matthew, the Lord tells the same men that they do not really take the temple seriously while the business contracts registered in the temple they take very seriously indeed (see Matthew 23:16-18).

    Professor Emeritus of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, Aug. 19, 1983 • Commencement https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/hugh-nibley_leaders-managers/

    Best wishes from The Ole’ Buzzard

    1. Christopher Pinkleton

      That speech sums up America’s problems on a vast variety of levels! I will be sharing that with many people, thank you Mr. Wickizer!

    2. That was seriously one of the best speeches I’ve read/seen in a lot time. I read the full speech, great share. Thank you!

    3. Larry Kummer, Editor


      US Defense Watch seems, from a quick look, to vacuum up fringe material from all over the web. Some accurate, much total fiction. It’s the kind of material that makes its readers dumber.

      It’s useful to read fringe sources if you check out everything you read – and believe nothing until you have done so. Almost nobody does so.

  3. I have another idea quit listening to that jack hole Thomas Ricks and others of his ilk. His babbling about our military – officers needing to be thinkers and not creatin fighters. That’s the problem with our officers. Too much time spent in being thinkers and not experts in war. Go over read the dissertations by the attendees at the Command and Staff College. Bleh.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      I’ve glanced at Rick’s work and never seen the appeal. He sometimes points to good work by others.

      As for the problem, I suggest looking at the posts cited here. While not yet a clear analysis, we have made a good start.

      It becomes a clear analysis when it suggests ways to reform it. That doesn’t mean “if I were king” wishing for policy changes, but operational steps to produce change.

  4. My feeling is that the military is a business, a beauacracy whose only goal is to perpetuate itself and grow.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      In some sense that is true of every organization. Certainly so of every viable organization. As such, it is an operationally useless perspective.

      It is made quite false by the addition of the word “only”. With that it becomes a cartoon, not a real world picture.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      The Myers-Briggs index has had a much research showing its validity. That’s not true of Tantra.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        (1) Yes, the value of Myers-Briggs is often exaggerated. There is a spectrum of these things. But their utility is not binary, zero or perfect.

        Your analogy is daft. Unlike astrology, horoscopes, and Tantra B-M widely used by large reputable organizations. They use it because they get some practical value from it. That you consider yourself so much smarter than the executives using it tells us more about you than them.

        (2) It’s sad that you consider the Smithsonian citing The Guardian and Skeptoid as definitive (is this Google knowledge, using it to find cites that support your belief?).

        • I’ve never heard of Skeptoid or Brian Dunning. His most recent supporting cite is a Theology Today article from 1992. Probably more Google-knowledge.
        • As for The Guardian, their people have been waging an ideological jihad against psychological tests (esp IQ)s for years, but much of the material they cite is bogus or exaggerated. More broadly, it’s a ideological chop-shop, not Science or Nature – or even The Times.

        (3) “Forgivable if you’re a washed up conspiracy theorist like Lind.”

        Is that schoolyard smear supposed to mean anything? Lind is considered an insightful resource by many people in the military with much combat experience. See if you’re capable of an actual rebuttal.

    2. No, there’s almost no empirical validation of B-M. It’s nonsense. Fashionable nonsense. But nonsense none the less.

      How does one come to that conclusion? Well here’s a nice teachable moment, I hope you can follow along. We use Google to find articles on the subject of interest and then read the articles. “But how can we read things without immediately accepting them as ultimate truth?!?”, you might be asking. Well, it’s at this point that we use our critical faculties (assuming they haven’t been permanently deactivated — probably a big assumption in your case) to try to evaluate them. So for the Smithsonian piece, we might look at the researchers quoted in that piece and then go read their work, see where it was published, who wrote it, and then follow the references to other academic research showing how little empirical validation B-M actually has. This is a much more robust way of understanding something than just tossing up your hands and saying ‘well that’s how it’s done so who are you to question it?’ Let me know if you’ve got any questions.

      Lind is a conspiracy theorist, that’s just a description of objective reality. He believes that a cabal of obscure Jewish philosophers conspired in the 1960s to destroy Western civilization. While his middling career as a congressional staffer never panned out and his writing on military reform never seemed to have any impact, his Cultural Marxism theory has actually left a mark on the world, inspiring people like Anders Breivik to murder 77 people. So there’s that I guess.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “No, there’s almost no empirical validation of B-M. It’s nonsense. ”

        You’ve presented no such evidence. You found an article by some guy with no qualifications citing 4 misc old sources, and one article from the ideologically biased The Guardian. Good luck with that.

        Try looking at why so many corporations use M-B (they have reasons), and explore less biased sources.

    3. Christopher Pinkleton

      Links to the research that validates M-B?

      This wiki ( yes, perhaps biased, but good on intentifying pseudo-science) article has plenty of links on the weakness of the M-B, especially that only one of it’s personality scales has had any scientific proof of even existing.


      The basis of the test is Jungian psychology– which is one man’s mysticism, more or less. Even it’s creator didn’t think it had much use outside a clinical setting.

      Sure organizations have a use for it. It provides fuel for the myth of data-driven decision-making in all aspects of the group. It provides exactly the same type of “analysis” as astrology , vague and unfalsifable statements that might apply to a large swath of people. It’s users find it compelling due to confirmation bias and the Forer effect.

      It fits in well to our current self-worshiping management culture which is convinced it can perfect us all by shaping us according to the unbiased, transcendent “data” which elevates their decision-making above petty human failures driven by unruly irrationality.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        I love to hear from people in their living room with confidence that they are so much smarter than people in the real world using tools! And you have a Wiki! Well then! Odd since it is, in your words, just like astrology, that many corporations use it. But few use astrology. Perhaps the Wiki has some posts about logic and analogies.

        I’ve not used B-M. When I was recruiting investment advisers for our training program, we used a very expensive MMPI and a cheaper MB test. My simple interview and requirements for experience proved more accurate indicator of success than either. That was very upsetting to HQ, so I moved on to other endeavors. But I’ll not say that these tools don’t work. And despite having actual experience with these tests, certainly not make such claims as those in this thread.

        Even better — this thread is exactly like the hundreds of others about reforming America. People obsess about the minute, even trivial, details about the post. And totally ignore the actual content of the post. Perhaps that gives us a hint as to the reasons why reform in America proves so difficult.

        The other common response to posts about reform of America, less common in the last year or two, is to whine that it is just too difficult. We are little flowers in the grasp of big bad guys. All that about risking our “lives, fortunes, and and sacred honor” is so yesterday.

        But as our situation has deteriorated, commenters focus more on trivia. If our condition deteriorates further, perhaps next year comments will focus on the punctuation. Comas are so fascinating!

    4. The point is it’s a poor tool not used by anyone in the field of psychology. Even the mainline Wikipedia article has a pretty clear explanation of a glaring flaw that is simple to understand– it has no validity scale to weed out “gaming” the test. No protection against deliberately false answers at all. Unlike the MMPI, which is designed to flag deliberately false responses.

      Perhaps you should a bit more time on RationalWiki in the logical fallacies section — “big organizations use it” is a classic example of “appeal to authority.” Big organizations burn up tons of energy on projects of dubious value all the time. Government and private agencies have burned money on polygraphs for nearly a century, despite good science showing they have 60% validity at best and no better predictive value than a coinflip at worst. But they are “data,” and polygraph examiners are utterly convinced they can spot lies.

      Confirmation bias is a hell of a story teller!

      You seem to think any criticism of the M-B is somehow related to a criticism of psychological testing overall. I think those sorts of tests have plenty of use, when they are well-constructed according to solid modern principles that ensure validity. The M-B is not built that way. Plenty of experts in the field say so. A non-valid test has zero valid uses.

      I can’t see this issue as trival. Yes, I get Mr. Lind’s point. We have anal retentive bean counters running the show who only bring more anal retentive bean counters into the higher ranks.

      The story for those of us who know something about valid psychological testing is “man criticizes military for using a test to replicate the stodgy mentality that already exists in senior leadership. The same critic misses the point that use of the test shows management isn’t even using a valid instrument to measure personality traits in the first place, possibly showing systematic incompetence as being just as much an issue as timidity.” Also, such a subjective tool probably makes it easier for bean-counters to replicate their own mentality within the organization.

      Or something like that.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “The point is it’s a poor tool not used by anyone in the field of psychology”

        I suggest reading a bit about the MB before writing long critiques about it. As their website explains at some length, it is not designed as a clinical tool for psychologists. It is for business use. The standard there is if it is better than other psychological screening tools or unaided managers.

        I am astonished at the confidence with which Americans declare that tens of thousands of people running their businesses don’t know what they are doing. Perhaps this mad self-confidence is one reason we’re sliding down the toilet.

    5. Christopher Pinkleton

      Somehow, my much longer reply got wiped out, so a shorter version:

      You seem convinced objections to M-B are emblematic of an objection to psychological testing in general. Not so in my case. For example, the well constructed MMPI and other decent metrics have a “validity scale” to prevent gaming the test.

      The M-B has no built in protection against deliberately false answers at all. It is easy to present yourself in any way you want.

      How is it trivial when a commentator tells us the horror of bean counters using a test to create a culture of more bean counters AND COMPLETELY MISSES the point that they are relying on outdated pseudo-science in the first place. The suggestion to use M-B to find “real leaders” is about as useful as saying “well let’s hire Cancers to overwhelm this Virgo culture.” Not seing the pseudo-science problem here avoids the issue that highly subjective testing criteria such as the M-B allows toxic management cultures a great tool that can be used to prove damn near anything–making the job of keeping the management ideology unchanging.

      BTW, “big organizations use it ” is the logical fallacy known as “appeal to authority.” Big institutions use discredited tools all the time. Particularly when they tell a great story that is easier to grok than valid tools. E.G.: Polygraphs.

      Pseudo-science and logical fallacies are two of the biggest problems we face.

    6. Christopher Pinkleton

      There should be an “easy” after that “unchanging.”

      Also, the validity scale issue is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the M-B’s issues , but it’s the easiest to explain.

  5. The Man Who Laughs

    I’ve talked about this before, but Edward Luttwak in The Pentagon And The Art Of War points to the huge, bloated Pentagon staff as the root of a lot that is wrong. Individually, Luttwak says, the vast army of underemployed Colonels and Generals are courageous, patriotic, and committed to the nation’s defense. Collectively, there are too many of them. This breeds intense competition for a very limited number of commands, producing a risk averse, “zero defect’s” mentality that serves them poorly in a real war.

    SFs observation about indecisiveness not being limited to the military ties in with my own experience. I’ve been doing what i do for 35 years. When I started, there was a very short “chain of command” and very little bureaucracy, and things got done pretty quickly and decisively. They had to be. Now, there is a Byzantine bureaucracy above me. My favorite example is the lady who comes down from HR one a week to do the payroll on our computer. We used to do that ourselves, but no one can stand her, so they send her to us to get her out of the office. Anyway, the point is there’s too many chiefs for the number of Indians doing the actual work, and they don’t get out of the office all that much because they’re constantly making paperwork for each other. (I used to work for guys who were rarely in the office, and one of their offices was mostly used to store supplies)

    Getting back to Luttwak, I tend to think he was on to something about the glut of senior officers. When we have fewer swivel chair hussars we’ll have more capable warfighters.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      The Man,

      “Edward Luttwak in The Pentagon And The Art Of War points to the huge, bloated Pentagon staff as the root of a lot that is wrong.”

      I agree that is a great book. But it, like books about America’s problems, is operationally useless. We need to know the underlying cause, or develop some way to change the behavior of people in the system. This simplistic – here’s the stuff we don’t like, stop doing it — was mocked in this classic skit on the Bob Newhart show.



    2. The main thing that would shake out our military I think is if we had a major war. If we have a for-serious major war – other than the exciting possibility of a civil war (which I think is vanishingly unlikely, or at least, requires a number of intermediate steps) – there is a very good chance it would cause a nuclear holocaust. I wonder if the rot is less severe in the Navy, since they are a lot closer to wartime operations just motoring all those ships around.

  6. Hi All,

    The reference to Myers-Biggs is interesting, especially considering how much it is used in corporate organisations for assessing / categorising people and how much it is not supported by the field of psychology. An interesting and related note is the study work done by Angela Duckworth in her book on Grit. The interesting point is that “Grit” was found to be a better indicator of likelihood of successfully graduating West Point than other education / personality measures.


    Comes back to the point of ‘how to develop people effectively?”


    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      This isn’t my field, but like you I’ve seen interesting articles about research in this area. It will be interesting to see future research.

    2. Larry Kummer, Editor

      About Grit.

      The author, Angela Duckworth, is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change For Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics.

      See her website.

      Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change For Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics.

      About Grit, from the publisher.

      “In this instant New York Times bestseller, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed—be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.”

      “Why do some people succeed and others fail? Sharing new insights from her landmark research, Angela explains why talent is hardly a guarantor of success. Angela has found that grit—a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal—is the hallmark of high achievers in every domain. She’s also found scientific evidence that grit can grow.

      “Angela gives a first-person account of her research with teachers working in some of the toughest schools, cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She also mines fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance. Finally, she shares what she’s learned from interviewing dozens of high achievers—from JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon to Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll.

      “Winningly personal, insightful, and even life-changing, Grit is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that – not talent or luck – makes all the difference.”

      Read an excerpt.

  7. Hi AP,

    I remember the War Nerd said something similar on one of his podcasts (can’t find the exact one). His argument was basically that hardly anyone who hasn’t gone through Ranger school gets promoted to the highest ranks in the Army (the other branches have similar situations). Essentially, leaders are being selected on athleticism rather than other abilities that may be more important in military leadership. Not sure how true this is though and it kind of cuts against Lind’s thesis.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      That is sorta right. Four of the last six Army Chiefs have the Rangers tab.

      “and it kind of cuts against Lind’s thesis.”

      Not really. Selection to the highest ranks of the Army is fantastically selective. They’re not chosen on one criteria. They tend to look good, they’re articulate, they’re in good physical condition, etc.

      Also, the WN has it somewhat backwards. They tend to be routed to touch certain bases – such as Ranger Training. So of course many have the tab. That’s the opposite, in a sense, of selecting from those who have the tab.

  8. the military can’t win wars for the same reason that schools can’t educate students, the criminal justice system can’t prevent crime and poverty programs don’t end poverty. jerry pournelle dubbed it “The Iron Law of Bureaucracy”: In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.
    the goal of the military is no longer the winning of wars. it is the care and feeding of the leadership cadre. is there a fix for the iron law of bureaucracy? i don’t think anyone has found one yet that doesn’t include a disaster of such magnitude that the existing cadre is turned out wholesale in disgrace.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely”

      That is a purely ideological statement. Like most, an absurd oversimplification of the real world.

      “the goal of the military is no longer the winning of wars. it is the care and feeding of the leadership cadre.”

      The world is simple if one closes one’s eyes and just imagines a cartoon version of reality. I would like to see you talk with a senior member of the military, esp some that have served in combat – and lost men, seen their wounded and crippled.

      Human affairs are complex. Reducing them to cartoons does not help. It’s a common reason self-proclaimed reformers are ignored.

      Self-interest is a powerful and natural force, and in the senior ranks of the US military has probably become excessive. But it is not the only problem. To mention just one factor, nobody has found a way to win 4GWs in other lands. Not just the US. Almost everybody loses (except in ones that aren’t very foreign, like Brits in Ireland), no matter how much force they use.

  9. there’s nothing ideological about the law of bureaucracy, larry. it’s an easily observed historical fact that can be found in organizations of every ideology, every description, and in every era. we see it today in the catholic church’s protection of pedophiles, in the “blue wall” that surrounds crimes by police, the astronomical growth of university administrations and in the plight of the democratic party as it defends its existing bureaucracy from insurgents like bernie sanders even if it means losing elections.
    it’s worth taking pournelle seriously in matters military especially. his co-written book “The Strategy of Technology” was required reading throughout the u.s. military in the latter half of the cold war; arguably the only truly successful military/diplomatic campaign that this country has had since 1945.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “here’s nothing ideological about the law of bureaucracy”

      I’ts not a “law”. It’s right-wing schlock.

      “it’s an easily observed historical fact that ”

      Yes, self-interest and self-preservation are facts of life on every level. It’s nonsense to believe that is that that such people “always get control.”

      “catholic church’s protection of pedophiles”

      There are countless organizations. Pointing to a few extreme cases does not prove the correctness of that pseudo-law’s exteme statement.

      “in the “blue wall” that surrounds crimes by police”

      That’s silly. Yes, they defend themselves. No, police are not an example of “the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control.”

      “pournelle seriously in matters military especially. his co-written book “The Strategy of Technology” ”

      First, that book has not aged well. Much of it looks quite nuts today, as does many (most?) of Pournell’s far-right hawkish statements from the 1970s. While his excitement about massive increases in military spending may have won him admirers in the military, I’ve been unable to find documentation that his book was taken seriously or on any USAF Academy reading list (that doesn’t mean it was, or wasn’t – just that its asserted).

      “only truly successful military/diplomatic campaign that this country has had since 1945.”

      Beyond absurd. The Soviet Union and other communist states collapsed because it was a dysfunctional political economy. If we had ignored them, they probably all would have collapsed just as quickly.

      As for the USSR, their decision to enter into a struggle with the Saudi Princes for control of world oil markets was as large or bigger factor. The Saudi’s, the world’s marginal supplier of oil, collapsed the price of oil. Oil and nat gas were ~80% of the USSR’s experts. Although oil & gas exports were only ~4% of USSR GDP in the early 1980s, they paid for essential inputs of grian and capital goods. Their value dropped by 80% from peak to the day they took down the red flag.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor

        A good intro to Pournell’s “work” in defense is to read his “There will be war” series. Great sci-fi stories along with the nutty “real war” articles that he took seriously.

  10. The Man Who Laughs

    “I agree that is a great book. But it, like books about America’s problems, is operationally useless. We need to know the underlying cause, or develop some way to change the behavior of people in the system.”

    I wonder if you aren’t overthinking this. I think a lot of this does come down to some fairly simple problems. (Note: Simple does not equal easily solved.) You have a grossly overofficered military under the firm control of an elected civilian government that doesn’t know what troops can and cannot do.

    Looking back on it, the firing of MacArthur by Truman looks a little different today. Mac was way out of line, and Truman had plenty of good reasons for removing him. But from that day to this, if the elected government says that black is white, then the military salutes and says yes sir, black is white. Witness the cowardice shown by senior Marine leadership in the firing of that Lieutenant Colonel you posted about a while back. I think the last General who told the People In Charge anything remotely approaching the truth about ends and means was Shinseki back before the continuation war in Iraq, and I don’t think the Bush people were too happy about it.

    I think we’re getting the General Staff we select for. When we select something different, we’ll get something different. General Sir John Hackett got it right. What a nation gets from it’s military is what it asks for, no more and no less. What a nation asks for tends to a function of what it is. When a nation looks at its armed forces it is looking into a mirror, and the reflection it sees will be a true one.

    By the way, thanks for Newhart links. He was a great comedian.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      The Man,

      “You have a grossly overofficered military under the firm control of an elected civilian government that doesn’t know what troops can and cannot do.”

      It’s a common result of not understanding a problem to present it in bizarrely simple terms. I suggest you look at the posts listed in the For More Info section, by people with actual deep knowledge of the military.

      “But from that day to this, if the elected government says that black is white, then the military salutes and says yes sir”

      Blaming the civilian leadership is always fun. Anyone with experience with DoD knows that statement is delusional. The military has a high degree of autonomy, esp in how it fights wars. Presidents from Johnson to Trump have struggled to direct it. Sometimes successful, often not.

      For example, I doubt any civilian leader encouraged the massive expansion of flag rank officers, or their increasingly lavish spending on staff and other expenses. Yet the effect of this is far-reaching. Ditto with the micromanagement of officers by colonels and generals, nicely described in “The Attritionist Letters” (published here, originally in the MCG). What civilians ordered the military to remain locked into a 2GW (methodical warfare, focused on massive firepower) – with some use of 3gw (maneuver warfare), rather than grapple with 4GW? (Kennedy and most Administrations since has attempted to change this, with little success).

      Note that the internal problems are not solely the result of being “overofficered.”

  11. Christopher Pinkleton

    On William Lind being a paranoid nut job…

    His “Victoria : A Novel of 4GW” opens with the “good guys” burning a lesbian cleric at the stake for the unforgivable sin of not recanting her status as a religious offical.

    Yup, a bunch of Christians martyr another Christian for her faith, and this is how we will make America great again.

    He may or may not be paranoid, but his worldview definitely seems to boil down to “kill people who don’t believe in my form of belief.”

    I would not make any judgements about the validity about his views on our military, as that is certainly well outside my areas of knowledge.

  12. ”The result is evident in our general officers’ OO Loop. ISTJs avoid making decisions and taking responsibility. By promoting only other ISTJs they ensure our armed services cannot reform themselves. All they can give us is more of the same, i.e., more of what has not worked.”

    If their only use is gumming up organizations. I don’t see that they belong anywhere but the monastery.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Everybody has a role. It’s like ecology. A specific bug is useful in small numbers, but becomes a pest if there are too many.

      The funny thing about this thread — and similar threads elsewhere — is that pretty much everybody in the military see this problem. Too many organizers, creating too many checklist, seeking perfection in the often unimportant things than can be quantified, with their mad degree of micromanagement. See the scores of posts on the FM website, by dozens of authors, about this. But when it is pointed out, watch the squeals!

      This is America today. What looks like senescence, social rigidity making it difficult (impossible?) to make even simple reforms to our institutions. Instead everybody whines while sitting on their butts. Whining loudest when giving madly confident analysis about things they have no actual knowledge about. But doing nothing in the spheres in which they can be active, such as local politics (all politics is local, in a sense).

      I’ve thought a lot about this. All of the paths I thought were possible have proven to be closed. Perhaps there are dark times ahead.

  13. Christopher,

    I’m glad someone mentioned Victoria. There’s literally a part in the novel where the main character(i.e. Lind’s fantasy surrogate) resigns from the military in disgust because a female officer (can you believe it!) is the one that gives a remembrance of Iwo Jima. Truly one of the most un-self-aware lunatic texts I’ve ever read.

    I’m not sure about his ‘scholarship’ on military strategy – it sounds like he basically took Mao’s writings on guerrilla warfare from the 1930s and gave it new jargon but who knows. Maybe it’s brilliant, cutting edge stuff.

    His writing on Iraq and the Middle East in general is terrible though. Around 2014 when all the major media outlets were sure that Baghdad would fall to ISIS, a few astute observers called it right, saying ISIS couldn’t/wouldn’t take Bagdhad. Lind was not one of them. Remember this is the kind of conflict he claims to be an expert on – the guru of 4G warfare – and he flubbed the analysis badly and basically just parroted the MSM. That’s not an isolated event. The closer you read him, the more you realize how wrong his analysis often is, how little he really knows about anything.

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